If you want to talk about bad pandemic timing, talk to Mary Youssef and Kyro Isaac.
The couple mailed 300 save-the-date cards in March of 2020, just days before COVID-19 put a sudden stop to their wedding plans.
A weeklong series about weddings post-pandemic.
"We're both Egyptian and big weddings are very common. In our culture and our religion, we put a lot of emphasis on being together and celebrating," said Youssef. "We grew up with this tradition and that's what we wanted."
When they got engaged, the couple expected it would be their long-distance relationship that would create logistical challenges. Youssef, a Minnesota dentist, and Isaac, a Pennsylvania engineer, scheduled their ceremony at her hometown church, with the reception to follow in downtown St. Paul.
But with the state-mandated crowd limits that had been put in place, they faced bigger problems than booking flights and blocks of hotel rooms for out-of-state guests.
"We never could have imagined that we would have to cut our guest list by two-thirds," said Isaac.
Youssef and Isaac are among thousands of newly married couples whose special day was downsized.
Micro weddings became the default when travel restrictions, safety concerns and social distancing required at venues and houses of worship cut capacities, and caterers and cake-makers had to put their businesses on hold. But now, as we're coming out of the pandemic, more couples are choosing scaled-back nuptials. In fact, smaller weddings have quickly caught on across the country.
"It represents a radical shift and I think they are here to stay," said Matthew Trettel, co-founder and CEO of the Wedding Guys, which has produced bridal shows and wedding trend books in the Twin Cities for 25 years.
The Wedding Guys are definitely back in business, but not necessarily back to normal.
"Things really pivoted," Trettel said. "It had been that 75% of our weddings were large and now it's more like 50-50, large and small."
Micro and magical
A smaller wedding doesn't necessarily mean a cheaper wedding, however. Some couples are spending the same amount of money they would have spent on a longer guest list by hosting a more lavish affair for fewer people.
"A lot of foodies want to create a culinary experience. With their budget they can do a sophisticated affair, more like a restaurant than banquet service," Trettel said. "They'll spend more on floral and music, the cake, higher-end wine and cocktails."
Trettel said that brides and grooms who had smaller celebrations were surprised by how satisfied they were with the more petite affairs.
"Some couples were devastated at first when they couldn't have the elaborate wedding they dreamed of," he said. "But the feedback we get from couples who went smaller is that they were quite pleased with the more intimate feel."
The smallest celebrations, those with no more than 50 guests, are what the bridal biz has come to call micro weddings.
That's what Danielle Goettl and Eric Tornes wound up with.
The couple had planned a destination wedding in August of 2020, bringing 70 of their closest friends and family with them to Tornes, Norway, Eric's ancestral family home.
"It was all set. We had a house on an island booked, a cocktail hour on a ferry through the fjords," Danielle sighed.
"It was going to be epic," Eric added.
With travel to Europe shut down indefinitely, they pared their guest list and chose a closer-to-home island. Then, they loaded rented tables, chairs and decorations into a U-Haul and set up their event in the yard of an Airbnb home on Madeline Island, off Bayfield, Wis.
"I never would have wanted this," Danielle said. "To me, 20 people sounds like a dinner party, not my wedding. But it was absolutely perfect. I'm a wedding planner and now I recommend it."
Better than they planned
During the pandemic, Bellagala, a St. Paul-based full-service wedding boutique, developed what it branded "a petite wedding experience" at its three venues. For $3,995, couples could invite 25 guests for a three-hour reservation with photography, flowers, an officiant, music, snacks, cake and Champagne. (According to the Wedding Report, the average Minnesota wedding in 2021 cost $24,528).
"In the beginning we figured we'd do this for a couple of months, but the concept proved so popular that it's sticking around," said Bellagala's CEO, Christy O'Keefe Turman. "Things changed and won't change back."
Because smaller weddings can be held in smaller venues, it's possible to pull a micro event together more quickly. That makes this alternative appealing to some couples.
"We're in our 30s and didn't want to wait," said Danielle Tornes. "We were ready to start our family. Our baby girl was born one month after our first anniversary. We got engaged, married and became parents during the pandemic."
After their wedding, Mary Youssef (now Issac) moved to Kyro's hometown near Philadelphia and set up her practice there.
When they look at their wedding pictures and think back on the day they became husband and wife, they remember the joy they felt in being able to visit with every guest. They have no regrets that their intimate wedding wasn't the massive event they had originally envisioned.
"Leading up to the wedding, the unknowns were stressful and we leaned on each other," said Mary Isaac. "The marriage is the main thing. We stayed focused on that and everything else came together."