COVID-19 forced couples to say 'I do' to small weddings. Will micro-celebrations stick?

The pandemic knocked the wedding industry to its knees, but with COVID-19 waning, big weddings could make a comeback.

After pandemic slowdown, big weddings could make a comeback

When COVID-19 cancelled all non-essential international travel, Lysiane and Aaron Morris traded their 120-person castle wedding in France for a micro-wedding on North Arm Farm in Pemberton, B.C., with just four guests. (Tara Lilly Photography)

Wedding season is finally underway in parts of the country, but don't expect many invites just yet — COVID-19 restrictions are still forcing couples to keep things relatively small, a solution welcomed by some couples and getting a mixed reception from some industry insiders. 

Lysiane Morris and her Canadian fiance had expected to get married in a castle in France, a tradition for her family and friends in her home country. The ceremony would've taken place in front of 120 family members and friends, but when COVID-19 put a halt on international travel, Morris was actually relieved.

"This was a perfect opportunity for us to have an excuse not to do it in a big way," said Morris. "I'm rather introverted and had I gone the traditional road, it would have been for other people rather than for me."

Rather than have a big wedding, Lysiane Morris hopes to eventually host a party with her new husband at Chateau de Lalande in Crozon-sur-Vauvre, France, shown in this photo taken by one of the castle's current owners. (Michael Potts/Chateau de Lalande)

The couple decided to get married in B.C., where they were living at the time. A local wedding planner found them a farm in Pemberton, with mountains as the backdrop. They cut down their guest list to just four friends.

"We can try to fit in a mold, try to live up to the expectations, the traditions, or keep up with the Jones'. Ultimately, that's not who we really are. And I feel like a pandemic is a great opportunity to reassess what, really, you want and need to make yourself happy," said Morris, who is now pregnant.

Micro-weddings aren't new, but COVID-19 restrictions made them the only option for many couples.

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"I'm really grateful that COVID-19 has opened people's eyes to how incredibly amazing small weddings can be. But I do believe that that was a trend that was happening prior to COVID-19 even existing," said Lynzie Kent, owner of The Pop-Up Chapel Co. based in Toronto.

The company hosts pop-up wedding ceremonies where up to ten couples get married at the same venue, on the same day. The Pop-Up Chapel Co. started in Ontario, but has expanded to host weddings in B.C. and Manitoba.

COVID-19 initially quashed even the smallest weddings, but during just three months in 2020, The Pop-Up Chapel Co. still managed to marry 85 couples.

"I'm just ready to get the ball rolling and do events again, and to try to recoup what we've lost," said Kent.

Kent expects to host 150 weddings in 2021, their biggest year yet, though some will be postponements from 2020.

'The year of the micro-wedding'

For some event spaces, adapting to offer micro-weddings during COVID was a survival strategy, but it may not be financially sustainable in the future.

In Cambridge, Ont., Storehouse 408 hosted 10-person weddings in its space that can fit up to 160 guests.

"This is the year of the micro-wedding. Most venues and vendors have come up with new packages that they've never had before," said Amy Jakubaitis, owner and president of Storehouse 408.

Wife-and-husband team, Amy and Matt Jakubaitis, opened Storehouse 408 in 2019 in Cambridge, Ont. (Brenton Alexander Photography)

Clients are supposed to pay a flat fee to rent the space, no matter the size of the celebration, but Jakubaitis has been making some exceptions.

"When a client has been forced to reduce their wedding size to 10 people, we just don't feel right still charging them for the whole day," said Jakubaitis.

That, along with less spending on food and drinks, means the pay-off for the few small weddings that have gone ahead is also limited.

"When you have a 10-person wedding you're not seeing the revenues that you would for a 120-person wedding that has dancing and goes late into the night."

While she said there is a light at the end of the tunnel for her industry, she's not sure when they'll get there. She's concerned about more cancellations and postponements this summer that will add to a backlog in years to come.

"Where we're trying to fit perhaps two to three years worth of weddings into one year, that's two to three years worth of revenue that we have to recoup in one year," said Jakubaitis.

While the small weddings she's seen at her venue have been "magical," she hopes people are missing the bigger weddings.

"In the future, we do want to see bigger weddings in order for the business to continue," she said.

The last dance for some wedding businesses

According to the Ontario Wedding Association (OWA), some wedding-related businesses have closed completely due to COVID. 

"We do hear almost daily [of] businesses that are choosing to not return, as it's been over a year with little to no revenue and they just cannot survive anymore," said Neil Lariviere, president of the OWA.

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The group estimates that 80-90 per cent of weddings were postponed in 2020, and that 50 per cent of 2021 weddings have also been postponed so far.

"Micro-weddings have been great to help capture some revenue for this year, however we know it won't be enough," said Lariviere.

He thinks micro-weddings will continue post-COVID, but expects couples won't have their pick of prime dates such as weekends.

The return of big weddings: 2022

While some couples, such as Morris and her husband, have been grateful for an excuse to have a small celebration, others are eager to get hundreds of family members friends together again.

"People are just waiting for [COVID] to be over so they can have large gatherings," said Neha Chopra, owner and lead event director of SAWC Planners, an event planning company that specializes in South Asian and fusion weddings.

Chopra said typical weddings her company plans host between 250 to 500 people. They were supposed to do 47 weddings in 2020, but just eight small ceremonies went ahead. 

Following Ontario's current guidelines, wedding planner Neha Chopra is organizing outdoor weddings with all guests seated and physically distanced. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"Our wedding industry definitely took a really big hit, specifically to the South Asian wedding industry, because we had never even heard about the term micro-wedding," said Chopra.

The small ceremonies she's organized have been the same amount of work, if not more, for her, as couples are paying more attention to the small details they can control. But because of COVID-restrictions, people are booking fewer events overall. 

"South Asian weddings not only just have a wedding and reception, they have a pre-wedding event, they have some other events that happen… Their overall invoice is half now because we're only doing the ceremony," said Chopra.

From the bookings she's received for 2022, it's clear that some couples still very much believe that bigger weddings are better. She says the bookings range from 250 to 600 people.

"We have our fingers crossed that things will get better for us next year," said Chopra.


Jacqueline Hansen

Senior Business Reporter

Jacqueline Hansen is a senior business reporter for CBC News. Based in Toronto, she's been covering business and other news beats since 2010.

With files from Laura MacNaughton