While low-cost weddings with fewer-guest have been a growing trend in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic with social distancing has brought an increased interest for engaged couples wanting to keep their dates to say “I do.”
Called “micro-weddings,” they offer a bare bones and intimate arrangement for a celebration at a preferred site with just enough people to mark the occasion and often keep costs often under $6,000 even for 50 people and far lower with 10 guests.
“I absolutely love the idea of micro-weddings as it’s everything you need. COVID has thrown a curve ball to all of us and I think it has made a lot of people realize what is actually important,” said Michelle Johnston, 35, who married Christian Gifford, 33, in May in a small ceremony with only six guests, including parents.
She said that her large wedding was postponed due to Covid-19, but they still wanted to get married and not postpone moving forward with their lives because of the pandemic.
“It gave us the ability to take that next step and do it in a safe way, sticking to the current state guidelines, but still having everyone involved, some present and some virtual,” she explained.
To make this happen without breaking the bank, she and her husband turned to Ainslie Daly and her wedding planning service in North Kingstown called Down Home Events (downhomeeventsri.com).
“It was fun and they enjoyed it,” said Daly, “and they got to save money for other things in their lives that are important. They still had the decorations, the flowers, the toast and even broadcast it to all the people who couldn’t have been there anyway.”
Before the pandemic so dramatically changed lives, Fortune magazine reported recently, 20,000 to 30,000 weddings happened every weekend in the U.S., with more than 550,000 originally planned for April, May and June this year based on data from the wedding planning site TheKnot.com.
Worldwide, 93% of couples whose weddings are impacted by the virus are rescheduling, with only 7% canceling altogether, the site said.
The average cost of weddings pre-pandemic was teetering at just under $34,000, and the average guest count at 131.
Guest lists of 50 or fewer accounted for just 8 percent of U.S. weddings last year, down from 10 percent the year before, according to The Knot, which surveys more than 25,000 couples annually.
“I believe micro-weddings hold a lot of value during this pandemic,” Johnston said, “not only being cost effective but trying find that silver lining.”
“Both my husband and I have been fortunate to be essential workers and have our jobs during this pandemic but a lot of people are not as lucky. Everyone should be able to get married and not have to worry about breaking the bank,” she said.
Daly said that she’s aware of the cost-conscious couples these days as well as those just wanting to get married because of “their ages, they want to have children, they might want to legally change names to buy homes, and some people don’t need the big wedding. Time is of the essence and their love is more important.”
Here’s how it works for Daly in her year-old business that draws on her more than decade in the non-profit and corporate environment planning, organizing and running events.
The first is cost. Keeping the cost under $1,000 means having no dinners or catering, but just a small number of people – 15 to 20 – at a site where there are flowers, decorations, an officiant, a toast of champagne and a small cake or pastry for every one attending , she said.
Daly said that she includes a few photographs that she takes herself and will set up a livestream through the free video conferencing website Zoom.
The more add-ons, such as a professional photographer, videographer, a location that charges a fee as well as rental for chairs, tables and other features will increase the costs.
“For example, if someone wants to do about 50 or so people it would include all the same as the lower cost, but if they do dinner, dancing, open bar, tables and chairs, DJ or band, photographer, you could be looking at $3,000 to $6,000, but without food and lower numbers of people attending you keep the costs down,” she said.
Included in the cost for either the very small wedding or the one teetering on 50-to-75 people, is Daly doing all the work to arrange and pull together the event.
“All the couple needs to do is show up and say ‘I do,’” said Daly with a laugh.
And with all the coronavirus recommendations and rules, following federal Centers for Disease Control advice for planning weddings is central to her approach, Daly said, adding, “As an event planner, it’s our number one job to read through those and inform our clients.”
Gearing Up to Help
Another contributor to the micro-wedding industry in Pranzi Catering and Events in Providence, a cater that Daly said is on her list of businesses that she would tap if needed for assistance.
Nick Mattiello works with his wife, Lisa, who owns the business. He said he has 10 micro-weddings booked in the coming months for couples whose larger weddings were canceled because of the virus.
“We never heard of the new norm until three months ago,” said Mattiello, explaining that micro-weddings of about 50 people wanting food served could run about $100 per person, with $1,400 for tent, tables, chairs and flowers.
Flowers by Bert and Peg in North Kingstown works with Daly in providing those necessary floral touches that make the day special in this time of matching convenience with desire to just tie the knot.
“It’s very little stress for the couple. Low key and relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, big weddings are just as wonderful if that’s what you want, but having a couple say, ‘Hey... I’m getting married in two weeks and here are my colors, use what’s in season,’ it’s awesome!” said Pam Shea, owner.
She said that for a micro-wedding, a bridal bouquet and boutonniere are ordered.
“If the couple chooses to have flowers for their best man and maid of honor, we do that, too. Using a local business that sources fresh flowers from local flower farms. It’s a win-win,” she said.
Desire to Marry
Daly said that she sees no common backgrounds or reasons that couples select a micro-wedding.
“Some couples have time and want the big party, but others don’t. Life is short. They might have different goals in life. People who wanted they larger wedding, there is the disappointment in that, but when they see that they can have the smaller one they are pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Johnston said she thinks one common theme in the pandemic-plagued world where the economy has contracted is the struggle of making ends meet while trying to have long-held dream of a fancy wedding.
Mattiello and Daly also said that they’ve heard stories about the dream wedding derailed by the economics of the virus. It comes down, said Johnston, to needs and wants.
“Needs: Becoming husband and wife, officiant to sign the legal docs of your marriage, photographer to have something to look back on, close relatives and friends. Wants: 150 people, DJ, open bar, expensive food, fancy desserts,” she said.
She and her husband had the “wants,” but needed to let go of them, she said.
“When you have a large family like I do, you aren’t able to have everyone in the same room to celebrate. We were able to have everyone join our zoom call and watch us get married, which was amazing, but not being able to have a traditional celebration with extended family and friends was missed,” she said.
Yet, the micro-wedding helped to bring some certainty in a time when so many couples face uncertainty around them and are seeking stability in each other.
“We don’t know what the next year holds, not only for jobs, but how long there will be a limit on guests you can have in closed spaces. In the end we were able to get married and that’s the important thing,” she said.