The new 'I do': Wedding venues finding ways to adapt during pandemic slowdown
VANCOUVER -- At this time of year, Brock House Restaurant in Vancouver is normally booked solid, every day throughout the summer.
But, as with so many wedding venues and vendors weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is very different.
Brock House’s catering manager Melissa Wong said over 90 per cent of the facility’s event bookings have been postponed or cancelled this year.
“It’s been a tremendous change with our booking schedule this year,” Wong said. “We are offering smaller elopement packages, as well as smaller, 50-person events.”
The venue, which is capable of hosting over 280 people and is normally booked by couples anywhere from a year to a year and a half in advance, is now taking bookings on a much smaller scale.
“We’ve had actually a lot of inquiries from new clients who may have not had opportunities to book our venue because of the food and beverage minimums being geared towards a hundred people or more,” Wong said, adding that five staff members are included in their count of 50, meaning the remaining 45 are guests and vendors.
“We’ve definitely reduced our rates to accommodate the 45 people,” she said.
Wong said some are also choosing to continue with the ceremony, but save their reception for another year.
“We’re very hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to host larger weddings and events in 2021,” Wong said.
In New Westminster, Anvil Centre’s director of sales and marketing Heidi Hughes said that facility has also had postponements and cancellations.
“We have had weddings up to 250, 300 people here in the past,” Hughes said.
Anvil Centre is offering full refunds for those choosing not to proceed this year, she added.
“Many people are sort of in a holding pattern.”
The centre also recently got the green light to start offering events for 50 people and under, including weddings. Their set-up includes spaced seating, and technology to allow for virtual guests and live-streaming.
“Definitely a larger space for a much smaller number of people,” Hughes said. “We would normally do between 60 to 80 people in a space, we’re now doing 20 people.”
Buffets are also out, replaced by plated meals served by staff in masks and gloves.
“We’re trying to create a trend in terms of, how can people still continue with their plans with downsizing, with modifications, and still feel like they’re having a really special and memorable day,” Hughes said. “It’s really decimated our industry, but we are resilient.”
The Stanley Park Pavilion’s communication manager Stacy Chala said the venue would normally see about 65 weddings each summer, but this year about 90 per cent have been postponed until 2021 or 2022.
“All event spaces really have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chala said, and added that impact is widespread. “It’s everything, it’s from the rental agencies, your decor agencies, photographers, event planners. It’s not just the venues. And then it’s food suppliers. It’s everyone. It’s pretty massive.”
Weddings that will be moving forward at the pavilion will incorporate physical distancing and smaller numbers, to meet provincial guidelines.
“And that entails the guests that you bring have to be at a table with just those that are in their same bubble,” Chala said. “We’re asking that tables are seated on one half so servers can access the other half.”
Dancing is also limited to the bride and groom, and the father and daughter dance, as long as they’re also in the same bubble.
“This, for some, is a great opportunity because usually you feel this pressure to invite everyone you know,” Chala said. “Now you can’t invite everyone you know, so it’s those really great friends and your close family that you can invite, and most brides and grooms will be saving a lot of money this year.”
The Permanent’s general manager Louisa Cohen said the pandemic cleared the facility’s booking schedule from April till the end of August.
“This year was supposed to look like a successful, busy and bustling wedding season,” Cohen said, adding that the heritage venue her family lovingly restored on West Pender Street also hosts corporate events and is often used by the film industry.
“It was a situation where we had our schedule wiped, wiped clean, for about four months,” she said. “It could be longer at this point because we’re still sort of in the middle of it.”
Cohen said the facility has a few clients in September who are also making plans for “micro” events, but she’s worried about what the future may hold, especially the thought of losing the normally busy holiday season.
She’s also hoping to hear the province make an announcement specific to event spaces. She pointed to restaurants being able to determine their own capacity as long as they have a plan for proper spacing.
“If we can submit plans and show the city or show the province that we are capable of having an appropriate amount of guests in our space safely, then I would be super pleased,” Cohen said. “It would be a real relief to hear that we could function at 80 guests, or 100 guests, which I’m certain we could do at a safe distance.”
For now, the venue is planning a pop-up event with a decor company to show off what is possible for a smaller gathering in their space. They’re also taking bookings for 2021 and 2022.
“But that’s still down the road,” Cohen said. “And you know, it’s scary.”
Another popular venue, the Queen Elizabeth Park Celebration Pavilion, remains closed for now.
The Vancouver Park Board said 13 weddings have been cancelled and 35 have been rescheduled. All were originally supposed to take place between March and October of this year.
The board is currently reviewing the feasibility of reopening the venue, which has been closed since March 16.