Weddings as we know them are up in the air for the foreseeable future.
Between stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines, financial hardships, fears about traveling and venue closures, many engaged couples will have to adjust their original wedding plans — and that may include cutting down their guest lists.
Under normal circumstances, it would be in very poor taste to uninvite a wedding guest after they’ve already received a save-the-date or invitation. But we’re not dealing with normal circumstances.
“I couldn’t have ever imagined myself giving a blessing for a couple to uninvite already invited wedding guests, and yet here we are in uncharted territory,” etiquette columnist Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners, told HuffPost. “Etiquette is adapting to meet many scenarios we could not have envisioned at the beginning of the year, and this is surely one of them.”
Think you may need to downsize your guest list in light of the pandemic? Communicating this information to invited guests in a thoughtful, tactful manner should cushion the blow. Here’s how to do just that, according to etiquette experts.
Be honest but compassionate in your delivery.
Let them know it was a difficult decision to make. After careful consideration of all your options, this seemed like the best way to protect your loved ones’ health and safety.
“All uninvited guests should be reassured that the decision to pare down the guest list was made after great deliberation and surely many sleepless nights,” Farley said. “But the choice was made to ensure the couple’s big day was not a factor in anyone’s becoming sick.”
Keep your explanation brief. Sure, there may be additional reasons that factored into your decision, but you don’t need to list them all.
“For example, the couple’s suddenly altered finances are no longer able to sustain the big wedding they imagined,” Farley said. “I would focus on the health of the guests as the primary reason for the change, which most everyone will understand and appreciate without further elaboration.”
In fact, you might be surprised by how many people will not only understand, but may actually be relieved, said etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
“They might have had difficulty traveling to your wedding from out of state,” she said. “Or they could be going through similar situations of their own financially.”
Keep it fair.
Create an across-the-board rule for how you’re reducing the guest list — like keeping it to just immediate family and the bridal party, for example. That way uninvited guests won’t take your decision personally.
“It’s essential that no couple use the pandemic as a rationale for knocking merely a few select names from a list,” Farley said. “There must be a rhyme and reason to the paring down, applied universally, so there are no hurt feelings.”
Let guests know as soon as you’re able.
It’s the courteous thing to do. This is especially important for summer weddings that are right around the corner and upcoming destination weddings where guests will need more advanced notice to cancel flights and accommodations.
“With so many unknowns right now and with opening dates different from state to state and municipality to municipality, no one has a cryrstal ball,” Farley said. “But obviously this cannot be a game-day decision.”
If you have a destination wedding planned for the summer, alert guests of any changes to your original plans ASAP, if you haven’t already. For weddings later this year, Farley suggested sending an email to all guests (bcc’d, of course) to tell them you’ll be updating your wedding website with any new information as it comes. You may also want to suggest that guests hold off on booking any nonrefundable travel reservations for the time being.
“The couple should also agree upon a deadline by which they will be making their final decision,” Farley said. “Let guests know what that deadline is, so they can anticipate and plan accordingly.”
Share the news in a phone call.
Gottsman recommends picking up the phone to reach out to those guests you will unfortunately no longer be able to accommodate.
“A personal touch is uncomfortable yet most appropriate,” she said. “Sending an email is another option, but should be followed up with a call.”
Farley offered another idea: Make a video explaining your need to hold a much smaller celebration than you had initially planned. Then post it to your wedding website and email the link to all of your guests (again, bcc’d) with a thoughtful message. Over the following weeks, make it a point to reach out to each uninvited guest, couple or family individually, if possible.
“I couldn’t have ever imagined myself giving a blessing for a couple to uninvite already invited wedding guests, and yet here we are in uncharted territory.”
“Contact them by phone or video to say hello, affirm how much they mean to you and to see how they are themselves doing during this period of pandemic,” Farley said. ”Let them know if you’ll be livestreaming the wedding and express your hope that they’ll tune in at that time.”
Watching you say “I do” on a computer screen won’t be the same as having these loved ones attend in person. But at least they’ll feel like they were part of the day in some way.
And if you intend to throw a larger celebration down the road, let these guests know you’d love for them to be there.
“If you plan any sort of party when it is safe to do so, be certain to mention that also and that they will most certainly be on that list,” Farley said.
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