My fiancé and I were set to get married on March 28 with roughly half of our guests flying into California from the East Coast. Last week, we, like many other couples around the world, were stuck in limbo: planning as if the wedding was still on while following the coronavirus news and realizing the chances of it happening — at least in the way we imagined — were getting slimmer and slimmer.
Anxious thoughts ate at me: How many guests would even be able to come? Would people get sick traveling to the wedding? What if they came and infected others? Given the social distancing recommendations, would I even be able to hug my friends and family? Would people be too scared to dance or celebrate? If we were to postpone, how much money would we lose? The uncertainty overwhelmed me, and I was wracked with guilt ― not exactly the headspace you want to be in leading up to what should be one of the happiest days of your life.
Then people began dropping out: first grandparents, then family friends with underlying conditions, then a pregnant bridesmaid and another bridesmaid who works at a hospital. I couldn’t picture getting married with so many loved ones absent. The morning of March 13, we decided to postpone the wedding.
I started by calling the venue first, then my wedding coordinator and then the other vendors to fill them in on our decision. Every one of them was so understanding and accommodating. By midday, we had found a new date in November and by some stroke of luck, all of our vendors were able to make the new day work.
For the vendors we had already paid in full, we just transferred the funds over to the new date. For those we hadn’t, they held on to the deposits and told us we could pay the balance closer to our new date (one asked that we pay in full by the original date stated in the contract). They, too, were navigating this uncharted territory, figuring out how to keep their businesses afloat but willing to help us however they could.
I’m grateful that we made the decision to postpone when we did. On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended postponing or canceling events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks (our guest list was about 140). A few days later, the White House limited it to gatherings of no more than 10 people. On March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide order mandating residents to stay at home (except for essential work or errands) until further notice to slow the spread of the virus.
Over the past week, friends, family and co-workers have reached out to my fiancé and me to see how we were holding up. The truth is, as soon as we made the decision to postpone, the anxiety and fear melted away. We were relieved that we didn’t have to worry about putting the health and safety of our loved ones in jeopardy. And when the wedding does happen in the fall, we know all of this will make the celebration that much sweeter.
Not every couple will be as lucky as we were — it’s a tough decision and a challenging situation to navigate both emotionally and logistically. That’s why we asked event planners to share their advice for brides and grooms considering postponing their weddings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Postpone, don’t cancel.
When you’re overwhelmed, you might be tempted to just throw in the towel on the wedding altogether. But if you cancel, you risk losing all or most of the money you’ve already shelled out and may still be required to make future payments. Instead, try to postpone to a later date if you can. When all of this is over, you and your guests will have even more of a reason to celebrate.
2. Check in with all of your vendors ASAP.
Lori Stephenson, founder of Lola Event Productions in Chicago, had 18 weddings between mid-March and June 1. She and her team handled one couple’s March 13 nuptials as planned but rescheduled their other March, April and May events, Stephenson told HuffPost
Whether you’ve already made the call to postpone or are thinking about doing so, it’s wise to look at all of your vendor contracts and then check in with each one so you’re prepared either way.
Stephenson came up with a list of questions to ask vendors, which we’ve paraphrased below (you can read her other tips in this blog post on her website):
What is your cancellation policy, including loss of deposit and payment of the balance? Will you make any exceptions given the government recommendations limiting gatherings and promoting self-distancing practices?
Are you willing to work an event with more than the government-recommended number of people in attendance, knowing it could potentially expose guests and vendors to the virus?
What is the backup plan in case you or someone on your team is quarantined?
If we decide to postpone to a later date, can we apply the deposit in full to a new mutually agreed-upon date? And would the original payment schedule laid out in the contract still apply?
What dates do you have open in the next year so I can compare your availability with the venue and other vendors?
3. Be flexible when picking a new date.
Because wedding vendors often book up a year or more in advance, your new date options may be limited. Perhaps you’ll have to forgo a Saturday wedding for a Friday, Sunday or weekday, or tie the knot during the winter offseason.
And don’t wait too long to pick a new date. Many couples are in the same boat right now, looking to reschedule their events.
“As soon as we made the decision to postpone, the anxiety and fear melted away.”
Know that you may not be able to find a date that works for your whole existing team of vendors. So you’ll need to prioritize which wedding elements are most important to you as a couple and then choose a date that works with those vendors’ schedules.
One thing to note: Your vendors may prefer you choose another date on the 2020 calendar rather than pushing it all the way to 2021, as that could be financially devastating for them.
“If I was to just shift all of my weddings from this year to next year and everybody was doing the same... next year, the calendar would be full of this year’s business,” wedding planner Rachel Birthistle told Vogue. “That’s a year’s worth of revenues just gone.”
One silver lining? “If you didn’t get your first-choice band because of the original date, they might be available now for the new date!” Blatt said.
4. Know that you may lose some money.
How much you lose really depends on your individual vendor contracts and how accommodating they’ll be in light of these circumstances.
“Although no contract offers cancellation for a pandemic, we are in this together, and most of our vendors are very willing to work with you,” Blatt said. “This is a stressful time for everyone, so make sure to approach your team with kindness and understanding rather than aggression. It will greatly increase your odds of flexibility.”
The amount of flexibility will also vary depending on how soon your wedding is and if the vendor has already invested a good deal of time and/or money preparing for the event. If, for example, your caterer already ordered the food (or any perishable goods) for your wedding, it’s going to be tougher to recoup those costs.
“If services haven’t been completed because the wedding doesn’t happen — flowers aren’t bought, DJ doesn’t perform — then some money can be refunded,” Blatt said. “But nonrefundable deposits don’t change, unfortunately.”
Know that if one of your vendors is not available on your new wedding date, you may still be held to the cancellation terms laid out in your original contract.
“That might mean your balance is due in full regardless of whether you use the vendor or not,” Stephenson wrote.
If that happens, ask if there’s anything else the vendor can do. Perhaps you could use their services for a birthday party or another large family gathering down the line. Or see if they can recommend and connect you with some other quality wedding vendors in the same space.
“Given that you cannot expect your original deposit back, consider it a finder’s fee to do this legwork for you,” planner Annie Lee of Daughter of Design told Harper’s Bazaar. “The goal is that no vendor loses work, and you don’t lose a supplier.”
5. Let guests know, and update your wedding website as soon as you can.
It’s important to inform all invitees that you’re postponing right away so they can cancel or rebook their flights and hotel accommodations. Consider calling your VIPs yourself (if you’re capable of doing so) and ask family or bridal party members to let other guests know either by phone or via an email blast. One of our vendors kindly offered to create a digital postponement announcement for us to send out — something others in the industry have been doing as well.
Then update your wedding website with any pertinent information and your new wedding date once you have it. You can use text like:
“For the health and safety of our family and friends, we have decided to postpone our wedding in accordance with the government/CDC guidelines. We hope you’ll be able to celebrate with us on our new date: Sunday, November 15, 2020.”
6. Spread the word about your new wedding date.
In addition to sharing the information on your wedding website, you may want to send another save-the-date — and later, an invitation — to reflect the new details. You could do this via Paperless Post or send another paper invitation in the mail.
7. Know it’s OK to be bummed by the turn of events.
With all that’s going on right now, you might feel silly being upset about postponing your big day. But you shouldn’t: A wedding is a major life event and something you’ve likely been planning and looking forward to for a while now.
“Whether that emotion is sadness, disappointment, confusion, anger or even grief, your emotions are real and valid,” writer Cortlyn Adams said in a blog post. “No one could have anticipated a viral infection like coronavirus affecting your wedding and causing it to be postponed. So, if no one has told you yet, it’s OK to feel the way that you’re feeling about postponing your wedding.”
8. And when the day finally comes, all of this stress will be far behind you.
You may be a little blue now, but by the time your new date rolls around, these unpleasant emotions will be a distant memory.
“We will come back from this and people will want to celebrate more than ever,” Blatt said. “People will come together again, we will dance, we will share in life’s biggest moments and they will have a deeper meaning.”