Wedding bells are ringing again in Quebec, but receptions remain a challenge

The wedding industry is slowly coming back to life, but many couples are still facing tough choices as indoor receptions are limited to 25 guests.

Many couples are facing tough choices as indoor receptions are limited to 25 guests

In a normal wedding season, the Windsor Ballrooms in downtown Montreal would be hosting weddings every weekend of the spring and summer. The past two years, the event hall has been empty. (Paul Doumit Photography)

When Kate MacGowan sat down to create a guest list for her wedding, planned for August 2021, she ended up making four.

She has an ideal list which includes 120 guests, one with 50, one with 25 and her final one represents the "worst case scenario": an elopement.

"It's the only way to sleep at night is knowing whatever the day looks like, I have a version of it in my head," she told CBC.

For the first time this year, wedding receptions with more than a handful of guests are back on as Montreal moves into a green zone.

It's a big relief for many couples who have spent months planning their weddings, anxiously watching the vaccination rate rise as their date approaches.

While the rules stipulate that 250 guests can attend a wedding ceremony inside a place of worship, with masks and distancing, only 25 of those people are allowed to attend an indoor afterparty. If held outdoors, that number jumps up to 50.

MacGowan said that she knew planning a wedding during a pandemic would be complicated.

"I've said ever since day one, I didn't want wedding planning to become ugly and stressful. So I said I never wanted to reschedule even if that meant just being the two of us eloping."

Kate MacGowan and her fiancé are preparing for all potential scenarios when it comes to planning their wedding for August. (Submitted by Kate MacGowan)

Two months away from her big day, MacGowan is still waiting for her venue to confirm and to know how many people will be allowed to attend.

She said with all the uncertainty, it's been an opportunity "to focus on what's important. It's a wedding. So if by the end of the day you end up married, you did it right."

"It is just a party — the lifetime of marriage following is what's really important."

Natasha Launi, who's getting married Sept. 2, is also facing issues with booking a venue. 

She had to postpone her wedding, originally scheduled for July 2020, and said many venues are asking couples to sign non-refundable contracts to ensure they will get paid even if the government rolls back some of its reopening plans.

Natasha Launi, who works as a wedding photographer, says the government opening plan has been hard on the events industry. (Submitted by Natasha Launi)

Launi said under the current rules, she's "not willing to spend the money it costs to put on a wedding for 25 guests. To spend money on linens and tables and decor and everything, you're looking at thousands of dollars per person."

Launi, who works as a wedding photographer, said she understands why suppliers are being careful.

"They don't want to lose money, for already an industry that has suffered so much."

She feels the rules about receptions don't match up with some of the other eased restrictions which allow for larger groups at festivals and in stadiums.

"The reopening plan that the government has put forward doesn't make sense and it's not in favour of the event industry whatsoever," she said.

"You have churches and synagogues with 250 people, but indoor venues at 25. So they are killing the event industry."

Events industry 'devastated'

Leilani Baja, director of operations at the Windsor Ballrooms in downtown Montreal, told CBC she feels her industry has been left behind in the plan.

"We feel we have been forgotten," said Baja, saying that spaces like hers which exclusively host large events have been "left out of the whole equation."

She said since 250 guests are allowed to attend a ceremony in a place of worship, she's been getting plenty of calls from people who thought the same number would apply to the reception.

"It's been a tough pill to swallow," she said. "We do have a lot of brides and grooms who are hoping that things will change in the next few weeks."

While hosting an event at the ballrooms for 25 people is possible, Baja said the fixed overhead cost of renting the venue is the same whether you have 25 guests or 250.

WATCH | Three brides reflect on the challenges of planning a wedding during COVID:

Three Montreal brides reflect on the challenges of planning a wedding during COVID-19

1 year ago
Duration 3:27
From postponing ceremonies to doing last-minute arrangements, the added difficulty of organizing a large event during the pandemic has proved stressful for couples.

In a normal year, Baja said the venue would be booked up every weekend of the summer. Since the pandemic, revenue has plummeted.

She said she's keeping her team on standby in case the government relaxes the rules even further in July.

"We've already lost the majority of our year," she said, adding that the closures have had a "devastating impact on the industry."

At The Forest and Stream Club in Dorval, small wedding receptions are happening as early as next weekend.

While the club can host an outdoor event for 50 guests under the new rules, sales director Éric Paquet told CBC that renting a tent for this could add as much as $4,000 extra to a couple's budget.

"A lot of venues don't have any outdoor options," said Paquet, adding that people who go that route will also be governed by the same rules as indoor parties.

"Nobody can dance right now. Nobody can be standing also."

That means people will have to factor in the cost of not just plated dinner service, but waitstaff who deliver drinks and canapés to seated guests.

Like many in the industry, Paquet is hopeful that in the next few weeks the rules for event spaces will be relaxed even more.

Giovanna De Capua is the co-owner of Ivoire bridal shop in Outremont. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)

Giovanna De Capua, co-owner of Ivoire bridal shop in Outremont, said she's noticed a change in the way her clients are feeling now that wedding ceremonies are back on.

"It's almost surreal to them, they can't believe it's finally happening," she said. "I have some brides who had to postpone twice. So they have tears in their eyes. It's so nice to see them happy and positive."

De Capua said she's been busy the last few weeks with many people planning for the fall or next summer.

"Now they are coming in, a lot of them last minute as well, they don't want to wait any longer," she said.

"You get married once in your life and you want your dream wedding."

For Lorraine-Noelle Pellicone, who is planning a wedding in September, the decision to postpone her wedding in May was disappointing. 

"It was a sad decision, but it was a necessary decision."

Pellicone said now that things are starting to open up, she's had to make preparations at the last minute.

"We couldn't meet with caterers until the restaurants were open," she said. "We're doing things in like a month-and-a-half that probably would have been done in eight."

Lorraine-Noelle Pellicone and her fiancé had to postpone their wedding this spring. (Photo by Lisa Renault)

Despite the challenges, Pellicone said it's clear people in the industry are motivated to support their clients.

"It's already hectic planning, COVID makes it eight million times more hectic, but I really feel like everyone is trying their best to make things happen."

'Three wedding seasons in one'

Caryn Lim, a designer who creates wedding floral arrangements, told CBC that many of the couples she works with are "super stressed out."

"Instead of being excited for their wedding, they just want to get it over with. It's really sad talking to my brides," said Lim, owner of Montreal-based company A Timeless Celebration.

She said since the announcement of the reopening, she's been getting plenty of calls, with couples hopeful that they will be allowed larger parties as the vaccination rate continues to rise.

Lim said with so many couples postponing, next year is going to be "basically three wedding seasons in one," with everyone trying to get married during the first COVID-free season.

Nicole-Natassha Goulding, founder and wedding planner at Chic by Nicole, said she's already completely booked for next summer. (Submitted by Nicole-Natassha Goulding)

Nicole-Natassha Goulding, founder and wedding planner at Chic by Nicole, said the majority of her clients have already given up on summer 2021.

While some are trying to plan small events for the fall, others are rebooking for next year, or cancelling and going the elopement route.

Beyond the headaches of changing plans and rescheduling events, Goulding said she also had to help her clients navigate through rules which weren't always clear, both in Quebec and in Ontario. 

"It's been double, triple the work and I'd say an enormous amount of extra stress," she said.

While this season might be salvageable for some, Goulding said she expects a rush on services once everything returns to normal.

"I'm fully booked for next year. I have people reaching out to me for 2024 at this point because they know the demand is so high."


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.

With files from Chloë Ranaldi


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