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Keeping Up with COVID: Current Event Trends (Show Notes: Season 2, Episode 8)



I realize that the first season of How To Event focused on pandemic planning, but COVID and the pandemic haven’t stopped being relevant in our everyday lives, so for this final installment of Season 2 I want to revisit this topic.  I’ll be discussing some of the current trends within the event industry as they relate to COVID and how vendors and event hosts alike have had to pivot to maintain momentum.  This will be a bit of a different “report” on current trends as in normal times this would focus on the trending colors and decor styles of the season, but this time around we’ll be focusing more on how the event industry has transformed to continue to operate in these unprecedented times.


This fall has proven to be quite tricky for professionals in the event industry as COVID cases have increased in several areas causing an influx of additional cancellations and postponements across the board.  Specifically here in Rhode Island, our Governor recently announced that we would continue to operate under Phase 3 guidelines until an effective vaccine has been released.  This means that in our state for the foreseeable future, we are limited to indoor events with a maximum of 50 guests and outdoor events with a maximum of 100 guests.  As we begin to venture into the colder-weather months, usage of outdoor event spaces will dwindle - or will at least require a lot more creativity to make them comfortable for guests.


Some of the trends that I have identified surrounding COVID and events include:

  • Hygiene - for guests and staff/vendors

  • Smaller guest counts - impacting layouts

  • Food Service - trending styles of service and creativity with serving and presentation

  • Technology integration


 

First and foremost, hygiene has become a focal point at all events.  From increased sanitizing for guests and staff, to mandatory mask-wearing and bans on dance floors - events these days are looking much different from how they have in the past.  Instead of providing a box of chocolates as a wedding favor - couples are monogramming bottles of hand-sanitizer to provide their guests access to easy sanitization.  Some events are even incorporating sanitizing stations that feature items like hand-sanitizer, masks, gloves, and sanitizing wipes - instead of the traditional bathroom baskets.  While I’m sure in pre-covid days no one was being intentionally “dirty”, today we are all focusing on being intentionally clean and hygienic.  This is not only the case amongst guests and front of house staff, but also behind the scenes in kitchens where chefs and other kitchen staff are upholding even more stringent rules of cleanliness and safe food preparation.


Even in situations where a second thought wasn’t given in a pre-COVID world, we are now stepping up the cleanliness factor.  One example surrounds the use of a microphone during a dinner reception; today it is almost commonplace to see a container of sanitizing wipes nearby to ensure they are easily accessible to clean the microphone in between uses - whether it be in between multiple speakers or musical entertainment.


It also isn’t unheard of to see social distancing being incorporated everywhere from guest seating to lines at bars, and even in how a band sets up to perform.  In some locations, like Rhode Island and Massachusetts - dance floors aren’t even allowed within the current guidelines regardless of the number of attendees or style of event.  These circumstances make for an interesting visual in comparison to the crowded dance floors and packed ballrooms we are used to.  This being said, given the limits in gathering sizes, smaller guest counts are allowing for spacious layouts and more intimate seating plans featuring fewer people at larger tables.  Lack of dance floor doesn’t always mean lack of entertainment!  Some event hosts are upping their game in this department and incorporating unique entertainment enhancements to keep their guests engaged throughout the event.


These limits in guest counts have created an influx of what have been categorized as “micro weddings”.  We talked about these in Season 1, Episode 2 - Pandemic Planning: cancellation alternatives.  But since that episode aired in July, micro weddings have been trending upward substantially.  In some cases, couples have opted to host this type of event as a placeholder until restrictions have loosened and they can have a larger affair.  In other cases, some couples have decided that a micro wedding is all they need and have gone all-out on the details for their smaller weddings given the suddenly larger budget and smaller guest count.


When it comes to food service, not only are venues and caterers adhering to vigorous cleanliness standards, but certain styles of service have been utilized over others.  One example is the “retirement” of the buffet.  In most situations, a buffet is one of the most difficult styles of service to maintain health and safety standards from a service standpoint due to all of the potential touches - such as guests touching utensils, and several guests coming into contact with each food display.  The only exception to this rule is if it is an attended buffet line with staff allocated to serve the guests and additional safety measures such as plexiglass screens, and - of course - gloves and masks for staff and masks for guests.  The more popular style of service in these times of the pandemic is plated service.  Many event hosts are opting to please their guests’ palates with multi-coursed meals of everything from comfort food to gourmet cuisine.


In addition to plated food service, family style service is another popular option for guest groups that feature individual pods of familiar people.  For instance, at a wedding where there are a number of familiar friend and family groups, family style can work as long as those pods are grouped together within the seating charts.


From the vendor perspective, venues and caterers have had to get creative with how they serve their food.  Passed hors d’oeuvres must be as composed as possible - often on/in individual vessels to safeguard against cross contamination.  In Rhode Island, cocktail hours cannot incorporate any mingling, so anything passed must be presented to each guest at seated tables.  In addition, self-service stations are not an option due to food safety regulations in a lot of areas, passed options must be over the top and plentiful to ensure that guests are satisfied.  


There has also been an increase in the integration of technology into events.  In some situations, events would have to be completely cancelled without the use of technology due to restrictions of travel, gathering sizes, attendee comfortability, etc.  The industry has seen a pivot, especially within the corporate sector, towards virtual meetings via Zoom, Google Meet, or other video conferencing software.  And this trend is not necessarily limited to just meetings.  I recently heard about a corporate group that opted to do virtual client engagement sessions via Zoom that incorporated everything from wine tastings to history lectures and book talks to engage their clients and keep their company at the forefront.


While the industry has been forced to acclimate to this new way of operating, this is one of the trends that I foresee sticking post-COVID.  The future of events is hybrid!  By incorporating advanced connectivity via technology, events that previously would not have been accessible to some - can now be available to anyone!  Whether it is a live-stream to include out-of-state family and friends in a wedding ceremony or a video conference to bring together an international team, technology will help event hosts to foster stand-out content and engagement amongst participants.


These are the most visible trends that have come to light throughout this season of pandemic events.  I am sure that as things develop with regard to restrictions at the state and federal level, that we will continue to see the leaders in the industry grow into this new world of normal for the event sector.


Next season, I am excited to announce that I’ll be enlisting the help of some vendors in the event industry to incorporate some more dynamic conversations about planning and operating in the unique climate of events in today’s world.  I can’t wait to introduce you to the amazing men and women of our industry and am looking forward to the opportunity to highlight their successes, advice, and stories right here at How to Event!


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