Making a big impact with a small event was a hot trend long before COVID-19 was on the scene.

This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Columbus Weddings, which published in August 2020.

They say good things come in small packages, but does that maxim extend to weddings? Many couples plan grand affairs packed with their closest family and friends, not to mention their parents’ friends, longtime neighbors, former teachers and even the bride’s second cousin twice removed.

The coronavirus pandemic has led many couples to re-evaluate their priorities and scale back their plans. With concerns about large gatherings unlikely to abate any time soon, brides- and grooms-to-be are doubling down on a trend already prevalent prior to the pandemic: the micro-wedding.

Micro-weddings usually take place in intimate settings and feature a stripped-down guest list. Worthington couple Claire and Jason Johnson, who were married last year at Due Amici in Downtown Columbus, went the micro route partly for practicality.

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“We looked at doing a bigger wedding,” Claire says. “We had a lot of family and friends that were out of town. … We looked at a lot of venues and none of them really seemed right, so then we just decided we wanted to do something smaller.”

Teena Parker, owner of Ampersand Flowers & Events in Worthington, attributes the rise of micro-weddings to couples’ budget concerns and a desire to narrow their guest lists to include only their closest circles. Minimal effects can make a large impression in smaller settings, she says. “Instead of having bridesmaids with huge bouquets, you can just do a little boutonniere or a little corsage for everyone,” Parker says. “You can just do some simple greenery and candlelight on the tables.”

That doesn’t mean that micro-weddings can’t be indulgent, however. “You can still have incredible celebrations and have the freedom to spend more money on the things that really matter,” Parker says. “Go over the top with food and beverage, or the dress or the cake or whatever it is that’s most important to the couple.”

For their ceremony, Claire and Jason whittled down their guest list to 35 people, consisting of immediate family members—parents, siblings and their significant others—and close, local friends, mainly those in the actual wedding party.

Using a private room at Due Amici, the couple replicated many of the traditional elements of a ceremony. By placing two long tables opposite each other, they created an aisle for Claire to walk down. “We still did a first dance,” she says. “We had floral arrangements done by a florist.” Because guests were already seated, everyone was in place when dinner was served; parents and siblings were seated up front. The crowd fanned out afterwards. “We went to another bar closer to [our] hotel and invited people to come there,” Claire says. “We didn’t have a DJ or dancing, but that’s really the only thing I would say we didn’t have.”

The trade-off was worth it, as Jason says he got to spend quality time with his guests. “A common theme that I … have heard [about a traditional wedding day] is that people have said, ‘It was all a whirlwind,’” Jason says. “They just kind of bounced around.” By contrast, at his wedding, “I remember every conversation I had with everybody. We spent a weekend together.”

Even the Johnsons’ photographer, Benjamin Derkin of Derk’s Works Photography, felt more connected with the overall wedding. When Derkin photographs a micro-wedding, he finds that everyone is a bit more aware of his presence. “There are less people to hide behind,” Derkin says. “That gives me an opportunity to be a little bit more engaged with the people. … It gives me the ability to get a little bit closer, physically.”

Predictably, micro-weddings have spiked in popularity during the pandemic. “We had our first micro-wedding just 48 hours before the shelter-in-place was announced,” says Chelsie Smith, who co-owns Flat 51, a second-floor event space in German Village, along with Jen Brown.

Yet the trend seems unlikely to abate—even if COVID-19 is eventually resolved with a vaccine or effective treatment. “Couples are realizing they don’t need the big, traditional wedding,” Brown says. “They are rewriting the book on what the entire wedding experience looks like.”

“I still got to do everything that the wedding entails,” Claire Johnson says. “It was just on a smaller, I would say more manageable, scale.”