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 in the midst of planning their big day while also navigating this “new normal.” We spoke with local wedding planner Maggie Heely founder & owner of Weekend Wedding Warrior to get her 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.
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?
MH: We have coordinated 15+ weddings since the start of the pandemic and they all have been reimagined in some way…a few of them were reimagined and replanned multiple times due to changing restrictions. Almost all of our weddings have reduced their guest count, some by choice and some by capacity restrictions. We even gained a few weddings who were originally planning large events out of town, but decided on intimate celebrations at home instead. Backyard weddings, along with weddings at smaller and more unique venues are on a rise. The big formal ballrooms don’t seem to have the same appeal.
The majority of our couple’s have opted to get married in a paired down ceremony (“minimony”) on their original wedding date and are planning a larger celebration in 2021.
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!
21c: How do you think wedding vendors are feeling about working during the pandemic?
MH: Just like all people, there are lots of different feelings from different vendors. Some think that there shouldn’t be restrictions on weddings and some think there should be more restrictions. I think the resounding feeling is that if there are going to be restrictions, then they need to be enforced. Personally, I get pretty anxious before and after weddings thinking about my exposure and potential contagion/spread to my family members. However, when I’m at a wedding I go into auto-pilot and am always more concerned with my clients happiness than myself…I think that is how you know you are meant to be in the service industry. It’s good idea to have a candid conversation with your vendors from the beginning to make sure they are comfortable with your new wedding plan.
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.
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?
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.
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?
MH: Everyone wants their wedding pictures to be perfect. However, wedding photography should be capturing the wedding day as it is…not as it is staged to be. If you are getting married during a pandemic then your wedding should be captured to reflect that, since it is all a part of the memory of your wedding day. That being said, many pictures can be taken without masks. If a family/household is quarantined together then they can remove their mask during pictures. The couple typically does not wear masks walking up the aisle or during the ceremony, so no need to worry about those pictures.
Couples have been really creative and generous, often providing their guests with custom masks and hand sanitizer for the wedding day. At minimum, you’ll want to provide your wedding party with matching masks. We recommend getting them monogrammed so that they know whose is whose!
21c: What are some virtual ways to include friends and family who cannot attend in-person?
MH: The best way to include friends and family virtually is through Zoom. Send a Zoom invitation prior to the wedding day and include your wedding planner/coordinator. Then the coordinator can set your phone up on a tripod during the ceremony and log in with their phone from a different room to monitor connectivity. Family and friends can watch your wedding ceremony from the comfort of their homes. After the ceremony, once you recess up the aisle, head over to the phone and thank all your virtual guests for joining you! The only issue we have had so far is with audio volume. Sometimes, the ceremony is too quiet for the virtual guests to hear. We recommend purchasing some Bluetooth microphones. The receiver connects to your phone’s headphone jack and then the officiant wears the microphone on their lapel. That way the sound can be more clearly broadcasted. I have one and I bring it along with a tripod for my couple’s to utilize.
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Featured image: Hunter & Light Photography
Wedding photos: Her Name is Gretchen courtesy of Maggie Heely