Planning a wedding is stressful under the best conditions; planning a wedding in a pandemic ... could it get more complicated?
In addition to the existential threat coronavirus posed to one and all, brides and grooms — and their helpers — had to contend with efforts to contain the spread, beginning with the 2020 shutdown and including months of fluctuating quarantine and travel rules and mask requirements.
The long-held rituals that announce the beginning of a new life together were challenged, to say the least.
Droves of weddings were postponed (some repeatedly) while others were downsized and/or moved outdoors.
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Florida, where sunshine has always been a lure for weddings, reopened sooner than other parts of the country. The result, according to several accounts: a wedding boomlet in 2021 with an increase in out-of-staters holding destination weddings here.
Indeed, Palm Beach County records indicate the number of marriage licenses issued fell by nearly half in April 2020 to just over 460, only to rise and fall in monthly waves thereafter. The waves included a resurgence in late 2020 and early 2021 that saw more people seeking licenses to marry locally in those years than pre-pandemic.
But the boomlet wasn't enough to relieve the backlog of postponements, observers report. Now industry authorities and those in the business say they are seeing a surge in weddings as couples who are rescheduling compete with the newly engaged for coveted weekend time slots.
Wedding boomlet, backlog and overbookings
Some venues are being booked well into 2024. Guest lists have been revised as cooped-up people working at home grew closer to their neighbors and lost touch with other friends.
The Knot, a wedding planning site, forecasts as many as 2.6 million weddings will take place across the U.S. this year, up from 2.2 million in 2019.
It also estimates the bottom line on these events will grow by roughly 25%, as betrothed couples grapple with inflation that is driving increased costs on everything from caterers to venues to flowers.
“Eighty percent of my clients had to reschedule in 2020 and 2021, mostly from 2020. Then some clients who booked in 2021 moved over to 2022,” said Brie Hamma, owner of Jupiter-based Breezy Bridal Weddings & Events. “In 2020 I had about 20 weddings. This year I have 32 on the books so far.”
“I had some brides who had to postpone three times. They were so hopeful when places opened up, but they had certain restrictions, and then there were travel restrictions,” Hamma said.
With each postponement, wedding planners and couples scrambled to rebook every vendor, from photographers to florists, hairdressers, officiants, emcees, DJs, musicians, tuxedo, table, linens and chair rentals, cake creators, live artists and caterers. Save the Date cards were sent once again.
Back in 2020, when so many weddings and other events were scrapped, event planners like Natalie Harmon wondered if a rebound would ever arrive.
“You always have that fear in the back of your mind, 'Will it rebound, will I have to give up my business?'” said Harmon, who founded Royal Palm Beach-based Harmon Events more than a decade ago.
“In 2021 I started doing micro weddings with 25 guests and under," Harmon said. "They were pretty much outside in open-air venues such as Lady Jean Ranch, Jupiter Farms; Rayshell Ranch, Loxahatchee; Sandhill Crane Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, and Kai Kai Farm in Indiantown. They all offered the micro packages we created. It helped us stay in business.”
That year, Harmon handled 16 to 20 weddings — most micro events. This year, she has a record 65 weddings scheduled, and clients are booking into 2024.
“I have had three weddings where the napkins had the old date. We put them out at the bar. We make it a joke. We had a few people who put up welcome signs with the old dates. There are things you have to let go,” Harmon said.
“COVID brides have to be flexible and reasonable. They have to shake it off and come to terms that is not any of our faults,” she said.
Adding extra flourishes to weddings
Couples are looking for ways to make their weddings special, such as hiring artists who create a painting of the wedding, indoor fireworks using cold sparklers, a cappuccino cart or a dessert bar.
“Some couples do Chick-Fil-A at the end of the night or have a vintage Rolls Royce pull up. The most important things you will have are your photos and your video,” Harmon said.
Harmon advises couples to consider wants vs. needs. She has noticed a trend toward frugality. People who could afford a $100,000 wedding are choosing to spend a mere $50,000.
Those past two years were the low point in a 14-year business for Stacey Feldman, president of Peacock Premier Events in Delray Beach. She booked only about seven events of any kind in that span.
This year, Feldman, who specializes in high-end weddings that can run from $200,000 to $600,000, is back to coordinating 20 to 30 weddings a year, which is her max.
Summer is typically slower for Feldman's business. But not this year.
“This summer is booming and for us; it is so exciting. To see people celebrate and enjoy themselves is the best feeling,” said Feldman, who books some of the area's highest-end venues such as The Breakers and Eau Palm Beach.
“That is why we are a big destination. They want their once-in-a-lifetime memorable day to be special. The amount of money that comes here or is here for weddings is extraordinary,” said Feldman, who noted that all of her bookings to date have been reschedules — some of which have moved three or four times.
Demand is at an all-time high
Pent-up demand from couples who postponed their weddings during the pandemic is fueling this year’s wedding frenzy.
"The demand has increased significantly. Some are booked a year and a half out,” Feldman noted.
Palm Beach Gardens residents Rachel Jackson, 39, a Florida Power & Light Co. communications specialist, and Cody Jackson, 38, an Associated Press video journalist, met in 2008 while working at WPTV-Ch. 5. They became engaged at Thanksgiving in 2019.
After two wedding date changes with their venue, Loggerhead MarineLife Center in Juno Beach, they were finally married on March 11.
“My original thought was, we can get married in June. Cody thought it was too soon. This was before the pandemic. I said, ‘What about October?’ We chose 10-10-2020. That is a cool date,”’ Rachel Jackson said.
They pushed the wedding forward a year to October 2021, but again moved it, this time to March, for cooler weather. By then the marine life center had been renovated, and the couple was able to hold the ceremony and reception on outdoor decks.
“I just feel like oddly enough, because we were forced to wait, it gave us the opportunity to make it even more personal,” Rachel said.
This year, with caterers charging $150 per person, the Jacksons opted to offer their guests a fajita bar provided by Surf Taco in Jupiter.
More nuptials planned in Florida
Shea Christine, a photographer who shoots weddings exclusively in Palm Beach at venues such as the The Breakers, Brazilian Court, the Flagler Museum, the Royal Poinciana Chapel, The Colony hotel and the Beach Club, said the pandemic drew more couples from out of state to these spots.
”A lot of weddings that were supposed to take place overseas also ended up staying,” Christine said. “Demand hit its max in the spring of 2022. Every venue was booked. Every vendor was booked to the brim. Weddings were happening on all days of the week.
“In 2021 in the fall in particular, there were a lot of people traveling here,” Christine said. ”They would talk about it in their speeches. They said they wanted to have a mask-free wedding, so they came to Florida.”
The Breakers does not disclose the number of weddings held there annually. But Caroline Scarpinato, director of event sales, said the resort with 12 primary venues has limited dates open through 2022 and 2023.
Pre-pandemic, the wedding season peaked with couples snapping up weekend dates from Novermber to May, Scarpinato said. That is changing.
“Couples are becoming more open and flexible to hosting events on weekdays and at alternative times of the year, Scarpinato said.
Heightened interest in outdoor venues remains, and The Breakers clientele is investing in longer-stay and multi-event destination weddings, while extending stays for personal getaways.
“The range in formality is broad. We see steady demand for elaborate, black-tie affairs in our breathtaking frescoed and gilded ballrooms, as well as casually chic experiences in one of our 10 restaurants or Beach Club,” Scarpinato said.
Lake Worth Beach residents Rob Mash, 39, a sales associate with MV Realty, and his fiancée Kim Garni, a school counselor, were engaged in December 2019, and have postponed their wedding twice.
“We were going to get married in November 2020. In 2020 we moved it one year away to 2021. But then there were still certain flight restrictions. Kim’s family is in New Jersey and New York and mine is from England. We did not want to risk flight cancellations,” Mash said.
Now the wedding is planned for Nov.12 at the venue they originally selected, Lady Jean Ranch in Jupiter Farms. They switched caterers after the first one raised prices.
Kellie Runsdorf, who operates Lady Jean Ranch with her sister Michelle Cronin, said the 50-acre ranch was started by her parents as an equestrian business 27 years ago, but they launched their event business in late 2019.
The pandemic forced Lady Jean Ranch to close in March 2020, and they don’t do events in the hottest months of June through September. They offer multiple indoor and outdoor locations including a covered Cocktail Pavilion and a Main Reception Barn that can host up to 250 guests.
In 2021, Lady Jean Ranch held 17 smaller events, and this year the owners expect to host close to 40.
“Every Saturday is booked in October and November,” Runsdorf said. “We have three people in line with holds. We also do Fridays and Sundays. We just had a bride get married on a Thursday. I just booked a Friday in October 2023, and we have only one Saturday left in November 2023.”
Some couples never postponed the date, but the pandemic still drove changes to the big-day plans.
Nicole Cooper, 28, and Mitchell Cooper 32, were engaged in September 2021, and set the date for June 11, 2022.
Both live in New Jersey and perhaps would've married there as well, if they hadn't engaged in a pandemic migration to and from Mitchell's parent's home.
“Twice during the pandemic, we drove from New York to Palm Beach Gardens. We lived there for months on end. We were so restless up here,” said Nicole Cooper, a Macy's buyer. “It was easier to survive the pandemic with sunshine.”
Cooper credits their wedding planner, Feldman of Peacock Premier, with making the day at The Country Club at Mirasol perfect and special with an enchanted garden theme, including a phone booth where guests recorded messages to the couple.
“We saw the world starting to open up. We felt comfortable to be able to plan a wedding without fear, especially a wedding nine months away. People were celebrating and living their lives. The biggest obstacle we had to face was everybody else is getting married now. The wedding COVID bubble is real.
“Our options were to wait two years up north for the stars to align or do it in nine months in Florida,” Cooper said.
The Coopers also figured costs would only be increasing over the next couple of years.
Forging ahead with original wedding dates
For a variety of reasons, the Trimbolis of Palm Beach Gardens decided not to postpone their wedding. After becoming engaged in September 2020, the couple tied the knot on March 20, 2021, at Ever After Farms Ranch in Indiantown.
Biani Trimboli, 41, a real estate broker, and her husband Frank Trimboli, 54, a mortgage broker, hosted 150 guests. Many were from out-of-town and were comfortable traveling to Florida. The vaccine was available for those 75 and over. No one contracted COVID-19 during the wedding, Biani Trimboli said.
“We kept thinking about postponing it a couple of times. I said, you know what, changing everything is going to be such as hassle. A lot of things were not refundable. Trying to fit everyone on the schedule again would have been a nightmare. We went through with it, and I am glad we did,” Biani Trimboli said.
Reed McIlvaine, owner, Renny & Reed, a 50-year-old floral and event design firm with offices in Palm Beach and New York, said business came to a screeching halt in March 2020, but a sold-out Mother’s Day that May gave signs of hope.
The summer was quiet, but by the fall of 2020, the company was working with clients holding outdoor, socially distanced weddings at private homes and local venues such as The Breakers.
“In December 2020 we did a huge wedding on a mega-yacht for 40 people. By early 2021, we were cranking, and we have never looked back,” McIlvaine said. “Last year was the first time ever, and I have been doing this for 20 years, where we were booking events prior to even meeting the client.”
Renny & Reed is forecasting a continued boom this year, providing everything from linens to furniture rentals, floor plans and lighting design, and the floral arrangements.
The firm’s total wedding count for 2021/2022 combined has doubled compared to 2018/2019.
” It has certainly been a wild ride. We just wrapped up our last COVID bride. They had two cancellations before they came around to a date and had the wedding at The Breakers in May,” McIlvaine said.
Wedding planner Hamma said people are celebrating the return to normalcy at wedding receptions.
“We are seeing more emphasis on the guest experience. Every couple is wanting to have those wow-factor moments. There is an increase in late-night food trucks coming in. We have had Mister Softee a couple of times. It is so much fun. People are adding on more entertainment. They are having not just a deejay, but a deejay, a saxophone player and a drummer to bring more fun into the reception,” Hamma said.
The wedding is no longer just about the marrying couple, she said.
“People are trying to make it something really magical, especially for those traveling.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Big demand for weddings in Florida fueling a comeback for the industry