Something old, something new, something borrowed, something … safe.
Wedding season has resumed after three months, with some couples sliding their dates into the summer and fall while many others shift to 2021. Behind the scenes, a group of caterers, photographers, entertainment companies, and other vendors spent the quarantine creating safety plans to satisfy guidelines.
Social distancing, perhaps the antithesis of a day that celebrates love, family, and friendship, is key. Science is at work along with common sense.
Masks must be worn at the door, but may be removed at the table. Microphones used in toasts are swapped out and disinfected between speakers. Tables, spaced at least eight feet apart, are limited to 10 people and seating assignments are taken seriously. Food stations feature low-profile translucent partitions. Photo booth props are given to each guest, rather than reused. There’s even a new role — the sanitation supervisor, who ensures that high-touch surfaces such as door handles, faucets, and common-use tables are continually sanitized.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, with their businesses shuttered, the owners of three of the region’s largest catering companies — Joe Volpe of Cescaphe, Jeffrey Miller of Jeffrey A. Miller Catering, and Domenick Savino of Drexelbrook Hospitality — joined with Tim Sudall, a videographer and president of the region’s chapter of the National Association of Catering and Events, to craft a united approach for wedding planning and to deal with health departments’ regulations.
“Restaurants’ issues [surrounding reopening] were well-known,” Sudall said. “But social events were not on the radar. We decided to form a coalition because we wanted to have a voice. Nobody knows our business better than we do.”
“There were a lot of petitions going around,” said Miller, an off-premises caterer who stages about 700 weddings a year throughout the region. “We didn’t want to just chat and commiserate.”
The coalition brought in MBB Hospitality to work out new protocols, which they presented to the state. Initially, Sudall said, state officials balked at the idea of dance floors, Sudall said.
The coalition posited that a six-foot separation between entertainers and guests could work. No one is expecting 200 people in masks dancing the hora; guests are encouraged to dance among smaller groups or family units. (The Cha Cha Slide will be six feet apart, now y’all.)
Volpe, whose company throws about 800 weddings a year at his six city venues (Cescaphe Ballroom, Vie, Water Works, Tendenza, the Lucy, and the Down Town Club), calls his safety approach “Invite to Midnight.”
That’s invite as a noun. Volpe, who kept most of his staffers on payroll and gave them all virtual safety classes all spring, said safety starts with the wedding invitations, which are accompanied by health information. “This lets the guests know what to expect and their social responsibilities,” Volpe said.
Cescaphe also is doing contact tracing, asking couples to provide information and table numbers for all guests; the details are kept on file for 60 days. Cescaphe will take the temperatures of staff and vendors, while Miller is testing only staff. Miller, who prefers the term “physical distancing” over the colder “social distancing,” asks guests to sign health-screening waivers.
The caterers said guest counts have been dropping, as older relatives, and those with health issues, opt out.
“We have a bride who sent out ‘don’t-save-the-date cards,‘” said Sudall, the videographer, explaining that it meant “you’re invited but you don’t have to come.” That is where his business, Allure Films, comes in. He sets up video streaming so weddings can be viewed remotely. He also created video tours of venues, so brides and grooms can scout them remotely when choosing a location.
Weddings and other gatherings in Southeastern Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, are now limited to 250 people (including staff), or 50% of capacity, during the green phase. The city has delayed its move to green.
Among the other moves: Reusable bar towels have been replaced with single-use wipes. Staff must wash, sanitize, and re-glove every 20 minutes during food service, and everyone must wash hands when entering and leaving the kitchen.