COVID-19 Wedding Advice From an Expert
Wedding planning can be a monumental task for any couple, but when you add new regulations and needs stemming from a global pandemic, it goes from challenging to fraught. Navigating these guidelines and restrictions while understanding new methods of communication with vendors is now a reality for those couples still wanting to move forward with their wedding planning. We wanted to address all of this for our readers and give them COVID-19 wedding advice from a professional, so we recently chatted with Abby Ewing, a wedding venue owner and event coordinator.
Ewing, who owns the Emerald Hills Events venue in Promise City, Iowa, brings many years of experience and insight to the table, and we were excited to connect with her and get her unique perspective on the wedding industry as a whole during the pandemic, as well as best practices and some creative examples couples have been implementing.
Editor’s note: The below interview took place on June 17th, 2020. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.
COVID-19 wedding advice for couples from an expert:
1. Working with venues
Wedding Spot: What steps are venues taking to reassure couples as the restrictions begin to lift?
Ewing: What I’ve noticed, and what we are doing, is reassuring our couples that we are taking extra precautions with cleaning the space. For example, typically we take care of cleaning the venue ourselves, but in light of everything, we have chosen to outsource our cleaning to a professional cleaning crew. It’s not that we weren’t detailed in our cleaning previously, but we wanted to provide that assurance to our couples and their wedding guests so they know they are in a safe space. The crew we hired is very diligent in making sure every surface is disinfected and wiped down after each use, and we’ve found it to be effective in giving our couples peace of mind.
WS: What steps can couples take when working with venues during these times?
AE: There are new guidelines coming out every week. For example, at the end of May we could be open at half capacity, but as of June 12, we could be open at full capacity. I have a bride that held onto her June 27th wedding date and she was asking if she would be able to invite more guests. So I have found that communication is always going to be key when working with your venue. I have continual follow-up calls with our clients to make sure they are in the loop when it comes to updates in capacities and new regulations that come out. And it truly has been a weekly thing.
It’s also not just communication between the couples and the venue. All vendors need to be communicating together. Anyone that plays some kind of role in the wedding needs to be communicating and making sure everyone is on the same page, just because it is different and we don’t want guests to feel uncomfortable. So we’ve found that the constant communication ensures everyone feels comfortable in the space the day of the event.
WS: What other best practices do you recommend?
AE: We recommend couples communicate safety measures to their guests. For example, letting them know they can wear a mask if they want. Another thing we’re doing is setting out signs to practice social distancing. We’re also telling any vendors involved in the events taking place at our venue that they must be adhering to guidelines. We actually put together a list of guidelines for working at our venue based on the state regulations and requirements and sent that out to our couples, as well as the vendors that we know will be in our space in a couple of weeks. This way vendors know what is expected of them onsite to ensure safety, and couples are aware of those as well.
2. Working with caterers
WS: What steps have you seen caterers taking to ensure food safety and what, if anything, are you requiring of the caterers you work with?
AE: We weren’t allowed to do self-serve stations at events until recently. We can do them now, but some caterers are still not doing them, so we are leaving it up to them. For example, they can have a buffet line, but we are asking them to have a staff member serving the food on the plates rather than guests serving themselves. In addition, we are requiring them to wear a mask and gloves because they are close to food, and we want to make sure that guests feel comfortable in the best way possible.
WS: What can couples do when it comes to working with their caterers?
AE: What I’ve been doing is providing couples with the Iowa Department of Health guidelines and then letting them work with their caterers directly. All I ask is that I am kept in the loop with what their caterer is telling them to make sure it matches what I’m hearing. Many couples tend to opt for buffet lines, since it’s faster and more efficient and the food is warmer, so I just make sure that everyone understands that if they are going to be doing that then they need to have a server on the buffet lines.
3. Wedding size
WS: What impact have you seen on wedding guest count?
AE: So, we can normally hold 500 people in our space and up until (early June), we could only be at half capacity, or 250 total, and that’s with tables 6 feet apart. It was a challenge, but we were able to configure the space to adhere to those restrictions. Then the capacity limits were removed, and now we’re able to be open at full capacity. However, we now have to reconfigure everything again so the social distancing guidelines are being followed while also maximizing our headcount. We still aren’t able to hit our old capacity numbers, but we are able to host 375 people in our space with the safety requirements still in place. We are lucky in that we are a multilevel space, with a main floor and a loft, but it’s been challenging to figure out the best way to configure the space to give people as many options as possible while keeping everyone safe.
It’s also been hard to tell couples that while yes, we are allowed to be at full capacity, our maximum capacity has changed due to these regulations. It’s not an issue for my upcoming weddings this month, but I do have some bigger ones coming up in July, so we are kind of just playing it by ear to see if regulations change again and I can increase the numbers again. So we have to kind of take it day by day.
4. Working with florists
WS: What impact have you seen with florists?
AE: So luckily for them, at least from the vendors I’ve been working with, I’ve noticed that they are still somewhat staying afloat. Obviously they lost a lot of business when large gatherings were cancelled, but I noticed that couples started doing smaller backyard weddings. So florists could still be involved on the wedding day but the scope would just be decreased. They were still able to provide small bouquets and maybe really nice looking arboretums. Also, with Mother’s Day, a lot of florists were getting really creative with their bouquets. So they’ve definitely taken a hit, but they can still be part of small weddings for couples who don’t necessarily feel comfortable with large gatherings.
WS: How can couples work with their florists during COVID-19?
AE: It’s mainly adjusting with what they want to do. For example, I have a couple this year that ended up getting married on their family’s land with about 20 people, but next year they are going to get married at the venue, and I know their florist was still involved in the smaller ceremony. They utilized the florist mainly for photo opportunities, making sure they had a bouquet for the bride and also a nice set up for a floral background. So, like with all of the vendors couples work with, the most important best practice is going to be communicating changes and making sure all vendors are aware of what is going on.
5. Adding virtual components
WS: What are the most popular virtual wedding additions that you have come across?
AE: There have been a few that we have seen, but as restrictions on gatherings become more relaxed, I’m not sure if the couples are going to keep those components in their wedding. I do have one couple that is getting married in a couple of weeks that is actually going to have someone Instagram Live their ceremony. They created an Instagram page for their wedding day and they are going to have someone live-streaming the ceremony. This way guests who aren’t able to make it due to travel restrictions, or those who aren’t comfortable with being onsite, can still watch and celebrate with them. What’s even cooler about the live-streaming is that once it’s over, you still have a page for your wedding, and there is a lot you can do with that. You can post photos and have it recorded for those who want to watch, so there is a lot to be said for going down that avenue.
6. Supporting local businesses
WS: What are the best practices for supporting local wedding businesses during COVID-19?
AE: There are a lot of different ways couples can support local businesses. For example, having a member of the bridal party go to the local coffee shop to have fresh coffee in the bridal suite the day of the wedding. Possibly also having lunch catered by the local grocery store or something like that to help drum up different types of business for local vendors. Our venue is in a more rural area and it’s filled with smaller hotels and cabin rental places. So one idea is to support them by encouraging guests to utilize their facilities instead of driving in for the wedding and then leaving the same day. It’s small things like that which help them stay afloat, because in the end, we are all in this together.
WS: What are the best ways for couples to find local businesses?
AE: We are more than happy to recommend vendors for our couples. Of course, we allow couples to bring in whichever vendors they want to work with, but if they are in need of recommendations, we provide them. Beyond that, wedding planners tend to have a circle of vendors they trust and prefer to work with, so working with your wedding planner is a great way to find well-priced local vendors.
7. Handling wedding guests
WS: What are best practices for handling wedding guests? Meaning, how should couples manage gifts from guests, their gift registry, and cards?
AE: That’s a question I’ve been getting from my couples. What I’ve been suggesting is for them to have gifts sent directly to the couple instead of them bringing it to the venue. This way fewer hands are touching them and our staff is safer and their guests are safer.
For cards, they can always mail a card. I know people get a little nervous with sending money through the mail, but that is a good option. Another option is to set a basket out to collect them. This way people are dropping cards into the basket and not touching anything else.
For gifts for the guests like gift bags or party favors, I’ve been telling couples to individually wrap them for their guests. This is mainly due to the trends I saw last year. Last year, many of the gifts were succulents or candles, and what we found is that people would touch all of them before taking the one they wanted. So in order to avoid all of the touching, we recommend that couples individually wrap the gifts so people can take one and won’t really know what it is until they open it.
8. Budget-friendly COVID-19 wedding advice
WS: With everything that has been happening, obviously there are many couples who have had to pare down their wedding day plans. What’s your advice for doing that?
AE: This is going to be a personal decision for every couple. How a couple decides to pare down their wedding really brings their priorities into focus, and it’s a hard thing. That said, there are more ways to cut costs. One of the first places you can always cut back on is the bar. You don’t have to feel obligated to host a bar. Or if you still want one you can use mid-shelf alcohol or even have your guests pay for their own drinks. People actually don’t mind doing that, so it may be a good option.
Another way to cut back is to look at what you were originally planning to do and maybe reduce some options. For example, say you were planning on having cake, cupcakes, and cookies at your dessert bar, you can scale that back a bit. Not remove it entirely, but scale back the different types of treats and that can help alleviate budgetary strain.
And then of course there are some couples who have just postponed their big wedding and celebration to 2021. They are still getting married this year, like I said in those backyard weddings, but then having the big celebration and wedding next year. This way they don’t have to worry about cutting back in the moment.
9. Wedding day prep
WS: With social distancing requirements and regulations, how have couples been handling the day-of prep for their wedding?
AE: As always, communicating first with your hairdresser and make-up artist to make sure they are aware of last-minute plans and expectations. A lot of places are requiring time slots for bridal parties that are physically going to the salon. So I’ve been encouraging my brides to have their hairdressers and make-up artists come to the bridal suite, so this way they are in a safer, cleaner space that gets disinfected after every use. So they can feel safe there, and beyond that, some will wear face masks while doing hair and make-up, and if it’s really necessary, even have a face shield. The main purpose is to make sure everyone knows they are safe and feel comfortable with the day-of prep.
10. Additional COVID-19 wedding advice
WS: Is there anything else you’d like to let couples know?
AE: I think we have covered a lot of great points here, but there is one thing I wanted to share. So, a really cool thing that we are doing is — we’ve partnered up with a bunch of different wedding vendors in Iowa and we are giving away a wedding for a bride and groom that were affected by COVID. It’s a $20,000 value and we are calling it a petite wedding. The couple will be able to invite up to 50 guests. They get their hair and make-up done and they will have a voucher to a bridal shop, so they can pick out a dress of their choice.
Basically, a couple submits an entry to be picked for the giveaway and it includes how the pandemic impacted them and their wedding, and they are chosen from a pool. We’ve gotten quite a few entries at this point, so it’s been really exciting. It’s a good way for us to push the petite weddings, because we are finding that it is becoming much more of a trend. Because even as things are opening back up, many people still aren’t comfortable with going out to events, so we think this trend will continue for awhile with couples having a smaller, more intimate wedding, and then having their larger celebrations later.
We hope this COVID-19 wedding advice helped!
Would you like to read more advice on how to navigate these tough times? Check out our blog posts on weddings during COVID-19 below.