Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has upended more than just plans, and countless people have lost far more than just a special day. But like all the myriad things we're mourning this year, wedding cancelations have caused disappointment, stress, and a sense of loss. "We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of to-be-weds and their weddings impacted by COVID-19," says Lauren Kay, executive editor at wedding website The Knot, adding that data from The Knot and WeddingWire show 450,000-plus couples had wedding dates set for March, April, and May of this year. "While we see most couples rescheduling their celebrations to later this year or into 2021—only 4 percent are actually canceling their weddings altogether—many of these couples are still honoring their original wedding date by sharing an intimate ceremony at home just the two of them, or inviting their family and friends to tune in via Zoom or other technology platforms."
Zoom is the online-meeting platform that the country has come to rely on for staying in touch and conducting business with any sense of normalcy. And as the pandemic continues to render the future for large gatherings and travel plans uncertain, even as shelter-in-place restrictions lift in some areas, Zoom weddings may be poised to become the norm rather than the exception, at least for the duration of 2020. Here's what that looks like for couples who are affected, and how the wedding industry may change as a result.
How the Zoom wedding came to be
Just a few (long) months ago, any wedding planner recommending a laptop-centric wedding would have likely had trouble drumming up business. Now, receiving a wedding invitation with a Zoom link attached is not uncommon, and some planners are finding themselves in even higher demand because of their focus on virtual events.
One such planner is Wedfuly founder Caroline Creidenberg, who pivoted her entire business to meet this unforeseen need. Starting in mid-March, couples were looking to postpone their spring weddings until the summer or fall, she says, but as the pandemic progressed, they realized large gatherings might be restricted for quite some time to come. "That's when we started to brainstorm how we could help them still get married, and how the virtual wedding idea came to be," she says. "We didn't invent the Zoom wedding, but we definitely set a new standard for how elaborate and amazing a virtual wedding can be. Before us, most people were just doing the ceremony. Now, people are doing everything from ceremony to first dance to cake cutting, etc."
"The next thing I knew, we had 300-plus inquiries for Zoom weddings to take place between now and September." —Caroline Creidenberg, Wedfuly founder
Creidenberg reached out to Zoom on March 17, and the company was eager to collaborate. "We started pitching it to our couples and it just really spread," she says. "The next thing I knew, we had 300-plus inquiries for Zoom weddings to take place between now and September." This is all new business from couples specifically seeking out a virtual experience rather than business from existing clients looking to pivot, she adds.
The Zoom wedding experience
First, know that a Zoom wedding isn't your average board meeting. NYC-based freelance writer and Well+Good contributor Dory Zayas was a guest at two Zoom weddings produced by Creidenberg's Wedfuly over consecutive weekends, both hosted by Zayas' brother and sister-in-law. (The couple tapped Creidenberg, who was not their original planner, specifically for her Zoom prowess.) The first was a small ceremony for immediate family, wherein the couple and their officiant (standing six feet away) broadcast the experience to their closest loved ones. After, they did a cake cutting on camera while their guests feasted on cake that had been sent to their homes.
On their planned wedding date the following weekend, the newlyweds hosted a larger event for more than 100 guests, using Creidenberg's digital-event-production features, like cameras strategically placed around the bride and groom so they can do things like walk down the aisle and have a first dance. "Considering we weren't in person, it was surprisingly emotional, and I cried multiple times," Zayas says. Guests, she says, dressed up and sent the couple selfies for their wedding album. Some were seen dancing on screen at the reception.
Creidenberg's ceremonies are followed by virtual receptions of as many as 200 guests, and her "secret sauce" setup approximates tables, allowing guests to mingle and newlyweds to visit with everyone.
Creidenberg either rents equipment out to the client, or they use their own, and her team then advises them via FaceTime on camera placement. If desired, vendors are still utilized; for example, florists will deliver flowers and bakeries will deliver cakes while photographers will take photos via FaceTime. On the day of the event, Creidenberg's team masters the mics and controls Zoom's spotlight feature to ensure a blooper-free ceremony and reception that's easy to follow. Some of Creidenberg's ceremonies are followed by virtual receptions of as many as 200 guests, and her "secret sauce" setup approximates tables, allowing guests to mingle and newlyweds to easily visit with everyone.
Zoom weddings can be less produced, too: California-based bride Lyndsay Meabon, for one, went in a more DIY direction, and with equally positive results. She and her new husband were scheduled to be married on April 11, but three weeks prior, they made the difficult decision to postpone their 150-person event until October and pivoted to a small ceremony on their original date. "We really just wanted to be married, and during all of this craziness in the pandemic, we wanted to be married even more," Meabon says.
So, they found a scenic spot overlooking the ocean, pointed an iPhone at themselves, and were married by a friend—standing six feet away, of course—while their families watched via Zoom. "Right after we kissed, we turned around to the ocean to look at the view, and there was a school of dolphins swimming in the ocean," she says. "It was incredible." After, her sister sang a John Prine song and there were a few toasts and some separate Zoom calls with wedding-party members.
The Zoom wedding has its advantages
According to Zayas, several guests who originally RSVP'ed "no" to the original, IRL wedding for travel-related reasons were able to join its virtual replacement, and Meabon had a similar experience: "It was actually really special because both of our grandmas were not going to be able to travel to come to our wedding," she says. "But they got to be on Zoom and see it happen."
"Both of our grandmas were not going to be able to travel to come to our wedding," she says. "But they got to be on Zoom and see it happen." —Lyndsay Meabon, Zoom bride
Zayas adds that from her experience, more people were able to give toasts or small speeches since there wasn't traditional open dancing time. "There was more time and less 'coordination' needed, so more people were able to speak," she says.
Most importantly, though, both brides were happy. "My sister-in-law hopes to have a big party or vow renewal in 2021, but for now, she's thrilled that she is legally married," Zayas says. "She looked so happy—even through video you could see that her giant smile never left her face." Meabon adds that it was special to spend quality time alone with her husband on their wedding day—something she'd been warned was nearly impossible when hosting an in-person event.
Will Zoom weddings break the wedding industrial complex?
While finding out that your wedding has to be canceled, postponed, or moved online just weeks before its scheduled date, as Meabon did, is stressful, Chicago-based wedding planner Elizabeth Tulipana of Anticipation Events says that future brides and grooms have tough choices ahead of them as well, as what happens next is unclear. "My employees and I have been spending the majority of our time trying to answer questions that nobody has the answer to right now: Will large gatherings get the go-ahead at any point this year? How safe will travel be? Will there be more lockdowns in the fall?" Because no one knows, Tulipana worries that brides who've postponed from spring to fall, like Meabon, will have to postpone yet again or go fully virtual. But maybe there's a silver lining to that.
In 2019, the average wedding cost $33,900, according to data from The Knot. By hosting a virtual wedding, you're almost certain to save money on venue, catering, and beyond. And with couples and attendees reporting, so far, that these virtual events are just as sentimental, lovely, and perhaps even more personalized than in-person events, there could be a continued desire for more pared-down weddings, even when IRL events resume. In other words, couples may realize they don't need their big day to be so, well, big.
"It'll be really interesting to see how the world changes in general," Creidenberg says, and she along with Tulipana have some ideas that will mean less emphasis on event production, more emphasis on emotion, and, ideally, less of the stress that has come to be associated with the wedding industrial complex.
They predict, for example, that one wedding trend growing during this crisis will have staying power: tiny weddings, or, as Creidenberg refers to them, elopements with a small crowd. These are small, semi-private ceremonies, either followed by a separate, larger party or not. And if you, say, host a small ceremony attended by just your closest friends while inviting a larger audience to attend via Zoom, the cost savings would be substantial.
Both planners also predict that some form of virtual integration will remain a part of IRL events for the long haul. "Using Zoom for people who can't be there in person physically is going to become normal, I think," Tulipana says. "Before this happened, that would have been a foreign thing to do, but after this, it will be totally commonplace, and AV companies are going to be offering those packages."
Perhaps there's another silver lining to be found in the fact that the pandemic might not have ruined the big day for brides so much as it's afforded them more than one opportunity to celebrate. "It was obviously a big bummer that we had to postpone our wedding—I went through periods where if I heard a song that we were going to dance to [at our wedding], I'd just start bawling—but I think the Zoom event turned out to be really special, something we'll never forget," says Meabon. "And then we get to do it again in October, and have two anniversaries to celebrate forever."
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