Plan B (or maybe even Plan C)
Let’s face it, it’s not easy for couples who are planning their wedding right now. All of the uncertainties of the times we’re in have created huge challenges, as if there weren’t challenges enough planning a wedding. But it can be done, and done well. In this new normal, New Hampshire’s wedding professionals — while facing challenges of their own — are working hard to help couples still have a wondrous wedding day — and at the same time keep everyone safe.
“How do you plan something when you have no idea what’s happening?” Nicole Mower, of Nicole Mower Weddings & Events, says that is the question being asked these days by both couples and vendors. “Oh, my gosh, it’s so hard.”
Because of the pandemic, couples are having to postpone their weddings, sometimes more than once. “There’s one wedding I’ve had to move three times, from the spring 2020 to the fall 2020, and then to 2021,” Mower says. “Planning a wedding is a lot of work in general, never mind having to do it twice.” Or three times.
“We’re in this industry because we love people and love serving them,” says Mower. “The hardest thing for us is not knowing how to do that. I can fix rain — I can put up a tent and make it look beautiful. I can fix a lot of things, but I can’t fix this.”
But she can offer some advice. If your wedding has to be postponed, create a Google spreadsheet, listing future available dates on the left and your vendor team at the top. Send it to your vendors so they can indicate when they’re available. “That way the client can look at it and say, ‘Awesome, 15 vendors are available on this date,’” she says. “Not only does that mean you still have your dream team with you, you’re going to lose fewer deposits.”
If ever there was a time to use a wedding planner as a way to reduce stress, this is it. “You don’t have to do all the back and forth tedious communication with vendors, making sure the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted,” says Mower. “You basically have one point of contact, rather than 15.”
Mower says she sees a majority of couples who had hoped for a 2020 wedding postponing it entirely or having what’s called a sequel wedding, a small one this year and a big one next year. The small one is likely to be a micro wedding, with fewer than 30 guests. “People who are newly engaged see what’s happened to 2020 couples and say, ‘You know what, let’s do a micro wedding. It’s going to be really gorgeous and really fun.’”
For some couples, Mower says, the need for a small wedding is a relief: “They’ve always wanted a smaller event anyway. This has given them permission to have a more intimate wedding rather than a big, showy celebration.” Plus, she adds, it allows them to make the experience more luxurious, upgrading food choices, having a fancier wine and so on. Or, instead, use the money saved as a down payment on a home.
Mower says she has a ton of spring weddings on her schedule, including one with 250 guests. She hopes that they can happen, but she urges couples to be flexible. “Every month that passes and this is still going on … I think the uncertainty is definitely the most challenging thing about where we are.”
Amy LaBelle is grateful every day that her business, LaBelle Winery in Amherst, is set on an expanse of open land — perfect for outdoor weddings. “The amazing amount of outdoor space has allowed us to be more flexible and creative,” LaBelle says.
That’s a real plus in these times, but still it hasn’t been easy. “This year, we will do about 50% of the wedding business than we typically do, and the weddings we do tend to be on a smaller scale.”
It’s the same at venues throughout the wedding industry. The challenge, LaBelle says, is to reassure people that their wedding can take place safely: “Safety is on every owner’s mind. If we get the public to know how hard we’re working, maybe they’ll be more comfortable coming back quicker. We remain hopeful.”
As a place that serves food, LaBelle’s already had strict health regulations. Now, the state regulations for Covid-19 add an additional layer of measures to ensure safety. “We’ve had to get creative with how we’re giving out food,” LaBelle says. “How we run a buffet, how we pass hors d’oeuvres, how we do cheeseboards. We can no longer just display them and have people take from them.”
For buffets, with common serving utensils not allowed, masked servers attend every item. Because that’s very labor-intensive and therefore costly, LaBelle says, “We’re going more to plated menus.” Cheeseboards are also attended by a server. Hors d’oeuvres are passed by a gloved attendant who takes the selected item off the tray with a cocktail napkin.
Dancing is not encouraged, but if there is dancing, the venue asks that masks be worn on the dance floor. LaBelle says, “We put tables over the dance floor so people are encouraged to dance near their own table. That way, they’re not all clumped together in the middle of the room.”
Many couples are choosing music that’s not the main focus the way a band would be. “One bride went with a jazz trio,” LaBelle says. “It discourages dancing because you’re not usually cutting up the rug with jazz.” Another bride chose dueling pianos.
Like all of us, LaBelle hopes everything goes back to normal soon. In the meantime, she’s fighting hard to make it all work. “I’m always looking for the positive,” she says.
When he delivers cakes to venues around the state, Jacques Despres, owner of Jacques Fine European Pastries, has a chance to observe what the venues are doing to keep everyone safe. He gives them a thumbs-up: “Most of the places I go, the tables are separated, the kitchen workers are wearing masks. They’re doing a great job of protecting themselves and their guests.”
His cakes are boxed up and completely wrapped when he delivers them. To ensure safety during the wedding, venues take a few different approaches. “Some bring out the cake just before it’s cut,” Despres says. “Others put a round Plexiglas dome over the cake so you can see it but not touch it. Still others put out a sign that says, ‘Don’t get within six feet’ or they have a draped barrier around the cake.”
Because cakes (or cupcakes) are one of the things couples feel they can’t do without, Despres’ business is, he says, “doing well, but not going gangbusters. We used to do a lot more.” He’s seeing many more weddings at home and, wherever the wedding takes place, the cakes tend to be smaller (which he gauges by the number of tiers) because there are fewer guests. Lately, though, a good sign — “they’re getting larger and larger.”
It used to be that there would be 24 to 26 bridal appointments at his shop on a Saturday. That is no longer happening. “We want to keep the clients safe and also keep my crew safe,” Despres says. Instead, couples go online to pick a cake and a filling — several, if they want. The typical sample box, which is completely wrapped, has anywhere from 9 to 12 varieties; there are two samples of each variety, one for the bride, one for the groom. “They come and get the sample box,” he adds. “Then we talk over the phone once the decision has been made.”
So far, that method has worked well; another challenge met. In the midst of a pandemic, he says, “You really have to think everything out. It’s exhausting.”
It is a sign of the times that brides are getting masks made from fabric left over from altering their wedding gown. “That way,” says Cathy Furze, owner of Country Bridals and Formal Wear in Jaffrey, “they have a mask that matches their gown.”
That’s just one of the many changes this new normal has engendered for brides, and for bridal shops. It’s a challenge for both, especially since buying a dress requires some closer-up contact. But Cathy Furze and her store manager Elicia Bonham have worked hard to minimize that.
Now, once a bride makes an appointment and before coming into the store, brides are given a special link that connects them to the store’s inventory of dresses. “After perusing that, they can select gowns that they want to try on once they arrive at the store for their appointment,” Furze says. “That gives them a good look in advance of what they may want to try on.”
At this time appointments are required to limit the number of guests in the store. Instead of the usual group of family and friends who get to help in the selection, only two guests can currently come. Everyone has to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer upon entering. “Some brides really enjoy having their entire wedding party, moms and grandmothers, and that is just not possible at this time,” Furze says. But other guests can be included with Zoom, Facetime or other platforms.
Another change, this one for the store, the constant cleaning required. A buffer is needed between appointments to sanitize fitting rooms, all touched surfaces and any gowns tried on. Either the gowns have to hang for 72 hours or be treated with fabric sanitizer and/or a steamer. “On a booked Saturday the sanitizing process can take quite a while due to the number of gowns being tried on,” says Bonham, “but we make this a priority to keep all of our staff and guests healthy.”
The length of time it typically takes to order — and receive — a dress is another hurdle in these times. “Many shipping companies have said they cannot guarantee delivery dates,” Bonham says. Buying a dress off the rack is a great option for any bride who is worried her gown may not arrive in time for her special day.
“Every day we find a new challenge,” says Furze. “We are working to make every appointment a special experience.”
The Hair and Makeup
When we think of a bride and her bridesmaids getting ready for a wedding, we see a room crowded with people, waiting to get their hair and makeup done, or just watching. But that’s no longer how it is.
Now there are strict protocols, imposed by state regulation, and by those who are doing the hair and makeup.
Lena Hartford, owner of Hair That Moves, says the myriad of precautions can be daunting, but well worth it for the safety of her client, and for hers. “I’m trying to be smart about being safe,” Hartford says.
Instead of 20 people in the room, it’s “one at a time, just me and the person who’s having her hair or makeup done,” she says. “I also require them to wear masks.” She emails her requests to the bride, asking for their help in staying safe. So far, so good. “Everyone’s been great.”
As you can imagine, the mask requirement makes putting on makeup difficult. Here’s how Hartford does it: “I start with their eyes with the mask on. For the rest of the makeup, I have them leave the mask off, and I’m covered with a face shield in addition to my mask.”
In between clients, everything is sanitized — makeup palettes are sprayed, hairbrushes are sterilized and so on. Hartford uses disposable mascara wands and lipstick applicators so they can just be thrown away.
The distancing possible with hair styling makes that aspect of getting ready easier. One trend Hartford has found in recent months — more casual hairdos. “The aesthetic of weddings has changed,” she says. “Because weddings are smaller, some brides don’t feel they want an updo.”
Another aspect of these times that’s difficult for both brides and vendors — the rescheduling of weddings. “On a good day, you can just move it to another date, keeping all your vendors,” Hartford says, “but that’s not been the norm.” The difficulties are such that Hartford has only done a “handful” of weddings this year.
“I feel bad for the stress it’s caused brides,” she says. “I feel bad for the vendors who are making no money this year. The whole thing is crazy, it really is.”
For photographers, there’s one thing that’s easy in these difficult times — social distancing. “We’ve been social distancing without even realizing it,” Pete Clayman says. “It’s built into the job.”
Also built into the job these days is being adaptable. With many weddings now much smaller — either micro or an elopement — NH Images has created packages tailored to size. “For a typical elopement with two, three or four people, we’re there for an hour or so, take pictures and call it day,” he says. “For a micro wedding, under 25 people, we’re looking at 2½ hours max. We can fit people’s needs without breaking the bank.”
Another way to fit people’s needs is with livestreaming. Clayman says demand for livestreaming is “absolutely unexpectedly huge.” They use professional equipment that produces high-quality video and audio, which they stream via a secure link on YouTube or Vimeo — a link family and friends can log in to. “We’ve been able to broadcast to the world while providing a safe and secure environment,” he says.
A new addition to NH Images’ services — a high-tech selfie station — is another great way to stay safe and secure. This updated “photo booth” has a small footprint, a foot or so, and is portable. “You could stick it in a corner or place it on the dance floor so you stay in the party,” Clayman says. There are no props or backdrops. And there’s no printout to lose; within 30 seconds, you can text the photo, video or other options to yourself. It can be shared with others and customized with the couple’s name on the image.
To use it, you just have to tap the screen to start and choose one of the options. NH Images personnel clean the screen between uses, but, Clayman says, with new software, you don’t even have to touch the machine — gestures can be used to direct it. “It’s been awesome,” he says. “People love it.”
Not so awesome is the upheaval in scheduling. “The weddings are all last-second,” he says. “They’re whipping together their plans and the next thing you know we get a call, ‘Can you do it in two weeks?’” He has had to restructure his business to be more flexible.
“It’s a different world,” he says.