When Peter Tinaglia, 44, and Andy Maliszewski, 52, proposed to each other in Maui in 2014, they figured they had plenty of time to figure out how and when they would get married. They could invite 20 people or 200. They could have a D.J. or a band. Zoom weddings and a looming pandemic were not on their radar.
“We did think about an in-person wedding for a long time,” said Mr. Tinaglia, a teacher based in Manhattan. Even before the coronavirus pandemic practically ground the wedding industry to a halt in 2020, the couple had been seriously contemplating a small in-person wedding since their engagement, so they could spend their money on a down payment for a house instead of a lavish ceremony. After years of going back and forth, the pandemic made their decision easy.
“The resurgence was a concern,” Mr. Tinaglia said of the highly transmissible Delta variant. “We didn’t feel right asking people to endure the expense and emotional trauma of traveling to New York.”
They reached out to Denver-based online wedding planning company Wedfuly, which partnered with Zoom last March to provide a virtual wedding option for its customers, to help them plan their Aug. 13, 2021 wedding. The intimate wedding was held in a small Manhattan hotel room with five in-person guests and 106 virtual. Like many companies, when the pandemic hit, Wedfuly quickly pivoted to add virtual events to their packages, adjusting to the ever changing protocols and mandates of each state.
Caroline Creidenberg, the founder of Wedfuly, said the pandemic created a “huge learning curve” for her team, forcing her to “become an AV person overnight.” Like many other wedding planners, she’s had to figure out ways to make Zoom weddings fun and interactive, as opposed to “a lifeless livestream.”
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For Mr. Tinaglia and Mr. Maliszewski, a project manager at N.Y.U., for example, Wedfuly created “breakout rooms” on Zoom to mimic the experience of guests sitting at different tables, and they often incorporate a Jumbotron-style group dance cam to spotlight different guests and make them feel like they’re part of the event. Ms. Creidenberg said these touches can give virtual guests an “elevated experience,” so they don’t feel so detached.
Not everyone in the wedding industry embraced Zoom wedding planning so wholeheartedly. Longtime luxury event planner Marcy Blum, whose clients include LeBron James and Savannah Brinson and Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, said she made a conscious decision not to pivot to Zoom-only affairs. “That’s not why I got into events,” she said.
Ms. Blum, who has been planning lavish weddings and parties for 36 years, instead focused on scaled down, in-person weddings that included a virtual element to adapt to the times. She incorporates open air tents and HEPA filters, and brings on staff members who can help the less tech savvy virtual guests figure out their Zoom links. She’s also sent cocktail kits and mini wedding cakes in the mail to virtual guests, to make them feel included. “It’s not inexpensive, but it’s touching,” Ms. Blum said.
Like Ms. Blum, Adrienne Rolon, owner of Heart’s Content Events & Design in Chesapeake, Va., decided not to offer all-virtual packages. Instead, she helped clients plan smaller weddings with a virtual component. “The pandemic has definitely caused us to be light on our feet, innovative and flexible,” Ms. Rolon said. She and her staff have their phones set to send alerts each time a statewide mandate changes, and most of her events have included masks and “Sanitation Stations” — and Zoom. Despite the uptick in Covid cases, she’s seen a resurgence of couples planning in-person weddings for 2021 and 2022, and she predicts that most of those events will include professional livestreaming services.
At the start of the pandemic, Zoom weddings were often thought of as a sad alternative to throwing a live event where you can celebrate your union in the same space as family and friends. Now that we’ve gotten used to the idea of gathering via screen (and the Covid variants are harder to contain) — maybe virtual weddings are here to stay.
Hanel Choi, owner of Tristate Livestream in Westbury, N.Y., says that he’s not seeing as many “micro weddings” as he was in 2020, but that the beauty of including technology like Zoom at weddings means that couples can give guests a choice (other than Yes/No) when they R.S.V.P. “You don’t have to pressure people to attend in person,” said Mr. Choi, who averaged about five virtual events per month in 2020. He recently helped with hybrid weddings at the Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y., and at Sea Cliff Manor in Sea Cliff, N.Y., both scenic venues that in the past have been all about the on-site experience. Now, though, some vendors said it’s becoming almost inconsiderate for couples not to include a Zoom component as an option.
With the pandemic still very much in our lives, maybe a grandparent doesn’t feel safe flying across the country, or a friend feels pressure to attend a wedding in person. Those are pretty good reasons to keep Zoom packages as an option.
“By doing a Zoom wedding, we were trying to be inclusive and do what we thought was the safest thing,” said Mr. Tinaglia of his intimate hotel room wedding. “It’s really an expression of love.”