01 Aug Jonathan Cartu Stated: Pandemic has Md. businesses singing the wedding bell blues
Maryland’s wedding industry faces unique challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Statewide social distancing guidelines still prohibit large gatherings, and, unlike restaurateurs and retailers, wedding vendors and venues must schedule everything around a specific date.
Venues say they have used their space in new ways and hosted smaller weddings at partial capacity. And they say they are doing their best to innovate while struggling to make ends meet in an era of uncertainty, where weddings could be canceled on a day’s notice.
Lana Brown is the owner and designer of Fleur De Lis, a floral design company based in Baltimore that provides wedding arrangements. Brown said she was completely booked in March, but many of her spring weddings were rescheduled to this fall. She expects these will likely be moved yet again due to social distancing guidelines.
Even though her weddings are being rescheduled, Brown said, she likely will not have any deposits for new weddings next year. Her calendar will be occupied by weddings that were supposed to happen this year.
“I will get final payments, and it’s not going to be profit if it makes sense because they’ll be used up for supplies, flowers, and labor,” Brown said. “And I will probably go in negative, because 50 percent I get now, and basically, I will have to execute my weddings on a 50 percent budget if it makes sense. I have to survive on deposits throughout this year.”
Brown recently supplied arrangements for some weddings that were supposed to be large but downsized to intimate ceremonies. Many couples still choose to postpone weddings, said Brown, because of family members who must travel from long distances.
Brown was supposed to supply arrangements this year for a bride from Lebanon and a bride with international in-laws.
“Their wedding is postponed indefinitely because the fiancée is an Indian. And his family is in India, and they can’t even fly here. So, his family can’t come. So, basically they don’t know when they will do it – is it 2021 or 2022?” Brown said. “I actually had this (different) wedding rescheduled to 2022 because my bride’s family is from different state. And she decided to just for sure move to 2022 spring, just to make sure at that time people can travel.”
Others struggling, too
Florists are not the only vendors struggling. DJs, photographers, caterers and others are engaging with frustrated clients who want refunds and flexibility as they reschedule multiple times.
Many couples want their wedding on an exact date and have strict expectations for “the best day of their lives.” This sets weddings apart from other large gatherings also restricted by social distancing guidelines, such as concerts, panels and religious services.
Multiple vendors said they expected catering businesses were hit harder than most. Pairings Bistro, a Bel Air-based catering company with a wine shop on its premises, has not suffered extreme losses since the company is relatively small, said chef and owner Jon Kohler.
Kohler said most of the company’s weddings have been postponed, and many were downsized. One of his weddings was supposed to host 200 people – now it is hosting 40. This downsizing means some initial deposits may be worth more than money received from wedding, said Kohler.
“We’re in the hospitality business, so we’re here for our guests. And in these times you have to be flexible,” Kohler said. “I mean for us, normally if somebody cancels a wedding they would probably lose their deposit. But, in one instance somebody has really canceled a wedding this year, and we just gave them their deposit back. I just didn’t feel like it was right under these circumstances to take somebody’s deposit.”
Pairings Bistro has also adjusted its food plating process, since buffet-style meals create a higher risk of COVID-19 contraction.
“The station is behind the server. So, you have a table decorated. You have your servers behind that table, and then you have the station set up behind the server. So, the server is actually plating up the food and handing it to the guests,” Kohler said. “So, we’re doing all the plating, so that the guest isn’t handling the utensils, you know, multiple people handling the same utensils.”
Pairings Bistro will soon be working its first wedding since March. In the meantime, the company has started up carryout, opened a market in its wine shop and placed a food truck in the parking lot to create new streams of revenue.
Tapping into technology
Innovative vendors are using technology to enhance their customers’ experiences, like Bradley Zisow, who owns Bradley Images, a premiere photo and video studio that specializes in wedding and Mitzvah pictures.
Bradley Images, which is based in Pikesville, has used additional technology to enhance Zoom live streams of…