What to Know if You're Planning a Wedding During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Step one: Keep calm!

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There’s a lot to think about when planning your big day—no matter where your wedding date falls on the calendar. But if it happens to be in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, you might be wondering what you should do—if anything—to prepare and plan for the potential that your wedding may be affected.

Right now, whether you’re planning a wedding at home or abroad, there are countless moving parts surrounding COVID-19 (learn more here)—and since this situation is fluid, what it means for your wedding, specifically, really depends on your wedding date. That said, as of March 15, 2020, there is one thing we know one thing for certain: The CDC has officially recommended the cancellation of weddings in the United States for eight weeks, or until mid-May (read more here.) While this news, unfortunately, means of change of plans for weddings within the next few weeks—"The truth is that the coronavirus has disrupted the wedding industry,” says planner JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli—we have to remember that so much is up in the air, especially for weddings that are months away.

To help you prepare for what you should do—and help you if you do, sadly, have to change plans—we spoke with experts across the industry, including travel consultants and wedding planners, to give you a closer look at how COVID-19 is affecting wedding planning right now, and how to prep for the coming months.

Their overall advice? Be prepared, follow the news closely, and maintain an open conversation with your vendors and guests. "Also, if you can, book a planner so they can help you navigate this crazy industry and offer up options,” Gregoli advises. “Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution to the problem.”

Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution to the problem.

No matter your situation, it's important to remember to keep calm—and carry on. “Consider this a message to take care of your body—stress isn’t going to help," says Alison Laesser-Keck of Alison Bryan Destinations in Santa Barbara, California. No doubt, this is a crazy time for all but your family, friends, and wedding vendors are here to help you navigate everything—and, hopefully, celebrate when it's safe for all to celebrate!

Below, what you need to know about coronavirus, based on when and where you're planning to say "I do."

If Your Wedding Is Planned in the U.S. in the Next Eight Weeks

As mentioned, as of March 15, 2020, the CDC has officially recommended the cancellation of weddings for eight weeks in the United States (read more here). While unfortunate, this means that weddings in the U.S. are out until mid-May. If you find yourselves in this situation—we're here for you!!—know that you do have options, and your team will be there to guide you through the process of, hopefully, postponing your event. "As planners, we want this to happen for you—you deserve to celebrate," says Aleah Valley of Valley & Company Events in Seattle. "Let’s just shift the date to make that happen!" To help you navigate that process, see our step-by-step guide below.

If Your Wedding Is Planned Internationally

As of now, the United States has limited travel to China, Iran, South Korea, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and most European countries (specifics here). If your wedding is booked in one of these places in the next two months, you’re likely in the process of adjusting your plans as those in this boat basically have two choices: "You should consider postponing the wedding or moving the destination entirely," says Gregoli.

That said, if your wedding is not in the next two months, it's important to pay close attention to the spread, according to Laesser-Keck. At this point, she and her partner, Bryan, are "keeping their options open" for weddings planned in the affected areas for 2020. "For our clients getting married in any areas where they've requested you limit travel to in 2020, we are working out deals with our suppliers where they can potentially postpone if they have to," says Laesser-Keck, who is currently planning several weddings in Italy. "We have been through a few 'natural disasters' at this point, and we know that if a venue can't fulfill its contract, you are OK there in that you can likely change venues, but you want to try to see if the vendors you're hiring would be open to changing the date or location (based on their availability) if a crisis situation requires it." 

If Your Wedding Is Planned in the U.S. After Mid-May

If your wedding is not in the next two months, it’s still OK to plan for the wedding to go on as is. That said, it's important to stay informed and make educated decisions as more (reliable) news becomes available. "It's a waiting game right now," says Laesser-Keck. “Things are changing day by day and week by week. Don’t do anything drastic before you have a chance to be properly informed.” 

At this point, experts are not recommending you to change plans if your wedding is set after the recommended eight-week ban. "If your wedding is in June or beyond, you should not be postponing at this point, you should continue your planning process," recommends Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events in New York City. That said, while you keep things as is, it doesn't hurt to know what your options may be if the current regulations are extended to include your wedding date—so speak to your planner, if you have one, and if not, call your venue to see what your options may be, especially as you approach 30 to 60 days out (before final deposits are likely due). Before then, you'll want to have a serious discussion with your team to decide the best plan of action moving forward. In short: It's best to plan smartly in a time of such uncertainty, so go ahead and have an open and honest conversation with your vendors (and guests!) and follow the below suggestions come showtime. 

Speak With Your Vendors: “Sometimes it’s best to get it out of your system and think of the worst scenarios so you can prepare and come up with a game plan,” says Daniela VillaRamos, officiant and owner of Once Upon a Vow in Brooklyn, New York. “Ask vendors about solutions should you need to postpone your event if you and/or your partner get diagnosed with COVID-19.” If you’ve already signed contracts with wedding vendors (we hope you did!), it’s smart to go ahead and have a sit-down discussion with your wedding vendors, such as your photographer. “Sit down and revisit their contract to what might happen if they need to cancel or postpone their wedding,” advises Michael T Davis, a wedding photographer in Central Pennsylvania. "You should have a transparent and honest conversation about your anxieties with all of the vendors on the topic of sanitization and what vendors are doing to keep themselves and their wedding party/guests safe."

Inform Your Guests: To avoid having to constantly field questions from family members and wedding guests, Marlie R. Vodofsky, owner of Marlie Renee Designs, in Jersey City, New Jersey, suggests proactively adding a blurb to your wedding website acknowledging the coronavirus, and letting guests know you will keep them in the loop should any plans change. “You can also go as far as adding a link to the CDC website in the ‘travel and accommodations’ section of your wedding website so guests can quickly access up-to-date and accurate information as well,” she adds.

Follow CDC Guidelines: If you have your date and venue set, pay attention to what the experts (CDC) are saying and heeding their advice, suggests Trip Wheeler, president of SB Value, a company that buys food for caterers, concessionaires, and culinary professionals. “Pay close attention to what venues are allowed to do and how they can make sure their guests are safe,” he says. “Yes, it’s your wedding, the most important day in your life, but the last thing you want in your celebration is to make a lot of people sick.”

Practice Extra Hygiene: “For now, we’re following the CDC guidelines of basic human hygiene, which means washing our hands and/or using hand sanitizer every time we shake hands, touch elevator buttons, open a door, jump on the train, etc. and avoiding touching our faces especially when we’re in public places,” says VillaRamos.

Consider a Livestream: For elderly guests or those who choose not to travel, Davis suggests opting for live streaming of your wedding. “With today's technology, it's quite easy to set something up on social media accounts by going live,” he says. 

If You're Planning Travel or Asking Your Guests to Book Travel

Whether you’re booking honeymoon travel or asking guests to travel for the big day, weddings involve some degree of travel. Knowing this, it’s important to understand travel options for both you and your guests in the coming months. 

Understand Cancellation Policies: First and foremost, anyone with travel arrangements should check the CDC’s and WHO’s websites daily and ask their own doctor for recommendations, advises Lesley Cohen, a luxury travel advisor at SmartFlyer. Beyond this, she is advising that her clients calendar their cancellation deadlines to make a decision at the point when they might lose a deposit (or more) rather than making an immediate decision when it might not be required and might not make any difference financially. “If you want to make changes check with the hotels or cruise partners on potential waivers or flexible policies that will allow them to move dates without an additional cost,” she suggests. “At the moment, most flexible changes for air and hotels are for March and April in certain parts of the world.” 

Consider CFAR Insurance: If your honeymoon or travel plans are beyond this spring, she highly recommends going forward with plans. “Book the places you want to go but book flexible cancellation policies if you are concerned and consider Cancel For Any Reason travel insurance,” she says. Laesser-Keck agrees. “If you’re still worried, get CFAR insurance,” she says. “Go with your gut!”

Plan for a Smaller Guest Count: It’s important to be aware of your guests’ travel plans, and understand if some guests choose not to attend the wedding or any pre-wedding event. “Guest counts may drop due to the fear of flying,” Gregoli says. “I would recommend that you lower some of your guest counts, as you may not get as many people as you thought in the first place.” 

If You're Waiting on (or Shopping for) a Dress

According to the American Bridal and Prom Industry Association, 80 percent of bridal gowns are manufactured in China, as well as other overseas destinations. For this reason, salons who are awaiting the shipment of such dresses are backed up, says Gregoli. Local salons, however, whose designers are mostly based in the U.S., are not experiencing such delays. Alison Kent, bridal manager of Spring Sweet Bridal Salon in Holland, Michigan, says that the designers her team has been working with are being very communicative with ship times and updates. “They’re prioritizing brides that have weddings coming up, which is hugely helpful, however, ship dates are being pushed back to about 20 weeks instead of 14—and that’s changing weekly,” she says. If you’re just beginning to shop, consider one of the below options. 

Order Ahead: If you're looking to order a bridal gown and/or bridesmaid dresses from a traditional salon or retailor, Gregoli suggests doubling the lead time on purchasing gowns. If the average recommended lead time is 8 to 12 weeks prior to the wedding, consider doing so between 16 and 24 weeks ahead of time.

Do a Virtual Try-On: Many bridal brands and designers have begun using Zoom and Facetime to connect face-to-face with brides and to create an at-home bridal salon experience through services like virtual appointments and one-on-one styling sessions conducted over video. If you want to physically touch and try on your dress before making the big decision, some brands even offer programs that ship wedding gown and bridesmaid dress samples straight to your door. See a list of brands offering virtual sessions here.

Shop Off-the-Rack: “If the gowns are disrupted and you cannot get them in time, consider buying off the rack gowns with everyone possibly picking a different type of dress,” Gregoli adds. Kent also recommends heading to your local bridal salon to see what they have. “There’s really a 'we’re-all-in-this-together' mentality so we want to make sure that all brides are taken care of and can wear a beautiful dress if not the dress of their dreams,” she says.

If You're Worried About the "Details" Coming Together

If you’ve ordered anything that’s produced in China—such as favors, items for the welcome bags, or even silk flowers for large-scale installations—know that it may also be delayed. The solution? 

Design With What's Available: The coronavirus may hinder your florist’s ability to deliver fresh flowers, depending on where they are sourced. “Our flowers are shipped primarily from portions of the world that are not currently experiencing the coronavirus outbreak, like Holland, Ecuador, and South America, but we do not know what the next few months will bring,” says Christy "CeCe" Todd of CeCe Designs and Events in Birmingham, Alabama. That said, many of the hardgoods that florists use for décor, such as vases and silk flowers for large installations, are likely to be impacted by the virus, she notes. So, if you’re already working with a floral designer, consider discussing backup plans and select a design that does not require the purchase of new products to produce the desired look for your special day.

Shop Locally: “I would suggest you look for local wonderful favors that are produced here,” Gregoli says. Other items that Gregoli says might fall into this category? Hair extensions and veils. “If you ordered hair extensions from China, consider synthetic ones because anything that has human hair may be delayed,” she says. “Also, veils are produced in China, but no worries, you can get them locally sourced as long as they have enough of the fabric in the house.” 

If You're Just Starting to Plan or Think About Planning

If you’re just starting to dive into planning, it’s natural to have a million “what if” questions about the future. While all of this is uncertain, we hope this news won’t cripple you or take away from the excitement that comes with wedding planning. For this reason, we say take note of the above, and consider the below as you (hopefully) continue to plan in the wake of coronavirus. 

Start Ring Shopping Early: Many jewelers, diamond companies and manufacturers work with and obtain all or most of their parts from overseas from areas that have been directly affected by the coronavirus, according to Josh Levkoff, of Josh Levkoff Jewelry. “Orders have been backed up, some companies are completely shut down, some are only selling what’s in inventory currently as they can’t manufacture or produce new pieces and others are increasing pricing dramatically to try to cover for lost sales opportunities,” he says. Levkoff recommends making an appointment with your jeweler for around three months prior to your wedding date so you’re not scrambling before your big day. “We will ask the same questions and have the same one-on-one appointments with the couple in regards to what elements from their wedding or relationship they may want to tie into their rings, such as special engravings,” he says.

Ask About Cancellation Policies: Venues are experiencing fewer inquiries during this time of confusion and chaos, according to Heather Jones, the catering sales director of Wente Vineyards, in Livermore, California. But, according to Jones, quite arguably the largest impact is couples having a more difficult time meeting their food and beverage minimum due to lower guest counts. “Couples have guests that are unable to obtain visas to travel, air flights canceled or domestic guests that are concerned about traveling,” she says. To comfort the fears of gusts, many venues are taking extra precaution to ask that staff members showing signs of illness stay home and to place hand sanitizers at entrances to buffets, food stations, and rooms. If you’re booking a venue or catering for an upcoming wedding or event, make sure you understand their policies. “When can you cancel, what are the fees, and do you have options to make up any missing food and beverage minimums?” says Jones. “Not all companies’ force majeure or cancellation policies are the same and may not cover the situation with coronavirus.”

Hold Off on Major Decisions: "For our clients who are just now getting ready to plan for 2021, we are actually holding off on making any big decisions for a few weeks," says Laesser-Keck. "Things are so uncertain and we have plenty of time, so there's no need to rush into anything. We're still actively doing research so that we'll be ready to pounce when we're able, but we're just not locking anything in. I think we'll have a lot of clarity, hopefully, a month from now."

For more on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here, and the World Health Association here.

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