Planning A Micro-Wedding

Planning A Micro-Wedding: The New Normal For 2020 Weddings

To find out what planning a micro-wedding looks like, how it works and what it actually is, I had a chat with Angela Garcia, the founder and lead planner of Perfectly Bubbly Events, a California-based wedding planning company.

If there’s one thing that no bride or groom was prepared for heading into this wedding planning season, it was a worldwide pandemic. But instead of cancelling everything and hoping to postpone the biggest day of their lives to some hazy time in the future, many couples are adapting and opting for micro-weddings.

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What Exactly Is A Micro-Wedding? And How Is It Different From A Traditional Wedding?

Angela Garcia Founder, Perfectly Bubbly Events
Angela Garcia, Perfectly Bubbly Events

The first thing I asked Angela was what officially counts as a micro-wedding, and if it varies from place to place, depending on county and state regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angela says that planning a micro-wedding is all about cutting down the guest list – if a bride and groom with a guest list of 100 people can cut it down to fifty, that’s ideal. “What I’m noticing right now is that big, cultural weddings – the ones with over 200 guests – are out. The ones that have around 100 guests seem more willing to be flexible and cut their guest lists down to get the events even more intimate.”

More intimate also means less time to get things done, but Angela says there is a silver lining. “Couples are realizing that it’s actually saving them money,” she points out. “I encourage couples to keep it simple, because simple weddings save money. Having a wedding of 25 to 50 people is going to slash your budget in half, if not more.”

As for different regulations in different places, Angela is eager to discuss a recent wedding she planned that happened during a shelter-in-place order. According to her, the number of guests allowed is determined by which county the venue is in.

“The bride was originally going for eighty people, then it dropped to 62 because people started canceling at the last minute. California had a crazy spike in the numbers for COVID-19, so guests didn’t want to take the risk. The final guest count confirmed forty-eight hours before the wedding,” she explains.

Planning a micro-wedding
Photography: Angela Chandler

What Other Restrictions Are In Place For Micro-Weddings During The Pandemic?

Angela says that the number of guests wasn’t the only restriction she had to make her bride and groom aware of for their wedding. One of the biggest ways micro-weddings differ from regular ones is that they are often not allowed to have food. “The wedding was held in a public garden that was completely funded by wedding revenue. For the safety of not only their staff, and for cleaning up, and because of the pandemic, the venue told us that no food was allowed,” she remembers. There was also another wedding happening directly afterwards and venue staff didn’t want to have to worry about cleaning, sanitizing or handling any sort of leftover food with the pandemic going on.”

Thankfully, the couple that Angela was working with was fine with there not being any food at the wedding. “The client decided that she just wanted to find a place that could host the ceremony only. She was okay with just bottled water. But they did offer cupcakes as the guests were leaving. After the couple had shared their first dance, they made their way up to the parking lot with their guests following behind, and were greeted with a cupcake as their wedding favor.

This wedding, Angela says, illustrates perfectly how micro-weddings can create beautiful moments. Even though this might not be exactly what the couple had pictured at first, they’re memorable in their own special ways. Having the couple lead the way to the dessert was a nice transition to get everyone off the property. They were up at the top waiting, got to say goodbye to each of their guests and got to share a personal moment with each of them as they left.

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Finding Venues That Are Willing To Host A Micro-Wedding

a micro-wedding in The Garden at Heather Farms
Photography: Angela Chandler

When the first shelter in place order was enabled in March, every venue in the Northern California area was contacted by the government, advising them to cancel all the events on their calendars. To work around this, Angela says she had to get creative and rely on the good rapport she’d built with venues and vendors throughout her career.

“As I was looking for a venue for this wedding, I had to pull a lot of my own resources. When my client said that she was thinking of just having her wedding in a backyard, I basically said, ‘Okay, we are going to go full venue search. I’m just going to start pulling everything at the top of my head.'”

The couple eventually decided to hold the wedding in a garden, so Angela immediately started reaching out to every venue that she thought might still be open and ask them what their particular restrictions were.

“I basically looked at every garden that I knew in Fremont, in Walnut Creek, in Berkeley, all in the East Bay area within a 25 to 30-mile radius. I was using my network of colleagues and venue contacts that I knew, and I just started blasting emails.”

But planning a micro-wedding wasn’t all that simple. Many of the venues Angela contacted were simply not accepting any more brides for the 2020 year. Then there were others that said they weren’t doing any weddings at all for all of 2020. Eventually she remembered a venue that she’d worked at the previous year called The Garden at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek. She inquired if the venue was hosting any intimate/micro weddings and was surprised to hear that they were allowing events of up to 100 people. The venue came with a 3-hour rental of the grounds, and a ceremony chair set up.

“When my clients heard about this option, they knew that this was it. They didn’t even see the venue in person – they were relying on my word-of-mouth referral and the photos they saw online.”

Organizing The Vendors When Planning The Micro-Wedding

Planning a micro-wedding means finding willing vendors and making some difficult cuts. Once the couple had found their perfect venue, they had to see if their vendors were open to working and potentially exposing themselves to the guests – a hard decision during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Back in April my bride had already been debating whether or not to postpone her wedding. She reached out to every one of her vendors and asked about their cancelation and postponement policies. She wanted to know if anyone was giving retainers back or is accepting lower payments. She also wanted to know if there were any re-booking fees. The bride had booked a hair and makeup artist, photographer and DJ, and cake, all of whom agreed to apply their retainers to this event. After getting confirmation of everyone willing to be a part of this event, we went full-steam ahead.

“After talking to every vendor, they all basically told me that they were going to work with us and not charge any re-booking fees. The only one that ended up cutting ties with her was her decorator, because the bride ended up saying she did not need a ton of flowers. When she saw the arch at the gazebo, she didn’t think she needed any more flowers, because it was a rose garden and there was already so much greenery. Her mother ended up making her bouquet for her, and I thought that was so sweet – she made boutonnieres and corsages for all of the family, too.”

In the end, the vendors that Angela ended up working with were the photographer, the DJ, hair and makeup and the cupcake vendor. Along with the florist, the linen rentals were cut, as were the vendor who supplied tables and plates and silverware, and the limo.

“The biggest cut this couple made was on their original restaurant reception. Since they just decided to do a party later on when it’s safe to go back to a banquet style reception, the entire catering budget which allowed he couple to have a micro-wedding without food.”

Social Distancing At The Micro-Wedding

Social-distancing, six-feet apart, social bubbles… it’s enough to make any wedding planner’s head spin! I asked Angela what exactly was expected of guests who decided to show up to the wedding to witness the couple’s special day, and if that had an impact on the event.

During the time the wedding was held, masks had been mandated for use in public according to state law. “Back when we first booked the venue, masks were not required and so the venue coordinator said that it was up to the guests, but that masks were preferred. She said she wasn’t going to enforce it, but a lot of the guests showed up with masks because they were concerned for their own health.”

A couple at a micro-wedding
Photography: Angela Chandler

Along with wearing masks, everyone had to adhere to the six-feet apart rule, so all the chairs for the guests had to be six feet apart, too. Angela says this made figuring out the floor plan quite difficult. “In the end we had one row of four, then six, then eight spanning into the lawn. We were trying to figure out what was the best flow to make it look really pretty, and it was all grouped by social bubbles.”

I asked Angela if masks seemed awkward at the wedding, but she explained that everyone was very good about taking it in their stride, and found safe ways to make sure that the wedding was still picture-perfect.

“The photos were the hard part. All we could do was take pictures. They were able to take photos with all their guests in a little bit of a window formation. The couple would be right in the middle, and then all the family would space around them, without it looking super awkward,” she notes. “Then there were also some families, again, that were still part of the same household that didn’t care, and the bride and groom were hugging them because they really wanted to.”

Even though the event carried a little bit of a risk, Angela said she left that decision up to the bride and groom. “It was up to the couple. If they wanted to hug their guests, that was their call. Nobody was enforcing them to stay six feet apart. I just asked that they all keep their masks on. And as I looked around, all the guests were all within their own social bubbles, keeping their masks on, and were always sanitizing.”

In the end, even though they had to get everything done within a three-hour window of time, everything ran smoothly and the bride and groom, and their families, were thrilled.

“When it was all over I sat in my car with my assistant and I couldn’t believe we’d gotten out of there at exactly 1 p.m. I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly everything went. We were able to eat our lunch and just sit and reflect. I remember when I got home, I was like, ‘I can’t feel my legs anymore. I am so tired,’” Angela says with a laugh.

For Angela, what keeps her going in this strange new time for wedding planners is the rapport she’s built with her clients, and her genuine desire to see them begin their happily-ever-after with a great, if different, wedding.

“The bride had hired me last July, so we had an entire year to plan. Even though she hired me only for the month and the day of the wedding, I was basically with them the entire year, doing what I normally do as coordinator. But I did a lot more than my original fee would have covered,” she tells me. “She was so happy when I told her I was going to do it because she couldn’t have the wedding she originally had wanted. I told her we were going to do something else; I just really wanted to see her get married. I could already see that she was super stressed out. I wanted to make something happen, whether it was a backyard wedding or anything – I just wanted to help.”

Even though micro-weddings are getting more popular, Angela says they aren’t necessarily for every bride and groom.

Hearing about all the detail that goes into planning a micro-wedding – and all the hard work – made me wonder: would Angela advise every couple she works with to go for a pared-down experience, or is it for a specific type of couple?

Angela says that in the end it comes down to each individual couple and just how flexible they’re willing to be. “For the brides that care about all the details, the picture-perfect wedding, and having each one of their guests in attendance, it’s hard to please them. I have to be very direct and tell them that we can’t do it that way, this year. I tell them to condense their guest lists, and that that’s where the hard decisions lie. If they can’t figure it out between the two of them, without their family’s input, they’re going to have to postpone,” Angela advises. “Each couple is different. There were some that were flexible, and some that said they would just do the whole thing next year.”

As Angela gets to know her clients better, she can accurately assess their level of stress and if they’d be up for cutting their guest list. In the end, the ones that are open to it are the ones that eventually come to realize that they’ll save a lot of money by having a more intimate ceremony. But depending on the cultural background of the bride and groom, cutting their guest list or having a wedding without food can be a very daunting task.

“It’s hard for some cultures to grasp cutting down from 250 people. Culturally, Indian, Filipino, and Mexican weddings are huge – they’re the ones with the big families, and they love family,” Angela explains.

Hearkening back to the garden wedding she just finished, she says that there are families that will be understanding of the changes that need to take place. On the other hand, a wedding without all the trimmings can seem totally alien to certain people.

In the end, Angela says, it’s up to the bride and groom, because they’re the ones that know their families best.

“It’s all about knowing my brides. I can already tell right off the bat which of my brides were the ones that were on the fence about having a big event. They can’t cut their guest list. They want to do everything, but they’re not open to being flexible. And then I have the brides that are coming to terms with the fact that they can’t have exactly what they want, and can pull things and have an idealized budget,” she says. “It really depends on what the couple wants. I’m very honest about things. I just ask what they want and assure them that no one is going to judge them. It’s their wedding. I’m here to help and present them with every possible scenario, but it ultimately comes down to them. No one else is going to make that decision except for the bride and groom.”

Looking ahead to brighter times

While Angela has adapted incredibly well to planning micro-weddings and all the work that goes along with them, she’s eager for things to get back to normal, and is cautiously hoping that this might be the case going into next year.

“What I’m doing now for my 2021 clients is planning as normal. We’re crossing all our fingers and toes that 2021 is the year. But there’s still uncertainty, there’s room for postponement. But it’s also up to every venue, every county, if not every state for mandating what’s going to happen.”

In the end, Angela reminds her clients that what really matters is that they’re starting their new lives together – even if it looks a lot different than what they had imagined when they first got engaged.

“My advice is to keep it short, sweet and very simple. You might not know what it’s going to look like, but in the end, you’re getting married, and that’s all that matters.”

Event And Photo Credits

Venue: The Garden at Heather Farms
Coordinator: Angela: Perfectly Bubbly Events
Makeup & Hair: Beauty by Jessie Hoang
DJ/Emcee: Brian Lansang
Photography: Angela Chandler