Emily DeRitter formed Grand Rapids-based wedding coordination company The Best Day Details LLC in late 2019.
The company’s first wedding season coincided with a slowdown in events because of COVID-19: Her team worked on 25 weddings in 2020, many of which were ultimately canceled or rescheduled. But as restrictions eased in 2021, business came flooding in. DeRitter now oversees a team of 10 people with more than 150 weddings scheduled in 2022.
Across Michigan, wedding events have roared back since the first year of the pandemic. Though still lower than the 2019 rate, the number of Michigan weddings this year is set to far exceed the number of weddings that took place in 2020 or 2021.
Planners like DeRitter have expanded their teams to meet the demand and hope the trend will continue to support their newfound capacity.
Crawling out of COVID
The past two wedding seasons brought unique challenges for the team at Red Heels Events LLC, which plans weddings and private events across West Michigan.
“I have been planning events in West Michigan for over 17 years and have never experienced anything like it,” said Michelle Torno, owner and lead planner. “We assisted couples with completely rescheduling their weddings to new dates, downsizing their weddings to comply with the current restrictions and then redoing them again when the restrictions changed.”
The chaos had a significant effect on the business.
“Income that we planned on for one year was pushed off to a different date or even disappeared completely,” Torno said. “In the wedding industry, open Saturdays are a commodity and when a current client rescheduled to a future date, that was one less we could book a new client on, so there was loss of new income due to that as well.”
While the dip in weddings was most significant in 2020, DeRitter said couples remained tentative about scheduling in 2021 as many chose to elope, downsize or delay. Michigan experienced 50,996 weddings in 2021, up from 41,977 in 2020 but still below the 51,758 in 2019, according to market research firm The Wedding Report.
Online wedding planning service The Knot also found that wedding sizes shrank early in the pandemic, but toward the end of 2021 guest lists started growing again. The Midwest region put up the highest average guest list size and the closest to pre-pandemic numbers, according to The Knot’s survey of about 15,000 couples.
“Generally people are still of the mindset of: We can have a party now, so let’s have a big party. But I think that something did shift in the culture to maybe intimate is better,” DeRitter said.
An ‘insane’ boom
One pandemic upside for West Michigan wedding planners was the sudden appeal of the region’s scenic outdoor venues. The need for large outdoor venues for COVID-safe weddings drew couples to Michigan from larger urban areas like Chicago, said Lindsay McLaughlin, owner and lead coordinator of Grand Rapids-based Paper Hat Weddings LLC. A study earlier this year from The Knot predicted that 2022 would bring an “extremely busy” wedding season, with more than 2.6 million couples planning to marry across the country.
“It seems that once the restrictions were lifted, people became even more motivated to celebrate with their friends and family,” McLaughlin said.
DeRitter agrees. She hired her first team member in early 2021, and began assigning her weddings almost right away as spring couples rescheduled to fall dates DeRitter had already booked.
“It’s just been insane [this year],” DeRitter said. “I probably could have booked a team twice my size almost fully for this wedding season.”
To meet the demand from new couples as well as weddings delayed from the past two seasons, Paper Hat Weddings has had to hire additional coordinators to manage as many as three weddings per weekend.
“With the amount of weddings in 2020 and 2021 delayed and rescheduled, 2022 is turning out to be one of the busiest years in a long time,” said Torno of Red Heels Events. “The amount of inquiries we have received is much higher than normal. Other planners in the area are experiencing this same increase for both 2022 and 2023.”
McLaughlin and Torno both believe the boom will continue at least through 2023.
“We are already experiencing a very high level of inquiries and bookings for 2023. Favorite venues are booking up quickly, couples that desire to have their weddings at these venues are having to push their dates out further and further. Our calendar is also filling up faster than normal and we will reach our limit sooner than ever before,” Torno said.
DeRitter is more cautious. Although her team is already about 50 percent booked for 2023, she said some vendor friends aiming for 25 bookings are still hovering around two to three.
The Best Day Details has paused expanding further for now, she said.
“I didn’t want to hire even more than 10 people in order to match 2022’s metrics because that might be a crash and burn rate,” DeRitter said. “I am just cautiously optimistic right now.”