By Cory Phare
Get ready, lovebirds – fall is upon us, and it’s Colorado’s top time to tie the knot.
“There’s just something about a blue-sky day over a mountain valley when the aspen trees are turning,” said Wendie Bass, an accredited wedding planner of 22 years.
Bass, who teaches Wedding Planning for Metropolitan State University’s School of Hospitality, said September and October are the busiest months for weddings, with a seven-week window accounting for 60% of the Centennial State’s $1 billion industry.
Over 35,000 weddings typically take place within the seven-county Front Range metropolitan area each year. But the past 18 months have been anything but typical. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hammered the wedding industry, which saw a huge increase in postponed events and a 34% decrease in revenue, according to a report from industry researcher IBIS World.
Now, wedding bookings are on the rebound and are expected to significantly grow over the next couple of years. But they may look a little different, said Bass and some of her students who work in the industry
2021 contains a lot of rebooking from 2020, Bass said. About 75% of the weddings right now are rescheduled from those deferred during the pandemic.
“Last year took out a lot of plans – and the professionals who were banking on them,” she said. “Not just that – the uncertainty of the Delta variant has a lot of people rethinking their 2021 plans (and) postponing further.”
Bass said inquiries into 2022 and 2023 continue to soar, a trend she sees continuing well into 2024.
Before the pandemic, “mega-weddings” – those with 400-plus guests – were commonplace, said Katie Borras, who worked for the Manor House, a Ken Caryl-based wedding venue. The Event and Meeting Management student noted that necessity has been driving more smaller, backyard affairs and elopements, a trend she sees continuing.
“Today, it’s less about the size of the event and more about celebrating family, love and ceremony,” Borras said.
A planning and floral-design contractor with Something Styled Events as well, she noted that the key for clients is finding a specific niche. That could include specialty options such as including a budtender alongside the bar in a cannabis-friendly state such as Colorado, noting the value of the multifaceted MSU Denver program for such arrangements.
Bass echoed the individualization trend, noting it’s a “good time to study” the rapidly innovating field for client expectations and logistical solutions – e.g., sourcing sustainable floral options amid disrupted supply chains.
Regardless of unusual surprises, however, Borras stressed the importance of professionals still thinking on their (sore) feet.
“It’s not Jennifer Lopez in ‘The Wedding Planner,’” she said. “You might be on your third 10-hour day and have to figure the answer whether you know it or not: The DJ might not show; the flowers might be dying, but you have to be able to handle all the nitty-gritty with elegance.”
Safety and sanitization have become front and center during the past 18 months, and tying the knot is no exception.
As capacity restrictions began lifting this past summer, planners, vendors and clients began triangulating efforts to determine comfort levels, Bass said. Venues were meticulously measured for spacing requirements; masks were frequently provided to guests. Buffet-style food service was often eschewed for plated options; guests donned colored wristbands based on individual comfort level – green meaning “I’m open to hugs,” while red signaled “Let’s connect from a distance.”
Clients also began asking for proof of vaccination status, which required parameters of what planners were and weren’t able to do.
“You have to have a good scope of work defined to know what’s feasible and to protect everyone as well,” Bass said. “We’ve all been learning as we go along, but … weddings still happen.”
2019 was a good year for Footer’s Catering & Events. The Arvada-based company saw strong revenue, with weddings making up over 80% of its business. Then, the pandemic hit and everything changed.
“We had to drop everything once the closure order came down,” said Daniel Brainerd, lead event manager and banquet captain with the company. That’s why the force majeure clause, which addresses unforeseen circumstances in a contract, is so important, he added.
Brainerd, an Event and Meeting Management senior at MSU Denver, would put his job title of Captain of Chaos to the test over the next 18 months as Footer’s introduced delivery service to sustain itself in the early days of the shutdown. As restrictions eased, he noted the emergence of imaginative solutions: Grandpa might have been able to attend that small wedding in person, but savvy videographers ensured that he could Facetime in.
With backlogs now filling venues on early-week off days, Brainerd sees the potential for expanded staffing as clients have had more time to save for more specialized events. The adaptive creativity of the past year has paved the way for trends such as integration of expanded augmented- and virtual-reality options.
“As event planners, we spent the last year thinking about ideas we wanted to try and not being able to do them,” he said. “We’ve proven that the hybrid format can work, so it’s just going to be another option we can provide someone for their special day.”
Even with the challenges, coupling up doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
Bass noted that data from Kay Jewelers indicates that engagement-ring sales are up 15%. And she sees the pandemic as having a peripheral positive effect in October through February – peak time for popping the question.
“When you think about it, we’ve been forced to step back and do simpler things – take walks together, cook together, play with the dog,” she said. “People have realized their partners may indeed be the person they want to spend their lives with.”
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