I do, but when? Couples debate a wedding with COVID restrictions

By: Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
This summer may be an I-do redo for many couples forced to scrap their wedding plans last year amid COVID-19 restrictions.
But for others, it may be a repeat of the wedding bell blues, as the lingering pandemic makes the likelihood of big bashes with hundreds of guests unlikely for many months.
“The demand is high, but everyone is really hesitant,” said Erin Lister, wedding sales manager at the Elm Hurst Inn in Ingersoll. “Who knows what the restrictions will be? . . . Those are kind of big setbacks for people.”
In a normal summer, Elm Hurst would host about six weddings a weekend.
Bookings for this spring are sparse, Lister said, as couples eye the fall or next year for their vows.
“It just keeps pushing everything forward,” she said, adding some couples are on their second or third postponement.
While outdoor ceremonies are popular at Elm Hurst, Lister said there’s a growing trend to shift photos, cocktails and receptions to tents as well amid the pandemic.
At the Hessenland Inn in Zurich, wedding co-ordinator Kelsi Trotter said couples are “split down the middle” between delaying their weddings or moving forward with smaller celebrations, with restrictions.
“We do have a handful of those couples who are now moving to 2022, just not wanting to deal with any restrictions and still set on that traditional wedding,” she said.
But others don’t want to delay.
“Some are saying, ‘We want to start a family, we want to buy a house, and want to get married before that,’ ” Trotter said. “The ones sticking with this year, they’re saying, ‘Our priority is to celebrate our love with those closest to us.’ ”
Trotter said for weddings scheduled this summer she’s planning options for every potential restriction level the region could be in, from green to orange.
She’s also noticing more interest from couples outside the region eyeing Southwestern Ontario as a local “destination wedding” option.
St. Marys native Christina Donati was planning a June wedding with 215 guests in her hometown, but when COVID-19 cases began rising late last year, she chose to postpone the vows until 2022.
“I was thinking what’s that dream wedding that I’ve always thought of as a kid, which is the big church wedding with all your friends and family there,” she said. “We decided that pushing it back one more year would give us that safety net to know it would be OK.”
Donati said she sees a silver lining in the situation, with the delay giving her and her fiancé Nick another year to save up for the wedding.
As for the dress, Donati ordered her gown last summer and it’s already available to be picked up.
“My only fear is because I have to wait another year, I need to keep my weight the same,” she said, laughing. “But I’ll make sure of it.”
Wedding planner Wendy Bennewies, owner of Devine Design Weddings in Mitchell, said she doesn’t see the industry returning to its pre-pandemic state soon.
“It’s going to be another 2020 in 2021 until the fall,” she said.
Most couples set on weddings of more than 100 are opting to postpone, while those who were already eyeing smaller ceremonies are reducing their guest lists to meet gathering limits, Bennewies said.
And for some, that need to reduce the guest list is a blessing in disguise — not having to justify a more intimate celebration or leaving out some of the second cousins and great aunts.
Bennewies said micro-weddings were already on the rise before COVID-19 hit but have been spurred on by the virus crisis and are likely here to stay.
Those going forward amid COVID-19 safety restrictions are also adapting to distancing, masks and closed-up dance floors. Bennewies said couples are incorporating charades, trivia, skits and even murder mysteries into their wedding receptions as alternative activities.
The industry will likely boom next year, she said, as the backlog of weddings only gets bigger and bigger — hopefully enough to make up for the lost revenue for planners, venues and bridal shops from cancelled and downsized events.
“We always said when we started this business, there’s two almost-for-sure things in life: marriage and death,” Bennewies said. “I don’t think (weddings) will ever go away. People will do things differently like they are now.”