Wedding business is booming for planners, banquet halls
At the start of lockdown last year, Kate Reavey was forced to cancel four weddings.
The wedding planner chuckled about that last week, remembering her misfortune back then — because it was really only the start of the madness brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had so many cancellations. We have clients on their fourth postponement. We have clients who moved [weddings] from 2020 to 2023. It is wild,” said Reavey, who owns Chicago Vintage Weddings in Pilsen.
What a difference 14 months has made. The wedding business is booming once again.
“That’s an understatement,” said Lori Terry, the owner and chef of Crave Cuisine, a catering business in the West Loop. “I’m basically booked through October.”
With the loosening of coronavirus restrictions in the city and across Illinois — and the infection rate steadily dropping — couples are eager to do what they were unable to do for so long.
And some people, having been cooped up for months, can’t wait.
“There are a lot of last-minute calls that we’re getting – people calling for catering this summer. Very unusual. Usually, it’s a year out,” Terry said.
Cera Stan, who owns Stan Mansion, a wedding and corporate venue in Logan Square, said she’s noticed a similar eagerness for couples to tie the knot as soon as this summer. She’s telling the hopeful couples they will need to be flexible.
“If they would do a weekday wedding, and probably I have two more Saturdays available,” Stan said.
It’s a far cry from 2020, when, she said, she had to postpone 78 events at the mansion, almost all of them wedding-related.
“It was very emotional for [the clients] and 78 times more for me,” she said.
Said Reavey: “This year, now that the demand is back and all the good people are booked, I’m turning away about five planning inquiries for later this year every day.”
Like many in the wedding business, Reavey said she survived the extremely lean times thanks, in part, to government financial assistance.
“All of that was extremely helpful,” she said. “It was a lifesaver. … We just really had to get creative and take smaller events last year, and do different kinds of things and cut our overhead. So whereas normally we might be investing in more rental furniture, we just kept it really, really slim on the margins.”
Reavey said she’s already done a handful of weddings this season, including one last weekend. As part of the “bridge phase” of reopening, venues are allowed to hold up to 250 people; 500 if the event is outdoors. But fully vaccinated guests don’t count toward that total.
“It was so surreal because we had to be the ‘Footloose’ dancing police for the past year,” Reavey said, referring to the 1984 movie about a Midwest town where dancing is banned. “So whenever there is a wedding, we have to not have a dance floor, not have dancing time.”
Dance floors are allowed again, although people who are not fully vaccinated must practice social distance.
Reavey has also had to police mask wearing, especially if guests were traveling from other states where rules might be different from those in Illinois.
“Once the alcohol is flowing or people are coming in and wanting to celebrate, they get very upset that they need to follow the masks and the distancing guidelines,” she said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of treatment. It was tons of fun.”
Overseeing a wedding remains a challenge in the time of the coronavirus now that some guests are fully vaccinated and others aren’t, Reavey said.
Several in the wedding industry said it will take some time to make up for the revenue lost during the pandemic. But for Terry, the pandemic has changed her perspective on what she does.
“I have a different outlook on how much money I need to make now,” she said. “I just want to be back out there working. I’ll recoup it someday. If we do a good enough job, people will talk about us and we’ll get more business.”