Delta variant is uninvited guest for event planners

Originally published by Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle on August 12, 2021. Click here to read the original article.

And so it goes again.

With the delta variant causing a rise in COVID-positive cases, event planners are scrambling to help nervous brides, grooms and other celebrants.

“I’m dangling,” said Natalie Berger, an event planner for more than three decades.

Every day new questions arise. For example, people want to know what cocktail hours will look like: Is everyone going to be allowed to mingle? Will guests have to be seated? Will venues allow dancing? Will these parties even happen? “We don’t know the answers,” Berger admitted.

Just a few months ago, the prospects of executing a late summer or fall 2021 celebration seemed less daunting. With the number of vaccinated people increasing and pandemic-related restrictions easing, there was a surge of celebrations.

Brides and grooms who had postponed their weddings last year were pushing forward, and by June 2021, Margie Stang, owner of Margie Stang Events, saw a rapid return of well-attended affairs.

Two months later, big parties are still occurring, said Stang, but the delta variant is necessitating some tweaks.

“Large events are now offering more outside access,” she said. “And a wedding I’m working on in September is for vaccinated [people] only.”

Amy Bass, owner of Nota Bene Fine Paper Boutique in Aspinwall, has noticed similar requests regarding vaccinations.

“People are putting more cards in their invitations asking attendees to be vaccinated, or proof of a negative COVID test,” said Bass. “I haven’t heard of anyone saying you need to bring your vaccination card, but yes that is a trend.”

Still, event planners agreed that the delta variant isn’t causing the level of disruption to party planning as seen in 2020. According to The Knot, an online wedding planning company, a survey of 7,600 respondents revealed that 47% of couples who planned to get married in 2020 postponed their weddings to 2021 or later.

Delta may be a new chapter, but it’s the consequences of 2020 that are largely impacting party planning now. Vendors are not only responding to increased demands but are doing so with a smaller staff, Bass said.

Event planner Shari Zatman, owner of Perfectly Planned by Shari, agreed and said she’s seeing a “tremendous labor shortage.”

The experience one has when trying to dine out — only to discover the restaurant has fewer hours and smaller capacity — mirrors what’s happening in the events industry, she said.

“Restaurants, labor, hospitality are all similar to some degree,” Zatman said. “I don’t know if it will change in status once the federal stimulus ends at the beginning of September. There’s some thinking that more people will come back to work once that ends.”

Zatman was referring to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, which extended and provided additional unemployment benefits that will keep the current weekly enhancement of unemployment checks at $300 through Sept. 4, according to Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensation.

What happens after Sept. 4, like so much else in the industry, is unknown, but whether it comes to staffing, invitations or any other aspect of an event, experts are advising people to be patient.

Bass said she gives her clients realistic timelines, telling them the days of ordering rushed materials are over.

“This is how long things take,” she said. “We have some vendors who are quicker than others, but vendors are taking longer to produce.”

Some clients of Zatman, who were creating a bat mitzvah invitation, quickly learned about pandemic-related delays.

“They wanted something specific and, because of the timeline, had to make a compromise,” she said. “We never would have gotten the invitations otherwise.”

Although the delta variant, and COVID in general, is forcing changes across the industry, people are still “forging ahead” with their celebrations, Zatman said.

Berger agreed, and said people are continuing to move forward in various ways, with some celebrants not wanting to discuss the delta variant at all and others asking a host of questions.

“I’m holding my breath and hoping for the best for everybody,” said Berger. Event planners are trying hard to juggle client, venue and vendor demands, she said, but so many things are “out of our control”

But, added Berger, while everyone is experiencing a lot of stress, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“We’re not doing brain surgery. We’re doing a party.” PJC

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