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In this summer of turbulence, folks with weddings planned have faced some tough choices. No one ever thought they’d have to postpone a wedding to prevent their family from contracting a dangerous virus at the heart of a pandemic—but here they’ve found themselves.

From venues to catering to photography and everything in between, all aspects of the wedding industry have been shaken up. Current Massachusetts guidelines state that indoor weddings can have no more than twenty-five guest, while outdoor celebrations can bump that up to one hundred with the beginning of Phase Three.

While some chose to push back their festivities for at least a year, others are deciding to make do with what they can this year: a smaller ceremony with close family and friends. And many are getting creative in the process. 

Downsizing and Deferring

Many couples chose to keep their original date to have a small marriage ceremony, usually outdoors, and usually with a handful of close family members. Down the road, they’ll hold the big reception, maybe as a first anniversary party or a renewal of vows. “I’ve had a few couples who have made that decision,” says wedding planner Janie Haas. “And I’ve had many others that have just pushed their wedding date back by a year.”

For Haas, the initial days of the pandemic were a whirlwind of rescheduling, sometimes up to five times for one wedding. Now that the dates have been resolidified and work has quieted down, Haas is focusing on facilitating these smaller weddings in creative ways.

“We’ve tried to think of what speaks to this couple,” says Haas. “What really brands their relationship? Do they have a favorite restaurant? Some are getting married at home because they have a yard that they love and it’s home—it’s where they want to be.” She has other weddings happening on the beach, on a boat, in a garden, or at a family home on the Vineyard or in Gloucester. 

Although couples choosing to tie the knot this summer have to downsize the ceremonies, they now have the opportunity to hold their ceremony where they couldn’t before. They can go almost anywhere (with limitations, of course). Haas sees a silver lining in these small ceremonies. “It makes those small weddings all about the couple,” she says. “And there’s something very intimate and really beautiful about that.”

Beauport Hotel. Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker Photography.

Many couples find hotels appealing with their built-in amenities like spas. Suite prices have often dropped: “You can get a really fabulous suite in a hotel for less money than you ever could before,” says Haas. Plus, hotels like Beauport in Gloucester have gorgeous roof decks—the perfect spot for a safer ceremony. 

Others have grabbed the pandemic by the horns to have a true wedding of the moment—on Zoom. Why not offset the disappointment of a cancelled or altered wedding with a unique celebration to remember? “I have a bride who’s sending a split of champagne and a little teeny wedding cake to her invited guests,” says Haas. “And she’s asking everybody to come dressed [to the Zoom call]. With their champagne. So cute.”

Still others have chosen to simply wed at town hall or have a close friend or family member become ordained and marry them simply and quietly. “There’ll be lots of reasons to celebrate safely down the line,” says Jami Barry, managing director of Vinwood Caterers. “[Couples are] recognizing OK, let’s just get married—that’s what’s important.”

Catering Innovations

A death in the family of Vinwood Caterers co-owner Rick Delisle early in the pandemic outlined how the company has carefully gone about business these last few months. Completely shut down beginning March 14, Vinwood began to reopen in the past week or so, and only for outdoor events. 

The majority of Vinwood clients postponed their catered wedding events. Barry says that many couples getting married with a small ceremony this summer might have a bottle of champagne, but wait for their big celebration next year for catering.

Between government sanctioned restrictions on wedding sizes and a safety concern for older relatives, many folks would rather just push everything back a year or so. Since they can’t have their fairytale wedding now, they’ll hold off until they can.

Jeanne Hennessey of Beauport Hotel sees couples leaning toward postponing their wedding so they can have “the wedding of their dreams once it’s possible to do so.”

“When you dream about it, you want to have lots of people around you supporting you, sending you off,” says Barry. “Everyone still wants to have the magic of that, so since they can’t have it now, they’ll wait.”

But those still having small celebrations this year are getting creative with the catering. Vinwood has begun offering individually packaged picnic meals, to keep each serving separate. These individual Mediterranean boxes or cheese and charcuterie boxes are perfect for clients like those now getting married on a boat.

One of Janie Haas’s clients excitedly planned a raw bar for their reception. “But because people can’t really gather around a raw bar, nor touch the same utensils, everyone is getting this beautiful little box,” says Haas, with separate compartments for oysters, lobster tail, shrimp, and clams. Many of Haas’s catering companies, like Max Ultimate Food, Capers, and La Bonne Maison have gotten creative with these safe, elegantly presented to-go boxes.

Barry notes that Vinwood’s most popular items, their plated dinners, won’t be affected. “We can do that safely,” says Barry. They’ve learned enough about the virus now to know that their high-powered, regulated dish washing machines will properly sanitize the glassware and dishes. But they’re postponing certain wedding food staples for now: “A stationary cheese, where people can go up and dig into a nice beautiful displayed mound, won’t be happening,” she says.

Trials & Tribulations

The wedding industry has reckoned with no shortage of challenges in the past months. “What’s been really hard is rebooking the dates and all that goes with that,” says Haas, who also recognizes the deep frustration and disappointment her clients have gone through. Then there’s been adjustments to food protocols, vendor mask requirements, plus the safety of the guests and vendors to deal with. 

Haas does note that wedding vendors like photographers, bakers, and others are typically still welcoming the opportunity to work celebrations this summer—safely and with a mask, of course.

Hennessey says that Beauport Hotel has given virtual tours of its facilities. Folks are still planning weddings and looking hopefully towards a time when we can have normal festivities again. 

“The best thing about Beauport Hotel is how you feel when you walk in the door: the smiles of our team, the scent through the lobby, the view of the ocean from our wall of windows are all remarkable. It’s difficult to convey that via Zoom,” says Hennessey. But they did, and have sold new 2022 weddings—a seeming light at the end of the tunnel.

Beauport’s planners worked around the clock to talk their 2020 clients through their options—moving dates, holding dates, and trying to see into an impossible future. “A wedding is an emotional time as it is. To add the fear of exposing their family to a pandemic really takes it up a notch,” says Hennessey. But the worst part just might be lack of human interaction. 

“We’re all missing those really happy celebrations where we get close with our clients. We really miss being together. That’s been the hardest part,” says Barry. 

Engagement Rings & Wedding Bands

COVID is the second pandemic DeScenza Diamonds has survived since its inception in 1915. “We’ve been through some pretty big events and changes over the years,” says Tyler DeScenza, the company’s diamond and gemstone buyer. “But obviously nothing quite like this.”

DeScenza, with locations in Boston, Peabody, Hingham, and Framingham, essentially completely shut down for three months. Now that they’re up and running again, DeScenza says they’re experiencing “pent up demand” for engagement rings.

“A catch phrase our marketing people came up with is that ‘love isn’t cancelled,’” says DeScenza, adding that the company saw about a forty percent uptick in engagement ring sales compared to this time last year. “It seems that maybe people managed to get through the shutdown living together and figured that if this doesn’t solidify them, nothing does.”

DeScenza’s seen most people pushing back their bigger celebrations to next year to have smaller, creative family weddings with ten or twenty people this summer. But they’re also getting resourceful with the engagements themselves.

“I did hear about a couple that was going to get engaged on a trip somewhere, it might have been Peru,” says DeScenza. “The guy got very creative. He played a whole video montage on his TV at home, and made it seem like they were there, and got down on his knee and proposed in front of Machu Picchu or something on the TV.”

DeScenza also expressed hope for a rebounding economy. In contrast to the recession of 2008 and ’09, folks are still willing to spend money on things that are important to them—they may have even saved up in the past few months. And because they’ve spent so much valuable time with their families, they might now buy objects of higher value.

“They’re maybe not buying as many little things, but buying more emotional things and items that will actually carry more value going forward,” says DeScenza.

New Trends and Old Traditions

As couples postpone their wedding celebrations to next summer, Saturday dates booked up fast. “There’ll definitely be a trend to have weddings on a Sunday, Monday,” says Barry, who even has clients rescheduling for Wednesdays next year. “People are rethinking, ‘Maybe a Saturday isn’t as important as I thought,’” she says.

Another trend: wearing your wedding dress twice. Those brides getting married with a small ceremony this summer may choose to wear their gown to the ceremony and again at the big celebration in a year or so when all the friends and family can see it. Who says you only get to wear your wedding gown once?

But some things remain the same: an intimate celebration, an exchanging of vows, a joining of families, and maybe a bottle of champagne. The industry planners have rethought, adapted, and made do.

“It’s a whole different perspective on how to plan an event,” says Barry. “It’s been good for people to focus on what’s really important. Everyone thinks about all the whoop-de-doo around the weddings,” she says, “But it’s really—the importance is what you’re doing in front of God and your witnesses.”