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While your wedding is first-and-foremost your wedding, a wedding postponement or cancellation means a change of many, many plans—for many, many people including family, guests, and vendors. For this reason, it's important to approach postponing or canceling your wedding with that mindset, especially in a time of crisis, such as now with coronavirus, or COVID-19. (On March 15, 2020, the CDC officially recommended the cancellation of weddings in the United States for eight weeks. Read more here.)
To help you navigate the uncharted waters, we called on a number of wedding experts and industry friends—including planners, a stationer, and a photographer—to break-down what it means to postpone or cancel a wedding, and how to navigate the process, and in this case, crisis, like a pro.
And while everyone we spoke to agreed that the logistics will depend on your particular circumstances—namely, who you're working with and how far out you are—they all shared the same sentiment, and that's to remember why you're doing this. Beyond the calligraphed invites, flowers, and carefully curated details, you chose to get married (and plan a wedding!) because you wanted to marry your partner surrounded by the people you love the most.
When asked to share his top advice with you, planner Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events in New York City said this: "Check your insurance, lead with your heart—and postpone, postpone, postpone!" Because, at the end of the day, all involved parties (your loved ones, your wedding vendors, our editors) want to see you say "I do" whether it be two months or 12 months from now.
Meet the Expert
Jove Meyer is the founder and principal of Jove Meyer Events in New York City. He has been planning weddings since 2008.
So, as you plan, try keeping an eye on the end goal, trying not to meddle in the drama of it all. “I think it’s probably best to keep your postponement challenges professional between your vendors and family—social media is not always the best place to go in a time like this,” he says. “Use the energy you have to remain calm and relax and to problem-solve. Basically, use your energy wisely." And when the big day comes, "Celebrate that you’re still having your celebration, and everyone has moved mountains to make it happen!"
Below, a step-by-step guide on how to manage the stress of postponing a wedding and how to replan the celebration you want, whenever and wherever it may be.
As of now, the CDC has officially recommended the cancellation of weddings in the United States for eight weeks, or until May 15, 2020. "We realize this situation is overwhelming and it’s changing every day,” says Aleah Valley of Valley & Company Events. “For couples that don’t have a planner, stay-up-to-date on trusted news—don't get overwhelmed with every single news site!” Her other tips?
- Keep calm and level headed
- Employ friends and family to do the same
- Follow CDC and local government pages
Meet the Expert
Aleah Valley is the co-founder of Valley & Company Events in Seattle. She and her husband, Nick, have been planning weddings for 17 years. In 2018, they published their first book, Storied Weddings: Inspiration for a Timeless Celebration That Is Perfectly You.
Check With Your Insurance
If you have insurance, Meyer says your first call should be to your insurance company to explore what your policy covers and what it means for your vendor relationships. "All couples should check and see what it covers before reaching out to vendors," Meyer says. "Unfortunately, it won't cover coronavirus entirely but it may cover the difference in costs from vendors." That said, if you don't have insurance—"All couples should have insurance," Meyer advises—he says not to beat yourself up about it. "If you don’t have it, it’s like trying to get insurance in the middle of a hurricane, don’t beat yourself up, but definitely get it for the new date!"
Consult a Professional
If you're forced to (or considering) a change of date with the information at hand, your next step should be to speak with a nonpartisan sounding board, where you can ask: Where and how will this look? If you have a planner, this is the first person you should talk to about the possibility of postponement. "Talk with a professional before making that decision—you’re emotional and it’s an emotional decision,” he says. If you don’t have a planner, speak with your venue or caterer. “You need a sounding board to help you process and share feedback and ideas," he says.
Understand the Financials
With any change of plans comes a potential for different costs, including losses on pre-paid fees like retainers—and final payments, depending on when the wedding is—and nonrefundable goods and services (more on that later). To help you understand the financial burden of postponing (or canceling) a wedding, consider taking the following measures.
Read the Fine Print: "The first thing you should do is reread all contracts you have with vendors," says Laurken Kendall, a photographer based in Washington State. "What is the vendor's cancellation policy? And see if they’ve missed something that allows you to receive the money you paid back outside of what’s refundable?" Many vendors have "act of God" clauses (or force majeure) in their contracts, as Kendall does, but exactly what that clause covers—in the case of coronavirus, for instance—really depends on the wording of the contract. So if you have questions, ask a lawyer. “In my contract, it says that if I’m unable to attend for any reason, including an ‘act of God,’ they will not receive any money they’ve already paid,” explains Kendall.
Meet the Expert
Laurken Kendall is a photographer based in Washington State.
Plan for Additional Costs: While Kendall and Meyer say vendors are doing their best to work with couples changing their plans due to coronavirus, it's not always possible to do that at the same cost. "All of our fees change based on the season—think about your budget in that way," Meyer explains. "Vendors will likely have exchange fees based on the scope of work, whether they're hourly or contract—and from their POV, the planner had the resources, staff hired, held the date, and possibly turned other dates away for your wedding." Now, if you're moving it to another quarter or year, he says the payment can't really be the same. "Be mindful of the additional time and work when you make that change," he says. "I'm sure your vendors are happy to do it but they should be compensated in some way depending on the change or changes."
Let Guests Know
In the case of coronavirus, or COVID-19, planners suggest letting guests know as soon as you've officially decided to change your date. "If you’re in this window, now to the middle of May, you are going to need to postpone," Valley says. Meyer suggests doing so by email, though he says a phone call is, technically, proper etiquette. "That's too much phone tag! Just send an email, text, or communicate however you communicated to get addresses in the first place," he advises. "Just let them know that the wedding has been postponed, date TBD. Ideally, you'd have a new date, but it may take a week or two to set a new date and that’s two weeks they’re in the dark, traveling, renting a dress, et cetera." Valley reiterates this point. "Keep your cool and say that you understand what is happening and are excited to gather again when you can enjoy it even more," she says.
Talk to Your Venue
The next step is to speak to your venue, first asking for three-four open dates. "Try to find a date in the near future," Valley recommends. "If the next availability is in 2021, consider asking if they have a sister property that could accommodate your wedding."
Even so, Brooke Keegan of Brooke Keegan Special Events says it's also important to keep an open mind when considering available dates. “I think there is going to be a trend of people getting married on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Mondays, which will be challenging for guests.”
Meet the Expert
Brooke Keegan is the founder of Brooke Keegan Special Events. She is based in Newport Beach, California, and has been planning weddings for 15 years.
Discuss With Hired Vendors
Once you've spoken with your planner and venue about rescheduled dates and understand your vendor contracts and postponement clauses (aka, you have an understanding of what you've already signed and agreed to), reach out to the vendors you've hired about rebooking. "Vendors want you to have a wedding of your dreams, but also have to remember they're small businesses running on survival," Meyer says.
Take Charge: Kendall recommends being proactive, especially now in a time such as a widespread crisis. "Send a mass email to your vendors, with the dates that you can make work," she says. "The earlier you can do that, the better—especially if you're having a wedding in a state of an outbreak or international. It’s hard to make the decision, but you have to consider people's health and your relationships with the guests you've asked to celebrate with you." That said, Valley recommends dividing outreach into two waves: First, talk to your primary services—your photographer, videographer, florist, band, and caterer. Then, reach out to vendors capable of doing more than one wedding in a weekend (i.e. cake baker, rental companies, stationery designer, et cetera).
Ask About Availability: When discussing a postponement with vendors, Meyer warns: "Don’t approach the vendor to snake by and get a discount!" With a postponement, he says that depending on the reason—as well as the vendor, the economy, and their business—vendors will do their very best to move everything at a minimal cost. Obviously, when doing so, it's easiest to retain the vendors you've already booked as much as possible. When communicating, Meyer recommends being short, sweet, and heartfelt. "We’re all humans and have experiences in life," he says. "If you speak to people’s hearts, that’s the best way to continue the relationships. It’s all about perspective!”
Be Understanding: "Be aware that vendors may be booked or unavailable," he says. "Deposits are nonrefundable and, if a vendor is unavailable, you have to understand that they did not decide to not do your wedding." Even if your original vendor is not available on the new date, they will 100 percent make recommendations. "You hired them for a reason, you trust them, and you like their work and their personality," Meyer says. "They can send a B team…and if they can’t at all accommodate, they will recommend a fellow vendor or friend. We’re a tight-knit community and when circumstances arise, we are here to help and make it work regardless. We rise to the occasion, support one another, and leave competition at the door."
Even so, Meyer says it's important to remember that vendors are also people and small business owners with their own interests. “Be understanding of the vendors who are unable to reschedule,” he says. “Be understanding of them as they have been understanding of you." Valley agrees with this approach. "In 17 years of business, we've seen forest fires, smoke, earthquakes...things happen," she says. "We know that the best approach is to be level headed, and when you reach out to a vendor, be the same—calm, cool, collected. Everyone is there to help."
Account for Additional Costs: "You may lose here financially if everyone doesn’t have the same dates available," says Stefanie Cove of Stefanie Cove & Co. in Los Angeles. "Be prepared for that and remember this is a hard time for everyone involved."
So, why the additional costs? "For some, it’s time, product—and some of that product is perishable, flowers, food purchased, staff/hired and paid, so you have to be open to the loss or additional cost in a postponement and, for sure, a cancellation," Meyer says. For instance, Keegan says floral orders are typically finalized two weeks before the wedding, so if you're canceling or postponing within that time frame, you have to recognize that those flowers have already been ordered. That said, in the past few days, she has seen vendors try their best to be flexible given the circumstances. "We were planning an event for next week, and everyone has been flexible," she says. "We’re all in this together. It’s not the clients' fault and we have policies in place but this is a natural emergency, and you have to do the right thing."
Additionally, Laurken notes that a change of date could mean that travel needs to be rebooked for vendors. "I would also ask about travel fees! I have it in my contract that if a couple has to reschedule, they'll have to cover my travel," she says. "Right now it's a case-by-case basis for me, but look at what your contract says about rebooking travel."
Choose a New Date
Once you've decided to postpone, after making an educated decision—asking yourself, "What will this look like financially?"—the next question is when? How far out do you want to postpone?
Consider Availability: From there, find a new date that feels comfortable to you by checking your personal and family calendars. Also, consult your priority vendors, asking the following questions:
- When are we available?
- When are our families available?
- When is our venue available?
- When is our photographer available?
- When are other important hires available?
Right now, Kendall says she has set up a Calendy account so her couples can see her available dates without having to text back-and-forth. Of course, considering your main hires at this point depends on your priorities. "For instance, I have some couples that are willing to move their date based on my schedule," she says. "It all depends on what’s most important to you, but it's important to know what your options are in terms of rescheduling."
Be Flexible: That said, Meyer warns that you have to be flexible in the case of a postponement. "You likely booked your date and venue between nine and 16 months out, so when postponing something that’s approaching, a peak date will likely not be available," he warns.
Gather Your Team
With your key vendors in place, Valley recommends getting everyone on the same page. Her best tip? Create a dossier that's, basically, a CliffNotes take on your wedding. "Write the 'story of your day,'" she says. "We always encourage our couples to do this. What are things looking like and what do they sound like? What’s the goal?" As to what, specifically, to include, she recommends creating what she calls a dossier. "Print out everything that has been planned thus far and combine it in a notebook," she says. "The goal is to keep everything as similar to the original plan as possible, so include your must-take photo list, timeline, playlist, vendor contracts...basically, print out everything and keep it in one place."
Then, schedule a Zoom call with all involved vendors, and share said dossier (minus confidential vendor contracts) with everyone. (Bonus: If you do have to switch vendors, this will give everyone a quick recap on your vision.) This will help everyone get on the same page, and make it easier for all involved parties to start planning the new day—and get excited about it!
Formally Inform Your Guests
Once you nail down the new date, send out a new invitation or announcement card (digital or paper). If you're not in a time-sensitive situation, Ceci Johnson of Ceci New York, a custom stationery studio based in New York City, says you can also send out the card first to announce the news. Read more about your options here.
Of course, right now with coronavirus, your circumstances may be specific to where you are in the planning process, and if you've already mailed your invitations out. "If you're postponing your wedding to 2021, then I would say send out something that's digital, then proceed as you would with a traditional timeline, mailing the formal invitation between eight and 10 weeks before the wedding," Valley advises. That said, if you've already sent out invitations, there's no need to send out a whole new set next year—as they can be expensive! "Just send out a digital invite in the same design style," she says. "I would send digital now through the end of summer, and, if your new date is beyond that, then you can start from scratch if you'd like."
Rethink the Details
While your wedding doesn't necessarily have to coordinate with the season, Meyer says it's important to ask yourself if you want this new celebration to look the same, as the details from the flowers to the linens to the food can change with the season. "If you’re going to change the date, likely in a new season, from a visual POV, do you want to embrace the seasonality you’re moving towards?" he asks. "A winter wedding and a spring wedding can look very different. You're not getting spring flowers in winter unless you’re paying for them...Everything is affected so rethinking all the small details once everything is in place is important."
Coordinate With Day-Of Vendors
After you've had conversations with the vendors who are throwing the party, figure out the weekend-of stuff, like hotel blocks, transportation, and items for the welcome bags. "Call and see what their policy is," Meyers says. "For room blocks, it will depend on whether you have a soft block (no financial commitment) or a firm block (they have your credit card on file)." The reason for postponement will depend on how flexible—for example, a national emergency versus personal. His main advice? "In the times of great challenges, speak to their hearts and not wallets," Meyer suggests. "Say, 'We're excited to have our guests stay with you and want to move the business to another date and keep it with you.'" Once you have new hotel blocks and transportation info, update your wedding website.
Thank Your Team
When all is said and done, what can you do for the people who helped you get to the new date? "Be understanding and supportive!" Meyer says. "Recommend vendors to friends and family. There is nothing better for a vendor than a recommendation for continued business or additional business." In addition to a positive rec, you can also write an online review or offer to be a resource if a potential client wants to speak to a past client, he suggests. Finally, if you have the ability to be generous with the tip, now would be the time. "If you have the ability to be extra generous, especially if your vendors have outdone themselves given the circumstance, do so," he says.
When Applicable, Make Necessary Cancellations & Returns
If you're postponing your wedding, don't forget to also postpone your honeymoon if you'd like it to take place after the wedding. As with wedding postponement policies, your ability to recoup any honeymoon-related expenses will depend on the type of tickets and reservations you made. In the event of a cancellation, you will also have to consider returning gifts (with a note), the dress, and the engagement ring.
The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by The World Health Organization. As the situation remains fluid, we’ll be sharing tips and stories from industry experts and couples who are experiencing cancellations to give you the most up-to-date advice on how this can impact your wedding.