Pulling off pandemic weddings

From smaller groups to virtual parties, couples and vendors are changing up nuptials in a time of coronavirus

When it was announced that as many as 50 people would be allowed to attend wedding ceremonies from Aug 4, Mr Joel George Mathew and his wife Tabitha Luann Abraham immediately decided to up their guest count, though their church solemnisation was less than 10 days away.

They initially thought they would have to stick to the 20-person limit put in place during phase two of Singapore's easing of pandemic-related measures.

"We grabbed our old guest list and put our closest family in Singapore on the list, but we still couldn't manage to invite all our relatives," says Mr Mathew, 29, an architect.

Ms Abraham, a 26-year-old doctor, adds: "We split the list in half and had to exclude a lot of relatives. After inviting some family members, I could invite some friends, but Joel had space for only one friend."

The couple married in Mar Thoma Syrian Church last Saturday, virtually streaming the event to some 200 family and friends.

While they originally wanted a church wedding with 500 guests and a reception dinner for 200 to 300 guests, a smaller wedding was a "blessing in disguise".

Mr Mathew says: "We put the money we saved on a big wedding and dinner into the renovations for our new home - our contractor charged us more for renovations because there was a shortage of workers during the pandemic."

Ministry of Health regulations state that in 50-person weddings, a wedding party of 20 individuals - including the bride and groom - will be allowed to mingle among themselves, but cannot do so with the other 30 guests, who will have to be split into groups of five that also cannot mix.

Despite such restrictions, Ms Amanda Lim and her husband Cornelius Wang went ahead with their 50-person wedding on Aug 8 at Artemis Grill & Sky Bar in the Central Business District.

Ms Lim, 26, a music relief teacher, says expanding their guest list so close to their reception busted their wedding budget, but her husband, a 27-year-old shipping executive, had suggested it.

"He felt that the relationships we had with friends and family who wanted to share in our joy was more important than the money," says Ms Lim, whose next 30 guests were asked to confirm their attendance within a day.

She adds: "It's not easy to decide who to put on the guest list and some people might mind that you didn't invite them, so you have to be quite tactful and seek their understanding. Thankfully, most of them were fine."

Though she could not mingle with guests outside her core wedding party, she managed to address them during her wedding speech with her husband.

She says: "It was a challenge not hanging out with them, but at least we got to speak to them directly."

Following the easing of restrictions to allow 50-person solemnisations and wedding receptions, venues have seen an increase in inquiries from couples looking to hold their nuptials, often on short notice.

Mr Adrian Yuen, group events manager at Artemis Grill & Sky Bar and Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse, says there has been a 30 per cent jump in inquiries since the new limit was announced.

Couples can opt to send guests watching their wedding at home a kit (above) from wedding planning business Rosette Designs & Co that includes a small bottle of champagne, an invite, a link to watch the live-streamed ceremony and a QR code for e-hongbao payments. PHOTO: ROSETTE DESIGNS & CO

Artemis has adjusted its packages to suit smaller weddings, with minimum spending for a lunch reception lowered to $8,000 from $15,000, and dinner lowered to $12,000 instead of $25,000.

It has also implemented a contactless ordering form - with a QR code of its reception menu that can be sent to guests before the wedding, allowing them to choose their preferred dishes and state their dietary needs - thereby minimising interaction between guests and wait staff.

At popular wedding venues Chijmes Hall and Alcove at Caldwell House - both at Chijmes - new measures and packages have also been rolled out to cater to the 50-person limit.

Ms Olivia Tan, senior planner at Watabe Wedding Singapore, the venue operator of the two spots, says there has been a significant number of new inquiries for wedding bookings for the next three months.

Alcove has been popular with couples due to its smaller space, which can hold a crowd of up to 100. It has mini packages for 20-and 50-person weddings, and offers promotions on dress rental and wedding live-streaming services to cater to couples tightening their purse strings amid the pandemic.

"We are currently fine-tuning a 50-pax package for Chijmes Hall which should be up and running by next month," she says.

Luxury hotel The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has 50 weddings confirmed for the remainder of the year at its private dining rooms in the one-Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion, which range in seating capacity from five to 30 people.

More inquiries have come in since the new rule.

The hotel's director of catering, Ms Jane Leong, says: "As celebrations are more intimate, couples are looking at more unique venues within our hotel, such as the Presidential Suite, Pool Deck, private dining rooms in the one-Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion and even partial buy-outs at Colony restaurant."

The hotel has also partnered wedding planning firm The Wedding Entourage to cater to virtual weddings and can provide and deliver food and beverages to guests who cannot attend the ceremony in person.

Though restrictions are slowly easing, wedding planners say couples looking to tie the knot should still try to make plans according to the latest regulations.

Mrs Cheryl Tan, founder of The Wedding Concepteur, says: "We're following the current rules and if there is an increase in the number of people allowed, we'll work around that.

"We suggest to our clients that perhaps they can have another guest list of people that they invite if the restrictions ease even more, but some couples are uncomfortable with that because they don't want their friends and family to feel like they are second-tier."

After the wedding solemnisation at home last month, Ms Amanda Olivia Lim and Mr Daniel Chan plan to hold their reception at Capella Singapore in October. PHOTO: IKI. COMPANY


Ms Zhang Wenxin, senior principal planner at The Wedding Stylist, says some couples are happy with smaller weddings.

"Some couples actually like the idea of an intimate ceremony with fewer people, because some extended families are large and to invite everyone is a lot of people, so the chance to do something small is actually exciting," she says.

Vendors such as Ms Kayly Loh, founder of wedding florist Bucket Full Of Roses, says couples are also adjusting their expectations.

She says: "Ninety-five per cent of our flowers are imported, and the quality and availability of flowers have been impacted by the changes in flight routes, so instead of requesting specific flowers or designs, most couples just tell me the palette and leave me to design something."

Virtual weddings will also continue to be popular, even with the easing of restrictions, say industry players.

Ms Hellen Lie, founder of wedding planning business Rosette Designs & Co, offers a virtual wedding package, with an emcee for the online stream on top of an emcee for the actual event.

Couples can opt to send a wedding kit to guests watching from their homes. Each kit includes a small bottle of champagne, an invite, a link to watch the live-streamed ceremony and a QR code for e-hongbao payments.

Ms Lie's clients, Ms Huda Rasid and Mr Taufiq Rashid, are not including e-hongbao payments for their guests who cannot attend, but are setting up a live stream for them to tune into the celebrations.

Ms Huda, 29, a public servant, and Mr Taufiq, 30, a data analyst, are holding their wedding later this month. As their venue holds only up to 30 people at one time, their 48 guests will arrive in three shifts over a five-hour wedding.

The couple, who originally wanted two receptions - with 2,000 and 500 people respectively for their families and friends - drastically scaled down their wedding.

Mr Taufiq says: "There are fixed and variable costs to every wedding, so we have saved on the variables like food, which was the main expense. But on the fixed costs - the photographer and videographer, the decor and the outfits - you actually can't save much."

They also found a hidden expense to a pandemic wedding: masks.

Many of the couples whom The Sunday Times spoke to matched their masks to their outfits - with brides opting for masks in similar material and colour to their dress and outfitting their main wedding party in the same masks.

Ms Huda says: "We spent a little bit on the different variants of masks, silk and satin, and we ordered transparent masks online. We want our immediate family to have the same masks so it looks more aesthetically pleasing. We want people to hopefully be able to see our expressions during the ceremony."

Some couples, however, are hoping restrictions will ease further.

Ms Amanda Olivia Lim and her husband held their solemnisation ceremony at home last month and are slated to hold their wedding reception at Capella Singapore come October.

The bride, a 28-year-old marketing professional, says: "Fifty is still tight for us since both of us have large families. I think we might have a Plan A of 50 people and Plan B that accommodates more people by October.

"If not, we'll probably go ahead with it because we have future plans too, and we just want to move on with our lives and not let this disrupt us."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2020, with the headline Pulling off pandemic weddings. Subscribe