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LifestyleLong Island Events

Long Island catering hall parties are back — sans dancing and large guest lists

Trish Brennan and Greg Van Roten, who just

Trish Brennan and Greg Van Roten, who just signed with the New York Jets, planned a wedding for more than 300 guests. Instead, they wed on July 10 at the Heritage Club at Bethpage with just 18 friends and family members. Credit: Allison Hamscher

When weddings are held at Heritage Club at Bethpage these days, cocktail hours and buffets are prohibited, and the bride and groom are only allowed to have one dance with each other and another with their parents. There’s no dancing allowed for anyone else.

“It’s kind of like ‘Footloose,’ says Mindy Savvides, social sales manager for Heritage Club, referring to the 1984 movie about a small town where dancing and rock music were banned. “I’ve been doing this for many years and this is the most challenging time in my career,” she says. “It’s a very sad, difficult time.”

Since the state allowed venues known for hosting large wedding receptions and other big events to host up to only 50 guests due to continuing coronavirus concerns, Long Islanders and others are happy for an opportunity to be able to have celebrations in public spaces again. But it’s proving challenging for those tasked with serving up lots of social distancing while trying to also make sure everyone has a good time.

LIMITED GUEST LISTS

One couple who didn’t want to put tying the knot on hold indefinitely is Trish Brennan, 29, and the Jets’ Greg Van Roten. The Long Beach newlyweds had planned to host a big wedding with 320 guests on July 10 at the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in North Merrick with a reception at the Heritage Club. Instead, their bash turned into a small wedding and dinner for only 18 guests, held on July 10 at the same venue.

“The goal was always to marry each other. We weren’t going to let little things like global pandemics or tropical storms get in our way," says Van Roten, 30. "Our small ceremony wasn’t what we originally planned, but it was just as perfect as we had hoped.” Their large nuptials are now planned for July 11, 2021.

For those who may feel the same way, Heritage Club now offers “Small Wedding Packages” for up to 50 people that cost $1,500 and include an on-site ceremony and Champagne toast. “We’re booking a lot,” Savvides adds.

AFFORDABLE PACKAGES

“Things are definitely slowly opening up for parties of 50 people,” says Lello Messina, owner of Dortoni Bakery and Pastry Shoppe in Levittown. The store has been busy baking cakes, cookies and pastries for small events including an engagement party at the King Umberto Italian restaurant in Elmont, a christening at the Swan Club on The Harbor in Roslyn, two Sweet 16 parties at La Piazza in Melville, and bridal showers at Colonial Springs Golf Club in Babylon.

Venues from catering halls to restaurants have begun offering party packages with price tags that may appeal to those longing to get back to milestone celebrations safely. The Inn At Fox Hollow has a mini ceremony package starting at $1,250, while Giorgio's Baiting Hollow offers "micro" parties starting at $5,000.

Over at The Royal Palm in Farmingdale, there’s a special baby shower package being offered, starting at $45 per person. Karen Milla, The Royal Palm sales representative says cocktails can only be served at the guests’ tables, and for buffets, each table is called up one at a time. A sit-down plated meal is an option.

And Tommy Sexton, owner of the La Piazza Italian restaurant which has locations in Melville and Merrick, says the Melville location has been the site for smaller events for graduation parties and funerals.

But "it’s pretty difficult now,” says Milla, referring to the changes in place to follow health guidelines.

PARTY RULES

“We’re doing what’s required by the state,” Savvides says of the large events facilities. She notes, however, that there are no specific rules just for these venues which she adds causes her to have to piece together information from various websites for do’s and don’ts. A state spokeswoman confirms the large events venues are to follow the guidelines for restaurants.

Savvides says staffers have to be equipped with masks and gloves and guests must wear masks at all times except when seated at their table. Ten people are permitted at each table and there has to be six feet between the back of one chair and the back of another. “Cocktail hours aren’t happening [here] because we’re not allowed to do passed hors d’oeuvres and with social distancing, you can’t walk around." A few days before the event, participants are mailed protocol instructions.

“Guests are required to wear masks when they come onto the premises and we take their temperature to make everybody safe but it can be a struggle to get them to keep their masks on,” Milla says. She adds staffers wear masks and change their gloves “all the time” and sanitation stations are everywhere.

But those booking the events and others say that though things may be different now, being able to use the venues again is cause for celebration.

Steve Kirschbaum, area general manager of the catering division for Lessing’s Hospitality, which includes Heritage Club at Bethpage and The Mansion at Oyster Bay and Stonebridge Country Club in Smithtown, says besides small weddings, they’re doing bridal and baby showers, engagement, birthday and graduation parties, bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs and corporate events. “We’re getting a tremendous amount of requests for micro weddings from people who plan to have their big event next year but don’t want to wait to get married.”

Karyn Gorgone Gorgone of North Massapequa says a graduation brunch for 38 people at the Colonial Springs Golf Club on July 26 for her 18-year-old daughter, Kayla, turned out to be a great celebration of Kayla’s achievement and it was done in a “safe way.”

“She missed out on so much already with prom and graduation,” Gorgone says. Kayla graduated from Plainedge High School in Massapequa. “Everybody was kind of excited to be out.” Kayla adds.

On June 25, Kathleen Marino of Massapequa Park hosted a bridal shower for her sister, Julie Marino, 29, at the Stonebridge Country Club in Hauppauge after paring a guest list of 75 people down to 50. “I think everyone had a great time because they missed each other and hadn’t seen each other in '3D' for a long time,” Julie says. “It honestly felt pretty normal.”

Paige Oberman, 23, of Levittown, says she’s looking for a venue to hold for her parents’ 30th anniversary party on Aug. 23. “I think it’s important to get back to some sort of normalcy,” Oberman says. “I want to celebrate my parents and I don’t want COVID to get in the way of that.”

New rules for venues

Source: Jackie Fox, restaurant and catering manager for Colonial Springs Golf Club in Farmingdale. Other venues' rules may vary.

-All staff are temperature checked upon arrival and asked a series of exposure to COVID-19 questions.

-All staff are required to wear masks and gloves throughout their shifts.

-Party guests are asked to arrange seating by household, if possible.

-Party guests are asked to wear masks while moving about the dining room.

-Parties are limited to less than 50 people.

-Access to the outside patio is available for all party guests to further allow for social distancing.

-Disposable masks and hand sanitizer are available throughout the clubhouse.

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