FAQ: How to plan a wedding during a pandemic

FAQ: How to plan a wedding during a pandemic
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Planning a wedding is stressful, and a global pandemic certainly creates a number of additional unknowns. If you’re trying to plan your dream day under these less-than-dreamy circumstances, here’s your guide, from how to un-invite guests to ideas for celebrating safely.

Indoor dinner setup at the Duke Mansion.

What does a socially distanced wedding even look like?

Right now, in North Carolina, gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed inside and gatherings of 25 people are allowed outside. That means you can have up 23 guests if you’re hosting an outdoor wedding and 8 guests for indoor events. One exception: If your ceremony is taking place in a church, there’s no guest limit but social distancing and mask-wearing are encouraged. All receptions must follow the gathering limits.

Wedding planner Erin Padgett, owner of Erin Padgett Events, says her couples have mostly opted for intimate, outdoor ceremonies.

To do this safely, those who’ve been quarantining together are seated together and there’s space between groups of people who’ve not been quarantining together. She also suggests a sanitation station with masks and hand sanitizer.

What about the reception?

Padgett says many couples are choosing to do an outdoor ceremony, followed by a family dinner reception with close friends and family. How the food is served has been the biggest change, she says. Buffets and self-serve stations are out; plated dinners and even pre-packaged “to-go” boxes are in.

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The Duke Mansion, for example, is doing ceremonies followed by a sit-down dinner for up to 10 people inside.

Many couples are saving the big party for next year.

I’m considering doing a backyard “minimony.” How can I make it special?

The cool thing about inviting fewer guests is you can use more of your budget on things like place settings and florals (versus buying dinner for 100 people). Instead of using what the venue offers, you get to bring in your own chairs, flatware, etc. to create something totally custom.

Odds are if you’re doing a backyard wedding, you’re saying “I do” at a place that means something to you, and great photo ops come along with that, like getting ready in your mom’s bathroom or including your family pet in a few pics.

Event planner Katrina Hutchins says backyard weddings are definitely the trend right now, and she’s loved doing them, even before Covid-19.

If you go this route, anticipate some challenges, though.

“Something to keep in mind is a LOT more goes in to a backyard wedding than you may expect, as it’s not built like a venue,” Hutchins says. “Electrical power issues can come up for example. It’s also a lot to have a large group of people coming to your home, especially during these times, so make sure your personality is a good fit for this.”

duke-mansion-covid-dinner-wedding

We’re doing a scaled down version of Plan A. How do I tell people they’re no longer invited?

There’s no Emily Post rule book for this specific situation. A simple text, call, or email is fine.

“I think in these times, not only are people understanding, but a lot will be relieved to be ‘un-invited’ as they won’t have to weigh the risk of attending,” Hutchins says.

I was uninvited to a wedding, and I like the language they used: “We’ve made the difficult decision to cancel our wedding due to the Covid-19 outbreak. We’ll be having a small ceremony with close family. We wish you and your loved ones health and safety during this time, and thank you for your understanding.”

Guests keep asking me “What are you going to do?” I don’t have answers. How can I tell them to stop?

You can copy this message right here: “We’re eager to celebrate with you, but, unfortunately, we don’t have answers yet. Expect an update as soon as we finalize the details.”

I still want a big wedding. What dates should I look at?

With so many unknowns at play here, your safest bet would be to look at mid- to late-2021 or 2022 dates. “In my opinion, we will NOT be having large events in 2020, or even early 2021,” Hutchins says. “Go ahead and reschedule.”

Padgett says many couples who’ve chosen a date that’s special to them are opting for a ceremony this year to seal the deal, and then they’re doing a big anniversary celebration next year.

Are Charlotte wedding venues booked for 2021 already?

Many popular Charlotte wedding venues have limited Saturday availability for 2021, especially in the prime months (May-October). So if you haven’t rescheduled yet, talk to your venue and vendors ASAP. And if you’re newly engaged, you may want to look ahead to 2022.

Katie Gupton, venue sales manager at Anne Springs Greenway, says the Dairy Barn is booked most Saturdays in 2021 already, and some Saturdays are booked in 2022, too. They’ve also already received calls about 2023.

The Duke Mansion is prioritizing 2020 clients to make to make sure they have their 2021 dates booked if they have decided to move from 2020 before finalizing any new groups, says Becky Sagadin, general manager of The Duke Mansion. They have not started booking for 2022 yet.

You can also consider Friday or Sunday dates if you’re set on 2021 and your venue is booked on Saturdays.

Do I need a new wedding dress?

Padgett, who also owns a bridal salon, says most brides who are doing small-scale events this year opted to wear a “little white dress” and are saving their original wedding dress for the big event next year.

Even if your rescheduled wedding date is in a different season, you don’t need to worry about buying a new one, unless you want to.

What does wedding dress shopping look like right now?

Luckily, you’re able to shop in person at most bridal salons. Most require appointments and allow a limited number of people to come with you (you can always FaceTime your bridal party!). Ladies of Lineage, for example, is limiting each bride to two guests for in-person shopping.

The bridal boutique also has a pop-up sale through the end of the month. If you want to shop in person, you can make an appointment and choose up to five gowns to try on. Or you can shop the virtual bridal market, which also has tons of options offered at a discounted prices.

Is wedding insurance a thing?

Yes! According to State Farm agent Brad Corriher, there are a few types of wedding insurance. If you’re worried about having to cancel or reschedule your wedding due to Covid-19, you’ll want to look into cancelation/postponement insurance.

It would help recoup some of the costs, whether a single vendor doesn’t show up or you have to move your entire wedding to a new date.

Cost varies, but you can expect to pay a one-time premium, between $150-$500, Corriher says.

I had to cancel/postpone my wedding, and the vendors won’t refund me. What can I do?

This one’s tough. Take a look at your contract. Most vendors won’t charge to reschedule, but you likely won’t get your non-refundable deposit if you cancel altogether. (This is where cancelation insurance would be helpful).

If your contract has a “force majeure clause,” you might be able to get a refund. That clause essentially frees you and your vendor from contractural obligations in extreme unforeseen circumstances (like a pandemic).

If it’s a matter of your vendors not being available for your new date, consider a Friday or Sunday wedding so you can keep your vendor team in tact.

I’m over this. I just want to get married and have some nice photos. What are my elopement options?

  • Courthouse wedding. The courthouse is holding weddings 2-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. You must make an appointment. You’ll need two witnesses and a marriage license.  The total cost is $60 ($10 for the license and $50 marriage fee).
  • The Elopement Co. Charity Parrish, owner of the company, says she has many dates for 2021 open. She offers elopement, courthouse, and micro-wedding packages all under $3,400. All packages include at least 1.5 hours of photography, cupcakes, flowers, and officiant services. Details.
  • North Corner Haven. The venue has a few all-inclusive elopement/micro-wedding packages priced $1,500-$6,700. Details.

I know everyone has to wear a mask. Can I at least get cute ones?

Yup. Etsy and BHLDN have tons of wedding-themed options, from lace to engraved. You can get a 25 pack of custom (think wedding hashtag or your new last name and wedding date) disposable masks for $69.

We’re still getting married, but I missed out on a bachelor/bachelorette party. Is it cool to have one after?

Definitely. I’m sure your wedding party will appreciate not having to weigh the risk now, plus having something to look forward to later.

We want a friend to officiate our wedding. Is that legal?

In North Carolina, there’s some confusion over whether lay people who become ordained online through popular platforms like Universal Life Church are able to legally marry two people.

North Carolina law reads like this: “Marriages may be performed by an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, a magistrate, or a federally- or state-recognized Indian Nation or tribe.”

If your friend isn’t a magistrate or ordained minister, the safest option would be to get legally married in the courthouse and then have your friend perform a symbolic ceremony at your wedding.

I’m not feeling like a bride. What are safe ways I can celebrate?

  • Do a drive-by bridal shower. 
  • Create a custom fragrance for your big day. Jules and Vetiver has a take-home kit for $34. Invite your maid of honor, mom, or someone else to make one with you. Or send them to your bridesmaids and do the kits over Zoom.
  • Bridal portraits. If you weren’t planning on having them done, consider talking to your photographer. Get glammed up and spend some time with all eyes on you.
  • Follow the Instagram account @betchesbrides. Commiserating with others is more fun.
  • Do a local mini moon. Book a night at the Grand Bohemian and make reservations for a spa treatment and dinner at Mico. Or do a couples massage and pool day at the Ballantyne.

How can I stay positive?

Hutchins has some good advice. “At the end of the day, this is about the marriage not the wedding,” she says. “If your relationship can survive a wedding during a pandemic, you’ll have already conquered a big life-challenge — and have one hell of a story to tell. And remember, the entire world is dealing with this. You are not alone.”

Photos courtesy of/by Kelley Deal Photography. Header image by/courtesy of Rob + Kristen Photography.

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