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The Small Wedding Movement & How You Can Host Meaningful Nuptials in a Post-COVID-19 World

The idea of hosting an intimate wedding isn’t new, but in light of pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings, it’s a concept that’s seeing a strong renewed interest. In fact, there’s a small weddings movement afoot, with a growing number of event professionals invested in finding new ways to make petite-sized nuptials more accessible and turnkey — while preserving what is most special about weddings: gathering to celebrate the union of two special people.

We spoke with Beth Bernstein, Owner and Event Director of Chicago’s SQN Events, to learn more about the small wedding movement and her recent launch of Essential I Dos — which aims to make intimate celebrations as easy, stress-free, and affordable as possible. Additionally, Bernstein is a founding member of the national Small Wedding Society, a group dedicated to helping couples find a meaningful way to honor each other and the beauty of their wedding moment with those who matter most. Her co-founders hail from cities around the nation and have launched similar concepts in their hometowns: Minimal Matrimony from Sapphire Events in New Orleans, Tiny Weddings Dallas by Birds of a Feather Events, Minne Weddings from Rocket Science Events in Minneapolis, and Intimate I Dos by Amy Nichols Special Events in San Francisco. 

While it may be some time before gatherings as we know them return to “normal,” these teams are conceiving of elegant ways to celebrate now. Read on to learn more from Bernstein about the types of small weddings she’s seeing and what couples can expect with this new way to wed and find joy in the moments that matter most.

What are you seeing and hearing about the trend toward smaller weddings?

It’s extremely important to me that couples never lose sight of the “why”. The most significant thing at the end of the day is to be married. I tell couples, “All you need to get married are each other, a marriage license, and an ordained officiant.” The rest is the proverbial icing on the cake.

For the foreseeable future, weddings will be smaller. The weddings I have planned in the past have averaged 150 to 200 guests but those numbers will inevitably shrink as the current situation evolves. I’m guiding my couples through the process of choosing whether to postpone their entire already-scheduled weddings or to have their ceremonies now and larger celebrations later. Love is not cancelled. Celebrations are not cancelled. I’m telling them, “Marry now, party later.”

In fact, the Small Wedding Society’s mantra is “people over things”. Focus on your nearest and dearest instead of the perfect napkin fold (though I do so love a beautiful napkin fold!).

How do you define a “small wedding”?

We use “small wedding” as an umbrella term. There are three types, in order of size: 1) Mini Wedding; 2) Micro Wedding; and 3) Elopement. 

A mini wedding is just a smaller version of a typical wedding celebration with 50 or fewer guests. The couple has their ceremony, followed by a reception with a meal and dancing, and all of the bells and whistles of what we usually think of when we imagine a wedding. A micro wedding is paired-down to the essentials of a wedding day with a short and sweet ceremony, followed by champagne, a slice of cake, perhaps a few special dances, and portrait time with a photographer. Generally this type of celebration will include 30 or fewer close family and friends. An elopement is exactly what you envision — two people jetting off to get married, often without notice and without others knowing or accompanying them. The term “minimony” is also gaining traction. Think of it as an enhanced elopement, with up to 10 guests but still focused on the ceremony only.

Tell me about Essential I Dos.

Essential I Dos is a service designed for couples who want to have a micro wedding and prefer not to spend a lot of time planning on their own. It’s a completely seamless and turn-key process; I curate a team of the very best vendors for our micro weddings. By partnering with one photographer, one venue, and one décor team, I can offer couples economies of scale. My team secures the venue for the full day, adorned with stunning décor, and commissions an award-winning photographer for couples to capture their nuptials in a 90-minute window. Four couples will celebrate on the same day, with options to start their private ceremonies and receptions at noon, 2pm, 4pm, or 6pm. Our couples will have exclusive use of the venue during their time slot, ensuring their wedding is truly theirs and theirs alone.

We even provide the officiant and a ceremony template that can be personalized with readings. The couple may choose one attendant for each side and wed in a beautiful ceremony space with gorgeous florals. Following the ceremony, the couple and their guests will enjoy a short reception with a champagne toast and cake. The couple will then enjoy a personal photo shoot with the photographer. 

Which parts of these micro weddings are customizable?

Couples will have their choice of bouquet and boutonniere styles, cake flavors, and music selection. They can further personalize their event by adding enhancements like live musicians, a videographer (including the ability to livestream the festivities), a “getaway” car, and more. We can also offer recommendations for hair and makeup, invitations, hotel suites, and more. (We even have a relationship with a premier bridal salon offering our brides 20% off their dress!). The couple will also have the opportunity to set up an engagement shoot, order a wedding album and prints, and more directly from the photographer. Additionally, couples who choose the last slot of the day may extend their time and transition into a mini wedding with a meal, dancing, and other traditions. 

Lastly, if couples opt to do a micro wedding now and later decide they’d like to do a larger celebration when larger events are allowed in Illinois, we will happily apply a portion of what they spend with Essential I Dos to full event planning services with SQN Events.

When will the first Essential I Dos take place?

The first date is set for September 20, 2020. This, of course, is dependent upon our governor’s direction and CDC guidelines. The event will take place at the beautiful and elegant Revel Motor Row, one of Chicago’s historic landmarks. The venue also has a stunning courtyard which we plan to use if the weather cooperates. Nicole Zenner of Zen Events will perform the ceremony, the skilled team at Revel Decor, an innovative event design and production agency, will provide floral and décor elements, while Amanda Megan Miller Photography will capture the couple and every beautiful detail. Limelight Catering will provide the champagne and ECGB Cake Studio will create a delicious and stunning cake. We also have secured October 18th, again at Revel Motor Row, and will be releasing additional dates and venues soon.

What COVID-19-specific considerations will you need to make for the safety of each wedding?

We will follow every single Center for Disease Control (CDC) mandate as well as state guidelines. We purposely selected an experienced, spacious venue, which will allow us to space out guests according to safety protocol. We are not building this in a typical way for a small wedding in a small space; instead we have the flexibility to accommodate any distancing restrictions we might have to follow. We will also deep-clean and sanitize the space between events to ensure host and guest safety.

Do you believe that the small wedding trend will continue after the COVID-19 threat has passed?

While this movement has picked up steam due to the restrictions of COVID-19, I do think it will last. There have always been couples who would prefer to do something smaller, or even elope, but their parents plead their case for something bigger, mentioning that they’ve always pictured walking them down the aisle or making a toast at their wedding. Couples often want to appease their families with these experiences and “photo ops.” Small — especially micro — weddings, offer an attractive solution that meets both needs. 

These smaller weddings will also provide a valuable service to those who want a destination wedding but know that many of their loved ones won’t be able to attend. They can host a micro celebration locally then proceed with their destination plans.

Note: Essential I Dos will be making a donation in honor of every couple (and in their name) to Project HOPE.