Planning A Wedding During COVID? This Is What You Need To Know

Updated for the times

When we wrote our first big post on planning a wedding in the middle of COVID (back on March 11), things still felt like they might be short-lived. Like maybe we could put everything on pause for two or three months and get ourselves ‘back to normal.’ We have now been living the reality of this outbreak, surviving the waves, for six months, and frankly, it’s just not good at all. Somehow, it also doesn’t seem like it’s going to end anytime soon.

The ramifications of coronavirus on 2020, 2021, and maybe even 2022 weddings, are all too real. And the worst part is that we just don’t know when this pandemic will end, or how things will work out. Will this still be impacting things in 2022? Maybe. Maybe not. (Hopefully not, OMG!) But it’s impossible to know. And when there are no clear answers, it’s hard to make plans.

Back in the spring, we spent the better part of a month on the phone and Zoom talking to wedding professionals about coronavirus and weddings. We were trying to get a sense of the scope of common problems, and what the best practices were, at the same time as we were falling headfirst into a fast-moving crisis.

In the months since then, we’ve continued to share as much useful information, advice, and guidance as we possibly can—plus heartwarming examples of successful and beautiful 2020 weddings. On our COVID weddings page, you’ll find change the date suggestions, a guide on virtual bridal showers and bachelorettes, advice on uninviting guests and sending invitations anyway, thoughts on celebrating your original wedding date… we even rounded up all the best wedding face masks, because, 2020.

Now that we’ve lived through half a year of this nightmare, we figured it was definitely time for an update and a fresh look at wedding planning during COVID. Keep in mind, the coronavirus wedding situation is always changing, and fast. It’s also unpredictable. So with that in mind, this is our best advice as of mid-September 2020. In a week or a month, this advice will likely seem out of date… and given that, we’ll do our best to update it regularly.

Tips For Wedding Planning During The Coronavirus Outbreak

Be Realistic About Timeframes.

Right now at APW, we’re assuming that the window for coronavirus wedding concerns is now through at least the spring of 2021. It’s hard to imagine a vaccine being successfully created, mass-produced, and dispensed to the general public much before then… and that’s probably the best-case situation in a huge, worldwide, logistical undertaking. (One of the promising vaccine trials was recently paused due to a potential side effect issue.)

Don’t Panic.

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 guide the decision-making process.

Initial panic has likely worn off, as we’ve all collectively realized that this virus and its consequences are here to stay. But if your wedding is planned for early 2021, you might be hitting the panic phase now, or soon. Remember to keep breathing, and make decisions from a calm mindset, instead of from that initial place of overwhelm.

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Think About Your Location

Nowhere in the United States is totally safe. This wedding is Maine proves that. Of course, if you have a wedding planned in a small rural area with only your close-knit immediate family, you might be safe to proceed as planned. But for the other 99%, you have likely already started considering how you’ll adjust.

In many cases, if you decided to go forward with your wedding on your original date, adjusting will mean having something really small. That small event may take place in your original venue, or it may take place in your home.

But regardless, you’ll need to get in touch with your venue to figure out what your options are. Are they allowing folks to re-schedule? Are they offering refunds? Are they allowing events to take place on their property, and if so, what are their restrictions?

Consider Safety Of Travel

Most of us are not traveling on airplanes right now, unless it’s an absolute emergency. So that means you’ll need to assess what your location means in terms of who will be able to make it. If you have family that won’t be able to safely travel, due to health or mobility issues, would you rather travel to them? If you’re clear across the country from your loved ones, it’s quite likely you may just have to do the wedding without them physically present. Can you make that work for you? Or would that push you back to the side of postponing?

Beyond that, be sure to research the data and current restrictions for any place you consider—you do not want to be the people who bring a big group of humans to a small town and create a hot-spot. That isn’t the legacy anyone wants for their wedding.

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? 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 sometime in the next year or two?

Know What Your Deal Breakers Are

There are some situations where there are no options. Like, if your wedding venue has closed its doors for the time being, or if your city/state has a law in place banning all gatherings. 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-assess. Put this list on your fridge, to focus your decision making on specific issues or events.

Some of this will come down to your personal risk assessment. For a lot of people, their comfort level is groups of 8 or less, and only people they’ve been mingling with already. That might be a deal-breaker for a planned wedding. Other people are open to hosting an event with a shrunken guest list, and offering ways to socially distance, and requiring masks. Still, others will only feel good if it’s outside and under 20 people. At the end of the day, we can’t make these decisions for you… you have to think about where you stand, what feels like a ‘must-have’ for your wedding, and if that is something that can happen right now.

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 nauseam 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. Planner 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 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 event date, 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 McCallum, 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 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 the 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 of favors. Update your website with all the coronavirus wedding information you have (as you have it), and point everyone to that website. (If you’re just now realizing you need a website to communicate all this information, we have all the info you could possibly need to get a wedding website done quickly, easily, and beautifully. Plus, we’ve got wording examples for all your wedding website needs, too.) 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’ve landed on a change of plans, of any sort, it might be time to send out formal change-the-dates or elopement announcements. No matter what sort of invitation or announcement you need to send, we’ve gathered a ton of invitation wording examples to make it easy on you.

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. Have hand sanitizer and backup masks available to your guests and vendors. 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 the 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 McCallum 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.” Just try to keep everyone’s human-ness at the forefront of your mind as you figure out your plan.

Things to keep in mind

  • 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, and everyone they come into contact with.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care might be the single most overused phrase in 2020, but it’s vital. See your therapist (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.

Pandemic wedding couple elbow bumping wearing masks

Lean Into Whatever Your Choices Are

In the first few months of this crisis, it was easy to think that everything would be back to normal soon enough. That meant this tiny Zoom wedding was nothing but a temporary placeholder for your “real wedding.” But as the crisis rolls on, and gets more and more complex (we’ve added an economic collapse, and out on the West Coast, everything is on fire)… it’s become more and more clear that we might not be getting back to the old normal anytime soon. (Or… ever?)

That isn’t to say you might not have a big party to celebrate later. I mean personally, I hope that party happens speedily and soon. But there are no guarantees right now. So try to think of whatever wedding celebration you have as the real thing. Because it is! Even if you have another bigger wedding later, this small first wedding is still as real as it gets.

Wear an outfit you love! Register for gifts! Take great pictures! Savor the moment! Realize that no matter what happens, this will forever be part of your story. And what a story it will be to tell the future generations.

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 lens 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?

Now we toss to y’all. If you’re getting married this Year or next, what problems are you dealing with? What advice do you need? and even If you’re not getting married, how are you coping?

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