COVID-19: Wedding Planning in the Midst of a Pandemic

Photo Credit: Danette Pascarella Photography. Events by Merida.

Wedding bells continue to ring — even in the midst of the pandemic. 

Though COVID-19 restrictions around large social gatherings have forced couples to either postpone, reschedule, or even cancel their wedding date, some have found ways to marry and celebrate with family and friends. 

Carly Friedman married her husband in early April with close family and friends over Zoom, but pushed her wedding reception until 2021. 

“It was a really tough decision to make, but we felt it was the best of all,” she said. 

Over the past seven months, limitations on large social gatherings have put a strain on the wedding industry. Revenues from weddings are expected to decline 21% this year, according to a report from the market research firm IBISWorld. 

Cautious brides and grooms scaling down and postponing their planned festivities, like Friedman and her husband, have meant less money spent in the industry during the peak of wedding season.

“We actually decided to postpone prior to it being declared a pandemic,” Friedman said. “We decided to postpone on March 13th.”

According to The Wedding Report there were 9,952 weddings in Philadelphia in 2019, with couples spending an average of $22,000 on the big day. 

Those delaying and postponing events may face headaches when they try to reschedule after COVID-19 has declined, according to Melissa Chiaravalloti, a wedding coordinator with Brooke Voris Weddings.

“With so many couples having to pause due to COVID-19 and moving their dates, it has essentially backed up the waitlist for some places for any couple to get a date,” she said. “However, we have been seeing venues be so willing to work on new dates because they understand that this is out of the couple’s hands.” 

Rescheduling or postponing a wedding is not as simple as just changing the date. Couples not only have to worry about venues quickly booking-up due to an influx of rescheduling, but also losing their vendors and deposits.

And when couples do choose to continue on with their original wedding date, their nuptials and celebrations look different from in the past.

“For brave couples forging ahead now, there are a lot of changes,” Merida Alexander, a wedding planner with Events by Merida, said. “No dancing, masks, and not being able to hug people. It’s hard, especially the hugging part.”

In Philadelphia, restrictions on crowd sizes limited indoor gatherings to 25 people over the summer, though larger venues can now legally accommodate up to 250 people, so long as all guests maintain social distance.

Incorporating COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, maintaining a guest list limited to the permitted number of attendees allowed for the venue size, and ensuring guests remain socially distanced are all significant planning hurdles, Alexander said. 

For instance, to abide by social distancing guidelines, chairs at both the ceremony and the reception must be placed at a six-foot distance from one another, and most venues are not permitting a dance floor. 

“We rely on our clients to follow the law,” Alexander said. “Our couples deeply care about the health and safety of their families, so we haven’t had much of an issue.”

For couples planning an outdoor wedding, space is somewhat less of a problem. Most outdoor venues have larger areas to accommodate more guests, and still uphold social distancing guidelines

Though, couples may not have access to an indoor option that abides by COVID-19 guidelines to use as a backup in case of bad weather. 

Many wedding planners are working to incorporate other measures, such as face masks and hand washing, into the wedding day to ensure the safety of both the wedding guests and the staff. 

“We provide masks to anyone we see without one, especially those who’ve walked away from their table,” Alexander said. “We provide hand sanitizer on every table, and I added extra to my emergency kit. We put up signs everywhere to remind people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.”

Although it is not an ideal situation, couples forging ahead with their original wedding date can still make the most of their special day, Alexander said.

For Friedman, rescheduling her reception was the right decision, but she still had expectations for how special her wedding would be. 

“I was heartbroken,” Friedman said. “I had been planning our wedding for a year and a half, so it was really tough.”

Plus, after a year of planning and anticipation for her original date, she and her husband, like a lot of couples, are now looking at the prospect of repeating all of that work again.   

“It’s emotionally exhausting,” Alexander said. “I know my couples have struggled with the decision [to postpone]. Many of them want to start families.” 

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