Are you weighing the pros and cons of hosting your wedding during the Covid-19 pandemic? What restrictions should you take into account when you are thinking through whether to host your event or postpone? In today's post, I give my opinions on what I think venues, catering companies, wedding vendors, and couples should be doing to determine whether their event is viable during the Covid-19 pandemic. I also offer insight into what precautions you should take to ensure your guests are as safe as possible if you decide to keep your 2020 date. At this point in time (May 18), events are still deemed as high risk by the CDC and many State Reopening Guidelines. Until a vaccine or herd immunity is achieved, events carry risk for those in attendance. However, with proper communication and safety protocols, you can still host a fun and memorable wedding! It may not be a traditional wedding, but it can still be an amazing celebration.
The simple truth is; I do not know for sure what the next couple of months will bring. I do not know how "normal" things will become. All I can do is read the guidelines, poll the industry, and offer my advice to couples who are making big decisions about their special day. I have been scouring tons of articles looking for glimpses of what weddings will look like in the months to come. Below I am going to share the insights I have gathered and add some suggestions of my own!
2020 Weddings Outlook
If you decide to still have your 2020 wedding, that is absolutely awesome! For those couples, I strongly suggest thinking practically about safety measures for all of your guests. Based on the reopening plans of many states; your wedding can still be reality, but it may not be your conventional wedding we are all so accustomed to. This is where you need to decide how flexible you want to be and what compromises you are willing to make. I have put together some suggestions for those who are looking for fun innovative ways to still host a wedding amid this pandemic.
The New Normal: Smaller Guest Lists
2020 weddings are going to have a new look. They are going to be more intimate. They are going to be more deliberate. They are still going to be filled with love and everything in between.
I can't wait until big weddings can happen again, but with a pandemic looming for the time being; weddings will naturally and per guidelines be more intimate. Hopefully, we can achieve a somewhat normal point in time where larger events can happen, but until then you may need to downsize your guest list. Naturally, your guest list will shrink. Your older guests may not feel comfortable coming. Your immunocompromised guests may also not feel comfortable coming. This is totally acceptable and something you must understand and accept if you still plan to wed during the pandemic.
You may also want to consider deliberately downsizing your guest list to ensure the guests you really want to attend will be safer. Obviously, uninviting people to your wedding is not a fun thing to do. However, the large majority of your guests will understand. Guests who need to fly to your event and stay in hotels will be putting themselves at much higher risk for your big day. They will also pose greater risks to your guests who are local and did not travel. Weddings are, by nature, an environment where people interact intimately; the perfect environment for a virus to spread. You may want to consider nixing guests who have to travel from afar - not only protect them, but also any other guests who don't need to travel. If you have to trim your guest list; a virtual event may be a great option to still have them be a part of the big day! You may also want to offer the option of virtual attendance to any guests who may not feel comfortable attending a large gathering during this time. Virtual tools like Zoom and similar platforms can be a great way to stay connected in these uncertain times. Also, many videography companies are offering options to live stream events.
I urge all couples who are contemplating postponing or proceeding with their wedding to reach out to the guests they definitely want at their wedding to gauge how comfortable they will be with attending. You may be surprised by the candid responses you receive. After rescheduling our wedding, we had a lot of people reach out and say that they felt it was the best decision and were relieved we had made the call. I was actually somewhat surprised to hear of apprehension from wedding guests in their 20's and 30's who were feeling anxiety to attend our wedding. We still don't know exactly how this virus interacts with people of all ages or if it has any lasting side effects on people who do catch the virus. We need to be cautious and understanding that people are scared. By asking our loved ones to attend a wedding and be in close contact with a large group of people, we are exposing them to a potentially unsafe situation.
Catering will have a new look during this pandemic. Buffet service, stationary displays, and family style service are not something couples should count on in the months to come. These styles of service require guests to physically touch too many things that could lead to the transfer of this virus. If you want to have your wedding, you have a responsibility to protect your guests to the best of your ability. Buffets have always been hot beds for the transfer of germs, even in pre-pandemic times. I started my career as a catering manager, so I know food and beverage safety guidelines and I understand the risks that these styles of service present. If I were still a catering manager, I would not sell any buffet style menus, family style menus, or stationary displays for weddings until this virus is in the rearview mirror. In Virginia, restaurants are now allowed to serve a limited capacity of guests (outside only), servers must wear masks and gloves, and they have to provide disposable menus and can not keep any shared condiments or other shared items on tables to eliminate the potential for transfer of germs. These guidelines lead me to feel absolutely confident; buffets, family style service, and any displayed food should be eliminated without hesitation. Here is a video created by a lab in Japan that shows just how easily the virus can spread during a buffet style service when only one guest fails to properly practice good hygiene.
My recommendations: work with your caterer to provide the most "contact free" menu possible. Served coursed meals (served salad, served entree, served dessert) will be your best bet to stop germ transfer between guests. For cocktail hour, I would recommend chef manned stations where the chef plates the hors d'oeuvres so that guests are not touching anything except their own plate. I recommend fun "action stations" where chefs would assemble small plates for guests like crab cakes, chicken and waffles, or tator tots! The chef would add all of the toppings for each guest to eliminate any cross contamination between guests, Sneeze guards should be installed on all food displays and banquet staff should be protected with masks, gloves, and social distancing from guests. If I were still a catering manager, I would require that my banquet servers are wearing gloves and masks at all times and openly communicate these safety protocols with any couples who are using my services for the foreseeable future. It was always my duty as a catering manager to protect my staff, I would not feel comfortable in today's environment not protecting them with masks and gloves to safeguard them from germ transfer from guests' plates or interactions with guests. Couples should clarify with catering companies what safety measures they will have in place to protect their wedding guests.
Hand Sanitizing Stations & Low Touch Details
Good hygiene is the ultimate defense against this virus. Providing your guests with sanitizing stations is one of the best things you can do! I would highly recommend having a beautiful hand sanitizer display before guests take their seats for the ceremony. You can also provide fun, custom face masks for guests who may wish to wear a mask in close contact with others. Hand sanitizing stations should be available throughout the event. I would recommend at least one station per wedding area: ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner.
You should also eliminate anything that would require guests to touch something that other guests would then touch. Ceremony programs in a grab and go basket should be eliminated. I would also think twice about having someone pass out ceremony programs unless they have sanitized their hands and are wearing gloves. Instead, do a beautiful ceremony program sign that guests can view as they take their seats. Escort cards should be eliminated and replaced with an escort display that guests do not touch. Guest books should be eliminated. You really need to take a look at any element of your wedding that multiple guests would touch, and try to eliminate or reduce the probability of that happening.
The official wedding favor of 2020 will be hand sanitizer! Provide guests with their own individual hand sanitizer at each place setting to further provide them with the tools to stay safe!
Seating Arrangements: Take extreme care when seating guests
I have read quite a few articles that are suggesting it may make the most sense in the months to come to seat guests as a family unit instead of at large tables mixed with other guests. So for example; you would seat anyone who lives together at their own table. This could create more of a bistro style seating arrangement.
In the next couple of months. I would highly recommend this approach to protect your guests as best as you can. As restrictions ease, I would feel comfortable to start once again doing traditional seating arrangements but with a hyper focused approach on safety in mind. I would also reduce seating capacity for example by only seating 6 guests maximum at a standard six foot round (typically you would seat 8-10 guests at these tables). I would also try to seat high risk guests as far away from guests who may potentially be carriers of the virus without knowing it. I would advise couples to think through where to put elderly guests to keep them as far away from people who may have flown by airplane to the wedding or have had interaction with international relatives, etc.
Seating is going to be a major concern and something that couples will need to think long and hard about.
Communication is Key!
The biggest thing to create a successful event during this pandemic is communication. You need to open the line of communication with your guests and let them know exactly what safety measures you are putting in place. This may help them feel more comfortable to attend your event. It will also eliminate any awkward moments or misunderstandings.
Do you still want guests coming up and kissing and hugging you at the wedding or would you prefer to distance from your guests? Either way, you need to make sure your guests know what you prefer. This can be done via fun signs at the wedding or in the FAQs on your wedding website. Let your expectations be known.
Are you okay with some guests wearing masks at your wedding? Or would you prefer that everyone wears a mask? Or would you prefer that nobody wears a mask? Clearly communicate your mask stance to your guests so that they can be prepared.
Let your guests know you absolutely understand if they can not attend and provide them with an option of a live stream of the ceremony. This is going to be a new normal for the foreseeable future! Embrace it!
Packed dance floors may take a back seat during these times. I would advise couples to think about different modes of entertainment for their wedding reception. Perhaps you plan more of a cocktail vibe to your wedding reception and offer light jazz music and ample cocktail seating so guests can spread out and have intimate conversations with those they choose. You can also look into hiring other performers and acts. Stand up comedy show? Magician? Dance performers? Tarot card reader? Caricature artist? You name it! Think of creative ways to entertain your guests. You can also provide distinct areas for guests to gather in smaller groups, like having a bonfire outside, a large dance floor with space for guests to spread out, and distinct seating areas for those who would rather chat. It may not be your typical wedding reception but, hey, it could almost be cooler!
Reimagine Wedding Ceremony "Seating"
Instead of seating wedding guests in tight rows; a more cocktail style ceremony may be a good idea to allow guests to spread out. Let's be honest, most guests are counting down the minutes until your wedding ceremony is over and cocktail hour begins anyways; so why not extend the cocktail hour? Why not serve welcome cocktails or champagne as guests arrive and allow them to split up at separate cocktail tables or seating areas with those they feel most comfortable being around to watch your ceremony?
Attention to Air Flow in Event Spaces
Outdoor spaces have been cited as a smarter option when it comes to hosting events during this time. Air flow plays a major role in how long the virus stays suspended in the air. Does your venue have the option to do an al fresco dining situation? Do you have the option between a tent or banquet hall? As a couple, I would consider what options you have to bring the event outdoors into a more well ventilated and open air space.
Advice to Other Wedding Vendors
I have had a lot of conversations with event professionals about how confusing this whole situation is. Everyone is waiting for guidance from the state, federal government, or other professional organizations to see what the state of weddings & events will be for the next year or so. While I totally understand this desire to wait for answers, I think if we as an industry create our own standards with the safety and health of wedding guests in mind, we may be better equipped to fight this virus head on and still make beautiful love stories happen along the way.
We, as wedding vendors, need to create our own standards of health and safety. We need to advocate for ourselves and our front line workers and make sure we are all protected during events with PPE. We need to eliminate dangerous activities that could further spread this virus. We all have a duty to keep each other safe. We need to create cleaning procedures and standards during these uncertain times and we need to communicate these protocols to our couples.
Here are a few articles that may help you plan safety procedures for your operation:
Weddings in general during Covid-19: https://www.theknot.com/content/weddings-after-covid?utm_source=knotnews&utm_medium=email&utm_content=knotnews_weekly_20200513_pos01+&cm_ven=ExactTarget&cm_cat=TK_Newsletter_20200513&cm_pla=VPL+19659+for+List+151&cm_ite=Article1CTA&cm_ainfo&fbclid=IwAR1sVO7R1I-r8gGYBvEgY0usrX0xoFN_Eg5r3Twb11k498TMRDyoiv_N4zk
Weddings in general during Covid-19: https://www.weddingwire.com/wedding-ideas/weddings-after-covid
Advice to Couples Planning a Wedding
How to proceed with your wedding is a very personal decision and one that only you and your partner can make. If you decide to proceed with your wedding; I urge you and your partner to think about your wedding guests and their safety at your event. You have a duty to protect your loved ones as much as you can. Everyone still wants to celebrate your love! Please don't feel discouraged and lose sight of the ultimate goal of a wedding. You have so many options right now, so choose the option that works best for you! Micro-weddings are an amazing option - a few of my couples have done this and are so thankful they decided to do this intimate event for only themselves and few key family members.
If you need someone to talk to about your wedding; I am always here! I love hearing from people planning their wedding whether they are a client of mine or not! We are all in this together.
Stay safe everyone, and I can't wait to see all of the beautiful and unique weddings 2020 and 2021 will bring!
If you need help planning your wedding or rescheduling your existing wedding; I am here to help! Please contact me today to learn about special rescheduling packages I am offering to couples affected by Covid-19. Also, if you just want someone to talk to please contact me. I know how alone you can feel during these times and I'd love to try to help you!
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Owner & Lead Wedding Planner
Kolena is a wedding planning professional with over 10 years of experience. She owns and operates Blue Sapphire Events a boutique wedding planning firm based in Arlington, VA.