Since April, Rodriguez has been doing roughly two virtual site tours a week to prospective wedding clients. Wearing a black mask, she starts the tour in the hotel lobby — where guests are required to get their temperature checked before passing through — then continues to the outdoor ceremony spaces and ballrooms, some of which can accommodate as many as 550 wedding guests.
Current Texas law allows the Four Seasons to host weddings of about 200 people. But with coronavirus cases still on the rise and large gatherings still risky, Rodriguez is getting more requests than ever for micro-weddings (with a guest list of as many as 50 people) and elopements (just the bride and groom). Not only have Google searches for micro-weddings doubled since March, but also large events have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks. Rodriguez’s first micro-wedding of the year — the bride and groom are both doctors — will take place at the end of the month.
Although smaller weddings don’t bring in as much revenue as large ones, hotels need all the business they can get. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, U.S. hotels have lost more than $46 billion in room revenue. Nearly 3.9 million hotel-supported jobs have been lost since mid-February.
To meet the rising demand, the Four Seasons and dozens of other hotels across the country have created special micro-wedding packages to accommodate the influx of requests. And some hotels seem uniquely primed for the new micro-wedding boom.
“Inquiries are through the roof,” says Joe Bartolomei, owner and manager of the Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma County, Calif. “In fact, I don’t think we’re taking any more [weddings] now for 2020.”
Before the pandemic, the 25-room Farmhouse Inn had a 14-person limit for weddings on its 10-acre property. They’ve reduced that limit to 10 guests, and have done four weddings and elopements since reopening in June after California’s coronavirus lockdown.
“We basically are just doing the same thing we’ve always done. It just so happens that what we’re doing works really well and is what people are looking for right now,” Bartolomei says.
Sunnyvale, Calif., residents Yasmin Coleman and Julian Quitian knew they wanted to have a small wedding when they got engaged last December. Once they realized the coronavirus would make it difficult for their friends and family from Florida, California, Brazil and Colombia to travel for a wedding anytime soon, they decided to go even smaller: just the two of them.
On July 30, the couple married at the Farmhouse Inn in front of an iPad so their loved ones could watch the elopement ceremony via Zoom. Some of the virtual wedding guests got champagne and cake to celebrate the occasion from afar.
Because the couple had budgeted for a big wedding, they could splurge on both a wedding and a stay at the luxury property. That seems to be a common move for micro-wedding couples elsewhere.
“We see a lot more week stays versus just a two-day stay because they have more money,” says Irene Robles, the meetings and events manager at the Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The property has hosted weddings with between two and 40 people since California reopened. Robles says some couples are going all out for the ceremony, even though there’s less of an audience.
“We had a group of a wedding party of 10, and they set up as if it was a wedding party of 100 with the decorations, the flowers and the lighting,” Robles says. “We still have the bride and groom really making it very, very special, regardless of [being] disappointed with not being able to have the big wedding as planned.”
D.C. residents Lucy Coleman and Gus Kost had planned on having a 200-person destination wedding in Asheville, N.C. The pandemic thwarted that dream, so the couple pivoted. They decided on a Fourth of July, 20-person wedding at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City.
The couple got married in the hotel’s Ambassador Room, a cozier setting with a fireplace and a built-in bar. The family-only wedding party was given custom-made masks printed with the couple’s initials and wedding date, coordinated by the groom’s grandmother. After the ceremony, they went up to the 18th-floor club lounge overlooking the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Blue Angels fly by for the holiday.
At the seated dinner, guests sat in family pods spaced six feet apart. Then there were toasts, some from in-person guests and some recorded by friends and family who couldn’t be a part of the micro-wedding. After the couple cut their cake, the city’s fireworks show began. At an imperfect time for a wedding, the timing felt perfect.
“It’s not what we had envisioned, but it turned out for the better, I think,” Coleman says. “If we were going to do it again, I would have the same wedding.”