Pandemic Party Planning
Style MagazineCOVID-19

Pandemic Party Planning

Event planners are working with clients to navigate the uncertain environment of COVID-19 and plan events creatively.

Photo by Laura Stone // Events, like this wedding planned by Saxe, could follow social distancing regulations.
Photo by Laura Stone // Events, like this wedding planned by Saxe, could follow social distancing regulations.

With the events industry on hold, Atlanta’s Jewish event planners worked closely with each other to plan for the next era of lifecycle, corporate and social events.

Melissa Miller of MMEventsAtlanta said most of her social events – weddings, b’nai mitzvah, and other types of parties – have been postponed, while every corporate event has been canceled. “Important milestone events people are always going to want to have,” she said. She said rescheduling soon would be difficult because synagogues remain closed.

This has caused families to become creative in planning their events. She said there are a number of options available.

“Some of my clients are doing their ‘Zoom Mitzvahs’ and postponing their parties. Some of my clients are doing Zoom weddings and then postponing their big party. Some of them are getting married twice,” Miller said. “I had a client who did a Zoom wedding last week and they’re doing the whole thing over again in a year. Some clients are doing the Zoom Mitzvah and doing a really small party. A planner can help make these parties really great with some creativity. An open house in a backyard for example is great for social distancing.”

This socially distant bar mitzvah in March planned by Melissa Miller included hand sanitizer on every table.
This socially distant bar mitzvah in March planned by Melissa Miller included hand sanitizer on every table.

Large events, like weddings and b’nai mitzvah, require a lot of details and planning to keep in mind when postponing. It is not uncommon to book vendors and venues a year or even several years in advance, which means people will need to call each vendor to reschedule around their calendars. “I will tell you this: the vendors have all been really accommodating in helping people postpone their parties,” Miller said.

For those who choose to go ahead with their events on the scheduled date, they won’t won’t look the same as they would during normal time.s Still, it is possible to work within CDC guidelines, she said. Guests may need to wear masks, or have their temperatures taken. Miller described a bar mitzvah she planned in March where guests socially distanced.

One possibility for safer events would be having much smaller tables, like this farmer’s market bat mitzvah at Park Tavern, Miller said.

They only seated around 4-6 people per table, and mostly by family. At an earlier event she did that serves as a blueprint for creative socially distant events, only four people were seated at a table. “Reconfiguring the typical banquet tables might look different now,” she said.

EB Catering Co. recently served an outdoor wedding with acrylic walls in front of the food to keep both guests and workers protected. “It was actually my creation and my idea,” said owner Eli Brafman. He worked with a famous company called Eastern Tabletop. “They basically make high-end, innovative systems for caterers. I got them to build me a 6-foot-by-6-foot acrylic partition.” He had chef attendant stations set up with the acrylic wall in the front, with a cut-out to pass a plate of food through the partition to guests.

EB Catering Co. served a wedding with an innovative buffet system to keep guests and workers safe.

Even with the possibility of holding a small event with safety precautions, most people have chosen to reschedule for a later date. Though the situation is fluid, as of now, Governor Brian Kemp has loosened state regulations limiting the size of events.

“My heart breaks for them, a bride who wants to have all of her 300 friends come to her wedding, friends and family that maybe can’t travel from other countries,” Miller said.

This intimate destination wedding for 30 guests planned by Saxe could serve as a blueprint for smaller events in the next year.

Event planner Terry Saxe, who runs Terry Saxe Events, LLC, also said most of her clients have postponed, not canceled. She said it’s difficult because clients aren’t usually open to adjusting how their weddings look. “Every bride wants to go down the aisle with her family and with all 200 people watching her,” she said. “They want to just have the party next year.”

Rebooking has been a challenge, since people don’t really know when it will be safe to hold a large wedding again, she said. This has upended the events industry. “For us as planners, our whole industry I think was hit the hardest. … We just had to kind of shut down and then try to repivot ourselves.”

Saxe said the guidelines for the hospitality industry have been unclear, so they’ve worked hard to adapt recommendations to fit their needs. “We’re taking some of the restaurant guidelines and trying to adapt them to our own and put a lot of our own security measures in place so we aren’t liable and aren’t doing anything that’s unsafe,” she said. “We’re going to be as safe as possible.”

In March, Saxe did an intimate house wedding for 40 guests. People can have smaller, but more over-the-top weddings that still end up less expensive, she said.

Venues are going to have specific guidelines families will have to adhere to, and food service is going to look different, Saxe said. Instead of passing appetizers on a single plate, they’ll serve them to individual guests. Instead of self-serve buffets, clients will be able to have stations protected by plexiglass with attendants handing out the plates of food. “A plated dinner is the most sensible,” Saxe said. The one thing planners haven’t worked out yet is the dance floor.

Even without clear state guidelines Atlanta-area event planners have been able to come together and work through the ambiguities of safety guidelines and their own unemployment processes. “We’ve got a really good support system amongst each other,” Saxe said. “We’ve created a Facebook group where we can all share what our experiences have been and how to get around certain things, which has been super helpful.”

Saxe walked through the postponing process, which is complex in fluid circumstances. “I had to get in touch with every single vendor and get to the venue and find out what dates they have available in these months.” She said that after you ask the venue to hold the rescheduled date, you need to next go to every individual vendor and ask if they’re available then.

Photo by Laura Stone// Beautiful events could be held with intimate seating arrangements, Terry Saxe said.

She said that some of her weddings have actually been postponed twice already. “The May wedding went to August first, and now she’s going to August next year. I’m going through that same process again. …Inevitably there’s always one vendor that’s not available because everybody’s doing the same thing,” Saxe added.

Saxe and Miller agree that people can try to work through the process themselves, but it’s much more difficult to navigate rescheduling and coronavirus safety guidelines without an event planner to walk you through the steps. Saxe mentioned that event planners, for the most part, have collectively decided not to charge clients double for postponing events.

Even with the uncertainty and the sadness over changing event plans, people have options to hold beautiful and meaningful events, the planners said.

“I think there is a trend – and I find now I’m starting to work with some people that are super excited about what I’m trying to roll out a little bit– is the smaller wedding where you have 20 to 30 people in your backyard,” Saxe said. “You can have the most over-the-top wedding. If you want to bring in a chandelier from Italy, you can do that, because it’ll still cost you less.”

Melissa Miller attended this Zoom wedding. A number of couples are choosing to hold their ceremonies over Zoom, and have a large celebration at a later date, she said.

Miller said she’s seen beautiful Zoom b’nai mitzvah and weddings. “One client said she thought it was more meaningful than it would have been otherwise because she put so much effort in it to make it special,” Miller said. She found this to be the case in her own life, for her sons’ college graduation. Instead of sitting in the sun for hours during a mass ceremony and going out to dinner, she planned an elaborate graduation day that ended with a surprise family Zoom call where all the extended family wore special graduation shirts.

“People are getting very, very creative, and every single person I’ve talked to has mourned. And they have every right to mourn their wedding they’ve been dreaming about all their lives and is being postponed. But I think that people are really being courageous and rising to the occasion,” Miller said. “We’re all going to figure it out. There’s so many great things to be able to do now.” She said there are local Facebook groups for Jewish lifecycle events and other parties where people can share information and ideas.

Miller emphasized how helpful and kind the synagogues and rabbis have been. “I just feel like it’s brought out the best in people.”

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