The wedding business suffered a hit when the coronavirus epidemic hit India in early 2020. The scenario effectively put an end to all weddings, and we’re still celebrating a year later in our “new normal.” Due to the restrictions imposed on the wedding business, professionals ranging from wedding planners to caterers and florists have had to become even more inventive in order to carry out their duties.
“Hundreds of Zoom webinars have been managed behind the scenes to build a seamless and uniform ‘guideline’ for all industry participants to utilize as operation tools,” Guerdy Abraira, a Miami-based event stylist and wedding coordinator, adds. “National alliances have also been formed to produce state and national representatives to help keep industry members up to date on current travel and pandemic laws and regulations on a daily basis.”
As a result, weddings today are very different from they were before the pandemic. According to Kate Turner, founder of Kate and Company in Saint Louis, Missouri, “you can enjoy your celebration securely” by wearing masks, assigning tables to just members of the same household, and even having additional, smaller dance floors. Micro-weddings are also becoming increasingly popular, as more and more couples prefer smaller guest lists, more creative flexibility, and a lesser expense.
Whatever type of wedding you’re planning, whether this year or next, these are some of the safeguards that wedding planners have put in place to deal with the new realities that have emerged.
Most wedding planners advise couples to set realistic expectations for their guests before the big day. “Hosting an event, especially in this day and age, always involves a calculated risk,” explains Eva Clark, founder and creative director of Eva Clark Events in Atlanta. “Engagement is a personal decision that couples and their guests must make.”
Given the current global temperature, Abraira and her husband elected to e-mail all attendees COVID-19 waiver forms to sign electronically at one of her most recent events. While the safety of all guests is a top consideration, wedding planners are taking extra measures with wedding party members, who will likely be in closer contact at the ceremony and at pre-wedding gatherings.
Tory Smith of Smith + James Events in Los Angeles notes, “Prior to the wedding, we check in with each member of the bridal party and obtain information on their varying levels of comfort in how they’d like to walk in the processional or recessional.” This allows Smith and her team to figure out where they should stand or sit at the altar, as well as if they prefer to stand or sit with the other guests. “Most people like to walk down the aisle alone and then sit six feet apart with the rest of the guests during the ceremony,” she says.
In addition to the aforementioned safeguards, some event planners and couples are taking things a step further by testing visitors before each event. This isn’t new information—we’ve seen planners do it behind the scenes for months—but it’s getting more widespread as testing becomes more accessible and states provide testing mandates. New York State, for example, is allowing indoor events for up to 150 people starting March 15, 2021, as long as everyone has confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test. Here’s where you can learn more about COVID-19 testing at weddings and how to put it into practice.
Even micro-weddings are multi-hour affairs. Here’s how planners make sure every detail of the day-of timetable is covered.
Bridesmaids and family members, for example, still want to be a part of the conventional getting-ready ritual, which looks a little different in a COVID-19 environment. Hair and makeup artists have had to adapt new procedures because working at a distance of six feet or more is physically impossible. “Whenever possible, beauty vendors should wear masks and gloves, and we’re making sure that wherever these services are being performed has windows that can be opened,” says Jason Mitchell Kahn, owner and creative director of Jason Mitchell Kahn & Co. in New York City. Other adjustments made by Kahn and his team include prohibiting shared food platters as well as Zoom and Google Hangout settings for family and friends.
If you’ve lately visited a restaurant or store, you’ll notice that many of them do temperature checks upon arrival. Weddings are in the same boat. Abraira and her staff, for example, are setting up a “security clearance” station for quick temperature checks when guests arrive. “I can’t wait for saliva testing to be activated as an additional layer of prevention,” she says.
In addition to the customary program and distribution, attendees will be given masks and mini sanitizers in baskets when they arrive at the event. To further prevent the spread of the virus and make visitors feel more at ease, Smith and her team offer socially-distanced wedding seating and a ceremony processional. “We’ve discovered that members of the bridal party don’t always feel at ease strolling together or being cued from the same holding place,” she says.
Clark and her team are implementing touchless methods that have been refined to lessen the spread risk. “For example, instead of having a program attendant (who distributes programs) and an escort display (where couples trade their cards),” she explains, “We give a ‘program packet.'” “The packets are personalised so no one has to share, and they include the guest’s name, table number, ceremony programme, mask, hand wipe, and bar menu,” says the caterer.
Additional precautions can be included in the day’s planning. Krista Sarvis of Privé Events in Seattle recently created a styled shoot, as shown above, to demonstrate that outdoor weddings can be both safe and stylish. She suggests soft sitting for the ceremony and, as a reception alternative, a lovely picnic set-up for family. “Over the last six months, my strategy has been to break out of the paradigm of what weddings were and focus on what weddings can be,” she says. “Our setup was intimate and inviting, and it could be quite unique for a couple who is willing to step away from the dance party attitude and focus on creating a completely different intimate experience.”
Zoom ceremonies are also becoming more popular as a method to bring friends and family from all around the world together for a celebration. Smith advises her couples who are having Zoom weddings to be especially careful about muting the sound on the guest side so that their household noise doesn’t interfere with the live ceremony. “To capture this, just about anyone can take an iPad and create a Zoom link,” Clark adds. “However, a newcomer with an iPad isn’t the best candidate for this job.” With a beginner in this job, the sound, material, and setting coverage will almost certainly be compromised.” Instead, if funds permit, she advises hiring an expert. “Instead, we’ve enlisted audiovisual teams who know just what to add.” She now sets aside money in her clients’ wedding budgets—between $1,500 and $6,000 depending on the number of cinematographers and sound/audio requests—to ensure that this crucial job is properly funded.
It is traditional to offer transportation for guests going to and from the ceremony and reception when they are not in the same place. However, in the COVID-19 age, this has proven to be difficult. As a result, planners, including Kahn, are planning sufficient transportation to accommodate guests while leaving ample space between them. They’re also looking for buses or shuttles with windows that can be opened. “We’ve been told to keep bus capacity between 50 and 75 per cent maximum,” he explains, “so we’re averaging somewhere in the middle.” “The only reason we aren’t conducting a strict two bus for every one bus ratio is that certain visitors will still refuse to use them because they are uncomfortable and will insist on driving themselves.”
Cocktail hour is likely the most difficult period of the event for event planners to negotiate, owing to the fact that this is when guests mingle and become physically close. Turner and her team are creating huge grazing tables and gorgeous displays instead of passing hors d’oeuvres. “Each table has a waiter who may make an appetiser plate for the guests so that only one person touches the service ware,” she explains. “At cocktail hours, we’re also expanding the seating options, incorporating soft sitting, cocktail tables, cabaret tables, and other options.” This step allows guests to sit with their significant other, friends, and/or relatives while enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and safely remove their masks. Other safety precautions are being taken.
It’s not easy to prepare a meal for guests who are supposed to be socially distant. That’s why wedding planners advise couples to let their guests choose who they sit with, which usually consists of members of the same household plus close family and friends. Another trend that allows for a more vibrant environment while yet keeping guests separate is bistro-style tables, or groups of two or four positioned as they would be in a restaurant. “We make sure there are 8 feet between the backs of the chairs at one table and the backs of the chairs at the next,” Turner explains.
On those tablets, the style and place settings will be a little different as well. Turner and her team are foregoing the use of chargers, cutlery, or glassware on the table in favor of disposable cutlery, hand sanitizer for each table, and a separate server for each section.
For understandable reasons—and regulations!—the majority of planners are attempting to curb the need for large gatherings on the dancefloor. “Right now, it’s difficult for bands because not only do band members need to keep a safe distance from one another, but their very existence attracts people, therefore DJs are more suited,” explains Kahn.
Instead of one enormous center dancefloor, there are dance floors all over the room. She explains, “This provides guests with the comfort of being in a smaller bubble while celebrating.”
The precautions do not end when the celebration is over. As the event’s host, it’s critical to stay in touch with participants in case of potential exposure. In the event of an emergency, having the guests’ information on hand helps make the situation go as smoothly as possible. “We invite anyone having symptoms post-event to notify our team so that we can spread that information to all attendees and vendors,” Smith states in the initial COVID-19 email to guests and vendors and in the COVID-19 waiver. “It’s critical that everyone works together before, during, and after the event to create the safest environment possible!”
A similar policy is being implemented by Kahn. “It is vital that every guest and staff person who worked the wedding be told if a guest tests positive quickly after the wedding,” he says. “To make things easier, couples should already have all of their visitors’ information.” However, to his point, the action is truly in the hands of the visitor. “At this moment, we are not executing a follow-up,” Clark explains. “In the event, they test positive after the wedding, we’re at their mercy in terms of what they disclose with us.”
While wedding planners adjust to the new normal, some aspects of a wedding simply cannot be replicated in the present context. “I can’t tell you how much I miss hearing the best man gives a wonderful speech and hearing 200 people laugh along with him,” Smith adds. “I can’t tell you how much I miss seeing a whole set of dinner tables jump out of their seats and flood the dancefloor.” “In the meanwhile, we’ll keep doing our best to celebrate love and put on the most memorable events we can on a smaller scale.”
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