According to famed American psychologist Albert Ellis, “The art of love is largely the art of persistence.” And in the era of COVID-19, couples who have planned to tie the knot have found that persistence, accompanied by creativity and flexibility, can bring their wedding dreams to life despite the hindrances brought on by a pandemic.
Weddings in 2020 and 2021 have had much to contend with, from changing guidelines and restrictions to venue cancellations, closings and hesitant participants concerned for family and friends. Despite the unpredictability of the times, love continues to prevail, and not without help from local vendors who have pivoted with the times to find solutions for couples ready to making the ultimate commitment.
According to Valerie Gernhauser, Owner & Principal Planner at Sapphire Events, the biggest impact of the pandemic on weddings is reduced guest lists, which she and many wedding vendors have found to have positive effects on the overall experience. As a local specialist in destination weddings, her company had previously worked with guest counts of around 200 to 400, and is now seeing reduced counts of around 50 to less than 100. Gernhauser expects this trend to continue even beyond the pandemic.
“Bringing an elevated experience to a small number of important guests is really appealing,” she says. Since the number of guests directly affects the overall investment, a smaller guest list enables couples to make their money stretch farther and curate an experience that not only reflects their individual taste but can also account for the precautions the couple chooses to take.
In October, Sapphire Events helped one cautious couple create a safe, all-inclusive wedding, where every detail of the 25 guests’ weekend was planned to a “T” to achieve maximum safety for guests as they gathered for an unforgettable, love-filled few days of intimate celebrations that reflected both the best of the couple and of New Orleans.
Located in the French Quarter, the Royal Sonesta New Orleans has long been a popular destination for New Orleans weddings with its various dining and entertainment venues, 20,000 square feet of event space (including an outdoor courtyard), and hundreds of guest rooms. During the pandemic, though, the hotel was ready to accommodate smaller celebrations with “minimony” and micro-wedding packages, which the organization plans to continue to offer even after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.
“Royal Sonesta’s minimony and micro-wedding packages allow guests to plan within COVID-19 guidelines while still having that quintessential New Orleans experience,” says Brigette Folse, Regional Sales Director, South Region. “Couples can even choose to add on a Zoom option so guests from far and wide can still attend their special day.”
Meanwhile, on-site guests can experience the decadence of New Orleans with chargrilled oysters from Desire Oyster Bar, beer-battered crab beignets from Restaurant R’evolution, and a brandy freeze as an end-of-the-night delight, suggests Folse.
At Windsor Court Hotel, Catering Sales Manager Haley Kennel is finding that clients who have downsized their guest list are enjoying the ability to be more creative with food and beverage options. Couples are upgrading their catering choices to include specialty items, hosting longer celebrations than the standard three-hour event, and tacking on fun, late-night food and drink options that end the celebration on a high note. For added safety, many offer individual wedding cakes for guests, seated meals with wine pairings, and tableside cocktail service instead of bar setups.
One pro tip from Kennel includes splurging for the additional getting-ready space for the day before the event.
“While we understand the cost involved with paying for an additional night in a suite, having to not be worried if you’re going to get an early check-in makes the day of events run much smoother,” she says.
Like hotels, New Orleans restaurants have commonly been a part of local wedding celebrations as guests choose to take advantage of the city’s exceptional food culture. With two restaurants that each offers its own wedding or rehearsal dinner experience, restaurateur Anna Tusa has found that by not charging rental fees and instead offering varying buy-out options, couples enjoy more options for their space and budget.
According to Tusa, couples are making the most of the courtyard with traditional wedding rehearsals and receptions at the French Quarter’s New Orleans Creole Cookery while the private Wine Room at Downtown’s more contemporary Briquette continues hosting micro-wedding functions. Tusa has noted a trend toward earlier wedding and brunch receptions, where clients have enjoyed pre-set mimosa and Bloody Mary stations upon arrival. The restaurants offer customizable menu options and staffed, socially distanced buffet service.
From wow-inducing table flowers, small boutonnieres and bouquets to exquisite, unique ceiling installations, flowers continue to help couples define their space and color scheme, pandemic or no pandemic. Floral Designer Kim Starr Wise hopes that smaller events stick around after the pandemic, as they’ve offered a fun outlet for floral design work, now complemented by her new flower shop on Magazine Street.
“Small dinner parties give me the opportunity to really create an amazing atmosphere with all of the detail,” says Wise. As more pandemic-era weddings utilize the full seated dinner, creativity can abound with everything from the flowers to the linens and china – couples can get more of an impact from carefully chosen, specific items and textures.
For the time being, Wise has waived minimum order fees for weddings, giving couples more freedom to easily meet their needs as they navigate wedding planning during uncertain times.
Melissa Mortillaro, Co-Owner of Gem Printing Co., agrees that the small details are what makes a wedding stand out. A specialist in personalized items like invitations, cups, napkins, second-line handkerchiefs and much more, Gem Printing Co. was around for the last pandemic – the Spanish Flu of 1918 – and fully intends to keep printing through this one as well.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been printing a lot of ‘change the date’ or ‘postpone the date cards,’” says Mortillaro. “Couples are having to set safety guidelines before the wedding, and many couples are sending out small cards two weeks beforehand to let their guests know how they are planning to practice safe habits at the wedding and what they expect from their guests in return,” she says.
In addition to these items, Gem Printing Co. is also now offering personalized masks and hand sanitizer favors, which couples see as a great way to incorporate the “new normal” into their wedding. With a wide assortment of items, styles, and price points, Mortillaro recommends couples stop by the store early in planning to start window shopping and see what they both like and can agree upon.
Kevin Rome, Owner of Rome Tuxedos offers similar advice when it comes to suit rentals and purchases. According to Rome, the suits for the groom and groomsmen are often an afterthought, with couples expecting to be able to make a quick decision. But with more styles than ever before, clients are often surprised by just how many different looks they are drawn to.
“Give yourself time in case you’re stuck between two options and also to give your guys time to come in and get fitted,” says Rome. Rome also suggests looking at the benefits of buying a high-quality suit and accessories versus renting if you have a larger budget thanks to a reduction in guests.
According to Rome, a fun twist of late that men are enjoying is the gift of fun, creative socks for grooms and groomsmen. Not up-front enough to disrupt formal photos, silly dress socks create a memorable keepsake and open up possibilities for when the photographer yells, “And now for a fun one!”
And last but not least – in fact, likely first and foremost for most brides – is the dress.
“The biggest change that we are seeing is having to get your dream dress in a time crunch – weddings dates have been changing by the minute,” says Jordan Schulman, Owner of Pearl’s Place, a family-run, full-service bridal shop located in Metairie. “We have a direct line to our manufacturers and are knowledgeable about what gowns we can get in quickly, even in days,” she says. This timeline stands in stark contrast to the traditional four-to-six-months that dresses typically take to arrive.
In addition to its large selection of dresses, Pearl’s Place is offering a pandemic-era must-have for brides: the lace bridal mask. These artfully crafted, tasteful safety measures sell for about $25 and will certainly be a memorable token of history years from now.
“We never want to stop selling, but we’ll be happy to do away with these sooner than later,” laughs Schulman. Meanwhile, she reminds us that love cannot be cancelled. “We promise that although these times are different and unexpected, your happy memories will last forever,” she says.
701 S. Peters St.
Gem Printing Co.
1904 Veterans Blvd., Metairie
Kim Starr Wise
2036 Magazine St.
New Orleans Creole Cookery
510 Toulouse St.
3114 Severn Ave., Metairie
3213 17th St., Metairie
Royal Sonesta New Orleans
300 Bourbon St.
900 Camp St., Suite 358
Windsor Court Hotel
300 Gravier St.