The year 2020 signaled a massive shift for the wedding industry. Nuptials were suspended, and couples and planners alike were forced to adjust to a new way of celebrating when it came to weddings. And while large-scale events have slowly made their return today, the way we essentially celebrate will never be the same.
For instance, Amy Abbott, wedding planner and founder of Amy Abbott Events, notes that venues continue to pay close attention to the way people interact, like "ensuring that family-style meals are served often butler style or in smaller quantities throughout the table so that [guests] reduce contact." She also adds that guests and couples "continue to be cautious in general", given that most people want to "maintain solid safety practices to avoid returning to any type of restrictions." As a result, nuptials are now meticulously planned, expertly crafted, and safely executed.
So, whatever type of wedding you’re looking to have, be it this year or next, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and fun event. With the expert advice of some of the best wedding planners out there, here are a few precautions to consider when planning and coping with the contemporary circumstances that have become our new reality.
What to Do Ahead of the Wedding Day
Most planners recommend that couples set expectations 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 an event Guerdy Abraira, a Miami-based event stylist and wedding planner, arranged, the couple opted to email their guests waiver forms to sign electronically, in order to ensure they were fully aware of their participation given today's global temperature. What's more, while the health of all guests is a priority, couples should take additional precautions with members of the wedding party.
"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.
On top of the above precautions, Abbott notes that many planners and couples are asking guests to self-test before the wedding, and to not travel or attend other events before the big day.
What to Do on the Wedding Day
No matter how you arrange your event, most weddings entail bringing together a group of people, so, ultimately, there aren't many ways to avoid human contact. However, there are a few ways to make guests feel comfortable, no matter your guest list size. Read on to learn more.
While Getting Ready
Hair and makeup teams have had to adopt new practices to ensure everyone (including themselves) is safe during glam. “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 encourage include discouraging shared platters of food, as well as Zoom and Google hangout setups for family and friends who aren’t able to get ready with the bride physically.
Similar to how many restaurants and boutiques have previously adopted temperature checks, the same can be done 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 can also be distributed for guests to take upon arrival to the ceremony. This will help make all guests feel comfortable throughout the night, plus masks are still recommended by the CDC when attending large gatherings.
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. "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," she shares.
On a Virtual Screen
Zoom ceremonies became popular in 2020, and while they aren't as prevalent today, many couples are still choosing to go virtual for their big day. If you've chosen to go this route, Smith shares a reminder to be extra cautious about muting the sound on the guest side, so that household noise doesn't impact the live ceremony.
“Just about anyone can grab an iPad and create a Zoom link to capture [a wedding]," 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. “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 venues. To maintain proper health and safety precautions, planners, including Kahn, are arranging enough transportation that can accommodate guests, but with space in between them. "We have been encouraged to cap capacity on buses 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 recommend 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.” Another safety measure couples can take at cocktail hour include an increased number of cocktail servers in order to cut down on the number of guests at the bar.
This may not work for everyone, but planners are encouraging their couples to allow guests to choose who they sit with, which tends to be members of the same household and people they feel comfortable sitting next to for a long period of time. Bistro-style tables 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 its own server.
On the Dancefloor
Some planners and couples have decided to reduce the number of guests on the dancefloor at one time, which isn't an easy feat, but it's something to consider. If you'd like to go this route, Kahn recommends opting for a DJ instead of a band, as a band's "sheer presence usually attracts people."
Turner also suggests that her couples set up micro dancefloors, or multiple, smaller dancefloors around the room rather than one, large centralized section. “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. "It's important that everyone works together to create the safest environment possible, before, during, and after the event," shares Smith.
Kahn has implemented a similar policy with his couples. "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."
Ultimately, though, once the party is over, the best thing a couple can do is relax and enjoy their marital bliss. "The best advice I can give couples and their guest is to make time to rest," says Abbott. "The wedding weekends are full of activities, interaction, and dancing, and plenty of spirits are always flowing. I always discuss the need to stay rested and hydrated, and to maintain a healthy diet during the weekend."