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Sandy Journal

Newlyweds plan outdoor and drive-by wedding receptions during COVID

Oct 05, 2020 03:01PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Newlyweds Mary Ruff Morrell and Matt Morrell rocked masks at their outdoor drive-by wedding reception in August. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Mary Ruff Morrell of Midvale and her new husband Matt Morrell of Fruit Heights could never have imagined when they started dating that one day their wedding attire would include masks, their ceremony would only be attended by the closest of family and friends and their reception would be in a church parking lot, with friends driving by to congratulate them. But that’s how it turned out.  

“We got engaged June 10 and the plan was to wait and do a typical wedding. We kept going back and forth on our plans thinking, ‘This is going to work!’ But a few weeks in we realized that with COVID restrictions on gatherings it wouldn’t. We tried making plans and it wasn’t working,” Ruff Morrell said. 

In the end, the Morrells did a drive-by reception in a church parking lot, had a small ceremony in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple and gathered with family in the bride’s family’s large backyard. 

“I’m pretty low key and so is Matt, but we both have big extended families. It was hard to figure out a how to keep everyone safe and comfortable. But it ended up being the size we wanted,” Ruff Morrell said. 

2020 has also been a different year for Sandy merchants and venues that cater to weddings. Some, like the Alta Peruvian Lodge up Little Cottonwood Canyon, have seen lots of cancellations for 2020, but are booked up for 2021. 

“We only do weekends in the summer and we always sell out. Outdoor weddings are our thing—it’s why people plan a wedding here. Usually the ceremony is outside and then there might be a dinner or dancing in the Lodge,” said Todd Collins, general manager of the venue. 

“What we’ve seen is a lot of people change their plans to next year. They have family or friends from out of town who would have to travel here. They don’t want grandparents to risk their health traveling, but they don’t want them to miss the wedding, either. So they moved their plans to next summer when things are hopefully back to normal.  

“I think that if you’re getting engaged right now and you’re planning a wedding in the Salt Lake Valley for next year, it’s going to be hard to find a place,” Collins said.  

Things picked up later in the summer when people realized that COVID wasn’t going away. “Couples figured out a way to make it work. One couple was married on Aug. 1, and they used the pool as a focal point for their outdoor dinner. They set up buffet tables around the pool to keep the distance, but it looked intentional and really nice,” Collins said. 

Heritage Gardens in Sandy has also had a strange year. A lot of the wedding plans were changed as Salt Lake County’s status moved between red, orange, yellow and green which dictated gathering restrictions. 

“In May, we did very small ceremonies of 10 people each. Things picked up by August. A lot of events were moved to later dates, but most couples want to just get married and do what they can for right now,” said Cherie Baker, CEO of Heritage Gardens. 

“We know how to have a safe event. Our venue has a beautiful patio outside. People can dance and the tables are plenty spaced out. We have some that don’t want to ‘give up the dream.’ So they’ve had the wedding already, and now they’re waiting to schedule the big party with us,” Baker said. 

Uncertainty also affects vendors like independent caterers. Paul Hill of Twins Catering in Sandy has been dealing with changing plans for group sizes. 

“Business is going pretty well, but our biggest concern is uncertainty. People want to plan their wedding and book us, but they’re not sure if it’s going to happen. With the restrictions, lots of big weddings have downsized,” Hill said.  

Hill works with many venues in Salt Lake and Utah County. He said his employees are excited to get out and work when they have a job. 

“All of our staff has stayed healthy and safe. One thing we need a lot of is PPE—we’re buying that in bulk. We always wear masks, and we ask the guests to wear masks. The price on gloves has gone way up. But we’ve been able to get all the supplies, including food, that we need, though we have to pay more for some,” Hill said. 

Like everyone, Hill and his staff are watching the situation, hoping that by next summer things are back to normal.  

A normal 2021 is on many engaged couples’ minds. “I think that a lot of my friends are doing a civil ceremony with very few numbers and later on trying to wait it out. They realize that the circumstances won’t allow it, so they just have a party and do the best they can for now,” Ruff Morrell said. 

But the Morrells said one thing about the restrictions is that it forced them to focus on what was most important to them about beginning their lives together. 

“It made us realize that we’re getting married and that’s what’s important. We wanted to be with as many friends and family as we could and have it be safe. Our expectations were lower—we just thought as long as we can get married that’s good,” Ruff Morrell said.