Brides and venues in limbo amid loosening coronavirus restrictions

By Rachel Luscher

As New York State is beginning to reopen, the Long Island wedding industry is trying to figure out how to execute a successful season this spring and upcoming summer.

The wedding industry makes significant revenue from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and New York State has been gradually loosening guidelines just in time for this year’s season. Wedding planners, brides and catering hall employees faced a whirlwind of ever-changing guidelines since the state officially reopened catering halls March 15.

The current guidelines require that all attendees must provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. The curfew for all catered events will be lifted May 31. Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised fully vaccinated people that they do not have to wear a mask or social distance, the decision does not impact state mandates, at least for now.

The reopening process has been a long journey for catering halls in particular. As early as March, catering halls in New York State were allowed to hold up to 150 guests, or 50 percent of their capacity as the state began loosening restrictions.

When catering halls shut down over 14 months ago, it impacted seasonal employees, florists, food vendors and security companies.

The gradual reopening that began two months ago allowed for hospitality employees to get back to work. “It affects so many external industries,” said Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who pointed out that the reopening of catering halls can have an economic ripple effect on Long Island. “So the fact that we have clear guidance that 150 people can attend a party, I think that’s enough to get us going.”

Following the announcement in February that catering halls could begin the reopening process, the metrics and the guidelines were not communicated clearly, according to many. “I think there’s some amount of confusion with people as to what the 150 meant,” said owner and head planner of Elite Glamour Events, Lindsey Scannel. “Like, did they factor in all those vendors and people working?”

Scannell is facing challenges with coordinating events because state restrictions discourage couples from going through with their big day. “People want to have the wedding of their dreams. I support that. But was the wedding of your dreams 100 people in masks?“ Scannell said.

The alternative to abiding by state guidelines is hosting private, backyard events. Not only is this taking away revenue from the wedding industry, but also safety comes into question with unsupervised parties. “You don’t have sanitization, and no one is enforcing social distancing,” said Stu Freeman, a publisher at the Long Island Bride and Groom. “That’s the unintended consequence of limiting catering halls.”

In a normal year for Long Island, tourism is a $6 billion industry, according to Liz Boylan, a partnership sales manager at Discover Long Island. She said it was tough to see so many furloughed venue workers in the past year. “It was hard, but it is so vital to bounce back. The tourism industry isn’t just fun for the people who come and visit, but it employs so many people on Long Island,” she said.

There is hope on the horizon for venues on Long Island with their efforts in their vaccine rollout. “Because of the vaccines, people will start feeling better and more comfortable about hosting their events,” Boylan said.

Newlywed Mary Kate Kane had her legal ceremony last year but is planning to have a large party in October. Kane and her husband understand if their guests are still not comfortable even with protocols in place. “We’re going to invite [people] and whatever they’re decision is, we respect and we support them,” she said.

A wedding venue sets up outside to abide by New York State protocols. // Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

The revival of the wedding industry is just around the corner, many in the industry said they hope. With the return of milestone events like weddings, there is a lot to celebrate on Long Island.

“There’s nothing more special than a Long Island wedding, and I’m hoping to see many of them done safely this summer,” Lafazan said.