New York has finally opened itself up again for big, fat weddings — but it’s still clamping down on the fun.
Starting Monday, the Empire State will allow weddings with as many as 150 guests — up from a previous limit of 50 — for the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020. Insiders say the move, approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 29, has already spurred an uptick for the state’s battered events industry, which has been running on fumes.
But in loosening the headcount, the governor has also clamped down with a litany of restrictions on everything from dancing and COVID testing. That, in turn, has spurred at least some couples to take their nuptials to states with less restrictive rules, especially New Jersey.
“I tried to explain the dancing rule and was told by one of my clients ‘you’re making that up,’” Mickey King, owner of Antun’s catering hall in Queens, said of the “socially-distanced dancing” rules now in place.
King said he was slammed with six cancellations and postponements for parties that had been booked for April through October after the Cuomo administration released a 17-page document describing the new wedding rules on Feb. 24.
While the dancing rules raised a lot of eyebrows, the biggest gripe by far, he said, centered on the state’s COVID-19 testing stipulation.
Starting on March 15, anyone attending a wedding or other large social gathering in NY must provide proof of a negative result within 72 hours of the event — or proof of an antigen test performed within six hours of the party. The Garden State is also allowing weddings with up to 150 guests, but isn’t requiring COVID-19 tests.
“The testing is an issue,” agreed Max Janoff, a partner in the Crystal Plaza in Livingston, NJ, who says he’s been fielding calls from New Yorkers ever since the new party rules came out. Janoff has already booked an October wedding for Manhattan couple who first considered the Big Apple before settling on New Jersey because the state has less strict rules.
In Staten Island, at least three parties that were booked at the Hilton Garden Inn recently canceled and moved their events to New Jersey, citing New York’s restrictive testing rules, said Anthony Gerardi, a partner in Sound Productions, which provides music.
“You don’t get tested to walk into a Walmart, go to a restaurant or attend a Zumba class, so why do you need to get tested for a private event?” clients asked Gerardi, he said.
Anyone getting married in New York, meanwhile, must study up on rules covering everything from how they dance to how they sip their cocktails.
Guests can only remove their masks when seated and either eating or drinking. And they can only dance with members of their immediate household or people seated at their table, according to the rules.
Anyone dancing must also stay in their own “zone,” which is described as a “designated and clearly marked” area that is at least six feet from any other dancing zone.
The dancing rules also have event operators scratching their heads.
”How can we police whether table three and four are mingling,” said one operator who did not want to be identified. “If they choose to dance together, who am I to stop their freedom of expression.”
“I guess I’ll use masking tape,” King said of the “zone” requirements. “But how ugly is that going to look when I have to outline a box on a floor?”
Despite the annoyances, the New York-based events industry is still heaving a huge sigh of relief over the increased guest limit as it will lead to more business overall and therefore bring more people back to work.
Arthur Backal, who runs the Mandarin Oriental’s party spaces among other luxury venues in the city, said he and his team are fielding upwards of 20 requests a week for people wanting a tour of the venues. That’s compared with one such appointment every two weeks last year.
“All of our calls had been about postponements and cancellations — until now,” Backal said.
And New Yorkers who’d been sitting on the fence about weddings in the spring and summer are now printing their invitations, according to Ashley Douglass, who runs an eponymous event planning business.
“I had two couples who just signed off on sending their invitations to the printer for weddings in May and June,” Douglass told The Post. “That’s a big deal,” she added, “because it’s a non-refundable expense and can run anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000.”
Meanwhile, Larry Gold’s Unique Event Group on March 2 booked combo DJ-band music for two weddings in June and August, while Hechler Photographers had its first in-person meeting with a bride and her mom on Feb. 24 to discuss a wedding at The Pierre hotel.
“People who moved their wedding dates multiple times last year now want to move their dates up to May and June from the fall,” added Gerardi of Sound Productions.
On June 19, Midtown’s Gotham Hall — the 9,000-square-foot ballroom that hosts more than 40 weddings annually — will host its first wedding in more than a year.
As for the COVID tests, some couples are offering to take care of the testing for their guests — even though hiring lab technicians to administer rapid tests as guests arrives can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 a pop, Douglass said.