Weddings are picking up post-pandemic — but have venues fully recovered?

Wedding planning can be stressful as it is, but a last-minute cancellation by a venue or vendor can only make those pre-nuptial jitters even worse.

Couples in Ottawa got a shock this week after Courtyard Restaurant, a popular downtown eatery and wedding venue in the heart of the country’s capital, announced on social media that it was shutting down for good after more than 40 years.

Many couples who had their wedding booked at the location were informed by the restaurant in an email that Tuesday was their last evening of service and all future weddings were cancelled.

“It was definitely very surprising news as a consumer and as a resident of Ottawa, but also then as a wedding planner,” said Shannon Kennedy, owner and principal planner of Kennedy Event Planning, an Ottawa-based wedding planning agency.

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It can be a nerve-wracking situation for soon-to-be married couples, as they look for other options and figure out how to salvage their big day.

Click to play video: 'Wedding venues suddenly close in Toronto '

Wedding venues suddenly close in Toronto 

“Weddings in general have a lot of stress and emotion already built into them, but when you’re presented with a crisis like this within less than 24 hours, emotions run high, crises run high,” Kennedy said.

“And so as wedding vendors in a wedding community, we are kind of trained to approach things as calmly as we can and as rationally as we can,” she told Global News.

Kennedy said the local wedding community in Ottawa, which has become so accustomed to last-minute changes as a result of surviving the COVID-19 era, rallied very quickly, with vendors reaching out to clients affected by the Courtyard closure and sharing their own availabilities.

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“So there are options and as a whole, the wedding community was really excited to be able to reach out to these couples and offer help.”

Click to play video: 'Wedding woes: Couples offered help after venue business collapses'

Wedding woes: Couples offered help after venue business collapses

‘Busy’ year for weddings

After a lull during the COVID-19 pandemic, wedding numbers and size are picking up again in Canada and the industry is rebounding as many couples who had to postpone tying the knot are getting married, planners say.

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Mallory Lauder, owner and creative director of Lasting Events, a boutique wedding coordinating company in Ontario’s Niagara Region, said it is back to pre-COVID numbers in terms of guest count and events. Her team has a total 40 weddings booked for this year, Lauder said.

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She said 2024 is “just consistently busy …and we’re seeing a lot of people get married.”

In Quebec, almost 28,000 weddings are expected to take place this year, according to La Boutique Champagne, a personalized bridal shop in Saint-Hyacinthe.

The first two years of the pandemic saw the number of unions in the province cut in almost half, the bridal shop said in a news release Wednesday. But there was “significant growth” last year and that is expected to continue into 2024.

Click to play video: 'Weddings trend toward smaller, less traditional events in Manitoba'

Weddings trend toward smaller, less traditional events in Manitoba

However, with inflation running high and labour costs soaring, some businesses, like Courtyard Restaurant, have been forced to shut their doors while many others struggle to keep them open.

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In the case of Courtyard, it had “accumulated a significant amount of arrears,” according to the National Capital Commission (NCC).

Valérie Dufour, a spokesperson for the commission, told Global News that the NCC has been working with the Courtyard Restaurant owner on a repayment plan and agreement since July 2023 and has provided opportunities to come to a resolution.

“The NCC understands that the past few years, during and after the global pandemic, have been challenging and stressful for restaurants and other businesses, as well as for their employees,” Dufour said.

It is also getting increasingly pricey to host a wedding, planners say.

“Things are more expensive than they used to be and businesses and especially food-based businesses like restaurants and venues are struggling right now to stay afloat,” Kennedy said.

“Many have not recovered from COVID, and many had to take out very substantial loans and to take grants, to keep themselves alive through COVID and a lot of those pay dates are now due.”

How to pick a wedding venue

Last year, Berkeley Events, which had operated several venues in Toronto, abruptly shut its doors as it went into receivership, leaving many couples in the lurch and having to find a new location for their nuptials.

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Lauder said while no none can really prepare for such a scenario during their wedding planning, there are several things to keep in mind before booking a venue.

One obvious red flag is when verbal promises are made that are not put into writing. This could result in miscommunication and those promises ultimately not being kept.

Click to play video: 'The Growing Trend of Micro-Weddings'

The Growing Trend of Micro-Weddings

Another big red flag is when the venue is very restrictive for the vendor team, such as the time it allows for set up, Lauder said.

Couples should make sure they have “ironclad contracts” with their vendors, with language on cancellation policies, refunds, deposit transfers included in them, Kennedy said.

“I often tell clients to ask a lot of questions, so even if the question seems silly, ask all those questions because you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re walking into,” Lauder said.

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Hard questions about any major plans for construction, renovation, expansion or even downsizing in the future can give a hint of what might potentially come down the pipeline, Kennedy added.

To avoid losing out on large deposits or payments, couples can also purchase wedding insurance through brokers that can be applied in situations like a venue going bankrupt or closing unexpectedly, she said.

What to do if your venue cancels

First, give yourself a little bit of grace period to process the news and feel all the emotions that immediately come up, Kennedy said.

Then get back into planning mode, relying heavily on the professional team or network of vendors that you’ve hired for the big day.

“My job is to try to assist couples as best I can through regular planning as well as a little bit of crisis planning,” Kennedy said.

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It’s important to communicate any changes or updates to your guests as soon as you can.

Because the wedding industry is relatively small and close-knit, other local venues will typically be aware of any cancellations and jump in to find space.

Lauder advised perusing through social media to look for those options.

Click to play video: 'Planning a wedding? What to do if your vendor backs out before your big day'

Planning a wedding? What to do if your vendor backs out before your big day

Sometimes, legal considerations may also come into play because of cancellations.

Alycia Rose, founder of The Wedding Lawyer, a firm that specializes in reviewing vendor contracts and dispute resolution, previously told Global News in August 2023 that reading contracts can be crucial when planning your celebration.

According to Rose, contracts will often lay out details like cancellation clauses and payment schedules, which a lawyer can review.

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Rose advised that couples should consider options when paying suppliers. Using a credit card, for example, could offer recourse by having your bank stop payments should your vendor go out of business.

Courtyard Restaurant said in an email to customers circulated on social media, that they will be unable to issue any refunds on deposits or payments, adding that that any transactions can be disputed with the credit card provider.

Courtyard Restaurant did not respond to a request for comment from Global News.

As a last-case scenario, couples should consider reaching out to a lawyer or possibly a financial agency to see what options are available around litigation, Rose said.

— with files from Global News’ Sean Previl

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