After a turbulent few months for the wedding industry, one thing has stayed the same: couples still need somewhere to marry. Rosie Patrick speaks to some Scottish venues to see how Covid-19 has impacted the running of weddings and how to plan ahead, despite the pandemic
Where we’re at now
Since 15th July, wedding ceremonies have been allowed to proceed in Scotland, as long as they adhere to the stringent pandemic protocols in place: 20 people, physical distancing, face masks indoors, to be as short as possible – by now you know the drill.
Similarly, from 14th September, the same number can attend a reception taking place in hospitality premises, such as a hotel. This number includes the couple, guests (including children) and third-party suppliers (such as a photographer), but does not include venue staff or third-party catering staff. The venue must be able to safely accommodate those attending with physical distancing in place.
Then, on Friday 9th October, tighter restrictions on hospitality came in nationwide, with licensed premises in the Central Belt being forced to close their doors. Thankfully, being classed as a ‘specific life event’, weddings are still allowed to proceed for the time being, as long as they follow the guidance laid out previously.
Wedding venues are at the epicentre of all of these Covid rules and are grappling with every official announcement, every postponement and every protocol. How are they handling it?
Where venues are at now
“With the September easing of restrictions in Scotland around receptions, we have a number of couples who are now pleased to go ahead and not hold off any longer. Although it still isn’t quite how they imagined their wedding would be, we’re glad we can be a part of it,” says Hannah Wood, senior wedding co-ordinator at Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club.
“The fact that face masks are required at indoor ceremonies is the biggest thing affecting their decision-making. The celebrant doesn’t have to wear one; however, brides, grooms and all guests should – and this isn’t something many people want to see in their photographs when they look back on their special day.”
For this reason (and many more besides), outdoor options are definitely a plus at the moment. That makes Duntarvie Castle, with its summerhouse-style marquee and eight acres of grounds, very appealing.
“Thanks to the areas we provide both inside and out, it’s very easy to space out the ceremony and the reception to help maintain social distancing comfortably,” Tricia Sutherland notes. “We meet with each couple to discuss the layout of chairs and tables to meet their group needs. Sometimes this means adding tables to increase spacing.
“I always catch up with couples if the government has announced something that might affect their day, such as the inclusion or exclusion of the celebrant, musicians or children, for instance. So if you have any concerns, get in touch with your venue, who should be able to advise on current guidelines.”
Venue hunting in the middle of a pandemic – where to begin
The search party may be less of a party these days, but the research phase is more crucial than ever, particularly as priorities continue to evolve.
“It’s so important to investigate all the possibilities,” stresses Lauren Berry at Glasgow’s Corinthian Club. “Each venue’s diary will be different, so discuss your numbers and preferred dates/months to get an idea prior to visiting. It’s worth checking availability for the following year too, so that if you have to reschedule, you’ll know the chances of landing a similar date that year and not getting your summer nuptials postponed to winter, say. And I would certainly be asking what measures are in place to protect staff and customers.”
If you ask the key questions in advance, you won’t end up visiting venues that won’t make the grade. “Scan venues’ websites and social media,” she recommends. “This will give you an impression of what they have to offer and will help you limit your list of show-rounds. At the moment, couples are hyper-aware of how many appointments they’re making and are keen to visit only a select few places that might become their venue.” Real contenders only, in other words.
There’s no substitute for visiting in person, but technology has improved to such an extent that there’s really no need to leave your house. “We used Zoom and Skype to answer questions in the early days,” Tricia says. “Now that tours can be arranged on-site, we have plenty of space for social distancing and we let you roam the beautiful grounds at your leisure.”
The Corinthian allows a similar level of freedom. “I’ve found it useful to organise viewings for when we’re closed. It means couples can explore without the risk of being exposed to too many other people.”
When you do eventually set foot in the venue, make the most of it. Come equipped with a list of questions you need answering, says Hannah: “Write them all down and bring them with you – there’s a lot to take in during a wedding show-round and it’s not unusual to draw a blank when asked if there’s anything else you need to know.”
Setting the date, despite coronavirus
“With the vast majority of summer 2020’s being shifted into next year, it’s no surprise that couples are struggling to secure a 2021 wedding. We do have some dates left, but we’re also launching a new campaign, #2022TheYearToSayIDo, which we hope will allow couples to feel prepared and able to create their perfect 2022 day. We’ve been working on cool add-ons, like Pimp Your Prosecco stations and doughnut walls,” says Hannah at Dalmahoy.
“Always ask about the cancellation policy should the venue not be able to host your day exactly as planned due to social distancing measures,” suggests Lauren. “At the Corinthian, we’ve reduced our packages to try to accommodate more nuptials between Sundays and Fridays. We’ve also lowered the deposit cost until the economy picks up and, for more imminent celebrations, we’re happy to hold a second date as a back-up plan. I am completely transparent with couples about how the guidelines have affected weddings,” she adds.
Duntarvie has also tweaked its offering. “We’ve taken a fresh look at our packages,” Tricia notes. “We’ve added a ‘ceremony only’ option for couples who don’t want to wait, and we’re now giving you the chance to split your service and reception across different dates. Our ‘Marry Now, Dance Later’ package lets couples have their ceremony and photos with the smaller, legal numbers and then return another time for a bigger party with friends. We can also transfer your day if necessary to new available dates to take the stress and guesswork out of what might become of your date.”
What Covid weddings are looking like at Scottish venues
“The ceremonies we’re hosting at the moment are taking place in one side of our Dalmahoy Suite, so it’s nice and cosy for the numbers while also allowing adequate social distancing between guests,” says Hannah. “We are working with our fantastic suppliers to ensure that we have the finishing touches to make the suite extra-pretty.
As with every corner of the hospitality industry, the toil that’s gone on behind the scenes to get to this point is staggering. “We’ve had extensive training around the new measures and what we can do to keep everyone safe,” says Lauren. “Our marketing team produced all the signage we needed and we installed it the week before reopening. So, aside from a gruelling week of cleaning and redesigning some rooms, everything has went smoothly. Guests have given us incredible feedback and have told us they feel safe, which we’re thankful for.”
What might the future hold?
“We’ve already seen a rise in intimate ceremonies, late dates and elopements as the lockdown has progressed and eased,” says Tricia at Duntarvie. “We’re a flexible venue by nature, but I think, as with all areas of the pandemic, it has only highlighted how inventive and adaptable people can be. It can make for some exciting weddings.”