6 Ways To Have A Safe Wedding Reception

Because nothing is quite the same in 2020

Here we are, ya’ll. It’s been eight and half months since the first US case of COVID, and well over six months since the vast majority of life went on pause. Weddings have been hit hard by this pandemic, without doubt. Cancellations, postponements, changes to wedding reception plans—even laws have been adjusted to allow for socially distant virtual ceremonies. Love, however, refuses to be canceled. And where there is a will (or, ya know, a need for a legal partner), there is a way. Just last week we shared our revised for the times guide to handling wedding planning mid-pandemic—we see you.

In this article from the New York Times, which rounded up the opinions of 511 epidemiologists throughout the country, 42% of them said they wouldn’t be comfortable attending a wedding for another year or more (or until there’s a vaccine). Nicole Frascino from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said this about her feelings on attending gatherings: “Weddings—not until there is a vaccine. Funerals—if it was someone very close to me and the service was small, I might consider going.” Martine El Bejjani, of the American University of Beirut, however, said: “Sharing such moments is how we get to keep our humanity. I won’t refrain from being there for family and friends as long as we take extra preventive measures.” All in all, it’s clear that it’s all about risk assessment and making the safest choices we possibly can. So, if you are currently staring down some big decisions about a postponed or changed wedding plans, we’re here with a few ideas just for you. We’ve rounded up an array of ways to have a safe wedding reception (keyword: SAFE).


people with sparklers around bride and groom at wedding reception

Marry Now, Party Later

One of the plans we’ve been hearing most from folx is that they’re going to have a small wedding/elopement/virtual ceremony now, and then plan the huge party of their dreams later. Naturally, this is one of the safest options available to people looking to have a wedding reception full of family, food, and fun. By all trustworthy accounts, hosting a big ol’ wedding reception right now just isn’t safe (especially inside, with shared food, and all the things you’ve probably dreamt of for your wedding.)

Our biggest piece of advice for couples who choose this path is to lean into whatever the right-now-wedding is. No matter if you’re doing a virtual ceremony, an elopement, or a micro wedding with your family, be fully present and don’t cut too many corners. Who knows what the next year or two will bring, and we at APW tend to think that you should fully celebrate your wedding day, no matter how different it may be from your original plan. This will be at least part of the story you tell your grandkids around the Thanksgiving table, so make it good. Wear the dress, hire the photographer, the videographer too if you can… that way no matter when you celebrate down the road, or how that shakes out in the end, you’ll know that you lived your original wedding date to the fullest.

wedding couple on FaceTime during reception

Virtual Happy Hour Wedding Reception

Maybe you were originally planning on a destination wedding. Since that just might not be an option right now, you may be looking for a way to gather your people anyway. Why not coordinate (or get someone who loves you to coordinate) a group happy hour over Zoom?

This is a great way to get all your people together, without exactly being together. Send out cocktail recipe ideas to your family and friends, and ask them to meet you online for toasts, and maybe even a virtual dance party! You could have a virtual ceremony, too, or if you’ve chosen a small elopement or ceremony for just a small group, the virtual happy hour would be the way to party with friends and family from all over (with not a single worry about social distancing).

micro wedding ceremony happening in front of the ocean in a rock labrynth

Micro Wedding And Reception

Elopements and small weddings have always been a thing (particularly here at APW). Now, more than ever, if you want to have a ceremony and wedding reception, you’ll likely have to narrow down your guest list. And if you’re doing that, you can and should consider switching your plan to one that might allow for more creativity in other ways. Do one quick search for #elopement on Instagram and you’ll see why I’ve pined over having one for years.

So, gather your 8-10 nearest and dearest, or just your officiant, and pick a place that feels special or full of beauty and do the damn thing. Having a super small group with plenty of outdoor space means that social distancing will be no problem. You can also ask your guests to get tested for COVID before and wear masks to make sure things are super safe. (Pro-tip: combine this with one of the ideas below to make sure your wedding reception is the safest it can be.)

Wedding weekend getaway with your nearest and dearest

Not all is lost as it comes to planning a weekend wedding getaway, but it will require asking your friends and family to get on board with some extended measures for safety. Jessi Rutherford of Sentimental Fools Events shared a story about one of their couple’s who executed exactly this dream.

We just did a wedding that was a full weekend getaway. Each side of the family had its own massive lake house and the bride and groom hosted a small completely outdoor ceremony (sneak peek here). Every guest quarantined for two weeks before the wedding and we were entirely contained to compound. The groom was a chef so he catered the 50 person event. The only folks who came in from outside the bubble were the photographer & glam team (who wore masks the entire time) and a musician that was socially distanced up on a balcony 10-15 feet above and away from guests.
It was so intimate and we didn’t have a dance floor at all. The bride and groom did a first dance alone on the pier to have that special moment without everyone crowded around them close together. Honestly it was one of my favorite events we have done.
It was so clear everyone wanted to be there because they were dedicated to the safety of the event and therefore the couple. Without being able to have a traditional honeymoon any time soon the weekend away was also a welcome reprieve from sheltering in place.

Family sitting on picnic blanket eating food

Outdoor Wedding Reception—B.Y.O.F.

As we were daydreaming up ways to have a totally safe wedding reception, mid-pandemic, we thought about picnic weddings. This could be the perfect way to host your people all in a safe, fun way. As long as you have the outdoor space, you could either set up chairs and tables or quite literally invite guests to bring blankets and join you for a good old fashioned picnic.

It might not have always seemed reasonable to invite guests to bring their own food, but it’s 2020 and reasonable has all new meanings. I kind of love the idea of hosting a midday wedding, outside (think park or large backyard), and laying out blankets and small coolers or ice buckets with individual drinks for each family/household. The guests can bring their picnic baskets with sandwiches or snacks and gather for a casual day of fun in the sun.

Person holding In-n-out burger meal in suit at wedding reception

Outdoor Wedding Reception—Socially Distanced + Adjusted Food Plan

Another idea is to move forward with a socially distanced / outdoor wedding reception and simply adjust your seating and food plans. I’ve seen a few of these events unfold on the Instagrams of some wedding pros (like this, this, and this), and they look just as special and beautiful as any wedding imaginable. Some ideas to make your wedding reception safe include: required masks anytime folks aren’t eating, spacing out the seating (one table per family or household, or large spaces between couples/groups at larger tables), and individually packaged or carefully plated meals.

Of course, no matter your reception plan, you’ll need to be very sure you’re following local guidelines and doing all you can to keep yourself, your guests, and your vendors safe. Of course, no one intends to cause problems with their wedding, but as we’ve seen, it can happen. So while all these adjustments and edits to your dream wedding plan feel overwhelming and frustrating, they are also vitally important. Ask your venue if they have an outdoor space you can use, consider relocating to a backyard or a park, or narrow that guest list further so distance can be maintained inside (and open the windows).

Tell us, APW… How are you pulling together a safe wedding reception? Do you have any amazing ideas we haven’t thought of yet? We love seeing all the creative ways folx are making sure love wins in these times.

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