The wedding business is back and booming in Bristol

After a long shutdown, Bristol’s wedding industry is busier than ever

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 6/18/21

From venues to caterers to guesthouses and hair salons, the wedding business is so busy right now, the people at the center of it are hustling to keep up. Not that anyone’s complaining. …

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The wedding business is back and booming in Bristol

After a long shutdown, Bristol’s wedding industry is busier than ever

Posted

From venues to caterers to guesthouses and hair salons, the wedding business is so busy right now, the people at the center of it are hustling to keep up. Not that anyone’s complaining. “Zero to 100” is how one events manager described the surge that hit the industry not long after restrictions were eased.

After virtually no activity through the long months of restricted gatherings and restrictive state mandates, calendars have filled quickly.

“It’s been a big bounce back,” said Susan Battle, executive director at Linden Place. “The spring was light, but with the easing of restrictions in late May and June, invitations went out, and weddings will really be back with a bang in mid-July. We have weddings scheduled back to back from late summer into shoulder season and even into the winter.”

“The excitement for booking events is off the charts,” said Lizzy Desibia, vice president with Russell Morin Catering & Events. “People’s budgets are healthy and they are looking to host gatherings … I think a lot of people got engaged during the pandemic.”

Trending for 2021

A few weddings that were rescheduled from 2020 for earlier this year were cancelled again when restrictions still had not eased when it was time to send out invites. “Some couples went to Town Hall — they want to start families and don’t want to wait another year for the big wedding,” said Ms. Battle. “Others have been engaged a couple of years, and are looking for that window in the schedule and are going to go for it.”

One thing that Ms. Battle is seeing more of is smaller, more casual weddings — fewer than 100 people and even smaller “micro” weddings that became popular during the pandemic, when brides had little choice but to keep numbers way down. For some, the allure of the big wedding has fallen by the wayside over lingering worries of potential exposure for elderly family and guests.

Karen Binder, executive director of Blithewold, is seeing a similar trend toward smaller, simpler events. “Not long ago the requirements for holding a wedding included PCR tests, masks, no dancing, a covid officer … now that regulations have eased we are getting a lot of inquiries for smaller ceremonies on-site,” she said. “But there’s virtually no availability with either caterers or dates.”

For Ms. Desibia, who oversees events across a range of venues, she is seeing a mixture of caution and exuberance among clients. “Some are being more conservative, but others are ready to throw a big party,” she said. “One thing we are seeing is a hyper-focus on guest experience. Hosts are being really thoughtful and creative when it comes to details, and curating an experience for their guests. It’s really nice to see.”

Bookings way up for 2022

Ms. Binder reported that another thing they are seeing at Blithewold is a notable surge in the pace of bookings for 2022 — something that would not necessarily be explained by the easing of pandemic restrictions more than 12 months earlier. “Bookings are very strong for 2022, and we even have a number of inquiries for 2023,” she said. “Normally we’d maybe be about 50 percent sold for next year, but we have already sold about 90 percent of our available dates in 2022.”

Ms. Desibia with Russell Morin Catering & Events, which has negotiated exclusive contracts with several local venues in the region, including Mount Hope Farm and Linden Place, reports that they are booked to capacity for many dates throughout next year and even into 2023.

Rebecca Vieira, the director of banquets and events for the DeWolf Tavern, is seeing a dramatic increase in bookings as well. Long a popular site for rehearsal dinners, DeWolf became a contender as a wedding venue in 2018 with the addition of an elegant architectural tent on the Thames Street Landing waterfront. Word has gotten out, as Ms. Viera reports they are holding 76 events in their tent in 2021 — up from 8 in 2019 — and she’s still fielding calls.

Lots to go around

With about 2.5 million weddings a year in the United States, the wedding industry is an economic engine measured in the tens of billions, and it benefits not only caterers and venues, but also salons, accommodations, dressmakers, bakers, gift shops — the list goes on.

Salons, always busy on Fridays and Saturday, are happy to see the resumption of their bridal business, which for some brides in recent years has expanded to a spa afternoon of hair, makeup and nails for an entire bridal party — a profitable menu of services marketed by enterprising salons. A year after tentatively reopening to regular clients, bridal parties are booking these pre-event events again. Holly Steen, the Bridal Coordinator for Hair, Heart & Soul on Hope Street, says the salon has at least one wedding party booked for every weekend through October.

Local inns and seasonal rentals are profiting as well, with the little remaining availability dwindling by the day. Doug Miller, whose wife Elizabeth Miller runs the William’s Grant Inn on High Street, says their five-room B&B is at near capacity for summer weekends — and they are also already fielding calls from people asking about room blocks in 2022.

“It’s like someone just turned on the lights,” he said.

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