Planning A Wedding During A Pandemic: Every wedding planning journey has its twists and turns. To make sure your path is as smooth as possible and to help you keep an eye out for tiny potholes and giant roadblocks, always follow the advice of your local health guidelines and the recommendations set forth by the CDC. The state of the pandemic can change quickly, but by staying informed, you can make it to your destination—wedded bliss—without a hitch.
Over the last year and a half, many people have had to drastically change their plans due to the COVID-19 global pandemic—and the wedding industry is no exception. The $74 billion dollar-a-year industry has been greatly affected by the virus. In the U.S. alone, over 400,000 businesses ranging from wedding florists and wedding photographers to caterers and wedding planners, and more, have all had to pivot their business models to accommodate the current climate.
Now, as wedding vendors across the country look to rebuild and make up for lost revenue from closures and postponements, many are optimistic for the future.
According to a recent survey conducted by Zola of over 460 wedding vendors, one in three say they are fully booked—or even overbooked—for 2021.
Though much still remains up in the air, six in 10 vendors believe that the wedding industry will bounce back this year. The proof is in the pudding: 30 percent of the vendors Zola spoke to said they haven’t had any couples with 2021 wedding dates rebook or cancel.
To get a more comprehensive look at how COVID-19 affected the wedding industry—and how it’s moving forward—we spoke to two wedding professionals:
For Melisa Imberman, owner of Event Of A Lifetime, Inc., a full-service event planning company serving the New York City area, COVID has shifted her business model entirely.
For the first six months of 2020, Imberman had no business. At that time, she was forced to cancel or postpone events on an almost daily basis. This also meant that she had to serve as a therapist of sorts, consoling distraught clients.
As time wore on, Imberman began to see some movement in booking events, but it was slow, and often they were smaller and last-minute. “The ones that had been postponed had to be totally reimagined, as the celebration that was planned pre-COVID could no longer take place as planned,” she says.
Another big obstacle she came up against was finding vendors to work with. Due to COVID, many vendors went out of business, merged, or simply relocated. Imberman now had to find new ones and build relationships with them, and for her, this was like starting from scratch.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had to become something of a COVID protocol expert over the past year or so. COVID and the flux of changing regulations, restrictions, and protocols have affected the event industry in unimaginable ways. We have made events smaller, and we have canceled, postponed, and reimagined events. We have to educate ourselves on the ever-changing rules, plan last-minute events, and plan events in unexpected places,” says Imberman.
The list of Imberman's new responsibilities as an event planner has grown even longer now and has even resulted in her coordinating things like getting guests and staff tested for events. This has also meant checking vaccination cards and test results. She has also introduced sanitation stations into the layout of events, as well as created her own sanitizers for guests.
Florists have also been greatly affected by the pandemic. Kim Foren, owner of Geranium Lake Flowers in Portland, Oregon, has had a lot of figure out over the last 18 months. “Before the COVID pandemic, we were a company that focused on lavish weddings and 1,200-plus person galas and events. Well, you can imagine that the pandemic put a wrinkle in that,” she says.
Because Foren also has a flower shop side of her business that has helped her continue to turn a profit. Also, due to many of her clientele base, Foren has had many custom orders to fill, which has also been another added support. While Foren has been able to keep things going, she has also had to shift what she does to accommodate the times we are in.
“I got to shift towards some charitable causes, and we created a program where our customers could send flowers to strangers in nursing homes, shelters, a Ronald McDonald house, HIV Hospice, etc., and it was so special to give back to those most vulnerable during these scary times,” says Foren.
As a seasoned floral veteran, Foren has really seen it all over the years and did feel, in some ways, she was prepared for this. “I like to think my years of experience prepared me to weather the storm, be super creative, and go with the flow to make it happen,” she says.
Carrie Zack, owner of Carrie Zack Events in Miami, Florida, has also been affected by the pandemic. Zack, who has been in the events industry for over 20 years, saw her business change dramatically over the last year.
“Like everyone in hospitality and events, business came to a halt in March 2020, but we worked with our clients to rebook their events in 2021 and 2022. We also focused on increasing our scope of services to provide continued support to our clients. Especially for our non-local couples, sometimes we represent the couple at other vendor meetings, and are positioned to make decisions for when the couple cannot be present,” Zack says.
While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has helped implement health safety standards for the U.S. during COVID, many of the day to day aspects have been left up to states. This has had a trickle-down effect on the way it has impacted every part of life, from grocery shopping, to eating out, to hosting events.
And how states have reacted to the spread of COVID has also greatly varied. However, on the whole, there has been a limit put on the number of guests at indoor and outdoor events. Last fall, for example, in New York, although many people felt comfortable to get together again, there was still a restriction on the number of people at a social gathering. It went from 75, then down to 25, and then in the spring of this year, the restrictions were loosened.
In 2020, even if the event was outdoors and there was a tent, 50 percent of the walls had to be up. And masks were required at events until June. Even as the vaccine rollout ramped up, you still had to provide proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of an event or provide your full vaccination information until June.
The protocols also affected the flow of food service, says Imberman. But the procedures that outlined in regards to food service were vague and left open to interpretation. As a result, many event planners and other vendors had to make decisions that made sense for them. For Imberman, this meant having guests go directly to their assigned seat upon arrival, as well as sitting them with others in their pods at socially-distanced tables.
This also meant eliminating things such as passed hors d'oeuvres and opting for small plates instead. Additionally, food and beverage service for the main course had to change. Unless the host was comfortable with stations, all beverages were served by the waitstaff rather than guests going up to a bar.
Foren and her employees also had to change the way they conducted business on several levels. This meant wearing a mask and socially distancing, among other precautions.
For Zack, things have also been in flux for much of the last year and a half. As things have changed, she has had to remain adaptable and communicate with various wedding venues, hosts, and her staff.
“COVID protocols differ by county and venue. They are ever-changing, so it’s very important the planner or a designated person is staying on top of the latest mandates and is able to communicate essential information to the vendor team and couple. Don’t underestimate the importance of clearly understanding and staying informed of any rules your venue may have in place,” Zack says.
Being a wedding industry professional has always meant wearing a lot of hats, but in COVID, this has really taken a new meaning. Many wedding professionals have had to take on new roles and pivot their business models in an effort to remain open and offer the kinds of services people need. This has meant everything from keeping up with protocols and guidelines to be able to host events safely, as well as account for the details to be able to have events, offer new products and services, and more.
Imberman says she has had to find new tent vendors, for example, because they were in such high demand. They were in such high demand her regular suppliers couldn't accommodate what she needed at times. Zoom is another element that has come to play a huge role in her new work model.
“Before COVID, I had never heard the term Zoom. Now it’s an integral part of my life. I meet with clients and vendors via Zoom, and I’ve had to figure out how to incorporate Zoom into events, so that guests who are unable to attend can be a part of the celebration virtually,” says Imberman. “Now I’m doing Hybrid events, as there are still people who are unable to celebrate in person.”
This has also meant a switch from printed invitations to digital ones, which allows for more flexibility if the wedding date has to change, plus allows organizers to easily disperse ever-changing information regarding the kinds of precautions the couple is taking, as well as what’s expected of the guests (i.e., socially distancing, proof of negative COVID tests, etc.)
For Foren, this has also meant doing weddings on a smaller scale, often with 10 or fewer people. This has resulted in a lot of intimate weddings with a lot of elements to them. “We found that when people didn't have to pay to feed 200 people, they were willing to spend a lot more money on decor, so we had a lot of fun getting to play with fancier linens, more flowers, and getting to tweak the small details a bit more,” says Foren.
Like Foren, Zack has also been digging into the more intimate side of wedding planning. “We really dove into our intimate event service offerings, thinking about how to creatively offer a luxe wedding ceremony in a smaller setting. It’s a new norm that we also focus on lifestyle management for clients,” she says.
Zack has also had to rethink many aspects of her job. This has resulted in trying to focus on outdoor events when possible.
Due to the fact that the pandemic has affected all aspects of life, there are some things to keep in mind as you plan your event. Here are some tips all three vendors offered:
Make sure all contracts have a COVID cancellation clause. This ensures you know what to expect if your event has to be canceled.
If your vendors don't have a COVID cancellation clause, ask how they’ve previously handled events that need to be canceled or postponed.
Trust your vendors to make it work. At the end of the day, remember why you are getting married, and the day will be perfect. Vendors have years of experience, so deferring to their expertise and trusting that they know what they are doing can help.
Flexibility on all parts is required. If anything, the last year has taught people that being flexible is key, and the same applies to wedding planning and working with your vendors. The more you can go with the flow, the less stress there will be all around—ultimately leading to a better event.
Be sure to read and fully understand your contract so everyone is on the same page.
While the COVID virus is still affecting the world and there is no way to really know what the long-term effects will be on the wedding industry overall, wedding professionals and couples remain hopeful for the future. More than 60 percent of vendors surveyed by Zola are optimistic the industry will bounce back in 2021, and 39 percent believe the bounce back will happen in 2022 or later.
While the future is unclear, love will always prevail, and there are many more weddings to look forward to.