How to move forward with wedding planning in the time of COVID-19 (aka planning in a pandemic)

I imagine this is a situation you never imagined you’d be in! During these uncertain times, I hope the following guide helps you navigate wedding planning in a way that feels best for the two of you.  

Throughout all of this, keep in mind that what we are working on – your wedding! –  is important, exciting, and no matter what form it ends up taking, or when it happens, it will be a joyous celebration of your love for one another.  

This guide will cover the following:

  • Some things to remember
  • News from the CDC and other things we know so far 
  • Postponement versus cancellation (or, elope now and have the party later!) 
  • Would you rather? (An exercise in figuring out how to make a decision) 
  • Working with vendors 
  • Moving forward 
  • Final thoughts

Some things to remember…

Before we get into the issue of whether to stay the course or postpone, it’s important to remember that although planning a wedding is filled with so many details and so many moving parts – at the heart of it all is one simple thing: you are marrying your beloved.  Whatever you decide to do won’t change that!  

If you start to feel overwhelmed as you move through this process, first remember that it’s OK to be sad and disappointed about having to make so many changes to the wedding you’ve worked so hard to plan. Give yourselves permission to be upset at the situation, if that’s what you’re feeling. 

As I was researching advice for planning during this time, I found references to the need for patience, compromise, creativity, flexibility and ingenuity… the same things that you’ll find will serve you in your marriage!  You may discover that you both handle crises in different ways – and that’s OK!  Your different approaches may prove to be useful at different times, and you may find that by leaning on and learning from each other, you will emerge from this experience a stronger and more resilient couple.

News from the CDC and other things we know so far:

Whether a wedding can happen at any given time will be dependent on guidelines from the CDC and the office of Governor Cuomo.  Here’s a summary of current information as of May 18th 2020:  

  • NYS is no longer on PAUSE in the Southern Tier, and has begun Phase 1 of reopening – however, it’s unclear how long it will be until large gatherings will be allowed, and all New Yorkers are required to wear face coverings in public. (https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home)
  • Locally, we can look to Cornell to see that they’ve already decided to postpone commencement and reunion (end of May and early June, respectively). Grassroots (typically held at the end of July) has also postponed to 2021. It is unclear whether Cornell and Ithaca College will have students back on campus this fall.
  • As states around the country will experience peaks in infection at different times, and since weddings bring in people from all over the country (and the world!) we also want to consider what’s happening in the country/world at large, and not just in Tompkins County or New York State. 

For current information and additional resources:

Postponement versus cancellation… (or elope now and have the party later!)

Make a decision at least 2 months before your wedding, if possible

  • I recommend all May, June and July weddings postpone. August, Sept and October weddings should seriously consider alternate dates and discuss this possibility with their vendors, and come up with a deadline by which you would make a decision regarding postponement (which, for your sanity should be, at the latest, 2 months out).
  • Remember that the longer you wait to make a decision about postponing, the fewer Friday through Sunday dates will be available next year (though there’s nothing wrong with considering a mid-week wedding if that’s what we need to do to make it all work!).  Being able to postpone to a date when all your vendors are available on the same date is an argument for making the decision to postpone sooner than later!

Postponement versus cancellation

  • If it looks like your original date won’t work, I would advise to postpone instead of cancel at this point, since cancellation will likely mean you forfeit all deposits that have been made so far. Postponement should allow you to retain the vendors you’ve already hired, as most vendors will allow you to apply your deposit and current contract to a new date, assuming they are available.

Marry now, party later

  • If you decide that waiting to get married just doesn’t feel right – you can still get married now and we can have the party later! If you choose to get married now, you could elope as soon as City Clerk offices are open again, or you could have a very small ceremony with just your immediate family and friends, and then postpone the larger party until next year. (If you choose to have a small gathering, you’ll still want to wait until it’s safe to have gatherings of any size). 

Would you rather…

Below are a few different scenarios to choose from: (1) keeping the original date, (2) postponing to later this year, or (3) postponing to next year.  

At the end of each, there is a ‘would you rather’ type of question – the answers to these are going to be different for each couple, which is why there is no one right answer about what to do

There’s no denying this is stressful to think about…I suggest reading these aloud to each other, perhaps while enjoying a beverage of your choice as you proceed. 

If you plan on keeping your original wedding date:

  • The earlier in the summer, the higher the chance that NYS may not even allow large gatherings at that time.  
  • Even if NYS does allow large gatherings on your original wedding date, will it feel like a public health risk to your guests to have a large gathering? This is especially important given that weddings often include older relatives and you may also have guests with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable.  

Would you rather…

  • If you keep the original date in early to mid summer, it may be a bit of a gamble.  How would you feel if you have to spend the next few months monitoring updates, with the potential of having to cancel at the last minute versus how would you feel if you postponed to later this fall/next year but then realized later that you could have kept the original date?  Which of these scenarios seems less stressful to you both? 
  • If you stay with your original date, but it’s still a tenuous time for those who are more vulnerable, how would you feel if older or immune-compromised family and friends had to decline and were not present at the wedding? Would you rather have moved the date but had a better chance of all guests being able to attend?

 If you plan on postponing until this fall:

  • There is still a chance that we may not be allowed to have large gatherings.  Even if we are allowed, if people are still actively getting sick around the country, you may not want to create an environment that may put yourselves, your families and your guests at risk (especially older relatives and guests with underlying conditions).  
  • If you end up having to postpone twice, by the time you make that decision later this year, there will likely be less dates to choose from for next year, as 2021 couples will have already been booking venues/vendors throughout the spring and summer of 2020.  
  • 5/16/20 UPDATE: At this point, I don’t think it makes sense to postpone until later in the fall – if you choose to postpone, I think choosing a 2021 date makes the most sense.

Would you rather…

  • Would you rather have to possibly postpone twice, or postpone to next year and then realize that you could have had a 2020 wedding?
  • How important is it to you both to try to have the wedding this year? 

If you plan on postponing until 2021:

  • At this point, because it’s relatively early in the year, you will likely have a greater selection of possible 2021 wedding dates (and perhaps could even choose the same weekend as you had in 2020). 
  • It may feel like it is hard to keep up the momentum that you’ve been building, but if we choose a date next year and get all the vendors to move to that new date, you can take a break from planning for a while, as we now have plenty of time ahead of us.  

Would you rather…

  • How would it feel if you postponed to next year and then realized that you could have had a 2020 wedding?  

Working with vendors:

  • If you are considering postponing, you’ll want to reach out to all your vendors.  Even if you’re not considering postponing at this point, you’ll want to check in about cancellation policies, or what happens if they cannot honor their contract.  Here are some questions to ask your vendors:
  • Will they allow you to move your retainer/deposit to a new date? 
    • Many vendors will allow you to move your deposit to a new date, assuming they are available on the date you choose. If you choose a date they are not available, many contracts state that you then will lose the deposit.  It’s important to confirm this with each vendor. 
  • Will their pricing be different if you move to 2021?
    •  If you postpone to 2021, you may end up paying slightly more, as some vendors will ask for you to pay the difference if their 2021 pricing is higher than 2020.  
  • Will you need to stay on the original payment schedule?
    • Some vendors may allow you to transfer your deposit and contract to a new date, but may ask to still be paid on the original payment schedule.  This is simply because most wedding vendors are (very) small businesses, and in a season where many weddings are postponing, keeping clients on the original payment schedule allows a vendor to maintain income throughout the year.  
  • Do they have a cut-off point for certain costs? 
    • Vendors that purchase goods for a wedding (like caterers, bartenders and florists) will have a deadline by which they need to place their orders.  Ask about their timeline for needing to know about a postponement (otherwise, you may be liable for additional expenses incurred).
  • What are their cancellation/postponement policies?  What happens if you cancel or postpone three months/one month/one week before the wedding? What if the wedding is cancelled at the last minute because of a local or national government ban on gatherings? 
  • What happens if the vendor gets sick, is quarantined or is caring for someone who is ill? What are their contingency plans if they cannot fulfill their contract? 

Moving forward:

If you’re not ready to postpone and you’ve already sent out save the dates or invitations, it is a good idea to add an update to your website, and send an email or a note to all your guests letting them know that you’re monitoring the situation. Suggested wording for an update is included below, and is from Minted

If your wedding date has not changed: 

As we all adapt to an uncertain time with COVID-19 (coronavirus), we are monitoring the news carefully. We are prepared to take every precaution necessary to make our wedding safe for our guests, even if that means postponing it. Our wedding is happening as planned, and we look forward to celebrating with you all on [date]!

At this point, we’ve been advised that a [month] wedding should be safe. Please RSVP and book your accommodations as you normally would, but check first for a lenient cancellation policy, which most hotels and airlines are happy to provide in light of current events. That being said, the safety of our guests is our utmost priority. Please check our website and national and local public health websites regularly for updates. Please contact us directly with any questions – our contact information is below. Thank you for your love, patience, and concern. 

If you both think you’re ready to postpone, and have decided on either postponing to the fall or to next year, here are your next steps:

  • First reach out to your venue to see what dates are available (assuming you want to stay at the same venue).  I would then recommend checking in with your caterer to see what dates they have available. If you’re hoping to postpone but still have a date in 2020, you likely will need to look at Fridays or Sundays in order to find dates that are still open.  
  • Armed with a selection of potential dates, reach out to key family and friends (at this point, you’re just reaching out to the folks you know you must have at your wedding) – so you can work to find a date that will work for as many of them as possible.  
  • Confirm your new dates with the rest of your vendors. Find new vendors if some are not available on the new date. If you have a hotel block, call to see if you can switch the dates.
  • Send out ‘change the date/postponement’ cards.  This can be in the form of an email, an e-card in something like Paperless Post, or you can have cards printed.  You may also choose to call guests to let them know of your changing plans. Writing individual notes or calling each guest may seem like a huge task, but at a time when many people are home and feeling disconnected, if you both have the time, it might be a lovely way to both inform your guests of your changing plans and connect with all of the people you love. 
  • Update your wedding website with information about the new date.

Suggested wording for updates is included below, and is from Minted

If you have a new, postponed wedding date: 

As we all adapt to an uncertain time with COVID-19 (coronavirus), we are monitoring the news carefully and prepared to take every precaution necessary to make our wedding safe for our guests. We have decided, out of abundance of caution, to postpone our wedding until [date]. We cannot wait to celebrate with you!

At this point, we’ve been advised that a [month] wedding should be safe. Please RSVP and book your accommodations as you normally would, but check first for a lenient cancellation policy, which most hotels and airlines are happy to provide in light of current events. That being said, the safety of our guests is our utmost priority. Please check our website and national and local public health websites regularly for updates. Please contact us directly with any questions – our contact information is below. Thank you for your love, patience, and concern. 

Final thoughts:

If you decide to postpone the wedding, try to set aside some time on your original wedding date to still celebrate – even if it’s as simple as making a special meal – but try to see if there’s a way you both can still bring some ceremony and special attention to your original date. 

We will make this work! 

If you are not currently working with me on your wedding, but would like to schedule a call to go over the logistics of postponement, you can use the contact form to to reach out and we can schedule a complimentary 30 minute call. If after that call you would like more assistance with rescheduling, we can discuss how else I can be of service!

Sources:

Wedding Planning During Covid-19: https://junebugweddings.com/wedding-blog/wedding-planning-during-covid-19-advice-for-couples/

Finding Support After Calling Off The Wedding: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/fashion/weddings/coronavirus-brides-support-groups.html

How to Plan Weddings During Coronavirus pandemic: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/wedding/planning/a31673827/how-to-plan-weddings-during-coronavirus-pandemic/

Welcome to Marriage during the Coronavirus: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/opinion/coronavirus-relationships.html

Wedding Planning During the Coronavirus: https://www.minted.com/wedding-ideas/wedding-planning-and-coronavirus?pid=687298&utm_source=687298&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_sub=shareasale&sscid=31k4_l15f6

Postponing Your Wedding Because of the Coronavirus?: https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/03/16/postponing-your-wedding-because-of-coronavirus/