The COVID weddings comeback is here

by Judy Stringer

While the pandemic forced many couples to delay or downplay their nuptials during much of 2020 and a portion of 2021, weddings are roaring back.

In its June update, industry research firm, The Wedding Report, said it expected 1.9 million weddings to take place nationally in 2021, nearly matching the 2.1 million in 2019. And that number is expected to spike to 2.5 million in 2022.

Local wedding specialist Melissa Fleming, senior catering sales manager at InterContinental Hotels Cleveland, said 2021 and 2022 are sizing up to be “the busiest wedding years our hotel has seen in the 11 years that I’ve been here.”

“[Weddings] have returned not only in terms of numbers, but size,” Fleming added. “I have done some smaller weddings recently, but I’m doing the large ones too with not many modifications, to be quite honest.”

Fleming and her colleague Melissa Leone, also a catering and wedding specialist at the University Circle-based hotel, said today’s weddings are pretty close to a pre-pandemic “normal.” Couples aren’t steering away from big events if that’s what they want and popular features temporarily banned and/or banished by COVID like dancing and buffets are back.

“We take safety precautions as a hotel, of course, and we have glove dispensers and individual sanitizer stations that we can place around any type of buffet for people who feel more comfortable using them,” according to Fleming.

Leone said many of her clients opt for table service, where plated meals are served to seated guests, rather than buffets. She also noted that servers might dish food from a buffet and minimize the contact guests have with shared utensils. Buffets items and/or desserts and hors d’oeuvres also can be plated as individual servings.

“It’s little differences like that we are seeing,” Leone said.

Fleming noted that last minute cancellations are another pandemic remnant. While couples used to “pretty well know” how many guests would attend weeks before their big day, it’s not uncommon now to lose “a handful of guests,” days before the event, she said, due to quarantine or illness.

Menu mania

When it comes to reception menus, one big trend is cultural cuisine, both women said. Couples are incorporating a bit of their heritage into wedding fare whether it is through specially curated appetizer or dessert options or complete culturally inspired dinner menus.

“We see a lot of that in the hors d’oeuvres,” Leone said, “and especially when it comes to the late-night snack. They might do something more traditional with the actual dinner portion and then later in the night like around 9:30 or so, have something a little more personalized and fun like a favorite food.”

She’s arranged hot dog bars, French fry stations and taco trucks.

“It’s a reflection of people really trying to get back to weddings being the fun, celebratory events they are supposed to be,” Fleming said. ∞