July 11, 2020
Weddings have been put on hold for months due to COVID-19. Engaged couples with plans to tie the knot in Philly this year are anxiously waiting for when government officials will allow large gatherings again, and wondering what new health and safety protocols will be put in place to protect guests.
Many getting married in Philadelphia will be using one of Cescaphe's six venues for their big day. The company does 800-plus weddings per year.
The Cescaphe Ballroom and Tendenza are both located in Northern Liberties. The largest venue, Vie, is north of City Hall. The Water Works sits behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Down Town Club is by Independence Hall and the newest addition, The Lucy, is on the Avenue of the Arts.
Large weddings in Philly can resume when the city advances to the full-on Green Phase of Pennsylvania's reopening plan. The city currently is in a modified version of that stage and strict limits remain on the size of indoor gatherings. The soonest that could change is Aug. 1.
While waiting for the green light to host weddings again, Cescaphe has created its "Invite to Midnight" plan, named so because it outlines safety protocols and guests' "social responsibilities" from the time they receive their invitations through the end of the events they will be attending.
The new procedures will be implemented across all of Cescaphe's venues for the foreseeable future, said Joe Volpe, CEO of Cescaphe.
"One of our main goals is to have our future guests feeling safe when they're at these weddings," Volpe said. "It starts from when guests get their invitation. It's laid out at that point what is expected of them and their social responsibilities. There will be an information card that will remind them about their temperature, if they traveled in the last 14 days and if they're not feeling well to stay home."
"People want to get on with their life and have their marriage and start their families"
New protocols include requiring staff to wear masks and Cescaphe keeping records of all staff, vendors and guests who attend events on file for 60 days for contact tracing purposes.
There's also a new sanitation supervisor who will monitor high-touch areas, such as door handles and the bars, ensuring they're continually sanitized. This person will also make sure no lines form and that people are social distancing. For the employees, the sanitation supervisor will remind staff members to wash, sanitize and re-glove their hands every 20 minutes during food service, and oversee that all team members wash their hands when entering and leaving the kitchen.
One change that Volpe believes is definitely for the best affects how food will be served during cocktail hour. Instead of helping yourself to the extravagant buffet Cescaphe weddings are known for, chefs will be at each food station to distribute hors d'oeuvres and there will be a translucent partition between food and guests.
"The chefs will be handing you your plate with sushi or crispy dumplings or lobster tail," said Volpe. "Honestly, I think it's going to be much classier, and it will be a better experience for the guests. I think that it will be a good change, so there is some good that's come out of these crazy times."
During dinner service, there will be domed covers over all courses and dishes will be placed on the tables with serving napkins to reduce contact between servers' hands and the plates. Table capacity will be limited to 8 to 10 guests per table.
Another important change is that event attendance is limited to 250 people when Philadelphia completely moves to the Green Phase. The number includes guests, vendors and front of house staff.
So couples who had their heart set on massive 300-400 person parties may have to wait, but many will still be able to have their full guest list in attendance.
"I worked for a guy for 20 years in this industry, and I've been on my own for 18 years. And the whole entire time the average wedding was 190 people – and that has not changed in three decades," Volpe said.
He knows couples are eager to have the celebrations they've planned, mentioning that many who booked with Cescaphe are still looking to get married this year.
"Just think if you were impacted by (COVID-19). You wouldn't want to wait another year (after so much planning). People want to get on with their life and have their marriage and start their families," he explained. "I'm right in the thick of it with these couples and that really is the overwhelming sentiment of people out there. I think there's a huge pent-up demand to celebrate again."
What city and health officials decide to do in Philadelphia on Aug. 1 will depend on which direction the rate of COVID-19 infections is headed. But when indoor gatherings of 250 people are allowed, it will take the people attending and hosting those events being diligent about following health protocols to ensure there is no backward slide.
"There's definitely no do-overs in the wedding industry," Volpe said. "You know, you gotta get it right the first time and believe me, we are aware of that."
The full "Invite to Midnight" plan is available on Cescaphe's website.