A Top Planner Shares Her Tips for Having the Best (and Safest) Wedding During COVID-19

Kelley Ward, owner of À La Carte Events, shares her insights on the future of weddings in the wake of COVID-19, along with a beautiful shoot she recently did with a group of talented vendors to show how gorgeous a small (and safe) wedding can be. Read on for Ward’s super helpful tips and ideas for planning the wedding of your dreams despite this new reality.

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I regularly joke that, “We are your first line of defense,” when it comes to planning our clients’ weddings, negotiating with vendors, troubleshooting problems that may come up over the wedding weekend and so on… but in March 2020 I was faced with a whole new realm of questions from my present and prospective clients about how to protect their wedding plans. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic the worst thing that most couples could have imagined happening on their wedding day was inclement weather or that one particular wedding guest getting a bit too tipsy! Now in the wake of Coronavirus couples are being faced to make decisions in an ever-changing situation that’s never been experienced before.

As a wedding planner I have the unique position of representing both my clients’ and my vendor network’s wants and needs, which makes planners an important liaison for “both sides of the table.” When wedding planning came to a screeching halt in March it was truly a unique position to be in.

I was faced with the duty to protect my clients’ interests and finances as well as my own business and vendor network, which was filled with companies like mine that were faced with being shut down, if not temporarily, potentially for good. Photographer Kelly Kollar shares her experience with these changes:

“The most important part of my job now is being there for my clients who are coping with the stress of postponements and making sure we figure out the best way to move forward. I have spent more days working on contract language than I care to remember, but it’s been worth it to successfully move the bulk of my weddings to 2021. It hasn’t been easy for anyone, but for the most part I’ve been encouraged by how thoughtful both clients and other vendors have been about postponements, working to find 2021 dates that work for everyone. It’s an emotional and economic issue, which is hard on many levels.”

Couples regularly come to their planner and other vendors for answers and direction, so it was incredibly difficult to provide sound advice due to the lack of information, updates, and even general understanding of how big and how bad this pandemic really is and how long our country will be affected by it. As the weeks and now months have progressed, the picture has become slightly clearer and we know that, for at least the near future or even the rest of this year, couples should expect weddings to look a lot different. Packed dance floors, cost-effective buffets, and having hundreds of guests gathered together are likely not going to be safe options for some time.

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After a handful of calls with my own clients, I realized a common thread: the proposed options from popular wedding planning outlets on how to host a wedding in the wake of Covid-19 were not well received by these couples, who were already distraught that their ‘big day’ couldn’t happen as they’ve been envisioning for months or years. The need for more creativity, more understanding, and more examples of new options for weddings became clear quickly. From that the idea was born to produce a styled shoot featuring creative solutions for hosting weddings in this new era of wedding planning.

The rise of smaller, more intimate weddings paired with the Center for Disease Control’s mandates and stipulations for re-opening and hosting events provided the construct to create a truly special scene of alternative options for couples. Abbas Nadeem, Director of Sales, from The Box House Hotel shares, “The future of weddings is definitely a smaller and more intimate wedding celebration. While there will be less people in the space I don’t anticipate the electric feeling of love in the air being any less than it was in the past.”

Here, we share our expert advice for planning your wedding in the time of COVID-19.

The Perks to Downsizing Your Wedding

Your event becomes more personalized

From the guests present being your most beloved, to having the ability to increase the amount of details that truly represent you and your future spouse, having a smaller guest count compliments a couple’s ability to personalize their event so much more. Ways to personalize your event can span from your cuisine and beverage choices to flowers and decor and even the location you host your event! Gabby Barikian the Founder & Creative Director of Ink & Honey, a bespoke stationary company emphasizes, “As we continue with this trend of more intimate, small gatherings, I see a lot of invitations and signage having more thoughtful and playful language that truly reflect the couple’s personalities. We will definitely start to see a lot more personal and intimate touches all around. Instead of focusing on large guest lists and other headaches that often come with planning a large event, couples now have the opportunity to really think about what it is they want to share with their family and friends on their special day and what kind of experience they want their guests to have.”

Not to mention more budget friendly.

Aside from the obvious that less guests typically means less expenses, the flip side to having less guests is that you can also stretch your budget to incorporate facets of your wedding day you may not have been able to with 150+ guests. For example: If your wedding budget is $30,000 for 125 people you may have to sacrifice aspects of the day like choosing a DJ instead of that band you wanted because a DJ is a fraction of the cost, or downsizing your ceremony floral arch you’ve been envisioning for years in order to pay for 8 bridesmaids bouquets. Whereas if you have a $30,000 for a 50 person wedding allows you to accomplish so much more from an experiential and design standpoint. Suddenly your budget allows for your event to emulate all those Instagram weddings you’ve secretly been saving for months now!

It’s also easier to have a wedding weekend.

A new and growing trend that many couples are favoring is the concept of weddings being more than just a Saturday night and selecting venues or locations that provide that “weekend away” vibe. Having a more intimate group to celebrate your nuptials invites a whole new realm of planning a multi-day celebration that could include a welcome dinner clam bake, post wedding wine tasting with organized group transportation, and a slew of other fun activities. The options could be endless!

Dealing With Event Layout & Seating Arrangements

One of the issues that couples are finding most upsetting or distracting is configuring how to format a socially distanced event that is still exciting, beautiful, and not awkward!

For this shoot I had this vision of creating a ceremony space that was enhanced by distancing guest seating, using floral and decor as physical barriers or ‘spacers’ between guests’ seats. Now instead of there being negative space between sets of seats, it fills the room and ceremony space with more beautiful accents, showcasing the couple’s vision.

Depending upon the couple’s budget, this style of ceremony spacing could be accomplished with lush floral arrangements or something as simple as a cluster of glass cylinder vases and floating candles or pillar candles that can be acquired from a local dollar store.

For reception seating and dining many couples are frustrated by the idea of foregoing the cocktail hour or a room filled with tables of guests eating from the buffet or family style which had grown in popularity in recent years. To solve this issue I propose 3 options:

Traditional Tables: Reduce your standard 10 or 12 person rounds and your 8-10 person rectangular banquet or farm tables to 6 guests each. This allows for a much more comfortable setting for your guests who typically would love that extra elbow room anyway! Reducing the amount of guests at each table also provides the additional space needed to create an elevated and more visually appealing place setting.

Bistro Table Seating: All over the Northeast we’re seeing restaurants providing outdoor bistro seating – where 2 to 4 diners are seated together. This is also a great way to keep couples or families seated together at your wedding, playing up that “date night” romance and keeping everyone safely distanced.

Tasting Table: Large farm tables or “King’s Table” lined with guests is not only a beautiful and stylish way to have your bridal party or large groups of guests all seated together pre-Covid but now, for smaller weddings a beautiful way to have a more intimate and delicious meal together!

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Consider formatting your event with long tables seating 12-18 guests each (I suggest six guests per 8 foot table) and again focusing on your table top design elements and using floral and decor items to create a beautiful barrier between each side of the table.

Rethinking Your Wedding Catering

As mentioned, buffet and family style dining as well as a traditional cocktail hour may not be safe options allowed for some time.

In America’s average wedding, guests arrive, scurry to their ceremony seats, zip through vows; then it’s a mad dash to the bar during cocktail hour followed by guests eagerly getting through dinner & speeches so the really party & dancing can begin! Here are some alternatives:

Start Strong: Instead of rushing over to the bar after ceremony guests can be welcomed to the event with a beautiful, bright signature drink, glass of champagne, or even a sweet tea, lemonade, or infused water if it’s a hot day. This way service starts as soon as guests walk through the door, elevating the quality of your event.

Tasting Menu or Beverage Pairing Dinner : Instead of your traditional salad, perfectly proportioned meat or fish option, and pre-cut cake, let’s spice it up a bit! A great and well- received option could be to do a multi- course tasting dinner for your guests. Bring your event up another notch by adding a beverage pairing with each course. By putting the focus on the food more and improving the quality and experience of dining your guests won’t miss cocktail hour and dancing! In between courses is a great time to incorporate your bridal party speeches as well as parent dances.

Individualized After-Dinner Snacks: Who doesn’t love a late night snack? Instead of a self-serve display, talk to your caterer about providing snacks that are already individually wrapped or prepared. There are tons of beautiful paper products available to package these items, like small paper bags for popcorn, cookies, sliders, fries, and so on. Another alternative to this option are skewered items (served individually) like fruit or pre-bundled s’more kits for your guests to gather around a bonfire. All these options keep your party going and increase the overall guest experience and interaction.

Food Trucks: Food Truck weddings are on the rise and as long as they meet all the CDC mandates and standards this is a great casual dining option for guests, plus is provides a fun flare and change of pace for weddings. You can book more than one style of food and a mobile bar as well which will only enhance the dining experience more – think Pizza Truck and a Taco Truck!

What About Wedding Entertainment?

A big concern across the wedding world of course are the restrictions on dancing and interactions. Being social events with a very tried and true timeline it’s hard to reimagine weddings without music and dancing or not being able to interact with each other. Here are some ways you can combat your event from feeling stale:

Live Music: Live music always gets people more excited and up out of their seats. If your venue doesn’t allow dancing you can still have live music to increase the overall ambience of the event, accompany your special dances with your spouse and parents.

Lawn Games:Incorporating outdoor games like cornhole (bag toss), giant Jenga, giant Connect 4, and so on is not only easy and relatively inexpensive (Tip: ask for the games on your registry!), it’ll give people things to do and enjoy together while still keeping their distance from others.

The Shoe Game: This is a long standing family tradition for me and I’ve been thrilled to see it occasionally online amongst others! The “Shoe Game” as I know it, is easy and boasts so much fun, laughter, and entertainment for all guests. All you need is you and your spouse, your shoes, and a list of questions for someone to read. Each spouse holds one of their own shoes and one of their spouse’s; then either the DJ/MC or someone from the guest list (my siblings and I did it for each other) reads off one question at a time. The questions should all be in the manner of “who’s the better…” for example “Who’s the better driver?” “Who made the first move?” or “Who’s the better cook?” and so on and the couple holds up the shoe of the spouse they think “wins” that question. Feel free to get creative and have fun with the questions, the funnier or more instigating the questions are the more entertaining for everyone!

Other Forms of Entertainment: There are a swath of other performers and sources of entertainment you can provide at your wedding from cigar rollers to belly dancers! Not your style? Have the band play a curated list of songs allowing for exciting instrumental jamming or solos and enjoy it together with your guests as more of a watched performance.

How to Keep Your Wedding Guests Safe

As much as everyone may want to put Coronavirus in the rearview mirror and “get back to normal” there’s no telling when that may happen. So until then the most important action is to not make matters worst. Of course no one wishes to host their wedding and someone they love get ill from being there, so there are a few additional precautions to consider or to request:

Hair & Makeup: Something important to note when creating your day-of-wedding timeline is calculating for more time for hair & makeup. The CDC requires artists to sanitize between clients which calls for additional time between bridal party members. Johevis, our talented make up artist for this shoot notes, “I’m very clean and have always followed the sanitary guidelines so extra time for sanitizing is always calculated in the time I need for completing a makeup look. One thing I do need extra time for is needing more time in between applications to properly sanitize brushes, makeup like powders, eyeshadows, brushes etc. just to be on the safe side.”

READ MORE: How to Get Your Wedding Makeup Done Safely During COVID

Bathroom Attendant: Whether you’re getting married at a venue or at your own home and have a toilet trailer, as one of the heaviest trafficked areas of your event I would suggest having a designated staff person who will sanitize the door handles, faucets, and counter tops in between each user to decrease the amount of germs potentially spreading.

Masks: Possibly one of the hottest topics in America right now, and something many couples wish to avoid is the mandate on guests needing to wear masks whenever not seated. If you feel like masks are going to take away from your or your guests’ experience here are two great options: Offer sleek, uniformed black masks for all your guests which can be bought in bulk on sites like Amazon or offer ClearMasks. ClearMask is a great company that provides completely clear face masks that have an anti-fog technology and have a more complimenting adjustable strap. You can buy 24 for just $67.00 at https:// buy.theclearmask.com/

Vendor Safety: The vendors working events are often in contact with many more individuals than a typical guest would be, so it’s important to ask your vendors what precautions they are taking as well to protect them and your guests they will be interacting with! Dan Theyer from New York event rental company Please B Seated shares, “As a rental company, [the new precautions] mean screening our staff daily, making sure we wear masks, and working smart. We’ve also expanded our inventory to include hand sanitizer stations, sneeze guards, hand washing stations, and other protective equipment.”

The best part about the wedding industry is that it is filled with beautifully creative people who are passionate about their clients’ happiness and satisfaction. As we’ve seen over the last few months and will continue to see for the remainder of this year, wedding vendors are working non-stop to support their clients and reconfigure plans. From this so many progressive ideas have already started being crafted and shared.

“While our industry has definitely been shaken up and taken a hit in regard to the amount of business we have had to postpone and much less interest in large weddings for the foreseeable future, I have no doubt that we will be able to adapt and continue to do what we do best and that’s take part in planning once in a lifetime events!” states Nadeem of The Box House Hotel.

Things may be different from what couples originally planned, but there are so many new opportunities for couples to take whether Covid-19 remains a threat or not. The new era of weddings has the potential for couples to host much more exciting, beautiful, and experiential events that will adjust trends for many years to come!


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