Love in the Time of Pandemic: Local Wedding Venues Pivot to Micro-Ceremonies and Livestreams

Many wedding venues are postponing ceremonies or playing things by ear, while others are scaling things down and getting creative.

As most brides and grooms will attest, planning a wedding can be quite a stressful endeavor. That’s perhaps even more true with the current restrictions on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have five different plans,” said Samantha Sasser, who anticipates tying the knot in July of 2021. “We just really adjusted our expectations.”

Sasser and her fiancé, of Rohnert Park, are just one of many couples whose plans have been affected by the pandemic. State and local health guidelines allow for weddings to continue for now but with detailed cleaning and social distancing protocols that must be implemented.

The state of California currently doesn’t allow wedding receptions or parties, only ceremonies. Sonoma County has determined that indoor venues can only operate at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer, and that outdoor venues must have six feet of distance between people, which limits guest lists.

Rescheduling weddings

Emily Hax, of the venue Green Acres Petaluma, is doing her best to accommodate couples whose weddings were canceled in 2020 by scheduling them for 2021.

Hax said although Green Acres has plenty of outdoor space, she has decided to limit capacity for weddings in 2021.

While Hax said it’s hard to make these adjustments, especially as she’s losing income for the venue, she thinks it’s worth it in the long run.

“We’re doing this for the greater good. We’re trying to stop it (COVID-19) so we can go back to normal, faster,” Hax said. “Not only do you have the parents and the couple to be wed, but all the vendors that come, you have to count those people as well. It’s a little tricky and it’s pretty devastating for these couples.”

Like Green Acres, many wedding venues in Sonoma County are playing things by ear for the coming months and for 2021, while some are finding new ways to host couples and their immediate families.

Micro-weddings and livestreams

The Luther Burbank Center (LBC) in Santa Rosa normally hosts hundreds of wedding guests in its multiple indoor and outdoor venues every year. Adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic, the music center is now taking advantage of its newly renovated plaza, which is “perfect” for COVID-safe “micro-weddings,” according to Sari Feinstein, programming manager for LBC.

“With the changes and our complete new direction with COVID-19, we have been really grateful to our community and our partners that have all gotten creative and sat around a table — a virtual table — and discussed how we can still be that community gathering place, how we can bring joy in a time that really needs it,” Feinstein said.

The center, which now has a wedding guest limit of 12 people, including the couple, has partnered with staging professionals and videographers who can help couples film their weddings for livestreams on Facebook, Zoom and other platforms.

Other outdoor venues, like the Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa, are taking advantage of their extra space by separating family groups and separating dining tables by six feet. Still, wedding staples like dancing and gathering in groups are prohibited at these venues, and guests need to wear face masks unless they’re eating or seated at a distance.

The Kenwood Inn, in the Sonoma Valley, is solely offering their “Elopement package,” which includes a wedding planner, officiant and space for up to six people.

“We have done several of these since … restrictions have been in place, and they have worked quite well,” said Sharon Rooney, director of public relations for the inn.

These micro-weddings and intimate ceremonies are gaining popularity. While the trend started as a response to pandemic restrictions, many couples and families have found ease and comfort in these simpler, low-pressure weddings.

While the future of weddings remains uncertain, Sasser said she’s prepared to be flexible while planning her 2021 ceremony at Vine Hill House in Sebastopol.

“With all of our vendors, we’ve been asking, ‘What’s your cancellation policy? Can we get a full refund?’” Sasser said. “They’ve all been really great and really flexible with offering postponements if needed.”