Let’s face it… planning a wedding in normal conditions is stressful, but doing so in the time of a pandemic takes things to a whole other level. We’re here to help provide some guidance for those who are planning their big day while also navigating this “new normal.” We spoke with local wedding planners across all of our markets to get their take on planning a wedding in the time of COVID-19. So shake off your pandemic planning woes and remember you’re not alone in this.
A special thanks to these amazing wedding planners. Take a look at their websites and IG to admire their work (and book them!):
Amanda Reed (AR) – Amanda Reed Weddings based in Northwest Arkansas
Maggie Heely (MH) — Weekend Wedding Warrior based in Louisville
Michelle Layman (ML) — Events by Elle based in Kansas City
Dana Kadwell (DK) — C & D Events in the Raleigh/Durham area
Elisa MacKenzie (EM) — Elegant Events by Elisa in Cincinnati
Jane Himmel (JH) — Jane Himmel Weddings & Special Events in Chicago, IL
Kate Petach (KP) — Blue Dahlia Events in Cincinnati
Erin Pangerl (EP) — Erin Lynn Events in Nashville TN
Blair Sims (BSE) — Blair Sims Events in Oklahoma City
Sarah Burton (SB) — Simply Love Studio in Lexington KY
21c: This time has forced many couples to cancel or rethink how they want their day to look. Have you worked with any couples who decided to reimagine their day – maybe swapped their big wedding for something a little more intimate or kept the date and opted for a virtual-only celebration?
AR: We’ve rescheduled upwards of 25 weddings in the last nine months, each of them very different. Some opted for a much smaller ceremony, hoping for a larger reception later, when things are considered safer, while others have simply eloped, with little concern for what comes later. Still, others have moved forward with as much “normal” as possible, but with major safety precautions in place. I know I can say for sure that NO weddings have looked like they were initially intended to!
ML: This has been the year of, “Anything goes!” We’ve had weddings planned that were meant for 200 guests and at the last minute, changed everything to meet the CDC guidelines, cutting the guest list to the required number and implementing live streaming for those who couldn’t attend.
Pop-up weddings were a big thing this year as well! Couples had a window of opportunity where they knew they could have their wedding, so they opted to move up their wedding date, rather than battle the unknowns. Things got really interesting in planning a full wedding in just a couple of months’ time. Most of our clients chose to postpone with the hope that their weddings could take place as planned at a later date.
DK: I think this is the best part about COVID. I know that sounds odd – but sometimes we are forced to stop and really think about what we want, what we need, and what is truly important. For some, the idea of re-thinking their wedding was not an option – and that is ok! But for others, they realized that they didn’t need the 250 people. What they really wanted was their closest friends and family there. These clients took their big wedding and made it into an intimate occasion, leaving no detail out. We have seen some of the most elaborate dinners with wine pairings, insane florals, and the best personal details for their guests. They loved their day and in the end have said it was more than they ever thought it could be – even if we weren’t in a pandemic!
21c: How do you help your clients decide if they should move forward with their wedding plan? What “rules and regulations” have you recommended to keep guests and vendors safe?
MH: Since information has been ever-changing, it’s been very hard to help clients make decisions in the future. We focus on helping our clients understand the most important things to them and then go from there. For example, if a lovely meal and gorgeous florals are their priority then they can still host their wedding during the pandemic. However, if a dance party with 100 guests is the most important part of their wedding then we need to wait.
My favorite rule at weddings is the same that I tell my 6 year old for school, “When You Move, You Mask!” This helps people understand when they need to be masked for the safest outcome (e.g. when going up the bar, on the dance floor, or going to the restroom). Adhering to venue capacity restrictions is non-negotiable to us, so we always advise our couples to have a tight grasp on those restrictions. We are also having fun with some of them. In Louisville, we have a shop called Maddox & Rose Marketplace where you can make custom hand sanitizer scents for your wedding guests. And we have seen some really beautiful masks!
JH: It is important to be realistic about the situation and acknowledge that there are some things that we have no control over. Maintaining the safety of their guests, vendors and themselves is the first priority.
KP: Ultimately, I want our clients to feel like they are having a wedding that they are excited about and are comfortable with. I’ve found that talking through possible options with my clients gives them a peace of mind—regardless of the direction that they head. Being in the industry, I’m able to suggest alternatives for venues, formal traditions, and other aspects of their wedding they may not have originally considered. Safety and comfort are of utmost importance right now, so encouraging mask-wearing, lots of hand sanitizer, temperature checks upon arrival, and adequate social distancing suggestions have been some of the ways we’re trying to help everyone stay safe.
BSE: This has been very tricky to navigate. The two most important things about weddings this year have been making sure the bride & groom get to have the best day of their lives while also making sure they do it in a safe and considerate way for their friends and family. Unfortunately, the rules and regulations change often, if not daily or weekly, so this has presented us with quite the predicament at times. Without strict rules and regulations from the state, we have encouraged our brides to strongly consider the suggestions that the CDC recommends about large events and gatherings during this time but ultimately, the decision comes from the bride and groom.
First, we encourage our brides to limit the guest list before moving the date, include masks and social distancing, and explore outdoor options if the weather permits. Each one of our brides takes this pandemic seriously and considers the safety and health of their friends and family which has helped the our team tremendously when making tough decisions.
As far as safety is concerned, the BSE team has implemented many new COVID-friendly practices. Our goal is to keep the guests safe! Some of the procedures we have implemented are as follows:
1. Every table 6 feet apart or more, space permitting.
2. No more than 8 people to a table
3. Hand sanitizer and masks readily available for every guest – although we have seen guests match their masks with their outfits and love this!
4. Temperature checks when possible
5. Get creative with seating – recently we have seated guests in pairs/groups at their own table – 2 tops, 4 tops, 6 tops
6. Making the dance floor COVID-friendly but still fun and exciting by providing cowboy hats and bandanas in place of masks (this has been a huge hit!)
21c: How do you think wedding vendors are feeling about working during the pandemic?
ML: It can definitely provoke anxiety when you’re in a space with unmasked people due to eating and drinking. This industry is very creative so everyone has come up with some unique ways of handling events. Caterers have added sneeze guards for buffets and implemented a little more safety measures while handling dinnerware and glassware. Some DJ’s have built clear walls to surround their booth to keep people from getting too close while requesting songs. The list goes on and on! Overall, I think vendors are relieved at the act of working. We love what we do and want to actually do it!
DK: Nervous and exhausted! You never know the crowd you will get. At the core of who we are as planners – we love people, we love to celebrate, and be the sense of calm on wedding day. But in these times, it is hard to be calm. It is equally hard and equally great for the events that are smooth and filled with kind people who are just there to stand by their friends who have already been through so much.
EP: Hospitality as a whole has taken a huge hit with the pandemic times. I have been in the industry for 15 years and have met a lot of wonderful people in the hotel and resort side, and small business owners that have their heart in what they do and love what they do, and are ready to get back at it personally and professionally.
21c: Have you gotten a sense from wedding guests of increased anxiety around attending? If so, how are you advising clients to help reduce this?
MH: Guest anxiety is a very real thing. I personally experienced it when I was invited to a baby shower recently and offered to bring the desserts. After I committed, the positivity rate grew significantly and I found out the hosts weren’t mandating mask wearing. My anxiety was through the roof, along with my guilt of potentially backing out.
I have heard many stories about wedding party members and guests dropping out at the last minute after agonizing for months on the decision to attend a wedding in a pandemic. Seating assignments and processionals are changing up to the day of the wedding with drop-outs. As with anything else, communication is the key in helping to reduce guest anxiety. It’s important to be clear with your guests on what the COVID restrictions and expectations will be. You can communicate this information to your guests through your wedding website or a separate email, or both! Things your guests need to know: Will the event be inside or outside? What is the mask policy? Approximately how many guests are you expecting? Is anyone required to get COVID-19 tested prior to participating? Is there a larger celebration planned in the future? Ultimately, you need to give your guests the information to help them make their own decision. Remember their decision is personal to them and has nothing to do with their love for you. Some may not feel comfortable coming and that’s ok, but ideally you want to know that in advance of your wedding week.
JH: As most larger weddings were postponed, there have been few instances where someone has communicated their anxiety about attending a wedding. I would advise my clients to be empathetic and let the guest know that all precautions and mandates are being followed.
EP: In the past 4 months, I have had (3) 100-125 guest wedding in Middle Tennessee, and (1) intimate wedding (40 people) in Palm Beach, Florida. Honestly, it is a breath of fresh air as all of these weddings have been the most “normal feeling/experience” I have experienced since the middle of March. Here are some of the PPE steps we have suggested at our weddings. All workers wear masks, temperatures testing at the doors, and hired bathroom attendants. We have even had strolling sanitizing carts throughout the event. If the menu is buffet style, instead of self-serve we have chef attendants. We have had guests use the same cup throughout the night by writing their names on it with fancy glass gold pens. We have reduced the amount of guests around each table. For example, placing 6 guest max at 60” rounds, spreading out the ceremony chairs in pairs.
BSE: Absolutely. These are the times of anxiety. Many people are anxious to attend big events but also feel obligated to attend a wedding for a close friend or family member. We advertise safety measures to all wedding guests with signage or personalized messages to those who ask how we plan to keep guests safe. Decreasing the guest count for many of our weddings has also been helpful in easing the anxiety of potential guests. Friends and family that once felt obligated have now been “let off the hook” by the bride and groom. Ultimately, guests are making their own decision. We have seen guests attend the ceremony only. Others stay only for dinner and choose to opt out of the late night festivities. Anything goes these days!
21c: Many couples are having to reduce the size of their guest lists – either because of social distancing regulations or just the concern of having larger groups together. What tips do you have for reducing the guest list? What’s your magic number?
MH: When you are thinking about your guest list, one of my best pieces of advice is to think about if you would treat that particular person to dinner on an average Tuesday night; if not, then why are they invited to one of the most important days of your life? If yes, then they would be a natural choice for your wedding guest list. Many of my clients are reducing guests to only immediate family, their dates, and wedding party and their dates. Depending on the size of your immediate family, you may want to include extended family. Another way to reduce numbers is by not inviting guests to bring dates (“plus ones”) unless they are married or engaged.
EM: To prioritize social distancing and hand washing, to provide sanitizer on every table and masks for guests, etc. Having outdoor ceremonies and reception was a big and popular option this Fall and will continue to be through next year too. And even with outside celebrations, we are encouraging lower guest count and seating people that already quarantine together. Plus, many vendors have been performing temp checks on guests, which I think makes guests feel safer.
EP: They know their guest list better than me, but personally, I would start by making an A list and a B list. Usually, the rule of thumb for invitations sent is 20% will not make it naturally, but I have found with Covid-19 that this number is more like 40% of their guest will RSVP with regret.
21c: What information do couples need to communicate to guests about their wedding in the age of a pandemic?
KP: Utilizing wedding websites have been so helpful in communicating with guests. As we all know, the situation can change from day to day so giving guests access to consistent up-to-date information via a website is an easy way to reach most everyone. Also, as noted before, safety precautions and plans for future dates are helpful for guests! Any travel precautions or notes (i.e. local mandates) are very helpful for guests that may be traveling from out of town, as well.
SB: Now that we are several months into the pandemic, we want to assume everyone knows everything, however, this could be the first wedding that your guests are attending during a pandemic. It’s good to remind them to wear their mask, socially distance, remain at their table, and any additional guidelines the venue may enforce.
BSE: Safety is key! BSE couples are encouraged to keep all of their guests updated on all safety measures that will be taken on their big day. We find that the easiest way to do this is by continuously updating their wedding website.
21c: Capturing the big day when masks are involved. Are you finding that couples are leaning into having photos of their wedding with masks being very much a part of it? How have you been working with photographers to navigate the new challenge of capturing their special day while also keeping everyone safe?
ML: Couples are still pretty adamant that photos happen without masks. They want to see facial expressions fully. They may take a photo with masks to represent the pandemic, but that’s really just a prop. Some people are offended by that and think it’s vain or selfish. Perhaps it is, but you only get one wedding day. For couples, that one day holds so much emotion. They want it to be, “Normal,” and beautiful and everything they’ve imagined. Photographers are more cognizant of space and try to keep a safe distance away while still giving them their best work.
DK: We allow masks off for formal photos. For candids, you will see people in masks – and I just think that is a part of their story! This pandemic is going to be a part of every person’s story. Down to the baby born in a pandemic, the mom who gave birth in a mask, and the couple that danced with masks on- it is something we won’t forget. We encourage to have some fun with it – get branded masks, or matching masks – embrace where we are currently – it is all we can really do. And just like we all take that selfie with a mask on to commemorate the year we have all had- clients do the same thing. They will have the gorgeous picture with all their bridesmaids smiling and then say “mask up!” to take a silly picture and commemorate the struggle it was to get where they are. Every client that has had to deal with this has been through hell and they deserve a metal – especially the ones that have been so kind and gracious! I think it will be something really neat they show future generations – very much how we look at pictures from the 1912 pandemic.
JH: Since so many weddings have been postponed, this has not been a huge issue. With smaller events, photographers can take quick photos without masks, and guests can replace their masks after the photo. The smaller weddings have been proactive in providing disposable masks, custom masks, even blinged out face shields.
21c: What are some virtual ways to include friends and family who cannot attend in-person?
AR: Facebook and Instagram Live, Zoom and Google Meet have been VERY popular ways to keep those out-of-town and unavailable guests in the loop. We’ve had guests record special greetings for the couple to watch at the reception – such a sweet surprise!
EM: Ceremony only became very popular for 2020 and waiting to have their big celebration next year. Some passed out lovely gifts like small champagne crafts and cupcakes. Many changed their big wedding to minimonies or micro weddings. Many of these through they would have this small (over 50 guests) this year and then plan their big reception for next year. Most of my clients after the Minimony happened have now cancelled their big celebration for next year. Their Minimony met all their expectations. They loved their wedding and felt no need to do anything else. I think this was a surprise for all of us. I also think this may change how we all as a society see weddings in the future.
SB: In the beginning of the pandemic when vendors started pivoting and we had to hustle to make things happened, Zoom, Facetime and Facebook live were very popular, but now many professionals have upgraded equipment to enhance the virtual experience for guests. I watched a live stream a few weeks ago to see the technology a local DJ was using and felt like I was a guest attending the wedding. I didn’t know this couple, but actually almost teared up when they opened the door for the bride to walk down the aisle because the music was so flawless and the live-stream was so clear. The possibilities are endless for ways couples can include their guests that can’t attend. They can mail (or front porch deliver) to their guests some type of favor the week of the wedding, a custom cookie or cupcakes to eat while watching, a small bottle of cider and some toasting flutes for the toasts, some bourbon balls and Ale-8-One or anything that is local to the couple! We’ve said it a million times this year, love is not cancelled and it’s true. Vendors are here to make every couple’s wedding day possible the best way we know how!