Amway Grand offers free space for weddings delayed by COVID-19

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Amway Grand Plaza is donating ceremony space to the countless couples forced to postpone their weddings because of COVID-19.

“We just absolutely love Grand Rapids, we love our surrounding communities and we wanted to do something for them,” said Kristen Burnett, corporate director of catering for the hotel’s managing company, AHC Hospitality. “We just thought, ‘You know, we have the space, we’re still working. Why not do it?”

(A July 1, 2020 photo shows the Pantlind Ballroom inside the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)

Each couple gets the Pantlind Ballroom for 90 minutes – that includes any setup, ceremony and teardown. Up to 10 people are allowed in, including the person presiding over the wedding. Face masks are highly encouraged.

The Amway Grand provides the space, socially distanced seats and sanitization service. Best of all: It’s free.

Burnett says the idea came from the Amway Grand’s assistant director of catering, Katie Dietrich. After fielding countless calls from devastated brides forced to cancel their weddings, she spotted a news report about an events center in Grand Prairie, Texas offering complimentary ceremonies.

“Anyone who has gotten married and has planned a big wedding for a year, you know how much that date means to you. And as a bride, you look forward to that more than anything in your life. I mean, that day is everything to you. It’s your dream wedding,” said Burnett. “Our heart just went out to these brides.”

(A July 1, 2020 image shows an empty events sign posted outside the Pantlind Ballroom inside the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)

UNPRECEDENTED SHUTDOWN

The coronavirus pandemic has also been hard on the Amway Grand and other Grand Rapids hotels AHC Hospitality manages.

On March 25, AC Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott suspended services. The JW Marriott followed suit a week later.

The JW Marriott reopened Wednesday, but AC Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott remain closed for now.

“I’ve been in hospitality almost 20 years and obviously none of us have seen anything like this,” said Burnett.

“Never have I seen hotels and casinos just shut down, unless they’re going out of business. For our company… we haven’t had to do that before. It’s just been a crazy ride,” she added.

Burnett estimates the hotels have lost millions of dollars between empty rooms, shuttered restaurants and scrapped events.

It’s also led to some employee furloughs.

“Thankfully with the unemployment (benefits) and the extra $600 a week, I know that’s really helped a lot of our staff. It’s made it a little bit easier on people,” said Burnett. “But yeah, we do miss our staff so much and we just hope we can bring them back sooner than later.”

‘A GIANT SNOWBALL’ OF CANCELLATIONS

The pandemic started right as “wedding season” was ramping up. Burnett says the Amway Grand typically hosts 50 to 60 weddings a year, but only made it through about five of them when the coronavirus cancellations started in March.

(A July 1, 2020 image shows the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)

“Some started to rebook for June and we’re like, ‘Oh by June, we’ll be fine. That’s great.’ But as we all know, June wasn’t fine,” said Burnett. “It was just a giant snowball that didn’t stop with canceling.”

Doubt is also growing around the next season of events.

“We still really don’t know when it’s going to end,” said Burnett. “We’re looking at fall events now and in some weddings, they’re getting nervous. Of course, they don’t know what to do. They want to hold tight. You know, they want their date, they want their dream to come true.”

But there is a glimmer of better times ahead. Burnett says most couples planning to have their wedding at the Amway Grand this year have rebooked for 2021, and the hotel is now hosting meetings of 10 or fewer people.

(A July 1, 2020 image overlooks the lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)

“Everyone gets their own 6-foot table to sit at and it’s working out quite well. We go into the room before and after and disinfect really well,” she explained.

ANSWERING THE UNKNOWNS OF EVENT PLANNING

The Amway Grand is hoping to host larger events soon, but there are still a lot of unknowns.

“Buffets would obviously look extremely different. Do we do them? If we do them, obviously again (we would need) sneeze guards and then a server would be there serving. Obviously, you’re not going to have the public go through a buffet,” she said.

(A July 1, 2020 photo shows an employee cleaning common surfaces inside the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)

Burnett says the hotel has ordered plenty of sneeze guards for bar areas and is looking at how to individually offer salt, pepper and creamer.

“Events will look a little bit different, but we also want to keep the elegance there too. So, it’ll be a very fine balance,” she said.

For now, the focus is on the small events the Amway Grand can host. A few couples have taken up the hotel on its offer of free ceremony space. Burnett says there’s also a lot of interest for July.

“They’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, the Amway Grand Plaza, I get to have my wedding there!’ So they’re just, they’re thrilled. They’re excited,” said Burnett. “One of the couples said they didn’t think they’d be able to get married or maybe they’re just going to do it in the courtroom or in a backyard at their parents’ house or something. So this is just a little bit more elegant for them and they’ve just absolutely loved it.”

Those interested in reserving a complimentary 90-minute time slot in the Pantlind Ballroom should call Dietrich at 616.776.6406.

(A July 1, 2020 photo shows the Pantlind Ballroom inside the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids.)