Tragically, a lot of people in the US (and the world) are facing coronavirus wedding cancellations right now. I’m using the word tragic not to be dramatic, but to honor the depth and breadth of feelings people are facing, not to mention the fear, instability, and disorientation that we’re all feeling. Add a cancelled wedding to the mix, and well, all of us on the APW team are just so sorry. Our hearts go out to each of you, and we’re here to provide as many resources as we can.
First up, keep in mind: there is no simple step by step plan for canceling your #pandemicwedding. And that’s not just because canceling weddings is never simple, but also because this COVID-19 pandemic is completely unprecedented.
Note! If you need 1:1 high-quality wedding planning support, the APW team has launched Hotline Ring, which offers 30-minute calls with the planners we trust the most in this world, to help you cancel or reschedule your wedding… or deal with any other kind of wedding-related problem. You can book a call now.
This is the part where we’d like to give you a rundown of the facts on the ground, but as soon as we type them, they are obsolete. This is as close as we can get as of time of writing: As of March 16, 2020 the CDC has recommended that all events over the size of 50 be rescheduled or cancelled, and the government has guidelines in place for no gatherings over 10 in one place. Huge parts of Northern California are under shelter-in-place orders, New York City appears to be next. Restaurants and venues are being forced to close across the country. And by the time you’re reading this, likely all the above information is out of date. Even if you read it in the next hour.
All that means that if you were planning to get married in spring of 2020, you may well be looking at postponing or canceling your wedding. So before we get into the nitty gritty of how to make that happen, a reminder: everyone in this equation is human, and scared. That includes your photographer, your cake baker, your vendor manager, your parents, and you. This is a good time to remember that you picked your vendors for a reason; so be understanding as they navigate this uncharted and uncertain time for small business owners. “There are no quick answers,” says Renee Dalo, Owner of Moxie Bright events, “There are no standard policies for this.”
We’re about to lay out steps for dealing with a coronavirus wedding cancellation, but if you only walk away remembering one thing, it should be this: communicate openly with your partner and your vendors. There are some tough choices ahead, but you can (and will) get through this. Clear communication isn’t a magic wand that will make this all go away, but it will help.
Your Step By Step Guide To A Coronavirus Wedding Cancellation
Step 1: Read your Contracts
It’s likely wedding contracts have never gotten so much close reading—by so many people—as they have in the last week. But suddenly every couple and every vendor is going through their contracts word by word.
(Side note: there is a reason they always say ‘get it in writing’. And this is advice that extends to every couple, not just folks getting married in the next few months. From your venue, to the caterer, to your friend who agreed to help do the flowers as a gift, every single person involved in your celebration needs a written agreement. Before March of 2020, that might have sounded like overkill, but now… well… you get why. You can read our best advice about wedding contracts here.)
We talked to Braden Drake, a lawyer in San Diego, California who provides services for small businesses and wedding creatives. Here is his best advice:
- Look to see if your contract has Force Majeure clause—some people call it an ‘act of god clause.’ You can read more about Force Majeure and COVID-19 here.
- Know what is happening in your state and municipality, and realized that this is a very fluid situation. (Things are changing lighting fast, so do your research. And then do it again tomorrow.)
- Communicate open and honestly with your vendors—and understand this is putting vendors in a tight spot financially.
Step 2: Reach out to your venue first, then the rest of your vendors
Your venue is the make or break when it comes to figuring out if your wedding is happening as you planned it, or even in an altered version. If they will not allow your event to take place, then it isn’t going to (or at least, not there). If that is the case, you will want to figure out what available dates your vendors have for the rest of the year. Even if you decide to ultimately cancel and not reschedule, the first step is to figure out what your options are.
When reaching out to, well, anyone, remember to be as professional as possible. Everyone is under stress and navigating new territory. In life—and in weddings—the nicer you are, the more likely people are to go out of their way to help you. (Plus: we’re only going to get through this together.)
That said, circumstances are changing day to day and acting fast can pay off. Anna Singer, co-owner of The Otherside Creatives, was able to move an April couple who needed to deal with a coronavirus wedding cancellation to a new date, and keep their entire vendor team. “By sacrificing their day choice (they’re now celebrating on a Friday) and choosing an off-peak month, we have found a way for them to have the wedding they wanted, without concern for their guests and vendors’ health,” she said. “We’ve been working to put together similar contingency plans for all our couples, getting married this spring—hoping we don’t need them, but being proactive in preventing any monetary losses for our couples.”
Step 3: Determine Your Priorities As A Couple
I know. You already did this! You have spent months, if not years, planning a date that worked for absolutely every single person in your life. Shifting that to a random day in September or next year seems impossible. And while the bad news is that you’ve already done this, that’s the good news too. You’ve done it once, and you can do it again.
“Having our couples determine their priorities is the first thing we do in the process,” Jessi Rutherford owner of bi-coastal planning business Sentimental Fools Events tells us. “We tell them that the number one has to be you get married, everything else competes for second place. Usually second is being surrounded by family and friends or food.” You and your partner have definitely talked about what you need at your wedding. It is time to revisit that list and realistically talk about what you want to happen.
Figure out what you are willing to sacrifice in order to save your celebration, the money you have already spent, and your own well being.
Step 4: Make a Back-Up Plan
It’s important for you, as a couple, to determine what makes you feel comfortable during this outbreak. Everyone understands how difficult this time is for you, and it is ok to not be ok.
But once you know your priorities. It is time to jump into action. If you are getting married within the next eight weeks, make a plan now. Contact your vendors to get any available dates they have to rebook—and make sure you quote their own contract language when reaching out.
Tell your guests right away if you plan to move forward with an event despite CDC recommendations, and don’t be upset if folks choose to stay home. The next several weeks are going to be scary for a lot of folks, especially immunocompromised and older friends and family. If you do move forward, keep in mind that the situation will continue to change (and you might still have to cancel). Also, be aware that some of your vendors may be immunocompromised, or live with a vulnerable individual, and it might simply not be safe for them to shoot/ set-up/ cater your wedding. We’re all in this together, so please (please) be kind to those folks.
Step 5: Let your Family And Guests Know
Everyone on the planet is going through the same difficult time together right now. So unless your loved ones have been intentionally burying their heads in the sand, they’ve likely been expecting your coronavirus wedding cancellation announcement for a while. They may actually be relieved to hear it from you because they’ve been dreading telling you they can’t attend. Also, given the circumstances, ask people you love and trust—whether it’s your dad or maid-of-honor—to help send those calls/ emails/ texts out to friends and family. Eve Sturges (who canceled a wedding under very different circumstances) notes, “Also remember that stress can make us forget things; have your invitation list available so you can keep track of who needs to know.” And remember, when it comes to getting the word out, “short and to the point is what is important. There is plenty of time to write individual notes or vent about details on the phone with friends and loved ones later. And please remember to BCC this mass mailer!” (No one is up for an inbox clogged with a string of random replies in these times.)
Step 6: Amend your contracts and pay your vendors
I know there are some groans and eye-rolls here. I know moving things around and accommodating events that have been planned for months or years is awful. But it’s important to keep in mind that your vendors are not keeping your deposits because they’re greedy, or not understanding. They’re keeping them because well, they likely spent them on rent long ago, and are now trying to figure out if they have money to feed their kids this month. Renee Dalo, of Moxie Bright Events told us, “Our livelihood is gatherings and we are legally not allowed to gather.” She had to tell a client that if they didn’t pay their photographer’s remaining payment for services, that photographer may not be in business when their new wedding date rolls around. “We are all ‘Mom & Pop’ businesses trying to keep them going.”
Step 7: Be kind to yourself
Having a coronavirus wedding cancellation isn’t fun. In fact, it’s likely really really un-fun, and very sad. You put your heart and soul (and wallet) into planning one of the biggest emotional events of your life, and now it’s suddenly not happening, and you have no control over this situation. It’s ok for you to feel devastated. In fact, it’s better for you to roll around in your feelings, then to try to shove them down. (There is a 100% guarantee that shoved down feelings will function like a horrible jack-in-the-box, jumping up when you least expect them or want them.) And finally: feeling your feelings isn’t selfish. Yes, people are dying. Yes, that is exponentially sadder than a postponed wedding. But that doesn’t mean what you’re feeling isn’t very real. “It is totally normal for couples to get post-wedding blues even if their events go on as planned,” explained Renee. “If you have to reschedule and change your plans it is ok to not be ok. A wedding is an expenditure of energy, time and money. It is totally normal to mourn that.”
And P.S. You are completely justified in being annoyed if someone ever says ‘it’s just a wedding.’ Anyone who says that has never planned one or juggled the emotional labor of coordinating friends and family over the course of an engagement.
And remember: if you need 1:1 help from a wedding planner helping you figure out a coronavirus wedding cancellation… or any other problems, you can book a call at Hotline Ring, and speak to the very planners quoted in this article.