Couples rebook their Florida weddings after COVID delays

Author: LOIS K. SOLOMON, South Florida Sun Sentinel

2020, with its rhythmic sound and attractive numerals, was supposed to be a great year to get married.

But we all know what happened last year: COVID-19 destroyed everything we had planned.

Now, tired of postponing through 2020 and into 2021, many engaged couples are saying they’ve waited long enough: It’s time to get married, CDC advisories be damned.

Their parents are vaccinated, and their siblings and relatives will be soon. It may not be the wedding they always dreamed of: There will be fewer people, as many guests will decline the invitation, fearing a super-spreader event they want no part of. The couple may have to settle for a less-desirable date, or restrictions at the venue, or masks required at the ceremony and on the dance floor. Still, many are planning to proceed.

Melanie Tolchin was set to get married on Nov. 7 at the Marriott in Pompano Beach. She and her fiance, Bryan Ludwin, postponed to May 23, and don’t want to postpone again. They had 100 on their original guest list, but have reduced the roster to 25. Everyone has to get tested or be vaccinated.

“You can track 25 people, it’s not that hard,” said Tolchin, 36, of Boynton Beach. “I couldn’t live with myself if a guest got sick.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still on high alert for COVID-19 and is discouraging gatherings with anyone outside immediate family.

The agency detailed several ways a large event could spread COVID-19, including guests getting exposed as they travel there, whether the party is indoors or outdoors and how long the event will be, how many will be there and how guests will behave.

Then there are local COVID restrictions that could impede a couple’s dream celebration. Each county has its own; at Broward’s catering halls and restaurants, there must be at least 6 feet between tables, and there can’t be more than 6 people at a table (or 10 if all are from the same family or reside in the same household).

Even as these rules are discouraging large gatherings, there are an assortment of more personal questions for brides and grooms to consider, including aging family members who may not be around after COVID is vanquished.

Three family members died, one from COVID, after Toni Rogers and Marcus Jackson delayed their May 23, 2020, wedding due to COVID. They postponed to Sept. 14, but cases began to climb and they decided to delay again. Costs were starting to mount, too.

Switching to a Saturday would have added an $8,000 fee as so many were rescheduling after postponing in 2020, Rogers said. They settled on a Friday, May 14, and agreed to pay $2,000 for the change.

“It was costing more and becoming so much more stressful,” said Rogers, 31, of Boynton Beach.

Paige Godfrey and Zak Elfenbein faced similar challenges as they decided whether to proceed during the pandemic. Aging relatives were a primary concern, Godfrey said.

“Our grandparents are over 90, and we wanted them to be part of it,” said Godfrey, 29, who married Elfenbein, 30, in front of 40 guests at Secret Gardens Miami on March 4.

The wedding was outdoors, and all wore masks. Post-ceremony cocktail tables were spread far apart, and guests were asked to sit with the group they came with to prevent close contact with strangers. Music was “instrumental and calm” and there was no dance floor.

“Every girl wants their fairy-tale wedding with all their friends and family there,” said Godfrey, who lives with Elfenbein in Atlanta. “We both said it was preferable for us to have our grandparents there. We’re hoping we get to celebrate with everyone else sometime in the future.”

A scaled-down party is one of many trends wedding planners and venue directors have been noticing in recent months. The trends include:

Weekday weddings. So many 2020 weddings were postponed to 2021 that weekends are filling quickly and couples are having to settle for off-peak dates.

“There are more weekday weddings due to lack of availability,” said Mariane Fahmy of Tres Chic Event Planning in Miramar. “2021 is much more saturated than 2020. Weekdays are good because they save the couple money.”

This backlog is going to proceed into the following year, said Jackie Bressler, a wedding planner from Delray Beach.

“People are starting to grab dates in 2022,” she said.

Destination weddings. Florida as a destination wedding site is as popular as ever. Venues remain closed in several cold-weather states and the weather here has been deliciously mild over the past few months, allowing an outdoor gathering with minimal sweat. Many couples don’t mind taking a weekday slot as guests will be here for an extended period.

“We find a lot of destination weddings and out-of-towners prefer weekdays, not just because of travel expenses, but because it gives everyone more time for rest, relaxation, and recreation on the weekends,” said Melanie De Vito, spokeswoman for the Addison, a historic site and event venue in Boca Raton.

Assigned seating by household. Brides and grooms used to seat older people with their age cohorts and younger people with their cousins or friends. No more.

“Whoever you came with, you sat with,” Godfrey said.

Dance floors? Some say yes, some no.

“There was no dance time for safety reasons,” Godfrey said. “We didn’t want people to get hot and sweaty and breathe on each other.”

Still, dance floors can become bigger if there are fewer tables, allowing for dance-distancing. And it may be awkward, but dancers must wear masks; most venues allow guests to take masks off only when eating or drinking.

“Our band kept reminding people to keep their masks on,” said Chelsea Dabah of Fort Lauderdale, who got married at The Breakers in Palm Beach on March 13 after postponing from Nov. 7. She and her husband, Joe, invited more than 200 people; 103 came.

Waivers signed by guests. Dabah said The Breakers required her guests to sign a waiver that said if they contracted COVID during her party, the hotel was not responsible.

Required COVID testing of guests. The Dabahs asked all guests to test before their arrival at the ceremony. The bridal party had stricter requirements: The 10 women had to not only test but send Chelsea their results “because we were getting ready together all day,” Chelsea said. Fortunately, they all tested negative.

Waiter service instead of buffet. “I am seeing more elegant, plated, seated dinners,” Fahmy said. And there are fewer large, multi-layered wedding cakes to be smeared on the noses of newly wedded couples and then shared by guests. Individual desserts are the new go-to, she said.

“It’s more like a restaurant,” said Patrick Shavloske, chief executive officer of Bonnet House, a historic Fort Lauderdale estate and event venue. “If you order a cocktail, it comes to your table instead of you getting it at an open bar. And there are no passed hors d’oeuvres.”

Despite these precautions, some are deciding it’s still not the right time. Rachel Papp was supposed to marry her fiance, Cody Jackson, on Oct. 10, 2020, at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jupiter. They have postponed to Oct. 9 of this year.

“However, I’m not feeling good about that date,” said Papp, 37. “I feel so sad that it may be delayed again, but I don’t want people to fly if I don’t feel comfortable flying.”

Papp said the wedding delay enabled her and Jackson to house-hunt, and they found a home they love in Palm Beach Gardens. She said they can decide 90 days before their October wedding date whether to proceed. In the meantime, she has picked out a 2022 wedding date when she hopes America will be COVID-free: March 11.

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