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Making It Work: Drive-thru weddings in the time of coronavirus

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Australians have had to adapt after their livelihoods took a hit from government restrictions introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus. In this series called Making It Work, we look at how individuals and businesses have pivoted to stay afloat during the crisis.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that weddings would be limited to just five attendees, celebrants around the country saw bookings cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

However, the realisation that some Australians were determined to go ahead and marry anyway, gave Melbourne celebrant Melissa Jacob an idea to pivot her business.

making it work i do drive thru
Photo: Briars Atlas.

Typically, Jacob would officiate at large weddings but she now organises her team of professional celebrants to help people celebrate their perfect five-person wedding.

Founder of I Do Drive Thru Weddings, Jacob says the idea for her new business came from dressing as an Elvis celebrant many years ago.

"I did a few weddings like that and I've always been interested in that Vegas vibe," she says.

"So I woke in the middle of the night and thought, 'Oh my gosh, I could organise drive through weddings'.

"In the morning I rang three close celebrant friends and said, 'How about we give this a go?' and they all said yes immediately."

Eight days later Jacob had the I Do Drive Thru website up and running, and put out her first press release.

"We got our first couple that day - and they paid for it that day," Jacob says.

"They are a couple travelling five hours to get married with us from Echuca, and they've chosen the 24-hour florist location in Preston."

Jacob says it's nice to be back at work as the downturn hit the wedding industry very hard.

"It's taking a lot of flexibility from both sides to look at different ways to navigate weddings during COVID-19 and even after COVID-19," Jacob says.

Under pressure

Jacob has been a celebrant for more than 15 years and has performed more than 2000 weddings which has allowed her to be one of the few celebrants able to work full-time in this field.

However, when COVID-19 hit she had to immediately stop working and self-isolate due to a medical condition,

"I had to think of a new way to frame my new business without leaving my house," she says.

"It's been a really interesting experience to plan the business in my PJs; I haven't left the house since starting this business and the partners haven't sat in the same room.

"I am HQ - I organise everything from here."

Learning to adapt

Elopement was once a taboo thing to do but the only way now is that tiny wedding, Jacob says.

"Suddenly people are having the thought that you don't have to invite 100 people, and for some it's a great reason to get married now so that you don't have to have any family members," she says.

"We also recommend car hire and photographers, and couples directly book with the provider.

"We've chosen very small, sole trader businesses because they are going through loss of work," Jacob says.

Couples can choose to drive their own car, ride pushbikes, ride a horse or hire a car for their ceremony and there has also been a variety of choices in venues, Jacobs says.

"Some wanted to do it at home; previously they weren't aware that getting married at home was an option.

"We even had a couple who did a reverse drive through wedding where the celebrant drove into the couple's driveway while they stayed on the driveway and after the marriage was performed the celebrant just drove away.

"One couple came to us with six days left on their notice and we married them on the path near the beach at Elwood. After a quick ceremony the couple hopped into their car and drove away.

"They were going to stay in the car but it was a really beautiful day and they decided to get out for the ceremony."

Staying afloat

Lillian Lyon is another working celebrant, one of around 9500 in Australia.

Until recently, Lyon looked forward to frocking up and standing in front an equally well-dressed crowd as she went through vows with couples.

Like Jacobs, when the wedding guest restrictions were announced she lost most of her business but being in Jacob's circle of celebrants, she was one of the first to be included in the new venture.

"Three weeks ago, what went from a casual conversation - drinking glasses of rose and talking about the concept - the business came to life."

Lyon is one of 'I Do' Drive Thru Weddings' two chosen celebrants in Sydney.

While the business started in Melbourne just a month ago, the Sydney launch came three weeks later and Lyon had her first booking on that day for the end of May.

Lyon has also performed three weddings in the past month who said they all wanted a big wedding party in the future because they couldn't get their money back.

"But they've changed their minds since getting married and are now thinking, we might flick it and have a nice holiday instead," she says.

"I'm starting to learn it's not an 'either or' situation; there are a lot of other options.

"If they were booked at a venue with accommodation they're thinking of getting credit and using it on the accommodation or dinners instead.

"I think the whole industry is making it up as we go along, and I think the couples are too."

Lyon says now that everyone has had their initial shock of having to postpone or cancel their weddings, they are now putting a lot more thought into what they really want to achieve as partners.

"I think the industry needed it as a lot of people were losing perspective with weddings through social media and couples had put a lot of pressure on themselves.

"In a way this is good because it brings it back to the couple and what marriage is all about."

The future

According to Jacob, having to find a new way to get married has been quite overwhelming for couples, but the long-term goal is for the business to continue beyond lockdown.

"We will always have those couples who choose to focus on each other on their wedding day rather than the huge celebrations," Jacob says.

"Most of our enquiries (60-70%) are coming from couples who have been together more than 10 years but didn't know how to get married after that long time together.

"These people were very focused on keeping it real and on each other."

The age of the couples using the I Do Drive Thru Weddings service has varied greatly, from 22 to 70.

The cost has been kept deliberately low, Jacob says. "We base our charges on par with the registry office as we want to provide a great service to those who have been caught at this time," she says.

"We have also joined with high-end local photographers who have been affected while they can still do what they love and help the couple out as well and be part of something positive while there is so much negativity around."

I Do Drive Thru Weddings currently has four celebrants in Melbourne, two in Adelaide, two in Canberra, two in Sydney and one in Brisbane.

Jacob's original business, The Ceremony Store, is still functioning with a lot of couples postponing their weddings.

"This gives them something positive to look forward to," Jacob says.

"We were very blessed to have a financial environment where we can pivot and just keep going, and the thanks we get from couples after we do a wedding makes it all worth it - it's fantastic."

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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