We know that for those of you getting married in the next few weeks, you are currently consumed with coronavirus wedding concerns. (And who wouldn’t be?) Last week, when we first posted about coronavirus and wedding planning, the whole issue felt pretty theoretical. Worth discussing, but it was anyone’s guess what would happen.
While we still don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of an outbreak (and we have zero medical expertise here at APW), the ramifications of coronavirus on upcoming weddings are proving to be all too real. With Seattle shutting down gatherings of more than 250 people, New Rochelle under quarantine with the National Guard, and our Federal Government offering (vague) guidance about limiting large gatherings, and suggesting elderly and at risk people not travel… many folx planning weddings in Spring of 2020 are in crisis mode. (Italy shut down all weddings and funerals this weekend, as well as being in full lock down mode, so this has already gotten very real in other parts of the world.)
At APW, we’ve spent most of the week on the phone, talking to wedding professionals about coronavirus and weddings, trying to get a sense of the scope of the problem and what the best practices are in this unbelievably fast paced environment. We wanted to gather everything we’ve learned about weddings during this pandemic all in one place. We also wanted to leave you plenty of room to discuss, commiserate, and maybe even help each other out. Because if there is one thing we’ve learned so far, it’s that the best way to get through this is with a lot of kindness, empathy, and pulling together.
(Breaking News: We’re working to launch an on demand wedding planning service next week called Hotline Ring, that will allow us to set you up with advice calls with industry pros we love and trust, to help you manage your pandemic wedding problems, or just your regular wedding problems. Head over here to sign up for our mailing list and be first to know more.)
Keep in mind, the coronavirus wedding situation is changing, and fast. It’s also unpredictable. So with that in mind, this is our best advice as of today, March 11, 2020. In ten days this advice will likely seem out of date, but we’re continuing to hit the phones and do the research, and we’ll continue to update you as things change.
Tips For Wedding Planning During The Coronavirus Outbreak
I know. Easy for me to say. You’ve got a wedding on the line. But I say this with great love (and as someone with a panic disorder). Freaking out never helped a single person. So if you need to go into full on stress and breakdown mood, do it. (Feel those feelings.) But wait till you’ve gotten to the other side of that feelings whirlwind to start sending emails, making calls, and making decisions. Also, if one member of your partnership is less prone to anxiety, let that person help guide the decision making process.
Stress is a perfectly rational response to this situation. But making decisions while adrenaline is coursing through your body isn’t the best choice, now or ever.
Be Realistic About The Timeframe.
Right now at APW, we’re assuming that the window for coronavirus wedding concerns is now through the end of May. This is based on the fact that the peak of the outbreak in China seemed to span roughly three months. That said, given that that major events (SXSW, Coachella) have been re-scheduled through the end of April wedding professionals think that couples getting married in March and April should look the most closely look at their plans.
Jess Rutherford, an event designer from Baltimore who runs Sentimental Fools advises, “If your wedding is March, April, or early May, reach out right away to your vendor team. Be mindful that they are being flooded with messages, and are more than likely working with their clients immediately affected by any cancellations. Keep things professional, ask for your options and any official policies they may have in place.”
But if you’re getting married in September (or even June), calm down, take a deep breath and see how this all plays out.
Think About Your Location
APW’s offices are located in Oakland, CA, where community spread is already happening all around us. For those of us in coronavirus hotspots (Seattle, New York, Northern California) it’s safe to assume that potential closures are coming sooner rather than later. It’s also extra important for us to be aware of public health guidelines and keeping elderly or otherwise at risk loved ones safe.
If you’re in a location that currently has no public spread, you’ve probably bought yourself a little time. But keep in mind that things might look different in one or two weeks, and make decisions appropriately.
Assess Your Risk Tolerance
When you invest money, the first question you’re supposed to ask yourself is, “what is my risk tolerance?” Are you a high risk / high reward… but possible big downside kind of person? Do you like a middle ground of a little risk and a little reward? Or do you like to play it safe?
If your wedding is this spring, you and your partner should be asking yourself exactly the same question. The safest move might be to cancel your wedding all together and move it to another date. But if you’re the kind of couple that likes to roll the dice a little, you might decide to put off making that call.
Think About Possible Backup Plans
It’s easy to get into a panic and think about this as a binary, freaked out choice: DO I CANCEL OR NOT CANCEL? But in most cases you’re going to be dealing with many more shades of grey, so think about what your options are.
Can you carry on with your wedding mostly as planned, but know that you’ll have fewer guests in attendance? (Pro-tip: if you’re getting married this weekend, that’s very likely your only option. #washyourhands.) If you have a bunch of non-refundable deposits, can you try to get vendors to apply that smaller amount to a much smaller elopement type wedding on the same day? If you end up having a small wedding on the same day, do you want to plan a bigger wedding later or not? Or do you just need or want to cancel your wedding, and move forward in the fall / winter / next year?
Know What Your Deal Breakers Are
There are some situations where there are no options. Given that Italy cancelled all weddings, so if you were getting married in Italy this weekend, well, it’s not happening. (See below on talking to your vendors and figuring out the state of play for deposits). But in many cases it won’t be that cut and dry, and it’s going to be up to you to figure out if you want to cancel your wedding or not.
Now is a good time to sit down and figure out what your deal breakers are. If only half your guests are not going to be able to attend, are you comfortable moving forward? If your parents or grandparents can’t make it because it’s not safe to travel, will that be a game changer for you? Sit down with your partner now and come up with a list of deal breakers, and also trigger events where you would want to sit down and re-asses. Put this list on your fridge, so you can stop freaking out about every update on Twitter, and focus your decision making on specific issues or events.
Communicate With Your Vendors About Your Coronavirus Wedding Concerns
The thing that the APW team is telling both wedding vendors and couples getting married ad nauseum is: don’t avoid potentially difficult conversations. If a wedding is going to get moved, or a deposit is going to be forfeited, putting off that conversation isn’t going to change the outcome, and is only going to make the logistics (and emotions) worse. Jess Rutherford says, “Check with your vendors right away to see if rescheduling your date is an option, if that is something you are considering. Given that this situation is a first for a lot of vendors, they may be willing to be flexible. If you end of up moving forward with your date as scheduled, check if your caterer and venue can reduce your final payment based on a decreased guest count.”
Understand Your Contracts (And Why You Might Not Get Your Deposits Back)
But keep in mind, most independent wedding vendors (think: photographers, florists, and wedding planners) are small business owners who depend on income from their weddings to eat and pay the bills. Many wedding vendors operate on razor thin margins and carefully managed cash flow. While some of them will be willing to roll your deposit forward to a future events, or try to refund you some of the money… some of them just can’t. They have to abide by the terms set forth in their contract, or they won’t be able to eat this month. Justin MacCallum, a photographer in New York City says, “If there’s a clause in our contract that means you’ll be out a bunch of money, know it wasn’t greed, but rather just a means to support ourselves.”
That said, look carefully at your contract to understand what’s in in it, and start conversations from that point. Jess Rutherford says, “Comb your contracts for the phrase “act of God or Government,” as a lot of vendors are considering this pandemic as an “act” under one of those two umbrellas.” While having a Force Majeure clause in your contract is no guarantee, if you have one, it’s a good place to start discussions with vendors or venues.
Justin offers the following advice on postponing your wedding, “While things vary from vendor to vendor, and depend on our availability and line of work, we may be able to work with you on rescheduling for a future date. While it isn’t set in stone, some vendors will likely honor your deposit you previously paid, but you’ll also have to work around our calendars since many wedding pros book 6-18 months in advance. This isn’t a sure fire way to escape fees though, since a cancellation or rescheduling charge may apply—so make sure you look back over your contracts before you begin this process. Some vendors also will periodically raise their rates to meet the demand and market they work in, so don’t be surprised if you’ll have to pay a little bit more than when you booked a while ago.”
Communicate With Your Guests
Everything is changing with Coronavirus every damn day, which is part of the reason it is so overwhelming. You cannot field every text and question from every guest and relative, so do yourself a couple favors. Update your website with all the coronavirus wedding information you have (as you have it), and point everyone to that website. Set up a (calm, cool, and collected) family member or friend who can be your point person, and talk to freaked out loved ones on your behalf. (Chances are, you have enough to worry about.)
If You’re Having A Wedding, Be Mindful of The Health Of Your Guests (And Vendors)
If you are moving forward with your wedding / public gathering, look at WHO coronavirus recommendations, advise your guests to follow them (see above about communication through websites and point people), and put up friendly reminders at the wedding to keep people acting in safe ways. If you can get hand sanitizer during the great shortage of 2020, put it out where people will use it. Remind people that if they are even a little bit sick, they need to stay home. This isn’t just about their personal health, it’s about the fact that they might be a vector to spread disease to more vulnerable populations.
And remember that guests aren’t the only people at your weddings—vendors are humans with their own health issues and risk tolerance as well. Justin MacCallum says, “If we are or live with an at-risk person and have to say we cannot be at your wedding, we think it sucks too. We’re not sure how serious this is going to be either, and although I personally err on the side of optimistic preparedness, we’ll work together on determining what feels right for everyone. Lots of us are freaking out, and we’re going to support each other as best we can—just maybe from six feet apart.”
In the end, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- How this crisis affects your wedding may well have less to do with medical facts, and more to do with public response. I can’t tell you if you’ll get sick or not, but I can tell you that if your venue closes, you’re not going to have your wedding there during the closure.
- Be as kind as you can, and try to realize that we’re all in this together. Your wedding venue and photographer don’t want this to be happening any more than you do, so don’t take your feelings out on them.
- You’re going to have a lot of emotions, and it’s ok to feel them. As my friend’s therapist told her, “Don’t worry about worrying.” Save yourself that extra step.
- People’s health and safety comes first. Everything else comes second. (You do not want your wedding to cause an outbreak among all the people you love most in this world.)
- Take care of yourself. Self care might be the single most overused phrase in 2020, but it’s vital. See your therapist (maybe virtually). Take a walk. Eat your vegetables. Get enough sleep. Take your anti-anxiety meds if that’s a thing you need to do (raises hand). And for God’s sake, wash your hands.
And remember: this will probably be a great wedding story one day. My grandmother got married in an unexpected blizzard, the best man got in a car wreck on the way to the church, and her hobbyist photographer Uncle forgot to take the lense cap off for most of his photos. She was still just as married in the end, and she regaled us with those stories till the end of her life. She always said, “The things that felt the worst at the time allowed the best things to happen.” And if you can’t take advice from an 87 year old, who can you take it from?
And finally: if you have a suspicion that you’re going to need on demand help for dealing with your pandemic wedding problems (or just your regular wedding problems), head over to Hotline Ring to sign up for email updates. It’s our brand new project, launching next week.)
Now we toss to y’all. If you’re getting married this spring, what problems are you dealing with? What advice do you need? If you’re not getting married this spring, how are you coping?