As of late, when one hears about the pandemic and weddings in one sentence, they steer clear of the conversation as quickly as possible. Considering how uncomfortable, sensitive, and personal those conversations are, I can't say I blame them. But as a wedding and social event organizer, that's not a luxury I've had; in fact, it's been my job to initiate these conversations.
At this point, I'm starting to see questions coming in from those who either planned or postponed their wedding to 2021. Like you, I have no idea. COVID-19 is still an ominous force we're trying to cautiously navigate. But having now supported clients through two and a half seasons of COVID-19 weddings, I feel comfortable saying that those of us in the industry are starting to deduce where we're headed and how to best comply to restrictions and stay safe.
My heart goes out to anyone who has been on the receiving end of any of this bad news. This is not what anybody pictured when they starting planning such a special and exciting milestone. As an event organizer, my first priority is to always reduce the amount of overwhelm a client feels during the planning process by both absorbing some of the responsibility and creating a process to follow. It's also largely my responsibility to switch gears and problem-solve so quickly that nobody knows there's a problem in the first place. Hiding a pandemic that resulted in the cancelation and postponement of events wasn't an option, but the next best thing was to help clients navigate through this Act of God.
Last year, we considered budget and family tensions the most controversial conversations to be had during the planning process. I'm not minimizing those things, because they are a challenge. But nobody was ready for this. Now, I'm talking to couples whose family members might not be around if they were to postpone. Now, I'm talking to couples whose venues aren't refunding them if they don't. The conversations are heavier than hand sanitizer and customizing masks as favors, friends. My transparency is coming from a place of wanting to prepare as many people as I can for the reality of some of these scenarios.
As a guest, your experience is just that. Everything you experience during an event was something we talked about and planned for you ahead of your arrival. So yes, to wear a mask and stand away from other people sounds like a straightforward request. But the guest experience is only one slice of the logistical pie that is organizing an event.
COVID-19 is a nightmare. Our responsibility is to keep people safe while also encouraging them to celebrate. Do you know how challenging that is during a global pandemic? It has required depths of creative energy we didn't know we had, flexibility of our clients we never imagined needing to request.
From the beginning, I've worked with clients on both sides of the fence.
There were couples who from the beginning, heard me when I said their wedding was going to look different if they moved forward. My statement wasn't one of personal opinion being thrust onto anyone, it wasn't a threat: it's simply our current reality and it's unfortunate. If you are hosting an event now or sometime in 2021 (most likely), your wedding is not going to look exactly as you envisioned it last year. For couples not wanting to make significant adjustments to their plans, postponing made the most sense.
Postponing isn't for everybody. We've also worked with couples to navigate how to safely gather and celebrate during a global pandemic. Yes, that's a loaded statement. It's not easy and it comes with more challenges than you could ever imagine and considerations to make. I don't say that to deter anyone, because it can be done. But it is something you need to be 150% up for if you're choosing to move forward because it can't be ignored or avoided.
We joke that we're ready for 2020 to end. Again, my job it to keep people tethered to reality, so here's your unfortunate reminder that 2021 is not bringing with it the magical power of clearing the pandemic away on January 1st. There is a possibility of the pandemic lasting until next summer. I don't say this to scare anyone hosting a 2021 event, but this is what I've been told just by following the news. It's too soon to tell, so please don't start postponing your 2021 events. But be prepared to have conversations about the effects of the pandemic in 2021.
My personal feeling is that the pandemic will loom over the next few event seasons, but the circumstances won't quite be the same. I repeat, my personal feeling. Please take this as my hopeful prediction, not fact. Ideally, we'll have a vaccine. Ideally, restrictions will ease. But today, there isn't a vaccine. Today, restrictions are still tight. Today, the numbers are rising as we head into flu season. And so as a professional, my conversations with clients and the general public must revolve around today. We cannot plan the future around maybe.
What I've told my clients from the start is to brace themselves to over-prepare. In a perfect world, we're making a lot of plans we never need to implement. But at least we have a plan.
Let's talk about you and the situation you might be in.
Some of my clients that postponed came to that decision because right away we needed to discuss their nonnegotiable list. If you were buying a house and told the realtor you needed three bedrooms but they showed you a house with one bedroom, would you buy the house? No. Because it wouldn't make sense.
So, what doesn't make sense for you? "I would be happy looking back on our wedding day in this scenario." That is the statement you need to both be able to make.
I had clients who, of course, were excited to get married, but whose idea of a celebration was a packed dance floor with the band they'd booked before any other vendor. For them, restricted guest counts wasn't ideal, especially if the venue wasn't comfortable permitting a dance floor. Postponed.
I had clients with huge families, many of which were located out-of-town. Travel was banned, guest counts were restricted. Postponed.
Even if you've already postponed, if you're planning an event for 2021, discuss and reassess your nonnegotiable items. It could make the choice easier for you when and if that bridge to cross comes.
The bulk of what I'll be sharing over the next few blog posts is what to do if you're deciding to host. Today, I'll touch on your guest list.
What I've advised clients of since the beginning is to break the guest list into increments of ten (10). When the pandemic started in the early-Spring, we had to advise clients to do this because the gathering limits were so tight; in fact, for some the limitations would hardly permit their immediate families to get together.
With that said, every incremental increase should result in a separate (brief) conversation about whether or not it's worth it in your eyes to move forward. Start with ten (10) and decide if it's worth it for you, and who those people might be. Then move up to twenty (20) and do it again. Keep going until you have your full guest list established.
There was nothing worse than delivering the restriction updates to some of those early-pandemic affected clients. With every new guideline was a new wave of anxiety for many about the guest list. For this reason, we encourage this step first.
While restrictions are easing, it's not out of the realm of possibility that guidelines couple flip-flop. We want our couples to be prepared for that. Not everyone thrives under pressure and for some, stress is paralyzing. To at least have those guest lists ready means other people can step-in to help you if they must. This step doesn't take the blow out of new restrictions that personally affect you, but it at least provides a plan if you're on the receiving end of them.
Believe it or not, a good thing has come from all of this: you can pare down the guest list without worrying about insulting anybody. Your parent's friends you've never met and the generous plus-one's you extended to your single friends are not necessities.
Okay, back to the serious business. Talk to your venue. In Pennsylvania, there are currently percentage-based guest restrictions based on the venue's normal guest capacity. You'll find that breakdown here.
A venue that could traditional hold up to 150 guests indoors is permitted to now hold 30 guests indoors. Take into consideration if they can accommodate that count while still maintaining social distancing guidelines. Can they keep people six feet apart while sitting watching the ceremony? During cocktail hour? How about in the restroom? At the bar? On the dance floor?
You don't want to overlook any one part of the day that potentially compromises you, your loved ones, or the vendors safety and making sure you've got the right guest count is a big part of that.
It is also critically important that I inform and/or remind you that vendors, including waitstaff, are part of these numbers. Again, it's crucial to communicate with your vendors in advance so you can figure out what the true number is that you're working with.
Keep those tiered guest lists on hand. Inevitably, just like an event held in "normal" circumstances, you'll see people declining. The benefit to having those pre-made lists is having the ability to peek at the next one to start inviting from it as declines come in. Please know this is optional. Just because a venue can host a certain count doesn't necessarily mean you are required to take advantage of it. Pre-pandemic, if a venue could potentially host upwards of 200 people, it didn't mean you had to fill the space with that many people.
At the end of the day, you need to make the decision that is best for you. I hope this has helped in some capacity, and I look forward to sharing more insight in our next post, coming soon.