Will Weddings Ever Go Back to Normal? Expert Predictions for Events in a Post-COVID World

Here's to planning for the future.

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Photo by Lacie Hansen

Much has changed since the onset of the global pandemic, especially how we celebrate momentous occasions in life, from birthday gatherings and holiday get-togethers to religious milestones such as christenings and bar mitzvahs. But one of the events to be hit hardest on a global scale is undoubtedly weddings.

“Over the better part of the last year, weddings have taken a shift to smaller, more intimate celebrations, and the celebration itself has been reimagined by couples with a focus on safety and consideration for the health of their friends and loved ones first,” explains Valerie Gernhauser, New Orleans-based wedding planner and owner of Sapphire Events. “Everything about the way weddings once were has been affected, from food and service to live music and dancing—even the contents of welcome gifts for out-of-town guests has shifted to accommodate to the expectations of what is ultimately safe.”

Everything about the way weddings once were has been affected, from food and service to live music and dancing.

In an effort to carry out weddings over the last several months in the midst of the pandemic, vendors have had to go to such extreme lengths to ensure safety protocol, providing rapid COVID testing options, sanitation stations, temperature checks, and more. Recently, Gernhauser and her term incorporated a system for COVID testing for out of town guests for a small, 24-person destination wedding, along with other assurances that the group would continue to gather together (and only together) for the duration of the entire wedding weekend. “We never would have had to make such considerations in the pre-COVID world, but for now and for future weddings, we will have to incorporate these safety measures, particularly with food service and the closeness of high numbers of guests,” she says. 

Vendors across the United States are not seeing the same universal changes in how weddings are carried out, however. In New York, the number of weddings happening over the last six months has been drastically reduced compared to normal times, according to Leah Weinberg of Color Pop Events in Long Island City. “I have vendor friends in other states and cities who are still working weddings almost every weekend,” she says. “Specific state restrictions have allowed some locales to continue on fairly normally while others have significantly impacted what a gathering can look like these days.” 

Teshorn Jackson, Dallas-based wedding photographer, and owner of Teshorn Jackson Photography, on the other hand, has been documenting some weddings over the last few months that looked pretty much as they did pre-COVID. “The only difference is you might see a mask here and there,” he says. “It’s as if COVID is a thing of the past.”

In most areas of the United States, and the rest of the world, weddings do look different, and they probably will for the near future, at least. But what couples, as well as their guests, expect in the weddings to come in the years following the pandemic? We asked top wedding experts to share their predictions for weddings in a post-COVID world.

Weddings will be much smaller and more intimate.

Even after the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, Gernhauser believes that exclusive guest lists will still be favorable and that large numbers and high guest counts will become a thing of the past. “As couples have experienced this year and into next, with smaller guest counts, the allocation of their invested dollars can go toward other items they might have otherwise had to sacrifice or scale down significantly to account for larger guest lists,” she says. “Wedding dollars stretch much farther when couples aren't obligated to invite all the ‘plus-ones,’ so I think this will give them more permission and reason to keep the guest list small and intentional.”

There will be a heightened awareness of germs.

Germs are nothing new, but the current pandemic has certainly drawn attention to the fragility of human life, especially when it comes to the spread of virtual infections. “Knowing what we know now about how virulent germs are passed between handshakes, hugs, and respiratory droplets, I don't foresee being able to ‘unring the bell’ on how germs are spread at events,” says Gernhauser. “Buffet lines and food service with plexiglass barriers or personal servers with gloves and appropriate PPE have changed the perspective on what safety in foodservice actually means.”

One silver lining of all of these safety measures, however, is that wedding vendors are learning how to handle it all. “The pandemic has increased the collective tolerance level for what we expect is necessary at events, and also serves to increase the level of comfortability among guests and couples alike to be able to focus on the celebration itself. I think these changes will enhance our ability to move forward and celebrate safer than ever before,” Gernhauser adds. 

There will be more contracts—and they’ll look different.

Pre-COVID, many wedding vendors had rather vague contracts when it came to force majeure, postponement, and cancellation, notes Kate Reavey, owner of Chicago Vintage Weddings. “The assumption was that there would not be a massive, ongoing event forcing cancellations, but rather individual, ‘act of God’-type events like a flooded venue or just one couple choosing to cancel their wedding,” she says. “When COVID initially hit, there was a mad scramble to try to discern what was and wasn’t allowed by contracts, and to figure out how to move forward when postponement terms weren’t covered at all.” The pandemic has motivated wedding vendors to recreate their contracts to better protect them in cases of a national emergency.

Hospitality will be bigger and better than ever.

Relishing in the excitement of getting family and friends back together again, Weinberg anticipates that couples-to-be will want to up their game when it comes to the hospitality element of their weddings. “The wedding weekend experience is going to become more important as couples really focus on taking care of their guests for the duration of the weekend and not just for the evening of the wedding,” she says. “As we find our new normal in the world, people are going to want to show their love for each other and couples are going to want to show their guests how much they mean to them more than ever before.”

Family-style meals will become a thing of the past.

Alison Szleifer, the co-founder of Two Kindred Event Planners in New York City, thinks that many of the lessons learned during the pandemic with regard to food service will carry over in a post-COVID world. “For example, we think that couples will continue to shy away from communal meals such as family-style, and stick to a plated or buffet option that reduces that amount of cross-contamination that can happen when guests share communal plates,” she says. “We also think food service staff may have stricter protocols for mask and glove-wearing, as it has been shown to greatly reduce the transmission of other viruses beyond COVID, and everyone wants to keep their staff, and their guests, healthy.” 

Nitty-gritty details will become an afterthought.

Szleifer also believes that the pandemic has greatly shifted priorities and goals for weddings, and predicts this line of thinking will continue when we’re on the other side. “For example, we’ve found that recreating every item from a Pinterest wish list isn’t as important as finding a way to bring your loved ones together and celebrate,” she says. “Our inability to see family and friends has made the ability to gather the most important part of a wedding, and everything else feels like a nice to have, not a need to have!”

Outdoor venues will continue to reign supreme.

Even once we’re given the thumbs up by health officials to gather in larger parties indoors, Szleifer thinks that venues with outdoor space will continue to be extra desirable. “We’ve all been in various forms of quarantine and lockdowns for the better part of this year, and have come to appreciate outdoor space and not feeling confined to a traditional space like a catering hall,” she says. She predicts that couples will be more eager than before to have at least some sort of outdoor component to their wedding, and warm weather months will be in even higher demand than before the pandemic. 

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