In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a staff member at Amway Grand Plaza, a Curio Collection by Hilton hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, had an idea. The virus had forced so many engaged couples to cancel or postpone their plans for large wedding ceremonies. For those who still wished to wed over the summer, the hotel could offer complimentary space for intimate ceremonies.
“Katie Dietrich, assistant director of catering, shared the idea with our events department and we ran with it. To us, it was a no-brainer. We are hospitality—it is in our bones,” explained Kristen Burnett, corporate director of catering at AHC Hospitality, which manages Amway Grand Plaza. “Our wedding and corporate clients were deeply impacted by this pandemic and it was hard to work through it emotionally for all involved. So we thought, ‘If we can do a good deed for our community, for brides and grooms who simply just want to get married, let’s do it!’”
The hotel made its historic Pantlind Ballroom available for free for up to two hours so couples could enjoy micro wedding ceremonies with a maximum of 10 guests per state mandate. Along with the complimentary ceremony, the property offered a promotional room rate for couples looking to stay over. “The response we got was so heart-warming for us all. We were so happy that others were happy—especially in these dark, uncertain times,” Burnett said.
For couples still looking to book and pay for larger celebrations, the property made its outdoor space available for events of up to 100 guests in accordance with local regulations. “We had two weddings in one weekend in September and everyone on our events team was smiling from ear-to-ear. It felt great to be that busy, even for just one weekend,” she added.
To protect groups amid the pandemic, Amway Grand Plaza follows local guidelines and mandates, using Hilton EventReady as a guide for sanitizing and disinfecting meeting and event spaces. “We let the guests know what steps we take so they feel safe and secure,” Burnett explained. “Masks must be worn at all times except when eating or drinking.” The hotel has also modified food service to reduce contact, incorporating Plexiglass shields into buffets, which are no longer self-serve, and using pre-packaged items for breaks. “We have to look and think through events so differently, but it is what we do,” Burnett added.
The future of events for the rest of the year and into 2021 remains uncertain, but Burnett said she is hopeful that Amway Grand Plaza will be able to host smaller weddings, holiday parties, and meetings. “While it is difficult to plan at the moment, we work through it day-by-day,” she said. “We need to stay positive when planning, but realistic on what may or may not be allowed in one month, two months, three months. It’s a challenging time, and something new for us all.”
Throughout the pandemic, Burnett said hotel staff should aim to be flexible, creative, and sympathetic. “These times show us that we need to show empathy to our guests,” she said. “As hard as it is on our business, it is also hard on our clients. Whether it is a wedding, a gala, or a convention, it is an emotional and stressful time for all.”