With a light at the end of the tunnel, many engaged couples are starting to feel optimistic about hosting their dream wedding as vaccines are distributed and states begin to roll back group restrictions. While it’s fine to feel hopeful and start making plans, we are not yet ready to approach weddings and events from a pre-pandemic standpoint.
For one, the coronavirus isn’t extinct, so viral spread is still possible – even if you take the proper precautions. However, the risk will be notably lower as more and more people get vaccinated and protect themselves from illness. Even so, guests—whether vaccinated or not—will all feel differently about returning to “normal.” The past year has been unlike any other in modern history and it’s only natural that some people will be hesitant to gather in large crowds.
We asked leading wedding professionals for their take on keeping guests comfortable while planning for your big day. Don’t worry, none of these recommendations are drastic! However, being mindful of your guests’ feelings will ensure that your wedding day doesn’t put anyone in an uncomfortable situation. Here are a few tips for keeping everyone happy.
Take it outside.
We’ve learned that COVID spreads faster in indoor settings, so many people have taken to spending more time outdoors — particularly when socializing.
Bri Marbais, Bridal Stylist for The Bridal Finery, suggests carrying this idea into your wedding plans: “Couples should consider an outdoor setting, not only for the ceremony, but for the reception as well if they would like to have a larger celebration.”
“Outdoor weddings have really taken over the forefront since the pandemic started in 2020,” Marbais explains. “Guests will feel more comfortable and relaxed in an outdoor environment with the ability to social distance if they choose to do so. Having precautions such as sanitizing stations and disposable masks available for guests is an appreciated and necessary touch.”
Be mindful of your venue’s limitations.
Whether you’ve had a venue in mind since before the pandemic or you’re in the process of finding the perfect fit, remember that things are different now. A venue’s full headcount may or may not be achievable due to state and local guidelines.
Thomas Waters, Event Coordinator for The Renaissance, recommends planning your guest list around your ideal wedding venue’s capacity: “I suggest to always start with the venue and let the maximum occupancy of the place help with the natural selection of their guest list. If you are stuck against a mandate that only allows, say, 100 guests and your guest list is 150, there is no wiggle room there. You’d have to make a hard choice that would either mean having fewer friends and family at the reception or asking the venue about postponement policies.”
Eliminate self-serve F&B.
Food and beverage is the area perhaps most affected by COVID restrictions, as free-for-all serving styles can increase the risk of viral spread. Instead, speak to your caterer about safe alternatives that don’t reduce the quality of your food and drinks.
“When hosting a large celebration and you are considering a buffet, use food stations instead that are serviced by chefs,” encourages JoAnn Gregoli, Owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli. “Minimize all touchpoints at your event. No more self-serve grazing stations that are not advised or sanitary. Consider boxes of cocktail hour items instead of passing them and people touching the serving trays.”
Add in a virtual component.
With everyone at different levels of comfort, don’t assume that every single guest will be ready to attend a wedding, especially a larger one. Hybrid events have emerged over the past year as a way to bridge the gap, and there’s no reason to move away from the concept just yet.
Matt Campbell, Founder of My Wedding Songs, explains: “One of the benefits over the past year of many events going online is that people are now experienced in working their computer to join online meetings and events. Continue this experience for your guests that do not want to be around large crowds. This will make them feel part of your wedding day and show their love for you.”
Be considerate of others’ feelings.
It might be your wedding day, but you need to accept that some people may not be ready to head straight to the dance floor and party it up. Some guests will understandably be warier, so be kind and do what you can to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
“Everyone’s personal comfort levels are going to vary,” reminds Lynne Reznick, Owner of Lynne Reznick Photography. “Some people have health concerns that keep them cautious, and we’ve all been quarantining and social distancing for a year now, so everyone will handle getting back together in large groups in different ways. Expect some people to wear a mask, and others to avoid hugging or close proximity. Assume the best in your guests and trust them to decide where their comfort levels are. You can help make everyone feel welcome by having masks available for those who might want them.”
Reznick continues, sharing a helpful tip for ensuring guests’ comfort: “Another great method is a red, yellow, green bracelet system. Guests can choose the bracelet that matches their comfort level for being close to others — red to stay socially distant, yellow to indicate that closer chatting is welcome, and green to show that hugs and physical touch is okay. By making it clear that you expect people to have a variety of comfort levels, you make it okay for everyone to attend and maintain their personal boundaries.”
Over the next several months, expect federal, state, and local guidelines to change as the situation evolves and—hopefully—progresses towards a resolution. Be prepared to adjust your wedding plans accordingly and look to your vendor team for guidance on the way to your big day.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.
We’ve partnered with OFD Consulting to bring you this great advice from their collective of wedding professionals.