The coronavirus pandemic stopped a lot of activities in 2020 — dining out, large gatherings, vacations — but it did not have control over love.
Some couples who had planned weddings in 2020 postponed them to later dates, hoping that by the new date, the people on their long guest lists would be able to celebrate face to face. Others took advantage of an emerging trend: microweddings.
What exactly is a microwedding? It’s basically a scaled-down version of a traditional wedding ceremony and reception. The number of guests varies depending on the capacity restrictions set by the state government and the venue itself. And the packages have been modified for the smaller guest list and could include things such as a small charcuterie plate and cocktails, or livestreaming for the guests who can’t attend in person.
Having a microwedding allows couples to have their special day despite the pandemic and restrictions. Couples have also discovered that the smaller celebration gives them more quality time with their guests, provides more for their budget, and enables them to book their top choice for vendors for less money than a traditional wedding.
We spoke to two Tripleseat customers about their experiences with microweddings: John Schulz, Reservations Manager at The Santa Ynez Inn in Solvang, Calif., and Allison Gallese, Director of Marketing, Sales & Special Events at Osteria Via Stato restaurant in Chicago. Here’s what they had to say about this new event trend.
1. When did you start offering microweddings?
Schulz: We have always offered weddings up to 100 guests with most of our weddings falling around 75-80 guests. We have no minimum guest size, just a minimum on our site fee.
Gallese: We have always hosted smaller weddings at Osteria Via Stato, where guest counts range from 30 to 235, but we truly started repackaging and promoting microweddings in April and May of last year due to the pandemic.
2. What is the capacity for your microweddings?
Schulz: Our venue limit for a traditional reception is 100 guests, but the property can do some events up to 140-150 people if a more casual reception is booked.
Gallese: We designate microweddings at 50 guests or less.
3. What is included in your microwedding packages and how are the packages different from traditional weddings at your venue?
Schulz: We do not have any set packages for the hotel. Every wedding that books with us usually does a very similar setup, with ceremony time, cocktail hour, dinner reception followed by dancing and party time, with maybe a cake cutting thrown in the mix.
The only thing that changes is our site fee is based on the number of guests with a minimum of $2,000, up to roughly $6,000. Our site fee includes the rental of the space, tables, ceremony chairs, dinner chairs, white linens, glassware, flatware, set up, tear down, and staffing for the event. All other details are done by outside vendors such as the baker, florist, photographer, videographer, DJ, band, and wedding planner.
Gallese: We wanted to make these wedding packages as turnkey as possible. When speaking to potential couples, we quickly learned that many of them were now planning a second or third wedding date or pivoting from a large to a small wedding to keep the original date and stay within the Chicago COVID-19 restrictions. Many were sad, disappointed, and just downright exhausted by all of the changing guidelines and capacities, and definitely did not want to start full-on planning for a second time.
Our microweddings packages include everything needed for a special day — stationery-like place cards, printed menus and table numbers, a choice of linens, a small wedding cake for cutting purposes and photos, an onsite coordinator, as well as lunch for up to 10 guests delivered to the hotel the day. We also partnered with a florist, CUT Floral, and photographer Eberly Film Lab to include packages that would accommodate a smaller time block or smaller budget, without a minimum required. Once our potential couples discovered how simple it could be to host with us, booking them became very easy.
4. How many microweddings have you hosted since the beginning of the pandemic?
Schulz: Since March of 2020, we have done just three weddings that were originally meant to be in the 80 person range that dropped their counts down to 30-40 guests.
Gallese: We’ve booked 16, with several more booked through the winter that we had to move due to restrictions tightening again.
5. What has the response been from clients?
Schulz: The response is usually always the same for our weddings; the clients and their guests love the property and the staff. In response directly to having to drop their guest counts due to restrictions or half their guests unwilling to come to their wedding, it has been sad.
Not being able to dance up a storm on the dance floor with all your friends and family, or stand and talk and make jokes at the bar, or walk around and mingle with various guests of your wedding is sad, hard, and frustrating for some groups. The whole point of weddings is not so much the actual ceremony itself, but the time and celebration you get with all your friends and family and not being allowed certain aspects of a traditional wedding event is in one word, sad.
Many groups have kept their plans with us but have postponed their weddings while few are ready to start their lives, have children, buy a house and the wedding is the jumping-off point for those families, so postponement was not an option.
Gallese: Absolutely wonderful. People are desperate to be together and celebrate during this time. The microweddings are as joyous, even more so than a traditional wedding. Even with masks and social distancing, you can truly feel the love in the room. Our staff has also been thrilled to see weddings come back and are honored to be a part of the special day.
6. Are clients continuing to book microweddings? How many do you have booked?
Schulz: We have seen a huge uptick in requests for smaller weddings under 50 and over the past year we have booked maybe four weddings that fall under 50 guests for the future. We traditionally only do about 15-20 weddings a year so to have five that fall under 50 vs. our normal average of 75-80 is more than normal.
I find that the guests’ budgets for microweddings are too small for our property and our hotel room rates so there isn’t a lot that book with us. Occasionally I’ll get a client who reaches back out after a month of researching other venues and realizes that all the inclusions in our site fee are actually not overpriced based on other venues charging per line item. Some couples just don’t realize the cost of rentals, linens, staffing rates, bartenders, hours of setup and tear down, and other expenses.
Gallese: Absolutely. We are seeing this twofold. Couples are booking microweddings for 2021 and many, with very short notice (under three months). They see the value in our venue being turnkey, are concerned about ongoing restrictions, and do not want the stress and worry (haven’t we all had enough this year!). We booked several weddings with out-of-town guests via FaceTime so that they could see the space safely and book quickly. Plus, a few of our larger weddings have now opted to go micro due to the same reasons. We have eight microweddings booked this year and 24 traditional weddings for a total of 32, with more inquiries coming in every day.
7. Are microweddings an option that you will continue to offer in the future? Why or why not?
Schulz: We will definitely continue to book weddings of all sizes up to our max, based on the details of their event. Each and every wedding is different and if more 30-50 person weddings want to book with us, we are very happy to have them and share in the celebration of their big day and the memories they will make with our staff and property.
Gallese: Absolutely. Though we prefer larger events for the financial benefits, we will certainly continue to promote microweddings to fill in our slower months or Sunday dates.
8. What do you like about the microwedding trend?
Schulz: One thing I love about microweddings is getting to know the clients and their guests more than normal. Some clients become lifelong guests of the hotel and return every year or multiple times a year and many times guests of weddings onsite, end up booking their wedding or a family member’s wedding in the future. So we end up as a location that works with different generations within families that we have already worked with.
Gallese: I love the intimacy of a microwedding. You can really only have those who are the closest to you when the guest count is capped at 50. You can feel the comfort and ease in the room. Another benefit is that microweddings allow two-thirds of our restaurant to operate as normal, so we benefit from the events sales, as well as dining sales and don’t have to turn away regular customers like we would for a buyout.
9. What do your clients like about microweddings?
Schulz: I believe the intimacy of microweddings is what turns certain clients onto having a smaller wedding. Being able to have more time with the people you truly love to have around in your life, leads to more joy and less worry during your wedding. There is no worrying about those certain friends or family members that don’t get along or talk to each other or about making every person happy when it is all about your big day.
Coming up with the menu options is less stressful as again, not having to worry about too many allergies or special dietary restrictions for so many guests. Whether it is said or not, probably the number one reason clients love microweddings is that the budget is much less and you’re not spending a down payment amount of money for a house, on your wedding day.
Gallese: Simplicity and cost. Also, they are able to direct more of their budget to upgrading wine, food, floral, favors, and more. It’s much easier to splurge when you are doing so for 40 guests, vs 300. We have seen unique upgrades such as mini, individual wedding cakes from a couples’ favorite bakery and gift boxes with favorite snacks, drinks, and Chicago memorabilia.
10. How has Tripleseat helped you manage planning for microweddings?
Schulz: Tripleseat, in general, has been an outstanding program in managing all our events. Before Tripleseat, I was creating contracts in Microsoft Word off a pre-set template I made, tracking all events and room blocks on an Excel spreadsheet that I always ran out of time to update for big meetings with management and ownership, and having to collect data from three or four different places to organize into one. A lot of my time was wasted on busywork.
I am now able to follow up quicker on leads, print reports in minutes, even seconds with accurate data for all my groups without having to remember to go into three or four different systems. Any other staff can get the same information without having to wait or ask me to get it to them and so not just in microweddings but all our groups, Tripleseat has made managing everything very quick and easy.
Gallese: We treat microweddings the same as traditional weddings when planning, so Tripleseat helps keep us on our scheduled tasks, planning details, kitchen and staff communication, and ensuring that the couple has a seamless, memorable day.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Seated magazine.