The social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 have made the large, conventional weddings we’re accustomed to unfeasible for the foreseeable future.
Couples who were set to get married in 2020 and 2021 have been forced to alter their plans in significant ways to ensure the safety of their guests once bigger gatherings are permitted again. Still, guest counts may remain on the smaller side even after restrictions are eased.
“This pandemic is now a part of their wedding story,” Lori Stephenson, founder of Lola Event Productions in Chicago, told HuffPost. “No one wanted that, but it’s best to get comfortable with it and make the most of the challenges at hand.”
Wedding professionals are busy trying to figure out how to adjust their protocols to comply with changing public health guidelines. We asked several planners to predict what weddings might look like in the next year or so while we’re still living in a socially distanced world.
1. Say goodbye to passed apps and display food stations at cocktail hour.
“Instead of a beautiful mountain of delicious cheeses and meats, it will be curated small plates that are portioned for one person or a couple to share,” said planner Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events in New York City. “But no longer will it be a grazing station for all to touch and interact with.”
In some cases, the cocktail hour may be cut entirely, Stephenson said. If a couple does opt for one, you won’t find large groups of guests congregating together for long face-to-face conversations.
Instead, you might see “layouts with more small seating groups or even fun graphic details on the floors that can showcase a 6-foot space between occupants,” she added.
2. Dinner will be plated rather than buffet or family style.
“Caterers will focus on serving food that is pre-portioned per individual, not sharable, to limit the hands that touch it to the person eating it,” Meyer said.
3. Receptions will be shorter and may not include dancing.
You may not be able to tear up the dance floor in the way you imagined — or at all. Once the drinking starts, it could be harder to maintain a safe social distance and keep your mask on. Plus, shouting and singing along to loud music emits respiratory droplets.
“I don’t see wedding days lasting as long as they typically do,” said Summer McLane of My Simply Perfect Events in Atlanta, who also runs the online school The Academy for Wedding and Event Planners. “Just a beautiful dinner and shorter celebration.”
When dancing is possible, Blatt anticipated more line dancing “to keep people engaged and festive but with space between.”
4. Outdoor weddings will be more popular.
The risk of viral transmission is considerably lower outdoors than it is indoors because of more natural airflow and space for people to spread out. Therefore, more couples will likely tie the knot outside, Meyer said.
“I think we will see a rise in outdoor and tented weddings, as the open air component allows for less strict rules than an enclosed space,” he said.
5. Indoor weddings will be held in larger venues.
Stephenson is urging her clients to book more spacious venues with larger capacities than they think they’ll need based on their guest count.
“So if social distancing is still critical in the coming months, then an event is easily spread out to accommodate the party, and no guests have to be cut from the list.”
6. There will be fewer guests per table.
Guests will likely be seated with other members of their household or other close contacts. So instead of putting your little cousins at the kids’ table, for example, you’ll seat them with your aunt and uncle.
The tables themselves may be bigger, too, to allow for more space between guests.
Alternatively, some brides and grooms may forgo the sit-down meal and do a cocktail-style reception with many small tables instead of fewer larger ones.
“One idea is to pass out individual charcuterie boards, and guests can eat at their own stand-up cocktail table to stay 6 feet apart,” said Los Angeles planner Debbie Geller of Geller Events.
7. Face masks will be a common sight.
It may not be what couples envisioned, but until guidelines change, guests will likely have to wear facial coverings. Brides and grooms may embrace this by providing festive options for their friends and family.
“We will see a large trend in custom masks branded for the couple or white lace and black bow ties for a bridal or black-tie line of masks,” Blatt said.
Vendors and venue staff will wear facial coverings and perhaps gloves, too.
“The common comment [from vendors] is, ‘I’m wearing a mask the whole day. If the client is uncomfortable, they can find a new vendor,’” McLane said. “I’ve heard this from just about every vendor. It isn’t aesthetically pleasing, but these are the times that we’re in.”
Meyer believes plexiglass screens may be placed at the bar or in front of the band or DJ to provide an extra layer of defense.
“They can be customized or branded to fit the design of the event, but also to protect everyone,” he said.
8. Cleaning procedures will be more stringent.
“I think venues and caterers will work hard to clean commonly touched surfaces throughout an event, more than they have pre-COVID-19,” Meyer said.
He also believes venues may install no-touch faucets and soap and paper towel dispensers in their bathrooms and perhaps even bathroom doors with a sensor to allow for a touchless entry.
“This pandemic is now a part of their wedding story. No one wanted that, but it’s best to get comfortable with it and make the most of the challenges at hand.”
Venue prices may increase to cover the additional cost of improvements to the facilities, as well as the additional time or staff dedicated to cleaning.
“Couples need to insist that the venue is disinfected between each event, and when the venue gives a quote for cleaning, they should just be happy that it’s being done,” McLane said. “Also, since events will be smaller, couples can build that fee into their budget.”
9. Hand sanitizer will be readily available.
“Hand sanitizer stations will be common at venues and/or as favors from couples and/or hosts,” Meyer said. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible, and that means extra steps will happen, many of which will be visible.”
10. Fewer vendors and staff will work the event.
“In Chicago where we’re located, we anticipate all summer and potentially even early fall groups to be limited to 10 or less people,” Stephenson said. “That number has to include vendors, which I don’t think a lot of couples are considering.”
That may mean trimming vendor teams to the bare minimum number of people so couples can increase their guest counts.
“This means video cameras set up on tripods without videographers, food individually packed and set up for grab-and-go, musicians or bands performing virtually on screens set up and more ceremonies performed by close friends and family rather than an officiant,” Geller said.
11. More guests will attend virtually.
Because of public health recommendations to limit nonessential travel and restrictions and fears about flying during a pandemic, it will be more difficult for faraway guests or those who fall into high-risk groups to attend in person. Thanks to technology, they can still be part of the day in some way.
“More than just grandma on FaceTime, think roaming robots with screens so the guests at home can interact with those at the party in real time in a meaningful way,” Meyer said. “[Virtual guests] could also be sent special boxes with food, drinks and personalized decor so they can have the fullest experience possible remotely.”
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Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.