Planning your wedding during the COVID 19 era
We are currently living through one of the most interesting times in American history. You could throw the usual tensions of an election year out the window and it would still probably rank up there in the top 2 or 3. Depending on a few factors like where you live, what you do for a living, your hobbies, and if you’re getting married, we’ve seen some things remain constant, others change drastically, and just about everything in between. Our industry (the wedding and event industry) has seen its fair share of adjustments, but at the same time we’ve seen a lot of things remain consistent, which continues to give us hope for the future. As wedding photographers, we get to be the ultimate observers of life and this year we’ve been able to observe a lot of those changes and consistencies taking place.
Some of the biggest concerns echoed by many in our industry and many of our amazing couples have been things like: Can we still get married? Will our venue accommodate us? Will we need to change locations/states? What is my wedding going to look like? Will anyone come? Are couples just going to cancel? Will they reschedule? Will there be any dates left? Will my friends and family feel safe? Did Carol Baskin really feed her husband to….just kidding. While I won’t answer all of these questions here (nor would it be my place to) I did want to offer up some observations of things we’ve noticed this past year as we approach the end of our busy season. At this point in the year we (along with our awesome team) have been a part of 53 weddings and by the end of the year barring anything crazy, it should be 62. Our reasoning for wanting to do this piece was not to sway your opinion by telling you ours. On the contrary, we’ve worked with so many couples this year that have felt strongly about COVID 19 (one way or another…or somewhere in between) and I guess you could say our purpose was to shine light on to the fact that you are not alone. You don’t have to feel bad about your decision whether that means having your wedding like you envisioned, or postponing until you feel like it’s the right time, or again, some modified version of that in between. The purpose of this blog was to help you make your own decision based on what’s going on in the world of weddings. We felt this was important because having worked with hundreds of couples for their weddings over the past decade, there is already a substantial amount of outside pressure to “do your wedding this way,” “make sure you hire that vendor,” “you need to make sure all of your guests have (insert here),”. Add in everybody’s differing opinions about the current state of the world and the outside pressure will feel quite unbearable. By the end of this, our hope is that you will be able to confidently make a decision about the best course of action for having your wedding during the era of COVID 19.
What we have observed - Couples
In the past year we’ve noticed that most couples are generally falling into 1of 3 categories when it comes to health concerns regarding covid 19 and their wedding. Category 1) Very concerned, 2) Somewhat concerned and 3) not concerned at all.
Category 1) In our experience this year, couples that have been very concerned based on the data available, have usually re-scheduled or postponed their weddings completely. This has generally looked like re-scheduling/postponing everything or downsizing to where they have minimal guests and then re-scheduling their larger celebration for a different day. NOTE: It would appear that some couples are also in category 2 or 3 (explained below) that have postponed due to their venue having strict guidelines that would drastically altar the look of their wedding day, or from familial pressure.
Category 2) Couples falling into this category have definitely expressed that they are concerned based on the data available, but not enough to actually postpone or reschedule. Generally these weddings we’ve been a part of have had some or a lot of mask wearing, some social distancing, extra venue precautions, etc. Sometimes there’s no dancing, sometimes there is. Sometimes there’s distancing, often times there’s not. Sometimes there’s mask wearing, but in most of the these weddings it has been inconsistent based on a lot of who, what, when, and where. Meaning you may see someone wearing a mask on a dance floor for a few songs, then not for the rest of the night. You may see a person masked up all night, but willing to shake hands and hug. Typically the boundaries at these weddings have been the most confusing from a vendor stand point, even when asking couples about it in advance.
Category 3) Couples falling into this category have expressed minimal to no concerns based on the data available. Their weddings have looked normal normal when their venues have allowed.
As we’ve been telling our couples this year, there is no judgement here and as we present this information based solely on experience, we continue to echo that. If based on the available data that you’ve processed, you feel like you are making the best decision for your health and your wedding day then go with that. While we are on our way to being a part of 60+ weddings this year, we’ve also had 43+ couples at one point or another reschedule. Some rescheduled from spring 2020 to fall 2020 and have already had their wedding. Some have re-scheduled to next year for one reason or another, and some have carried on as scheduled. There is no right or wrong answer here in our opinion. Only what’s right or wrong for you, based on your interpretation of data available, your beliefs, and how you envision your wedding day.
What we have observed - Venues
In the past year we have also noticed there have generally been a 4 categories of wedding venues as well when it comes handling weddings and accommodating their couples. Now, this year we have been to North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Colorado, Maryland, and Pennsylvania for weddings. We realize that how venues handle weddings is going to vary based on each state, local ordinances, county mandates, proximity to cities, etc, and that’s definitely something to consider if you haven’t booked a venue yet for your wedding. For us, since our photography company is based in Asheville North Carolina, the majority of our wedding experience from this year has taken place in NC, so the majority of what we will touch on below with regards to venues and how they handled weddings will be from North Carolina. For simplicity, we’ll call the 4 types of venues A, B, C, and D. It should also be noted that we are discussing the particular time period where normal weddings were allowed to happen again once restrictions began to be lifted. Elopements happened all year without issue, but many of those do not need a venue per se.
Category A Wedding Venues - No weddings
While we can report this wasn’t the norm and we’ve only heard of this situation on a few occasions, there were venues that decided they were not going to allow any weddings or wedding receptions this year. In most cases we’ve heard they forced couples to re-schedule, or they gave a full refund. Again, these are venues that decided to do this once weddings were allowed to happen again. We are not talking about the ‘lock down’ period.
Category B Wedding Venues - Normal Weddings
The majority of the wedding venues we went to this year did allow couples the freedom to have their wedding as they saw fit without implementing specific restrictions, unless the client’s requested. These weddings went on like normal in terms of ceremony, reception, dinner, dancing, mingling, etc. Most of these venues were in rural areas further outside the city and overall appeared more flexible for couples.
Category C Wedding venues - Restrictive weddings
A handful of the venues we were able to visit this year implemented a lot of guidelines based on state and/or county mandates. In general these venues had a lot of extra signage, hand sanitizer stations spread throughout, capacity limits implemented, they did not allow dancing, couples, their guests, and vendors were required to wear a mask unless eating or sitting, and in some cases required contact tracing compliance. In most you had to remain seared as well unless getting up to give a toast or going to the restroom. Most of these venues were in the city or close to city limits and overall did not appear very flexible for couples.
Category D Wedding venues - ‘Those that appear to have restrictive guidelines’
Lastly, there were also handful of venues we were able to visit this year that ‘on paper’ sounded just like Category C wedding venues from above, but once you actually got there things were more normal like Category B. It’s not our place to speculate why they would say one thing and then actually do another but nonetheless, we visited enough venues like this, this year where it warranted its own category. The biggest different I noticed between Category D wedding venues and Category B wedding venues was Category D venues only required vendors to wear masks.
In a nutshell, I guess you could say Category A almost didn’t count in the above, as categories B, C, D made up the majority of the weddings we were blessed to still be a part of this year. One thing we did notice is we did have several couples switch their venues from Category C venues (which will remain unnamed) to Category B venues. They cited to us in general that the restrictions were too strict. The biggest concern we heard was for their guests to be able to mingle and dance freely.
In almost all cases, regardless of category above, almost all of the venues we heard about this year were accommodating with regards to letting couples reschedule if needed. We believe the above information is important when it comes to planning your wedding and selecting a venue as it could determine what your wedding day will look like and if you can even have it. Make sure to discuss with any prospective venues, what you can expect if restrictions continue to move back and forth as we’re currently seeing.
What we have observed - other vendors
I could literally write another entire blog one this subject. You could have photographers, videographers, djs, bands, catering companies, musicians, transportation companies, live painters, dog sitters, baby sitters, planners, coordinators, bartenders, hair, make up, etc. and the list goes on. All of these vendors even before the COVID 19 era could operate a little differently from company to company. Everything from retainer fees, deposits, payment schedules, contracts, etc. While many vendors already had something in their contract to cover situations like COVID 19, I would guess that nearly all do now. This is important to discuss and something we encourage all of our couples to ask about when booking prospective wedding pros. With the amount of vendors and all of the different roles they can play on a wedding day we wouldn’t be able to tell you every possible question to ask every type of vendor but in general, make sure to ask them 1) how they would handle it, in the event restrictions kicked back in. Or 2) what it would look like if you wanted to reschedule/postpone? Unfortunately we have heard some horror stories this year from different companies (some local I hate to admit) that collected a couple’s last payment and then decided just prior to the wedding that they weren’t going to be there because it was too big of a risk to their health. While I do know reputable vendors that also made that last minute decision due to health concerns, they also provided their couples with refunds since they were canceling on the couple. It’s not to say someone couldn’t tell you one thing and then do another, but addressing this kind of thing in advance will likely lead to a better outcome for your wedding day. In any event, always read reviews, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
What we have observed - Why couples have re-scheduled
As mentioned earlier, we’ve helped 43 couples reschedule their wedding day this year. We actually went back through to check on everything and this was the split of reasons ‘why’ couples rescheduled (speaking from experience with our couples) Some were a bit more specific than others but ultimately all of them fell into one of these categories. I imagine this could be slightly different for every vendor, but in general we had:
-16 rescheduled because they did not want to downsize/have to deal with restrictions (37.5%)
-11 rescheduled due to health concerns (25.5%)
-8 rescheduled due to a good amount of guests who are important to them said they couldn’t/wouldn’t come (18.5%)
-8 rescheduled due to travel difficulties or challenges with work, (i.e. a lot of these couples had family in the north east where travel restrictions were a lot more strict than other part of the country) (18.5%)
**(percentages were rounded slightly up or down to = 100%)**
We found this interesting for a couple reasons but mainly because size restrictions were the number one reason (for our couples anyway). I’ve read so many articles over the past few years on how couples are downsizing, downsizing, downsizing, when it comes to their wedding days, so the fact that most of them re-scheduled due to being forced to downsize or possibly having to downsize was somewhat counterintuitive.
Much like all wedding vendors this year, we’ve seen our fair share of new accommodations and adjustments by wedding vendors and their couples. A few of the things we’ve seen this year that were more prevalent were:
-Couples having tents set up outside so guests could choose to remain outside in open air if they preferred.
-Colored bracelet system - We first saw this on social media but it made it’s way to 4 of the weddings we were a part of this year. Green, Yellow, and Red. Green bracelets meant you okay with contact and socializing. Yellow meant you were find to social but did not want any physical contact, and red bracelets meant that you wanted people to keep at least 6 ft away while communicating with you. From our observation, generally most guests chose green and yellow. In stands to reason that if you were only comfortable with red, there’s a good chance you probably wouldn’t attend.
-In some weddings we noticed most guests were comfortable with the flow of a normal wedding day, but some couples did provide extra accommodations for some guests who may not have been that comfortable. These were things like making sure their table was further away from everyone else as compared to the normal distance between the rest of the tables. Or making sure that guest had their own table.
-Some couples/venues provided disposable masks for guests
-For couples that didn’t want to deal with restrictions and couldn’t find another venue that was available to accommodate their wedding vision, a lot of them switched to having their wedding on family property
As we’ve stated in the past, we eat, sleep, and breath weddings. For our couples this is one of the happiest, most anticipated, and often times, most important days of their lives. It’s a time of joy, a time celebration, a time of remembrance. Often times it’s one of those few times per year that you get to see those family members and friends you rarely get to see unless it’s the holidays. Weddings can mean so many different things to so many different people which is why we want to keep bringing you all of the relevant information we can to help you make the best decision for you special day. If that means celebrating big, and celebrating here and now with the ones you love, do it! If that means waiting a little longer until you can fully enjoy your wedding day, do it! If that means some happy middle ground, do it! Thousands of couples have had to make this same decision this year and many are likely too in the future. Know that you’re not alone and know that there will be those that support and those that do not support your decision (no matter what you do….good pearl of wisdom for life in general).
“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14