Who needs 300 guests when you can have 35? Why smaller is better for weddings and other parties, pandemic or no pandemic


When it comes to weddings as COVID-19 restrictions are eased, bigger isn’t necessarily better.

At least, that’s the case for Natalie Vout and Adam Melnick. When the couple got engaged in the Azores, Portugal, in September 2021, they knew they wanted a wedding that reflected their distinct personalities. They choose the celebration from three parts, spread over a year. Faught, 35, who is based in Hamilton, says she is looking forward to getting together again with the family after a two-year hiatus.

The festivities will begin in September 2022 with a party for five in Tofino, British Columbia, and two friends will serve as witnesses, along with 16-year-old son Vout.

“We’re both avid and outdoorsy hikers, and we wanted to get married by the ocean,” said Voth, who works in conservation. A week later, 31 members of the immediate family will join them for a “formal” party at Toronto City Hall, followed by a celebratory meal. Finally, the couple is planning a larger party for the 100 or so of their closest friends and family, although the timing will be decided.

“It depends on COVID, maybe a year after the actual wedding,” Vout said. “It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, realizing that a celebration doesn’t have to be a one-day event or limited to 12 hours. It’s more about accommodating a large family but keeping it intimate.”

Faught and Melnick represent a growing number of couples wanting to cut back on one main event and keep the party going with a series of small gatherings. The fad is rampant at bar parties, bats, networking, important birthdays, and more.

The current trend in parties is to go small, says Candice Zwecker, a wedding and event planner in Toronto. “People choose to hold small events where they can still have whatever they want from flowers, custom menus, and décor…but the experience is much more intimate and special,” she said.

Intimacy is the buzzword for these less cautious times. When it comes to life cycle events, summer 2021 has been all about keeping things small due to strict COVID-19 regulations. We were not allowed to host 300 people so instead opted for small events spanning a week or even one weekend. Guest lists are cut like never before. People were hosting 15 family members for a low-key brunch, followed by an alcohol-fueled night party and DJ for their basic group of friends.

However, in early October, Ontario raised its COVID-19 capacity limits for event spaces (as long as physical distancing is maintained). Party candidates are finally free to throw huge celebrations in the hundreds. However, they tend to be small – by choice. As Zwicker explained, “People are realizing that they no longer need ambient guests. With a smaller group, you’ll really enjoy your guests rather than making your way around a room of hundreds.”

Minimizing reduces pressure on hosts to eat with each guest. Plus, guests feel like VIPs when numbers are low. Oftentimes, they are treated to experiential events that match their specific tastes and interests.

This kind of personalized approach was definitely the case for Amy and Jason Salty. For their daughter Maddie Pat Mitzvah in August 2020 — the relatively early days of the pandemic — the Toronto couple were hosting 150 to 200 guests for a long weekend party at an overnight summer camp in Utterson, Ontario, about two hours north of Toronto. Those plans fell by the wayside as the camps were completely canceled that summer. Instead, the family got creative and threw three consecutive events in one day, all under a tent in the backyard.

At first it was a Maddie Bat Mitzvah party, followed by brunch with 35 immediate family members.

“We have family very close, so the best part for me is that everyone there plays a role in the service,” Amy said. While they were disappointed not to be able to host a festival-like weekend at Night Camp – “Maddy’s Happy Place” – the morning brought with it some unexpected benefits. “I’m so grateful we did it this way because it ended up being intimate, warm, and special, more so than what happened at camp.”

While the family was standing at the front to take pictures, the tent was handed over to a group of school friends. Soon, 10 girls showed up for lunch and went on their favorite activities, including a sweatshirt-dyeing session and a candy-cooking challenge. A few hours later, the bat girl bids farewell to this tight-knit crew and welcomes ten friends to camp for a cinematic night under the stars, filled with bean chairs, cotton candy, popcorn, and a host of other treats.

“The most beautiful part about Maddie is that she spends time with everyone. I loved having it in our house and something about it being on her birthday was so special. At the end of the day, the most important people in our lives were all here,” Amy said.

For their eldest son bar mitzvah in 2018, long before the coronavirus outbreak, the couple had 350 guests at a synagogue. Now, as they plan their youngest son Jared Bar Mitzvah in March 2022, they’re working on how to get back into part-time work again — this time by choice rather than necessity. “Now that I’m done with (Maddy’s), I’d like to be able to keep Jared nice and intimate. We’re leaning toward the backyard spring party. I just want to make it fun and all about him,” Amy said.

Twin brothers Jian and Paige Magen have run their own special events and entertainment company, Magn Boys Entertainment, since 1999. They’re into more small events than ever before and believe the trend is here to stay.

“People were unilaterally forced[to go to small places]because they weren’t allowed in numbers or access to places. It’s not something they were necessarily looking forward to, but in the end, we are reinventing things for the better. It’s about conversations and relationships, not bragging,” Jian said. We bring events back to heart and the purpose of it all.

For example, gamification is a big part of the action today, Jian said, because it’s inclusive, new, and COVID-friendly: “It’s an authentic experience that continues to excite and entertain people and makes them smile.”

Their company creates various general information games, including a “How well do you know the bride and groom” game show and a virtual “Spin the Wheel” show that involves each table with whistles. “Interestingly, things have been getting excessive anyway (in the event industry). Environmental components of some of these events are waste and excess,” Jian said. “We’ll go back to basics. Instead of moving forward with this bigger and better mindset, we’re thinking about small but mighty.”

Even in the pre-pandemic period, many potential hosts were looking for ways to relieve stress. In their new book, The New Wedding Book: A Guide to Breaking All Down the Rules, Michelle Bilodeau and Karen Cleveland show readers ways to break out of outdated habits and plan their wedding in a way that works for them.

“Most of our research was done before the pandemic and most couples were quite comfortable that they wouldn’t have a grandiose, luxurious affair that they found expensive, expensive, or unreal,” Cleveland said. In terms of weddings, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise because it gave them a chance. They can have a small wedding without offending anyone.”

The authors interviewed a range of people about their big day, including a couple living in Berlin who simply rented out their favorite restaurant for a 60-person dinner party and served up Czech and Jamaican food representatives from their backgrounds (the night ended with a dance party). That was during the “old” times. Now, with pandemic regulations slowly but surely lifted, this kind of intimate and uncommon thinking is here to stay.

“Weddings have become very performant and above all. A bride has to fit in with a certain aesthetic and personality…There is a room full of people where she only knows 50 to 75 percent of the guests,” Bilodo said. “Fortunately, pre-pandemic And with the current pandemic, it’s really about getting back to the original: how couples are as individuals and how they want to be as a team. They marry with their closest and loved ones; It takes the pressure off.”

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