DALLAS – Christine Quinn Twito's dream wedding didn't include cutting her guest list from around 400 to 130 and seating them 10 feet apart.
Or installing a shield around the bar and placing monogrammed stickers on the ground to remind people to socially distance.
Or buying matching face masks for the staff at Arlington Hall at Turtle Creek Park to wear while they served a seated dinner.
But the 26-year-old wasn't about to let a pandemic delay her wedding to Daniel Twito for a second time. When she finally walked down the aisle on June 26, the day turned out better than she expected.
"You dream about your wedding for your entire life," she said. "To have to accept that it's just never going to be like you thought it was, was a really hard place to get to."
During the traditionally busy summer months for weddings, brides like Twito are having to make major adjustments to pull off marriages in the COVID-19 era. It's also challenging wedding planners, cake makers, photographers, florists and venues to get creative with how to keep typically intimate ceremonies from becoming superspreader petri dishes.
"As a bride, there's no way to prepare yourself for getting married during a global pandemic," Twito said. "We had more things that we weren't going to be able to do than we were going to be able to do."
Twito, who delayed her original May wedding to the end of June, relied on wedding planner Jacqueline Hill to help her through the anxious and overwhelming moments leading up to her outdoor ceremony.
"A lot of guests themselves didn't know what to expect for a COVID wedding," said Twito, who had friends and family members decide not to attend for safety reasons.
While she understood the importance of added precautions, she didn't want to miss out on any special moments, like walking down the aisle or having a first dance. She also didn't think it made sense to delay until next year.
"There is no guarantee that the future is going to be any different," she said. "There's no guarantee that regulations for weddings would change by this time next year."
THE WEDDING PLANNER
For Hill, the pandemic represented an immediate threat to her livelihood.
Of the 24 events she had scheduled for spring and summer, most weddings were postponed to a later date and a few were outright canceled, she said. Twito's wedding was one of three that went forward.
Hill, who owns Jacqueline Events & Design, said she grew nervous in March when her first couple asked for a delay. When more followed, she realized she was going to have to postpone the majority.
"At the beginning, no one really knew how long this was going to last," Hill said. "We thought we could push (weddings) two months or three months and it seemed totally doable. And here we are."
Two couples have had to postpone for a third time, and others are nervous about even booking future dates, she said.
"Our bookings are down tremendously," Hill said. "Our inquiries are down tremendously. And then, of course, we're (holding) weddings later on, so we're not seeing that income right now."
The pandemic knocked out many of her top months for weddings: April, May, June and October, prime time in Texas when the heat isn't oppressive.
"We've had some who have just chosen to get married in their backyard on their own and do something intimate with the people there that they love, and then postpone their reception later," Hill said.
She recommends that couples wait until about two months before their weddings to decide. She also warns that a lot of vendors are not going to postpone several months ahead without charging fees.
"We just have no clue what's going to happen in the fall," Hill said. "So they're going to still hold on to any of that business they can."
Couples can still have their dream wedding, but it's going to mean making tough decisions like whether to put older family members at risk, she said.
"If putting your guests in a potentially risky situation really worries you, then I do think it's probably wise you try to find another date," Hill said. "You have to evaluate where you are and where your guests are coming from."
THE CAKE MAKER
In her 19 years as a wedding cake maker, Lauren Kitchens had never had a season completely canceled. Until this year.
"In March, all of our work was gone," Kitchens said. "It didn't really trickle into our industry. It just came and threw the hammer down on us."
Kitchens, who owns Fancy Cakes by Lauren, said most of her clients postponed their weddings when the pandemic hit in March. Months later, cases are still at high levels in Texas, and clients have postponed their weddings again to next year.
"I've had some clients postpone four times," she said, describing the nervousness she senses from couples worried about their guests gathering in large numbers.
Kitchens said she had over 60 weddings postponed this spring, and more than half of those had groom and wedding cakes, meaning she lost out on about 100 cake orders. She's been letting brides and grooms out of their contracts.
"I'm not making any money this year," Kitchens said. "I just can't do that to these families. This is an odd situation because I'm working twice as hard, and I'm just treading water."
Usually, by the end of July, wedding season slows to a trickle. But this year, Kitchens said, she's doing four to seven weddings each weekend, all of them small. She already has dozens booked for next year, too.
Wedding cake tasting is no longer done in person but over Zoom. Couples can pick up samples from her shop and take them home. Kitchens then discusses the choices with her customers virtually.
"The face to face is gone, which really stinks because I can't give these brides the experience I'm used to giving them," Kitchens said.
For the wedding cake itself, Kitchens has been providing a "fake cake," one made of styrofoam and iced with normal icing and toppers to look like a real one. The couple's real cake is in the kitchen, ready to be served to guests. This helps couples feel safer that their cake isn't sitting out in a crowded room.
Another option is to have a mini cake in a box behind the fake one that couples can cut into for their photo.
"It looks like you're cutting into the back of your cake but you're really cutting into your mini cake," Kitchens said. "And then ... you feed each other and there's the photo op."
Other couples want a real section of cake along the bottom of the fake cake, so their photos convey that the entire cake is real.
One trend may help couples frustrated by the virus: They're getting bigger gifts.
Megan Hodges is founder of The Dowry, a website that includes more than 50 Dallas-Fort Worth artists and businesses so brides can handpick and curate their registry.
Invited guests have been buying more expensive gifts since the pandemic began, she said. The $100 typically spent on a gift is now about double that, possibly because people aren't traveling far for weddings as often.
Her website makes it easy for brides to browse and update their registries from their home, Hodges said. Even if fewer than 50 people attend the actual wedding, other invitees are still likely to send gifts.
"The average bride registers on a gift registry site seven to eight months prior to the wedding," Hodges said. "I don't think I will have an understanding of the impact (of COVID-19) until the October, November time frame, but it's definitely a phenomenon that's starting to happen in a shift of weddings becoming a lot smaller."
Kitchens said she works with six hotels to provide cakes for ceremonies. One is Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, which introduced the idea of a "microwedding" to people who still want to get married but with fewer people at the ceremony.
Hotel Crescent Court's all-inclusive package provides a venue, a cake, flowers and more, said Ashley Grunska, the hotel's in-house elopement and microwedding specialist.
"It eases the planning process by partnering with some of our local vendors to offer everything that they would need for a small ceremony, followed by a reception here," Grunska said.
Grunska said she thought of the microwedding idea when couples began inquiring about ways to still have a wedding while following state limitations on crowd size.
"We thought it would be great if we could just put together a package that would make it really easy and simple to book," Grunska said. "A lot of brides are really stressed right now, more so than they would be typically."
The majority of Hotel Crescent Court's spring weddings were postponed to the fall and winter months. The hotel averages 45 weddings a year and more than 100 other wedding-related social events, such as rehearsal dinners.
The average cost of a wedding in Texas is $30,200, according to data compiled by theknot.com, which surveyed more than 27,000 couples who were married in 2019. The average cost nationwide is $33,900, which includes the engagement ring but not honeymoon expenses.
A microwedding runs about $2,750 for up to 30 guests and $4,500 for up to 50 guests and can be booked up to 10 days before instead of several months ahead. A standard wedding with 200 guests at Hotel Crescent Court would run upwards of $30,000, Grunska said.
While weddings are important and memorable events, Twito said her experience left her with a takeaway that might also benefit other brides-to-be.
"Sometimes, I think it's really easy to get caught up in the day versus what the day is representing," Twito said. "Give yourself a lot of grace. There is no handbook for preparing a wedding during a global pandemic.
"And nobody can tell you what your wedding day should look like, except for you and your future husband," she said.
(c)2020 The Dallas Morning News
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.