New Delhi, May 28 (IANSlife) In the coming months, consumers will step out and are expected to take precautionary measures, chartering the way forward for the ‘new normal in the COVID-19 world. The big question which keeps coming up in everyones minds, especially those set to tie the knot is – how will mass gatherings or wedding celebrations take place?
Through a holistic approach, redefined hygiene and cleanliness norms, training employees to adapt to the changes and monitoring on-ground event staff and guests for health risks, weddings in the COVID-19 world are set to be different, agree experts.
Speaking about the SOPs implemented by the company, Sandeep Lodha, CEO, OYO's Weddingz.in told IANSlife, “Weddings in India are an elaborate affair since it's considered a big milestone for people across cultures. Last year, we organised over 27,000 events across 50 cities in India with a high customer satisfaction rate.”
However, with COVID-19, the hospitality and weddings industry is faced with its biggest challenge, which requires new and innovative ways to engage consumers and provide them with offerings that befit this new world. A holistic approach and redefined hygiene and cleanliness norms at corporate offices, partner venues and for staff members is the need of the hour. Event planners will have to train and closely monitor staff to help them adapt to the changes and enhance the services provided to consumers.
Lodha added, “In fact, as one the largest wedding player in the country, we aim to set a benchmark for hygiene standards and safety in a pandemic hit environment. We have worked on several measures to ensure the safety of our employees, guests and vendors, right from the venue entry to exit; to the way seating and table arrangements are organised at weddings, we are prepared to welcome guests with all the necessary precautionary measures. With the need to maintain distancing, technology is set to play a bigger role than ever in engaging and driving consumer demand for weddings and events.”
Lodha shares with IANSlife some safety norms to ensure the health and well-being of the wedding party as well as the staff catering at such events.
Opt for Large and Open-air Venues
To avoid overcrowding and ensuring physical distancing between attendees, consumers should opt for larger venues for weddings and other events – this should ideally be less than fifty per cent of normal standing capacity. Open-air venues are preferable with well-spaced out table-chair arrangements as it is important for proper ventilation, fresh air and maintaining distance among guests. In the case of indoor ballrooms or banquet halls, proper ventilation and well-spaced out seating arrangement should be made mandatory. Venues must diligently check every participant's body temperature on entry – right from the hosts, guests, vendors and the onground staff at the event. Scanning guests through a screening zone or a thermal screening panel at the time of entry to the venue can be another precautionary measure that venue owners can implement. For this, the venue owner will station a thermal screening tunnel as and when required.
Cleaning of Seats and Furnishings
Across the venue, hoteliers and venue owners should ensure that all chairs, sofas and seat cover, carpets and rugs are regularly changed, cleaned, washed and treated with M.A.D (Microbial Aerial Disinfection) before every event. Such steps are important to help maintain high standards of sanitisation to reduce potential spread across events and significantly reduce risks.
The table setting can be arranged with round tables or with long tables set in a ‘U' shape so that the guests are seated at a proper distance yet they can see and communicate with each other. At the event, the host and staff members need to ensure that guests maintain a minimum distance of six feet amidst each other. In order to reinforce the social distancing norm and avoid mingling at the venue, guests can also be invited on a rotational attendance basis, with designated time slots that can be mutually agreed upon for a couple of hours each. Decoration at the venue should be put up in a way such that guests are not able to touch it to avoid any communicable risks.
Food and Catering
Food is at the heart of every celebration and to ensure that the catering and food service maintains all the social distancing norms, supervising all preparations as well as onground management with extra caution is important for venue owners. Instead of opting for the traditional buffet-style service, weddings will see the use of widely spread tables to discourage crowding, with only vendor staff to touch any service utensils. Furthermore, at the buffet spread, dishes should be kept at safe distances and guests should be requested to queue up in twos and threes. Venues should ensure diligent floor mapping using social distancing norms of 6 feet. In this way, it is easier to avoid people bumping into each other. Lastly, servers must wear headgear or chef hats, gloves and masks while serving the guests. Another interesting way to keep things contactless would be to serve pre-plated food.
Food Preparations for the event
Caterers need to take precautionary measures right from sourcing raw materials upto the cooking stage. All vegetables should be washed with hot water with a dash of soda bicarb. However, taking necessary precautions, salads or raw foods will be a no-show at weddings during and in the aftermath of the pandemic. On another note, the use of eco-friendly disposable material wherever feasible including plates, glasses, spoons, among others may become a norm at venues to avoid health risks. Needless to say, venues should ensure social distancing in the kitchen where the food is cooked. The kitchen should also be properly cleaned and sanitized using M.A.D.
In the current situation, it is advisable that guests park their own cars in the designated parking area around the venue. Valet parking should be completely avoided to steer clear of surface contamination. Additionally, guest cars should be parked at a distance from each other to avoid coming in physical contact with other guests. Advisably, only two guests should travel in one car at a time.
Hand wash and Sanitization
It should be mandatory to place a hand wash and sanitiser station at the beginning and end of the buffet layout. In addition to this, hand sanitisers and masks can be offered at the entrance as guests walk in. All venue staff, geared up with masks and gloves should be stationed at the entry and exit to help open the door for guests at these points to allow touch-less service. The staff should frequently wash hands using soap or sanitizers at regular intervals to avoid risks.
Using the Stairs vs the Elevator
The elevator is a confined space and hence, when given a choice between the two, guests should opt for using the staircase. In this way, it is easier to maintain social distancing as guests can queue up and walk up a flight of stairs maintaining the necessary space. On the other hand, if guests must use the elevator, only two people at a time should be allowed. In the case of a small elevator, it is best if one person travels in it at a time. By doing so, they can avoid mingling with other people and avoid health risks. Also, frequent disinfection of high touch points – lift buttons, door handles, etc. will be necessary.
Reminders and Guideline Display
While extending invites to the guests, clear communication on the guidelines is important to ensure everyone takes necessary precautionary measures. At this stage, hosts should also encourage their guests to download the Arogya Setu App. Hosts should also ensure that if any of the guests are feeling unwell, they should avoid attending the event. Furthermore, with the health risks associated around the pandemic, hosts should also advise pregnant women, children under the age of 10 and people over the age of 65 or more to avoid attending any event or wedding during this pandemic. More importantly, if guests belong to the containment zones, it is best they do not attend the event at all. As the number of guests is limited, an RSVP request should be mandatorily added in the invite. Through this, the host will know how many guests are actually attending the event or wedding. Additionally, guests' location (where they are travelling from and to) should be mapped. A record of their means of transportation used should be recorded as well. This is because, in case of untoward events (virus suspect), people can be located as per mapping and contact can be traced.
As next steps, a digital display or boards stating all the safety and hygiene guidelines should be put up as reminders for guests and staff members. It will help to maintain discipline and serve as a cautionary reminder. All staff members and vendors should go through daily temperature checks and to ensure that they are healthy.
Lastly, with social distancing becoming the new norm, it is essential to spread awareness about avoiding any physical touch, including hugs or handshakes or touching feet at events held at the venue. The ideal way of greeting is now the traditional ‘Namaste'.
Venue owners or hotels should ensure ample accessibility of disposable masks and gloves for all attendees as well as staff members across the venue. Designated PPE (masks, gloves, head caps, etc.) disposal dustbins should be placed around the campus of the venues. Hand wash stations, hand sanitizers should also be available at multiple locations, especially at the entry and exit of the wedding venue.
Ideally, guests are advised to not carry any bags, bouquets for gifts. Hosts should opt for an online wedding registry or go for online gifting. However, if guests do carry any bags, these must be sanitized and checked on entry at the venue location.
Shifting trends and new services
Opting for live music or an orchestra (with few musicians) at the event or wedding is a good idea. Guests can enjoy live music and even ask the musicians to play songs of their choice. In case of no live music, a select playlist can be shared beforehand to be played via speakers at the venue.
As technology is set to play a huge part, Lodha believes, “Understanding the requirements of this new consumer, we are also offering LIVE streaming services and digital invites as offerings for our customers. We are also rolling out a ‘Minimal Touch Policy' to limit risks of any contractions. I would also like to share that at present, we are offering packages inclusive of key requirements such as food, DJ, photography, makeup, digital invites and streaming services for small weddings accommodating 50 people, in line with the government guidelines across some cities. We are confident that with the necessary precautionary measures, guidelines for hosts and guests and preparedness, we will be able to deliver great experiences to our customers.”