In less than two weeks, couples in New York state can host 150 of their friends and family members at the biggest weddings allowed since the coronavirus shutdown a year ago.
Wedding venues read and reread the new guidelines from the state health department to see how it will work. It is not easy.
For starters, every single guest must have a negative Covid test in the hours before the wedding. You need to make an appointment and get the results back in just the right time prior to receipt – 72 hours for the PCR test or six hours for a rapid test.
Are there enough tests and who pays? Can a Massachusetts guest get a test in NY? Who is responsible for keeping track of everything?
“The truth is, we don’t really understand the guidelines yet,” said Rob Benetti, general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton at Carrier Circle. “I don’t really know who is doing this because they are really restrictive.”
Ryan McMahon, Onondaga County’s executive, said he too didn’t have time to read the instructions. He has said weddings could send the number of tests the county administers through the roof.
One possibility, he said, is for the state to set up rapid testing facilities. McMahon said he had suggested a few locations to the state. Testing people at the taxpayer’s expense could be seen as an investment in economic development, and Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was key to reopening sports, music and the arts.
The state now has the capacity to test 350,000 people a day and can easily go beyond that, according to the state health department.
Couples or venues can also purchase their own tests and use them as per local guidelines. But that’s unaffordable for most couples or venues.
“Each test costs $ 75 to $ 150. I don’t see many venues doing this in the end, ”said Melissa Oliver, director of sales and marketing at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown.
Attorneys for the Marriott – the city’s historic Syracuse hotel – are writing a plan that sets out the liabilities for the venue and the couples.
Either the venue or the user can arrange the logistics so that everyone can be tested. But the venues are ultimately responsible for ensuring that every guest has a valid negative test, the health department says.
This puts caterers and sales managers in an uncomfortable position.
“If Grandma doesn’t have the right tests and we have to say Grandma won’t be here, it won’t go down well,” said Benetti.
The venues must also keep an eye on each guest in case contact tracing is required. This means that every guest has to register with their name, date of birth, address, email address and telephone number.
You’ll also need to enforce specific rules for every aspect of the event – from the cloakroom to appetizers to the macarena.
The instructions say:
- Ceremonial first dances are allowed with the family. Other guests can only dance with members of their household or family who are seated at their table in clearly marked areas or zones that are at least three feet apart. Each zone must be larger than 36 square feet. Face masks must be worn and there is no crossing to another zone.
- Live music, DJs, and dancing are allowed, but there are limits. Live musicians must be separated from guests by 12 feet or a barrier, especially if they are exposed or playing a wind instrument.
- Guests are assigned to a table or area where they must sit down to eat or drink for the entire event. They should sit with members of their household.
- Everyone must wear masks except when they are eating and drinking.
- Guests can stand to applaud the bride and groom as they enter.
- People who give a toast can remove their masks while they speak, as long as they are 12 feet away from others or have a physical barrier between them.
- Starters should be served in separate containers. Buffet lines should be staggered.
- Services such as cloakrooms and valet parking should be restricted.
- There should be one-way streets around the room and on stairs.
- Venues are allowed to have more than one wedding at a time if they have the capacity and the guests are not talking.
“So are we the mingling police now?” Asked Benetti. “That stuff sounds great, but it’s very difficult. Are you hiring security? How do you know if someone is in a tuxedo and what wedding they’re at? “
Some rules are easier to imagine and can become part of the decor. Marriott wedding planners envision color-coded tables and wrist bans to identify dance capsules.
“We’ll definitely be leading our customers in a fun and unique way to mark our tables and dance pods,” said Lindsey Cole, Marriott wedding specialist.
The Marriott team has already designed floors for seating and dancing for parties of 100 to 150 people. There’s enough space in her three ballrooms, she said.
Hotels and other venues are now receiving inquiries for May – the traditional start of the wedding season. You are eager to get back to work.
The last major wedding at the Marriott in downtown Syracuse was February 29, 2020. As marketing emails go out this week, employees are pondering the closure’s one year anniversary. This time last year they waited to hear if the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Syracuse would go on. It was canceled in 2020 and again in 2021.
At the height of the season, the hotel employed 225 people. Now there are only 45 left.
Benetti hopes an industry leader like Marriott will develop best practices that all can apply. Everyone wants to be safe and get back to business, he said.
The Doubletree hasn’t hosted a wedding since 2019. More than 150 of the 175 workers are unemployed, Benetti said. That’s all of the banquet staff, the kitchen, most of the housekeepers, and others.
There was good news for the hotel industry this week. The state, along with restaurant workers, has opened vaccines for hotel workers. But here, too, the state health department suggests that people with vaccines receive a test before an event. It’s not a requirement, it’s a recommendation. What does that mean? Asked Benetti.
“We just want to make sure we follow the rules and do it safely,” said Benetti.
Contact Michelle Breidenbach | firstname.lastname@example.org | 315-470-3186.