By RITA KUEBER
Weddings. So romantic, so memorable… so many moving parts.
In the very best circumstances, weddings are both delightfully joyful and emotionally fraught, and then there’s the occasional dramatic episode. Add in a pandemic, staff shortages in the service industries and travel snafus, and planning a wedding just got a little more complicated. For a wedding planner though, the ups and downs are all part of the job. Currents caught up with Valarie Falvey, owner/founder of Kirkbrides to ask about what’s trending in celebrations as well as some recommendations for engaged couples to consider. (See sidebar.)
One of the reactions to COVID-19 that Valarie is seeing is a tendency toward smaller weddings. Before 2020, couples had an average of 200 to 300 guests, but now the sweet spot is 50 to 100 guests. “Brides are purposely trying to keep their list smaller,” she says. The guest list is also impacted by another new wrinkle, the ever-changing RSVP. “We’re seeing a lot of last-minute cancellations sometimes due to sudden illness and sometimes due to interruptions in flight schedules. We tend to plan weddings that are formal, with all the whistles and bells, including printed invitations and response cards, but more brides are opting for an online RSVP. We didn’t use to get asked about this, but now everyone is doing it,” she adds.
Another response to Covid is an increase in Zoom meetings and phone calls instead of in-person meetings for details such as floral arrangements or cake tasting. (The baker gets a tasting box to all involved parties so they can eat “together” online to make comments and suggestions.) “We always met in person before,” Valarie states. “I used to spend time and energy driving around, getting to places early to make a good impression. I never even thought about Zoom before 2020, and now I use it all the time. The culture is shifting.
“It’s still very important to us to meet in person at some point, and we always do,” she adds. “Some meetings have to be in person – the final walkthrough of the venue is one. My team is always present at these critical meetings. In fact, sometimes we conference people in if they’re out of town, for example. Meetings have gotten much easier.”
The third pandemic-related trend Kirkbrides is noticing is the bride and groom’s actions to keep themselves and their guests safe. At one recent wedding, the couple asked guests to wear the masks they provided – they were going to Hawaii and didn’t want to risk illness before the trip. “They had notes on the tables kindly requesting masking,” Valarie says. “There’s a lot of hugging and kissing and crying that goes along with weddings – that’s a great way for things to spread.”
On another occasion, Kirkbrides’ coordinators were asked to help track and record guests’ Covid testing. “This was a special request that guests take a test before the wedding and report to us their results. We didn’t do anything medical. “We just kept a checklist via email, but it was still like something out of a Sci-Fi movie for us,” Valarie says. “Fortunately, we’re a little more used to living with this illness now. We know the routine if you get it. It’s not as scary and crazy as it was in 2020.”
It’s clear that despite the additional challenges brought about by a pandemic, Valarie loves weddings. “I could talk all day about them,” she laughs. She is particularly fond of weddings built around a holiday. “The most popular wedding months in Ohio are not June or July, but September and October. We just love the fall here,” she says. “But some of the most amazing weddings I’ve seen were in downtown Cleveland at Christmas or New Year’s.” She describes a wedding held at the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade, where the venue was already decorated for Christmas “With the trees, white lights, there was some gold mixed in, it was just so charming and so wonderful.”
Valarie founded Kirkbrides nearly 20 years ago. (Her maiden name is Kirkbride.) Today she has 35 team members – ten planners or coordinators, and 25 assistant coordinators who help out on the actual wedding days. While she created plans for a long time, right now her main duty is management, overseeing operations, finance and marketing. “It’s a big job. We have over 100 weddings a year,” she says. Most of those weddings are in Northeast Ohio, from downtown Cleveland to Canton, Ashtabula to Port Clinton, but they’ve also planned and coordinated weddings in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, and Florida. She recalls a wedding Kirkbrides planned at Disneyworld. “Our phones said we had walked 28 miles over three days,” she says.
Above and beyond? Valarie and her team are used to it. “We offer planning and coordination, and also coordination only,” she says. “We really take pride in taking care of clients and their families. Their wedding really is all about the day and the memories.”
According to Valarie Falvey, the first thing needed for an outdoor venue is a backup plan in case of rain. Wind is another ungovernable factor. The outdoor weddings Kirkbrides plans do not have a white runner for the bride, for example, as they potentially could blow away.
Many outdoor weddings use a tent as a backup plan. Make provisions for heat with AC units or cold with portable heaters. With these machines running and potential wind/rain, consider amplifying the officiant so everyone can hear every part of the ceremony.
Also, think about the weather just previous to the actual wedding. If it recently rained, does the main aisle need flooring to prevent high heels from sinking into the lawn?
For outdoor weddings be prepared to bring in everything that’s needed: the tent, chairs, flooring, and bathrooms. Generators or electrical connections for sound, lights, heaters, the band or DJ.
“Tent weddings are harder to do – the list of things to bring in is endless,” Valarie states. “The work could begin an entire week before the wedding to create a temporary venue. But the more work you put into something, the more you appreciate it. “Outdoor weddings can be the most amazing events if all contingencies are covered.”
When someone asks, “how much do weddings cost?” Valarie Falvey thinks the question is just like the inquiry, “how much do houses cost?” The variables are all over the map, but she has some basics to offer couples having a wedding soon.
Budget is key. “Think about who is contributing to the wedding and what amount you’re going to spend overall,” Valarie says. “Count it up and figure it out as a cost per guest. We know wedding budget construction very well – most people don’t have that experience, so we can help.”
“Don’t figure it out as you go. From the beginning pick out the two or three things that are most important to the bride and groom. Refer back to that as planning progresses because everything is related,” she adds. “If you run out of money before you’ve booked the band or ordered the flowers all the excitement turns into stress and worry that this is costing too much.” Prioritizing is key here.
Where to? The venue is the first thing a couple needs to book, since what it offers dictates so much of the remaining costs. The venue can cost about half the wedding expense, with the other half taken up by rentals, décor, parking, food, and the band/DJ. “There are so many variables from venue to venue, it’s crucial to create a realistic budget based on expectations,” Valarie says.
Listen to your vendors. Valarie explains that as a vendor, it’s her job to listen to her clients and help them get what they want, just like any seasoned veteran of weddings and special events. “Don’t disregard what your vendor is telling you,” she states. “They do this all the time, and most people plan a wedding once, maybe twice in their lives.” She suggests investing in the best vendor available. Spending money on an experienced professional saves time, stress and costs in the end.