Even with the strides made since COVID-19 first hit in 2020, the pandemic continues to affect couples planning weddings, albeit in different, and perhaps more subtle ways. Earlier in the pandemic, Brides spoke with experts in the industry about planning a wedding during COVID. Now, as we have progressed to the two-year anniversary mark, we caught up with those planners to find out what’s changed and what has stayed the same.
“It’s been such a journey for everyone in the wedding industry,” says Alison Laesser-Keck of Alison Bryan Destinations, a destination wedding planner. “We were like the band on the ship in ‘Titanic.’ In the beginning it was just really traumatic because I had to sit there and negotiate millions of dollars in contracts in a matter of weeks; it was an amazing race making sure our clients are protected. We just didn't sleep for a really long time.”
For couples like Colin Stephens and Sarah Morales of Seattle, COVID-19 began affecting their wedding story long before planning even began. On December 31, 2019, Stephens made a New Year’s resolution to propose to Morales in the coming year. He planned a trip out to New York City for the pair. Then, March rolled around and plans came to a screeching halt. With no trip to New York in sight, on December 31, 2020, Colin took Sarah to a nearby park and popped the question. “I waited until the end of 2020—quite literally—the last day of 2020 to propose,” he says. “So [COVID] impacted the proposal perhaps more than it did the actual wedding.”
One thing they both agreed on—a “non-negotiable” as he put it—was that they did not want COVID-19 to have an impact on the ceremony. “If that meant we had to wait a year, two years, three years, it didn't matter. We knew we wanted to get married and doing it the right way was more important,” he explains. They will now be married September 2022.
Laesser-Keck agrees that things are starting to feel normal again with routines and steady client rosters back. In fact, a pop-up on her website notes she is completely booked for 2022 and has a waitlist for 2023. Still, there are things to keep in mind when planning a wedding during this stage of COVID-19. From requiring proof of vaccination to continuing to keep things small, here’s what wedding planners are seeing.
Meet the Expert
- Alison Laesser-Keck is an event producer and creative director at Alison Bryan Destinations in Santa Barbara, California. She and her husband and business partner, Bryan, specialize in destination wedding planning.
- Annie Lee is the founder of Plannie and principal planner at Daughter of Design, a full-service wedding planning company in Miami.
- Aleah Purcell Valley is the co-founder of Valley & Company Events in Seattle. She and her husband, Nick, have been planning weddings for 17 years.
The Wedding in 2022
In 2020, weddings were canceled. In 2021, they were rescheduled, resulting in an influx of dates and requests for planners. The supply chain issues that have been affecting the country also trickled down into the wedding industry with some things, like flowers, for example not arriving on time. Now, in 2022, things are flattening out to pre-pandemic levels. One trend that Annie Lee, founder of Plannie and principal planner at Daughter of Design, is seeing in 2022 as a lingering result of 2020 cancellations is that Thursday is the new Friday. With dates being snapped up quickly, people are making Thursday their third pick. Saturdays are still number one, and Fridays and Sundays are tied for second. She is even seeing some other weekday weddings (i.e. Mondays), but not as frequently.
Just when things seemed to be going well, the omicron variant hit the United States—just in time for the holidays too. Lee planned a wedding during this surge, and says it required some pivoting, such as moving cocktail hour outdoors, suggesting (though not requiring) masks, and requiring PCR tests ahead of time. She says about 30 positive tests came back ahead of time, which reduced the risk as those people did not attend. However, some people still did end up getting infected at the event. “People know the risk. You can mitigate it, but that’s it. At this point, it’s more about the guests doing what they need to do to feel comfortable,” she says, adding that at that particular wedding some guests chose to go home after cocktails.
However, the bigger risk when it comes to variants and surges is certain key players getting sick, such as the DJ, caterers, or even the brides and grooms! “I usually request clients to go into soft isolation before the event,” she says. “If your college roommate can’t make it, that’s a shame. But, if you can’t come, that’s a real issue.”
COVID Precautions are the New Norm
At the beginning of the pandemic, there were strict federal guidelines about gatherings, but now, armed with the knowledge of the past two years, most people are assessing their own risks. “It’s part of our lifestyle now,” says Lee about COVID-19. For her clients, testing, masking, temperature checks, and social distancing have pretty much gone away, and people are back to feeling comfortable with buffets. But, her clients still prefer outside, she says.
With so many regulations and restrictions being lifted and then variants making an appearance, we are seeing clients make their own decisions,” says Aleah Purcell Valley of Valley & Company Events. She is seeing a lot of clients requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. And, there is a lot more communication with guests, she said. Some couples are even sending newsletters out updating guests on the COVID-19 situation and their safety measures.
Vaccines Changed the Game
Speaking about vaccination status, while many couples may choose to require proof of vaccination, just the knowledge that the vaccines were out there changed the COVID-19 wedding planning game “100 bajillion percent,” says Lee. “I remember when going to a wedding was potentially risking your life, especially for the elderly. It was a life risk to attend anything. Now, if you get it (and are vaccinated) you likely won't die. That’s huge,” she says.
Once the vaccine rollout was underway, she says she saw clients “defrost” and resume back to normal life and wedding planning. For Stephens and Morales, vaccines played a big part in their deciding to move forward with a wedding. Trust and communication between themselves and their guests is key as well. “Most of our guests are vaccine friendly, and they know we err on the side of safety, so they know we wouldn't put them in a situation that's risky,” says Stephens.
Read the Fine Print
One of the things Stephens and Morales found attractive about their venue (aside from it being all outdoor) is that the contract included COVID-19 protection, meaning if they had to cancel for pandemic-related reasons there is no penalty. “We felt safe knowing if anything happens—food, venue, ceremony—we would be able to do it again at a different time of year at no extra cost,” says Morales. This was a smart move, says Lee. “It’s critical to still play your hand right and have strategy about the ‘what ifs.’ Don’t put your guard down too much yet—or maybe forever. [COVID-19] is just new criteria to think about.”
She advises her clients to always negotiate the lowest guest count in a contract. You can usually pay to add more, but if you negotiated 200 people and half your guests back out, you’ll be on the hook for it. For Laesser-Keck, these contract negotiations are mostly important in situations that are out of our control, such as city or state-wide mandates. “We know how to deal with it with vaccines and testing; we’ve all figured out the method to the madness, but you still want to get [terms] in there because with restrictions, we don't have a choice in the matter. We want to make sure our clients’ investments are protected,” she says.
Flexibility is Key
Experts agree that even with contracts and precautions in place, the number one tool in a couple’s arsenal right now is flexibility and the ability to pivot should plans change. Valley encourages her clients to consider three “ultimate” versions of their wedding when it comes to location, season, and guest count. That way, if there’s a surge, they can go with plan B or even C.
“We’re constantly on our toes ready to go whichever way we need to go,” says Laesser-Keck. “The biggest challenge is every place is different, so not only [are regulations] changing all the time here in the U.S. from California to Florida, but it's so different from Mexico to Italy, for example.”
She advises couples hosting destination weddings to post links to the country or state’s COVID restrictions and rules on their website and to check regularly. And, speaking of destinations, Mexico and California are hot spots right now because of their good weather and ease of travel, according to Laesser-Keck. Europe used to be the place to go, but with strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, it’s no longer as easy of a destination for guests.
Mid-Size Weddings Are In
“We’re seeing a return of the 200-person wedding. But, a new group is forming: the 50-person wedding,” says Lee. Along with outdoor weddings and live-streaming for those who can’t attend, mid-size weddings are a pandemic trend that Lee thinks will stick around. “You’re not having a huge wedding, but it's not just a handful of people either. One of the benefits is with whatever budget you have, you can enhance each individual person's experience—nicer tables, flowers—and use a venue that isn't a traditional wedding venue,” she says.
For those who wanted a smaller wedding already but felt guilty leaving out everyone from uncles and aunts to mom’s third cousin once removed, COVID provided a no-questions-asked reason to have a small wedding without offending anyone. Laesser-Keck adds that for destination weddings, this has created an opportunity to create a vacation with close friends and family out of the wedding. Now, she says, people are planning days-long trips in which the wedding ceremony is just a part of it. And, experts agree that guests are ready and willing to be a part of special events like that.
People Are Eager to Party
“The number of people wanting to get married and do really cool things exceeds the number of hours in the day,” says Laesser-Keck, adding that she is actually having to turn down business due to the wedding boom. Valley says couples and guests are equally as excited about weddings these days. And, prolonged celebrations with welcome dinners and weekend-long rosters of events are popular.
“We’ve realized that it’s a luxury to have your family and friends in one place. It's not something you should be taken for granted,” adds Laesser-Keck, echoing that pandemic weddings have ironically been some of the best. “Clients chose to postpone in the moment, and it felt sad. But, the day came before they knew it and now looking back they were the best events of our careers." She continues, “The energy was through the roof. Everyone was so happy and grateful to be there with friends and family. It took it to new heights.”
“I’m pretty sure one of the last times I was interviewed, I said [celebrating] will be more special than you can imagine,” Laesser-Keck adds. “I’m looking forward to the next interview when it’s all behind us and we can say, ‘Wow look how far we’ve come. We can celebrate without concern.’”
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.