Micro-weddings take hold as downsizing hits an industry rocked by pandemic

Of all the events altered by the coronavirus pandemic, among the most obvious were weddings….

Of all the events altered by the coronavirus pandemic, among the most obvious were weddings. Traditional weddings often have dozens, if not hundreds, of guests and in most places during the pandemic, gatherings that size were not possible. But it was not only the bride and groom who were affected — the wedding planner’s entire livelihood has also been on the line.

Rocket Science Events, founded in 2010 in Minneapolis, specializes in elaborate, imaginatively designed weddings held in nontraditional venues, like an airplane hangar or boxing gym. At the start of 2020, Gretchen Culver, its founder, had three part-time employees and a handful of independent contractors working events and revenue projected to be slightly below $500,000. Then, the lockdown hit Minnesota.

“It was terrible for us,” she said. “All my weddings postponed and I waived the fee for changing a date. That meant, essentially, zero revenue for Rocket Science in 2020 and most of 2021.”

A few years before the pandemic, however, Culver began noticing that guest counts for many weddings were decreasing. Instead of 200 to 300 people at weddings, many clients wanted 100 or fewer. “I could sense priorities were shifting,” she said. “In the back of my head I’d been wondering if there was a way to make small weddings, with a smaller overall budget, work for my business.”

The pandemic offered an opportunity for her to find out. She consulted a planner in Birmingham, Ala., doing multiple micro-weddings a day, and that conversation sparked a light-bulb moment for Culver. She created a separate business, Minne Weddings, which offers highly stylized, all-inclusive wedding packages on Sundays.

Several time slots are available on each date for a 90-minute wedding that can accommodate up to 32 guests. The package includes the venue, rentals, décor, digital invitations, flowers, photos, videography, cake, sparkling wine and an officiant; prices range from $5,000 to $7,000. Couples booking the last slot of a particular day can pay to extend the wedding to three and a half hours and add extras like special dances, speeches and more food. Everything is done through the website; in most cases Culver doesn’t even meet the couple until the day of the wedding.

Almost as soon as Minne Weddings started in April 2020, demand was strong. “In five months, it became a six-figure business,” said Culver, who was able to hire a full-time employee for it.

A May survey of engaged couples with set wedding dates conducted by the Knot, an online wedding platform, found that 73% believed that the micro-wedding was “here to stay,” although just 5% of couples with summer weddings were inviting fewer than 25 guests.

This renewed confidence in larger gatherings “comes from a number of factors, including vaccine availability and a steady decline in COVID cases and hospitalizations,” said Lauren Kay, executive editor at the Knot. She added that many businesses that served the wedding industry and closed during the pandemic — such as venues, caterers and florists — had opened back up.

Culver noted that most of her customers are first-timers in their 20s and 30s, and those having second marriages and vow renewals. “We are getting requests weekly for dates in June and October of 2022, so I know this model is here to stay.”

Anna Price Olson, associate editorial director at Brides, agrees that micro-weddings are now a permanent part of the wedding landscape. “COVID taught us to basically re-imagine everything, and with weddings that meant you could break the rules, invite who you really want, wear what you want,” she said. “It taught couples to embrace what feels right for them in this moment.”

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