When Jessica Shai launched her wedding and event planning business GATHER in the fall of 2019, Vineyard weddings were as popular as ever. Then, in just a few short months, the world shrank considerably, so Shai, always adaptable, worked on innovative ways to shrink events in keeping with the times.
The GATHER website has a separate section for Micro Event Planning, as Shai refers to nuptials and other events limited to small gatherings. “When small is really sweet” is the tagline for GATHER’s scaled back events, which the seasoned event planner says were a very popular option in 2020. A micro wedding, as she explains it, is a little bigger than an elopement, which generally is limited to immediate family members or a handful of close friends. “It can be like a really fun dinner party,” says Shai. And when you don’t have to accommodate 200 guests, you can spend a little more on decorations, flowers, and renting really beautiful linens. You have a lot more flexibility.”
On the website, Shai notes that the micro wedding allows her to help couples “Create special moments that can only be achieved with a smaller event.”
In her first full year in business, Shai helped plan and coordinate a number of small weddings, as well as some larger events with safe practices measures in place. With the traditional venues closed due to COVID, many couples opted to host their receptions in private residences, using backyard tents or at inns and B&Bs — renting out an entire space for both lodging and hosting the reception.
Aside from budget, Shai mentions some other advantages to the small wedding. “A meal for 20 people is a lot less daunting,” she says. Some couples will opt to forego hiring a catering company and figure out ways to provide their own food, either by ordering from a restaurant or even preparing some of their own dishes. “Sometimes there’s a cook in the family and people will incorporate a special homemade dish,” says Shai. One couple, as she recalls, really wanted to include the groom’s grandmother’s lasagna, but realized that would be impossible with their intended guest list of 240. When the reception was scaled down due to COVID, the lasagna was the featured dish.
A true abundance of flowers is another option with an event in a more intimate space. “With smaller weddings you can spend more on a fuller arbor,” says Shai. “The nice thing about arbor flowers is that you can take them off after the ceremony and carry them to the next space.”
A big advantage to hosting a modest-sized wedding is the relative ease of housing guests. A large affair often requires some serious logistical juggling — often having to find accomodations at numerous facilities. Shai notes that micro weddings are generally based in one location, with a private home or B&B serving as lodging and event space. Transportation too is simplified with fewer guests. “It can get complicated when you’re having to move a lot of people from place to place,” says Shai. With a small gathering, a few cars are all you need to hop from the beach or other ceremony spot to the reception location, and day before and after events are a lot easier to coordinate.
For small weddings, Shai has found that brides tend to keep their attire fairly simple. “The style of wedding dresses weren’t as dramatic,” she says. “Women tended to opt for light summer dresses and more pared-down looks.” That more casual aesthetic generally applied to bridesmaids and other guests, which cuts down considerably on the expense to guests as well as brides.
One area which Shai says not to skimp on is photography. “Whether it’s a large or small wedding, it’s always important to get a photographer whose style you like,” she says. “Think about booking your photographer at the very beginning of the planning process. You want to make sure you don’t have to go with a second or third choice. At the end of the day, pictures are all you have.”
The Zoom era has provided a unique addition to the wedding memento option pool. Shai has found that last year, many couples invited faraway guests who couldn’t travel to virtually attend their nuptials. Some video conferencing applications offer a recording option, which has allowed for a permanent record of the event. “It’s one more thing to add to your wedding time capsule,” says Shai.
This year Shai has a number of large-scale weddings and other events booked, but she sees the trend of reducing and simplifying things still holding strong. With uncertainty as to how things will shake down in the near future, people are either scaling back or booking further ahead. Shai also notes that many couples opt for a Micro Wedding to be followed by a larger event down the line, when friends and family feel safe about travelling and gathering together again.
Although she only launched her Vineyard business just over a year ago right after she moved back to the Vineyard to settle in permanently with her husband Evan, she has years of experience in the event planning business. She began her career in wedding planning on Martha’s Vineyard before moving to Boston to work with a successful large event planning concern that specialized in corporate events, conferences, and nonprofit fundraisers for 300 to 3,000 guests. As she writes on her website, “Transitioning back to Martha’s Vineyard after marrying my husband, I created GATHER to bring together my career experiences. Not only an eye for beauty and great design, but an impeccable attention to detail on a professional level.”
Shai hopes to encourage more corporate clients to host events on the Vineyard — not just conferences but also team-building weekends. She is excited about the possibilities that the Island offers for things like holistic themed events that take advantage of the Island’s proliferation of professionals offering yoga, massage, healthy sustainable meals, classes and more. She finds the Island to be the perfect place for co-workers to relax and rejuvenate while engaging in bonding and inspirational exercises.
Shai also offers services to nonprofits who are looking for ways to make their fundraisers more creative and profitable. The professional event planner has vast experience in that area and has lots of great ideas about initiatives that have proven very fruitful for her clients in the past.
While some have found starting a new business on the cusp of a pandemic daunting, Shai looks at it as an opportunity to adapt and evolve. “I’m so excited to come into this during such an interesting time period,” she says “It’s been great to see how we are all adjusting to these new times while still having fun and staying safe.”
For more information about GATHER and its micro weddings, visit gathereventsmv.com.