WINCHESTER – If you are seriously considering hosting a wedding, you may want to start booking vendors now.

Here’s some advice from Kim James, owner and head chef at Six Star Events, a catering company in Frederick County. She said she had already booked well into 2022, now that state COVID-19 restrictions on weddings have been eased.

Between couples who postponed their weddings to newly engaged couples during the pandemic, local vendors say they are overwhelmed.

“When we opened up again, it was like, ‘Whoa, Nelly!'” James said.

Michelle Myers, a local wedding and event planner and owner of Michelle’s Main Event, was able to help plan seven weddings in 2020, while the remaining two-thirds postponed their weddings. On average, Myers plans about 20 to 25 weddings in a normal year. She said she has noticed an increase in bookings for wedding events now that things are reopening.

“2021 is really hard to come by for me and many of the vendors and venues I’ve worked with because we’re almost three times booked. More booked than usual, ”said Myers. “Not everyone knows how far in advance to start.”

One of the Myers venues works with Piccadilly Place, which is a historic mansion at 25 W. Piccadilly St. in Winchester. It opened for events about a month ago, said owner Scott Bessette.

While Piccadilly Place still has openings for weddings this year, weekend availability for renting the space is shrinking rapidly, he said. The situation is similar at the George Washington Wyndham Grand Hotel in downtown Winchester, said Kendra Tolley, director of the hotel’s conference services.

Not only has the pandemic resulted in a wedding boom, it has also changed the way weddings are held as a result of COVID-19

For James, her employees serve their guests more often. While buffet tables and grazing stations are still on display, guests can only access groceries from these facilities by being served by a masked employee, she said.

However, she has found that fewer people wear face masks at wedding events as COVID-19 vaccines are now readily available and most restrictions have been lifted.

“It’s really refreshing and so nice to see people socializing and having fun,” said James. “The first couple weddings we had when things opened up again, I mean, it almost drove me to tears to see people. They were so social. “

As people start to socialize, James has noticed that event organizers add an additional 30 minutes to the time for guests between cocktails and dinner.

“People are talking and haven’t seen anyone,” said James. “They enjoy talking and being in the fresh air.”

Throughout 2020, people seemed extremely reluctant to move around and interact with each other at every wedding event that James hosted.

“Even when we had a small event, you could tell that people weren’t quite sure how to act,” she said.

One emerging trend that she has noticed at weddings over the past few months is that people are focusing on signature cocktails and the old fashioned bourbon cocktail is “back”. People are also moving towards smaller bites, such as mini sausage boards.

The color palettes at weddings have just gotten bolder, James said she noticed.

“I don’t know if it’s just [because] People are kind of bizarre right now, ”she said.

Myers noted that she is suggesting to her clients that they offer a colored bracelet system for wedding guests to let others know about their comfort in socializing. Guests can choose between three different colored bracelets – green, yellow and red. Green means that the guest feels comfortable around others and may even be open to a hug. Yellow means they may want to do an elbow bump but may want to keep their distance, and red means they follow stricter social distancing and health guidelines when hanging out together.

People have also gotten creative with using hand sanitizer at their weddings, either giving it away as party favors or using it as a name marker for seating, Myers added.

Since COVID-19, people have also been hosting more weddings outdoors.

At some weddings, Myers customers have measured guests’ temperatures while parking. Your contact details may also be collected for future contact tracking.

When it comes to vaccinating or vaccinating guests, Myers advises clients to be neutral with their wedding guests.

In some cases, Myers has been told by the bride’s mothers that they do not want unvaccinated guests.

“I really don’t feel like there’s a tactful way of saying that,” she said.

Instead, Myers advises its customers to educate their guests, whether or not they are vaccinated, about the risks of attending a wedding so they can assess whether they are comfortable.

“Put guest safety in their yard,” Myers said.

But Tina Behnke, board member of Shenandoah Wedding Professionals and CEO of AirPac Portable Air Conditioners & Heaters, knows wedding customers who have asked guests to show their vaccination cards before the event if they don’t want to wear a mask. If guests did not provide proof of vaccination, they would have to wear a mask during the ceremony.

“There is no right or wrong,” said Behnke about vaccination rules at weddings.

And while business in the wedding industry is definitely picking up, Behnke said the pandemic has taken its toll on those who work in the industry, especially venues. She believes that many providers may not be able to fully recover financially until 2023.

“It was a really tough time for this industry just because no one could do anything for so long,” she said.

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