Planning a Wedding During the COVID-19 Pandemic
You’re engaged! Yay. Wait, not quite what you expected right? Ya, if it makes you feel any better, none of us saw this one coming either.
What. A. Year.
To begin with, planning a wedding is one of the most overwhelming experiences you’ll find. Add a terrible, worldwide pandemic in the midst of it all and it’s almost beyond belief. But as we are now well underway in this extremely difficult situation, I wanted to give you some very specific tips on planning a wedding through the COVID-19 pandemic and what you can expect. Please note that I’m writing this for my Ohio area brides and the information here is based on our current restrictions and orders from Governor DeWine and is being updated as we have new information. You can bookmark this and check back to see if things have changed, which, we all know they probably will. 😉
As a studio, we currently are not traveling, and to try and keep up enough to write something helpful for weddings worldwide would be far too large a task anyway. However, if you are in a specific destination or planning to head to that destination and have a question, drop us an email, we love helping if we can, and you shouldn’t have to manage all this alone.
Let’s start here, this is what you need to know about our current restrictions and guidelines for weddings in the state of Ohio.
Current Ohio Wedding Restrictions
- Venue Capacity: Originally we had a venue capacity restriction with an overall cap of 300 no matter how massive your venue was. The latest update (which happened on 3/2/2021) removed the 300 cap but in reality, it isn’t going to change much for most Ohio brides. The venue capacity and socially distanced seating guidelines will dictate your guest list far more quickly than a 300 person cap.
- Social Distanced Seating: This varies from venue to venue, so I can’t give you an exact number here, but the seating needs to be a certain amount of feet from the next chair to stay in compliance, this is connected to the original rules that went into effect for catering, (which you can find below) and most likely your venue is going to be an expert on how exactly they must comply with this one. Generally though, just assume your venue’s capacity will be far smaller than you originally thought.
- Social Distanced Congregating: Your guests are allowed to move around now (this was not the case until recently!) however, you can’t have crowds gathering, or your guests getting too close to each other, at a bar for instance. Everything needs to be set up with social distancing in mind.
- All guests must wear masks at all times except while actively eating and drinking.
- All vendors must wear masks and PPE at all times.
- No self-serve buffets or family-style food service: Guests must be seated and food must be plated or served to guests in a socially distanced manner.
- No passed hors d’oeuvres: Guests must be seated and food must be plated.
- Dancing Restrictions: This is a big one for weddings, dancing is back! BUT it’s going to look a little different, it must be socially distanced and everyone must have a mask on.
Governor DeWine’s latest orders on March 2nd needed a lot of interpretation in the wedding world. In a nutshell, he pulled back on his full wedding order from November (which you can find here) and returned to this catering order which also applies to weddings (you can read the full order here) and mass gathering order (you can read that order here) with his new amended revised order (read the full order here). Special shout out to the amazing journalists at The Columbus Dispatch who helped me with research on the March 2nd go-round. On April 7th new orders were issued removing the outdoor gathering limits but don’t really affect outdoor weddings because he’d already removed the limit on those with the previous order. You can read that order here if you’d like to see it anyway.
Things To Consider As You Plan
- We’re still in a pandemic. I wish we weren’t for so many reasons, mainly the horrible loss of life and terrible devastation this virus has caused. But we are, and as hard as it is to face that, your very best chance at being as stress-free as possible is going to be having a very realistic view of what you want your day to look like. If you’re just absolutely set on a completely traditional wedding, with not one mask within your sight… your best bet might be to postpone your wedding for a bit. I know that can feel devastating but if you truly have a vision of what you want, then it’s worth waiting for! 2022 isn’t that far away and will be much more likely to look a lot more “normal” in that regard.
- Have 2 or 3 plans. If you’re feeling a little more flexible than that I would highly recommend having 2 or 3 plans for your wedding day. I know that sounds a little extreme but… um… may I refer you back to 2020… If your wedding is far enough away and you want to go for the big more traditional wedding, plan it! But also have a guest list prepared for 50 guests, and an idea of what it could look like, what the special moments you would include that you wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. Thirdly, plan a version for immediate family members only. As you get closer, you’ll begin to see which one is the obvious choice and you’re ready to go, smooth, and stress-free.
- Grandma. Remember that weddings are family affairs and some of our most honored guests tend to also be the most vulnerable of our population. Think through your choices, talk with your close family, and make decisions that you feel strongly comfortable with. Also, understand that some people just won’t come if you’re doing a more traditional wedding, and that’s ok! Stay focused on what this is all about, marrying the person of your dreams. Just because they’re not attending does not mean they’re not celebrating with you, they just may not be in person. Live streaming is also a wonderful option and there are some great small businesses that can step in and take care of this for you making it totally stress-free!
- An intimate wedding doesn’t mean a dull wedding. Some of the most extravagant drop-dead GORGEOUS weddings I’ve ever been to or photographed have had less than 10 people in attendance. Intimate weddings can be done so beautifully and open up so many options that a guest list of 200 simply cuts off. If you’re one of our brides, clearly I’m talking with you about all your options but believe me when I say I have about 1,000 ideas, some of them quite out of the box, (and all my brides are now shaking their heads in agreement and laughing at me) and I’m more than happy to share thoughts of all kinds… The thing I want you to hear is this, quality wedding professionals have done hundreds of weddings and we are here to help, lean on us! If you want to read more about micro weddings specifically you can find a little more on that topic here.
- Tented weddings. Tented events are extremely popular in places like California where I’m from because we don’t have all the gorgeous old historic wedding venues as we do here (thanks earthquakes). But here in Cleveland, I’m pretty sure every time I say tent you all think we’re going camping… ha! I promise, they look nothing like those types of tents. These are basically gorgeous pop-up venues you can put anywhere you need to. Tented events are great ways to have a much larger wedding while still being prepared for Ohio weather. You have an outdoor event which is much safer and you can get a much larger space, but still totally open air, and (my favorite part) it’s a completely blank canvas!
- Split your wedding. Have your beautiful intimate wedding now and then have a crazy amazing party with all your friends when it’s safe! This is something that many people choose early on and it’s still a great option. AND it gives you another reason to wear that dress again… #winning
Important Things You Might Not Know
- Vendors face fines and even jail time. Unfortunately, as wedding professionals, we’re faced with a lot of the responsibility of enforcing and following the rules even when those around us aren’t. For vendors in Ohio, breaking the rules can mean close to $10,000 in fines and even a few months in jail, not to mention the reputation of our business. As I’ve joked with a few of my couples when I’ve had to share we couldn’t do something they wanted to do… “I love you guys, but not enough to do jail time for you”… 😉
- Backyard weddings are actually not allowed. Many people don’t know this but unless your event is less than 10 people, a backyard wedding is not allowed. The reason for this is there aren’t always professionals there to keep things on track, and who are aware of all the current regulations. Consider this: If it starts raining (I see you, Ohio!) and all of your wedding guests (say 40 people) decide to move inside a house together… none of the above requirements are being followed it can easily become a super spread event. It’s easy to see why something like this would be regulated.
- We have to stay healthy for our couple next weekend. Another thing you might not realize is that each one of your wedding vendors not only needs to stay healthy for their own safety and family, but most of us have a wedding the following weekend as well. The idea of not showing up to a wedding is about the most horrifying thing I can think of, however, this year we’ve had to make backup on top of backup plans because even a slight temperature is a no-go for being near such an important day. Be kind and considerate of your wedding professionals as they try to navigate this as well, it’s tough for everyone!
- Take time to think things out well, and make a great plan. There is a way to celebrate in the midst of this crisis but ignoring it and hoping it will go away is not the answer. The repercussions are just too great. Here is a true story for you… A party with 81 people, which violated the venue’s social distancing requirements and states covid orders… (the venue was later fined $12,000) From that celebration came 37 positive cases, health officials identified 334 contacts with a total of 270 people connected to the event that had to quarantine. Eight schools had positive cases related to the party and 35 schools have at least one student who was affected by the event. The repercussions of not thinking things through can be massive.
- As a general rule, please know that as a studio, our policy can be boiled down to this: We are here to help. Although this has become a little more of a ‘normal’ at this point than any of us ever could have imagined way back in March or April of 2020, it is still just plain… hard. I have helped talk couples through not 3 plans but 10 plans as things have changed and evolved this past year and beyond. I’ve strategized with vendors, I’ve calmly asked other vendors to be really kind to my couples (using my nice but REAL firm voice haha), we’ve had endless Zoom calls, and idea sessions, and ‘what if we did this instead’… In the midst of all of that, we moved the vast majority of our 2020 weddings to 2021 and a few of our 2021 weddings to 2022. We didn’t charge additional retainer fees, and, yes, that will result in a solid revenue hit for us that will take a few years to recover from. But here’s what I know… people are what’s most important. I learned about photography from my grandmother and her number one focus in life was treating people well. Business comes and goes but people matter in the long haul. I know this year has been so hard on all of us, but I promise if we can just keep working on being kind and caring for each other, really thinking through things, and coming up with beautiful plans, with intentionality behind them… it will be perhaps even MORE beautiful than the original design.
I’ll end with this… just a quick note of gratitude here for couples who knew that as a small business, life was hard this year. Thank you to those who took the time to leave us reviews, referred their friends our way, had the means to make payments ahead of time, upgraded collections, and called out of the blue to order albums from weddings that happened years ago. I deeply, deeply, appreciate your support.