Big love, small party: Micro-weddings trend as pandemic trims guests lists

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Sometimes it's about quality, not quantity. 

This is especially true when it comes to weddings, as evident by the micro-wedding trend that was picking up steam earlier this year and will likely be a growing craze as social distancing practices continue for the unforeseeable future. 

Andrew Keating and his new bride, Lauren Settecerri, walk down the aisle after being pronounced husband and wife during their wedding at Cornman Farms in Dexter, Saturday, July 18, 2020. The wedding was supposed to be a big blowout affair in Traverse City, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, so they opted for an option that is growing in popularity, the "micro-wedding".

In the past, the terms micro-wedding or tiny wedding may have conjured up visuals of a Vegas chapel or a trip to the courthouse. Now, all the glossy imagery and customization of a traditional wedding ceremony and reception have been edited down to be a fast and affordable affair with only a few guests. 

Lauren Settecerri and Andrew Keating of Houston, Texas, were planning to have a traditional wedding July 18 in the bride's native Michigan. Many of the details for the 120-person affair in Glen Arbor were set, including invitations that were printed but not yet mailed to guests, who were expected to attend from all over the country.

Then COVID-19 hit and changed the way people gather and travel. 

"When we had our venue picked out, a year and a couple months ago, it was not even a thought in our mind that this would be going on," said Settecerri. "It was really hard for us to make the decision, it was really tough for us to just give up that whole vision that we had." 

She said as she and her fiancee started talking to people and listening to concerns, they knew they had to change their plans. They kept the date but instead were married at Zingerman's Cornman Farms in Dexter, Michigan.

The guest list was 15 people, including the bride and groom, their parents, siblings, the pastor, best man and his wife and the matron of honor and her husband. They had decorated hand sanitizers and other personal touches and Michigan-centric gifts for attendees. 

Small packages

The Settecerri-Keating micro-wedding is one of two small nuptials packages offered by Cornman Farms. They chose the "elopement package," which is limited to 20 guests and is offered year-round. It runs between around $3,000-$5,000 and varies depending on party size and extras, but includes a farm-to-table dinner and photography packages. 

The folks at Cornman Farms were used to offering small wedding packages. In addition to the package the lovebirds from Houston chose, Cornman last fall started offering an even more scaled-down option. 

A sign of the times, personalized commemorative mini bottles of hand sanitizer at every place setting.

"There was a huge number of emails coming through that were guests who wanted to get married on our property, but they wanted very few guests, limited planning and they had a limited budget," said marketing and communications manager Jamie Gray. "At the time we didn’t have a product for that."

Gray says their very micro-wedding package, "Tiny Wedding," is only offered a few times a year. A professional, local designer creates the mood in a room that can accommodate 10 guests. One dozen 90-minute weddings are booked in the rooms over three days. Bookings open July 27 for the tiny wedding windows in October and January.

Because the visuals are shared by several couples, the costs are diluted. Each tiny wedding includes the venue rental, flowers, photography, ceremony and officiant, a tiny wedding cake, a sparkling wine toast, and other touches like a visit from the farm's goats.

The cost is around $2,000 give or take a few hundred dollars, depending on party size and other customization. Couples can take advantage of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses, opting in for personalized candy bars, custom coffee blends or a cheese or gelato bar from the dairy. 

Compare that to costs of a traditional sized wedding ceremony and reception, which according to a 2019 survey done by wedding hub, costs an average of $33,900 nationwide and $29,700 for Michigan. That includes the cost of the engagement ring, ceremony and reception, but not the honeymoon. The average size of a 2019 wedding was 131 guests. (And dark blue was the most trendy color.)

A couple is married in a micro-wedding ceremony in front of just a few guests in the barn at Cornman Farms last year.

These scaled-down micro-weddings, also called 'minimonies' in some trend pieces picked up in popularity once big events were on the chopping block. Gray said they sold 14 of the 15 available tiny wedding packages available for the month of July. 

"Noticing that trend, there was an overall popularity of the minimalist lifestyle. It was happening in food, and happening in design and it just transferred into weddings," said Gray.

Gray said even before the pandemic people chose the smaller weddings because they have "prioritized their funds differently."  

"I think this is a common theme of millennials," she said. "A lot of people are choosing to, instead of doing a large wedding, are choosing to use it as a down payment on a house, or they’re currently in medical school here at UM and they know they have a lot of debt. 

"When we first came up with this, a pandemic not being considered, we said it was designed for couples who wanted simplicity and affordability but still wanted those Instagram-worthy photos. They kind of get the best of both."

Cornman Farms Chef Kieren Hales prepares appetizers for  Andrew Keating and Lauren Settecerri's wedding reception at Cornman Farms in Dexter, Saturday, July 18, 2020.

All weddings 'tiny' for now

As an event planner who typically works on larger weddings, Adrienne Nutter's current version of a micro-wedding is one with 100 guests or less. One major task for her company, Fandangle Event Design, this season was to trim a 400-person bash at a venue to a wedding at a home with only 100 guests so that it complies with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders. 

"In my brides' mind, they're micro-weddings," she said. Her favorite contingency, she said, is couples marrying on their originally scheduled date with their closest circle, and then celebrating a year later, maybe on their anniversary, with a bigger party.

This is another trend that the calls "sequel wedding," a term it first wrote about in 2019. The reason for having two events could be to honor different family cultures, or it could be for geographical or political reasons. Currently, it can also be to have a small event now, followed by a more traditional party when it's safer to gather. 

A couple has a micro-wedding earlier this year at Cornman Farms in Dexter with just a handful of guests.

Nutter says engaged couples who are planning a wedding of any size need to be able to pivot as the pandemic continues, and being uncompromising about changes is like "shoving a square peg in a round hole." 

"Many brides are starting to realize that this isn't going away as quickly as they wanted it to," said Nutter, who is based out of Grosse Pointe Park. "A few months ago, most couples planning a 150-guest fall wedding were dealing with attempting to downsize to 50 guests (the predicted number of guests that would be allowed indoors in Phase 5). Now, even that number is beginning to appear unreachable in the next two to three months.”

That 50 person gathering still has to account for about a dozen non-guests, such as the photographer and venue staff. 

"You're really looking at a 38-40 person wedding," she said. "The realities that people are facing in terms of what they're going to be able to do from a legal standpoint is a shifting field day by day and there are really no guarantees."

Corey McNeeley sets champagne glasses on wedding guest tables prior to Andrew Keating and Lauren Settecerri's wedding at Cornman Farms in Dexter, Saturday, July 18, 2020.

Nutter says that as an event planner, she's used to thinking of the worst-case scenario that could happen and working backward to try to account for anything that may go wrong, but the pandemic has put a whole new wrench in the industry. 

She's seeing vendors that were flexible with clients in the beginning of stay-at-home orders become less flexible as the months go on. She also is realistic with her clients that if they sign on with a vendor for the wedding they're planning in 2021, that there's no guarantee that company will still be in business on the other side of this. 

"There's just not a lot of certainty," she said. 

One thing certain, though, is the most important reason behind the wedding in the first place: two people wanting to be married. Nutter said it's easy to lose perspective while planning. 

"No matter what your original plans were, you only need three things to get married: a marriage license, the officiant and the person you intend to spend the rest of your life with," she said. "But a wedding and a marriage are two different things: one is intended to last for a day, and the other has a pandemic to get through."

Andrew Keating poses for photos on the balcony of the farmhouse at Cornman Farms in Dexter, Saturday, July 18, 2020, minutes before being married to Lauren Settecerri.

Twitter: @melodybaetens