When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, the wedding industry took a major hit. The situation practically put a halt to all nuptials—and a year later, we're still celebrating in our "new normal." The limitations placed on the wedding industry have forced professionals, from wedding planners to caterers and florists, to get even more creative as they adapt to carry out their work.
“Behind the scenes, endless Zoom webinars have been coordinated to create a seamless and universal ‘guideline’ for all industry members to use as operation tools,” explains Guerdy Abraira, a Miami-based event stylist and wedding planner. “In addition, national coalitions have been established to create state and country-wide representatives to help update industry members of what the current travel and pandemic rules and regulation mandates are day-by-day.”
As a result, weddings today look and feel a whole lot different than before the pandemic. From guests in masks, to table assignments that only include members of the same household, and even multiple, smaller dance floors are all ways that you can enjoy your event safely, explains Kate Turner, founder of Kate and Company in Saint Louis, Missouri. There’s also a huge trend towards micro-weddings, as more and more couples favor significantly smaller guest lists, more creative freedom, and a much lower budget.
Whatever type of wedding you’re looking to have, be it this year or next, here are some of the precautions planners have now put in place to cope with the contemporary circumstances that have become our new reality.
What to Do Ahead of the Wedding Day
Most planners are recommending that couples set expectations fairly for their guests ahead of their big day. “There is always a calculated risk involved in hosting an event, especially in this day and age,” says Eva Clark, founder and creative director of Eva Clark Events in Atlanta. “Couples and their guests must make a personal decision to engage.”
At one of Abraira’s last events, the couple opted to e-mail all guests COVID-19 waiver forms to sign electronically to ensure that they were fully aware of their participation in the event given the current global temperature. While the health of all guests is a priority, planners are taking additional precautions with members of the wedding party, who will likely be in closer contact at the wedding at pre-wedding events.
"Prior to the wedding, we check in with each member of the bridal party and gather information on their various levels of comfort in how they'd like to walk in the processional or recessional," explains Tory Smith of Smith + James Events in Los Angeles. This helps Smith and her team determine where to position them at the altar, and whether they prefer to stand or be seated with the other guests. "Most prefer to walk down the aisle alone and then sit socially distanced, or six feet apart with the rest of the guests, during the ceremony," she adds.
On top of the above precautions, some planners and couples are taking things to the next level by testing guests before every event. This is not new news—we've been seeing planners do it behind-the-scenes for months—but it's becoming more common practice as testing is more available and states are issuing testing requirements. For example, effective March 15, 2021, New York State is allowing indoor events for up to 150 guests, provided that every individual has proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Read more about COVID-19 testing at weddings and how to implement the practice here.
What to Do on the Wedding Day
Even micro-weddings are hours-long events. Here, how planners are covering every element of the day-of timeline.
While Getting Ready
Those close with the bride, including bridesmaids and family members, still want to participate in the traditional getting-ready process, which looks a little different in a COVID-19 world. Hair and makeup teams have had to adopt new practices, seeing that it’s physically impossible to do their work at a distance of six feet or more. “Masks and gloves are a must for beauty vendors whenever possible and we’re making sure that wherever these services are taking place has windows that can be opened,” says Jason Mitchell Kahn, owner and creative director at Jason Mitchell Kahn & Co. in New York City. Other changes Kahn and his crew are making include discouraging shared platters of food as well as Zoom and Google hangout setups for family and friends who aren’t able to be there physically.
If you've visited a restaurant or boutique recently, you'll know that many businesses are choosing to perform temperature checks upon arrival. The same can be said for weddings. For example, Abraira and her team are activating a "security clearance" station at guest arrival for quick temperature checks. "I cannot wait for the activation of saliva testing to create an additional layer of prevention," she adds.
During the Ceremony
In addition to the usual handing out of programs and yarmulkes, masks and small sanitizers are being offered in baskets for guests to take upon arrival to the ceremony. Smith and her team offer socially-distanced ceremony seating and ceremony processional to further reduce the possible spread of the virus and to make guests feel more comfortable. “We've found that sometimes members of the bridal party are not comfortable walking together or being cued from the same holding area,” she adds.
Clark and her team are introducing optimized touchless measures in order to reduce the risk of the spread. “For instance, instead of having a program attendant (distributing programs) and an escort display (where couples share their card), we offer a ‘program packet,’” she says. “The packets are individualized so that no one has to share and include the guest’s name, table number, ceremony program, mask, a hand wipe, and a bar menu.”
Additional measures can also be incorporated into the day's design. Krista Sarvis of Privé Events in Seattle recently designed a styled shoot, shown in the above photo, to prove that outdoor weddings can be safe and chic. She recommends soft seating for the ceremony and even a beautiful picnic set-up for families as a reception alternative. "My approach over the last six months has been that we need to break out of the mindset of what weddings were and focus on what they can be," she says. "Our setup was intimate, inviting, and could be so special for a couple that is open to breaking out of the dance party mentality and focusing on creating a whole new intimate experience."
On a Virtual Screen
Zoom ceremonies are also becoming increasingly popular as a way to make it possible for friends and family from all over the world to join in the celebration. For her couples having Zoom weddings, Smith reminds them to be extra cautious about muting the sound on the guest side so that their household noise doesn't impact the live ceremony. “Just about anyone can grab an iPad and create a Zoom link to capture this," Clark adds. "However, a novice with an iPad isn't ideal for this job. The sound, content, and setting coverage will likely be diminished with a novice in this role." Instead, if budget allows, she recommends bringing in a professional. “Instead, we have secured audiovisual teams that know what content to include (and exclude) as well as how to navigate sound and clear transmission.” She now saves room in her clients' wedding budgets—between $1,500 and $6,000 based on the number of cinematographers and sound/audio requested—so that there are funds allocated specifically to this vital role.
When the ceremony and reception are not in the same location, it’s customary to provide transportation for guests going to and from. This has proven to be challenging in the era of COVID-19, however. As a solution, planners, including Kahn, are arranging enough transportation that can accommodate guests, but with space in between them. They're also mainly seeking busses or shuttles that have windows that can open. "We have been encouraged to cap capacity on busses between 50 percent to 75 percent max, so we are averaging somewhere in between there," he says. "The only reason we aren’t doing a definite two bus for every one bus ratio is that some guests still won’t take them due to feeling uncomfortable and will insist on driving themselves."
At Cocktail Hour
Cocktail hour is perhaps the trickiest part of the event for planners to navigate, mainly because this is when people tend to mingle and get physically close. Rather than having passed hors d’oeuvres, Turner and her team are doing epic grazing tables and beautiful displays. “Each table is accompanied by a server who can prepare an appetizer plate for the guests so that service wear is only being touched by one person,” she says. “We are also increasing the seating available at cocktail hours, mixing in soft seating, cocktail tables, cabaret tables, and so on.” This measure allows guests to be seated with their significant other, friends, and/or relatives and to safely remove their masks while they enjoy their hors d’oeuvres. Other safety measures being taken at cocktail hours include an increased number of cocktail servers to take guest drink orders to try and down on the number of guests at the bar.
Planning a dinner for guests who are meant to be socially distant isn’t an easy task. That’s why planners are encouraging their couples to allow their guests to choose who they sit with, which tends to be members of the same household with the addition of close family and friends. Bistro-style tables, or groups of two or four-positioned as they would be in a restaurant, are another trend that allows for a more lively environment while still keeping guests separate. “We’re ensuring layouts have enough room for 8 feet from the back of the chair at one table to the back of the chair at the next,” says Turner.
The design and place settings on those tables will also look a bit different. In lieu of present chargers, cutlery, or glassware on the table, Turner and her team are opting for disposable cutlery, a hand sanitizer on each table, and for each section to have their own server.
On the Dancefloor
Most planners are trying to reduce the urge for big groups on the dancefloor, for understandable reasons—and regulations! “Right now it’s challenging for bands, as not only do the band members need to keep a distance from one another, but their sheer presence usually attracts people, so DJs are more ideal at the moment,” says Kahn.
Turner is suggesting that her couples opt for micro dancefloors, or multiple, smaller dancefloors around the room rather than one, large centralized dancefloor. “This gives guests the comfort of being in a smaller bubble while celebrating,” she says.
What to Do After the Wedding
Even when the party is over, the precautions do not end. As the host of the event, it's important to keep in contact with attendees in case of possible exposure. Having guests' information on hand can make this situation as seamless as possible in the case of an emergency. "In our initial COVID-19 email to guests and vendors and in our COVID-19 waiver, we ask that anyone experiencing symptoms post-event should contact our team so that we are able to distribute that information to all guests and vendors," Smith explains. "It's important that everyone works together to create the safest environment possible, before, during, and after the event!"
Kahn is implementing a similar policy. "If for any reason, a guest does test positive shortly after the wedding, it is imperative that every guest and staff member who worked the wedding be informed," he says. "Couples should already have all of their guests' information to make this easy." To his point, though, that action is really in the hands of the guest. "We are not implementing a follow-up at this time," Clark explains. "We are really at their mercy in terms of what they share with us in the event they test positive after the wedding."
While planners are adapting to the new normal, there are some elements of a wedding that simply can't be recreated in the current climate. "We absolutely cannot wait for weddings to come back full force! I can't tell you how much I miss hearing the best man give a hilarious speech and hearing 200 people laugh back with him or seeing an entire group of dinner tables jump out of their chairs and flood the dancefloor," Smith says. "In the meantime, we'll keep celebrating love the best we can and create the most memorable events possible on a smaller scale."