Disclaimer: This post is filled with suggestions for those that are interested in taking COVID-related safety measures at their event. If you don’t care, feel free to move on and look at some pretty pictures. We wrote this to be a help for the many couples we’ve seen who are wrestling with this issue.
We’ve all heard the headlines about COVID outbreaks at large gatherings. After 18 months of pandemic life, many engaged couples are left with a dilemma: Ready to have a wedding now that the regulations allow for a gathering… but not wanting COVID to become an uninvited guest. It’s a tricky situation.
As photographers, we have become super familiar with this problem. We are involved in every part of the wedding day. When the day is over, we likely have another wedding the following weekend… maybe even the next day! We’ve become intimately familiar with the fear that COVID can cause (illness, income loss, missing work), but we’ve also been able to see a variety of safety measures that some couples have put in place. Plus, we’ve seen many easy opportunities for small changes that have potential to make a big difference.
Below is an Insider’s Guide with some simple tips that couples can use to help keep their weddings as safe and COVID-free as possible. We wanted to write something that goes beyond throwing a box of disposable masks on a table and hoping for the best. Lets dive in…
But first... Some FAQ's
Before we make some suggestions, we get lots of questions from curious couples about how weddings are going. So here’s some quick answers to those common questions.
In a word: Rarely. The bottom line is that it’s impossible to eat and drink with a mask on and most venues don’t have enough space to socially distance 100+ people. There are usually a few people that wear their masks consistently and eat separately at each wedding. Once people start drinking, safety typically becomes less of a priority.
Sometimes. We’re seeing couples that choose to mandate vaccination. If this is something you’d like to do, you should not feel alone in doing it. It’s common and (we think) will soon become a norm.
Unfortunately, yes. We’ve seen it several times personally and many times amongst friends. After all, it’s a large gathering during a pandemic. This is the main reason for compiling this article. We all want weddings to happen and want them to be as safe and fun as possible. Hopefully this will help.
This is tricky to answer, but generally they do… especially in the past 6 months now that most people are vaccinated. In general we’ve found that a lot of people (even cautious people) are willing to let their guard down for a wedding and plan to lay low for the time immediately after.
Everybody’s tolerance what feels safe is different. As vaccinated people who wear masks to all weddings, we feel that we’re doing our best to limit risk. However, as stated above, most weddings involve large groups with little masking or social distancing. It’s important to understand the situation and your tolerance before saying if it’s ‘safe’.
We saw most of our 2020 weddings get postponed (some of them many times). In 2021, postponements are rare as restrictions have eased up. Couples that postpone are typically those with medical concerns or family members in areas with restrictions (for those living abroad). What we have seen is a continuation of weddings that have adapted their plan to reduce the size or move outdoors.
Tips for wedding planning
1. You are in charge.
This is by far the most important advice we can give. You are the boss. As the leader of this event, you can set the expectations for how it goes and how your guests handle safety protocols. Not only are all of us in the industry here to keep you happy, but your guests want you to be happy too. It is important to share your requests ahead of time. Let me say that again: Share your requests ahead of time.
If you buy a few boxes of masks and set them out beside a ‘Please Take a Mask’ sign, you’ll likely go home with an unused box of masks. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Here are some suggestions for real ways that you can make your requests known:
• Talk to your venue about prioritizing open air. Remember that venues (and vendors) are in the service industry. We want people to be happy and (hopefully) hire us in the future. If a venue thinks that people may be hot or cold inside, they’ll likely keep their doors and windows closed… Yes, even in a pandemic. They don’t like guests coming up to them and complaining about the temperature. As the host, you can ask the venue to keep their doors and windows open. It’s all about communication. If the venue knows your requests, you can tell your guests in advance to prepare for open air. It’s common sense, but you need to make this request known in advance. If you don’t, they’ll default to making sure everybody feels comfortable.
• Decide early about masks or vaccine mandates. If you’d like your guests to wear masks or want to have a wedding with everybody vaccinated, make sure to tell them well in advance. We’ve seen several examples of couples that required that all their guests be vaccinated. That alone has led some of their guests to pull the trigger on getting a vaccine in time for the wedding. In the same way, telling your guests if/when you’d like them to mask sets a standard. Your guests will default to what they see everybody else doing. Clearly expressing your wishes in advance helps them understand how to accommodate what you’d like for your wedding.
• Do not forget about the staff/vendors. As vendors ourselves, we realize that we are often some of the more ‘dangerous’ COVID targets. We go to large gatherings for a living. It is ok for you to ask the people you hire to wear masks, be vaccinated or both. It’s your choice for your wedding. They can refuse your business just like you can refuse their services. If we (as vendors) aren’t told your request, we will default to what we feel comfortable with. If you make a request in advance, however, most will happily oblige. If not, it gives you time to work out something that you’re both comfortable with.
2. Encourage honesty and transparency.
One of the saddest things is to miss a wedding that you’ve been excited about attending (more on this below). Weddings are a blast! However, we’ve seen many examples in the past 18 months where people attended weddings while actively feeling sick. It sounds hard to believe, but sadly we have overheard conversations about this at least once per month.
It is important to reassure your friends and family that if they are feeling ill (or are in close contact with somebody who is), you are ok if they miss the wedding. We’ve often heard that sick people attend so that ‘the couple doesn’t lose money’. Reassuring your guests that you would prefer them to stay home if they’re feeling ill can be an easy deterrent to someone making a bad judgement on your behalf.
3. (Rapid) Testing is an option
One of the best options for safe events that we’ve seen isn’t talked about very much: Testing. Specifically, rapid testing. Not only have rapid test improved their accuracy tremendously, but they’re becoming easier and cheaper to get. There was a recent announcement of a government subsidy to make rapid tests easier (and cheaper). Plus, there are even companies (like 15toKnow) that do rapid testing for events. This option does cost money, but it is an extra layer of protection and reassurance. Just make sure to let everybody know to show up a bit early.
4. Consider the timing of your rehearsal and bachelor/Bachelorette gatherings.
This tip comes from our friend Matt Gruber. He mentioned to us that he’s had multiple weddings that have been severely affected by a rehearsal dinner several days beforehand. In that case, somebody came to the rehearsal with COVID and infected much of the wedding party. That’s obviously a game changer for the actual wedding day.
We’ve seen a few examples of this happening at bachelor/bachelorette parties as well. Consider this possibility while planning the timing/location of these events. It can be an easy way to help eliminate a small gathering from jeopardizing your big gathering.
5. Think through your vendor interactions.
While you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) dictate the actions of people during the day, there are a few things that may help reduce the chances that something a vendor does accidentally encourages close contact.
For photographers like us, we’ve had people ask that any close contact photos of groups (family, bridal party) be taken outside. That’s a super simple one for us to do and when somebody makes a request, we can simply do it once we’re outside.
For DJs/bands, many like to involve ‘crowd work’ where they’ll go out in the crowd and mingle, sing or dance with a large group. If that isn’t something that interests you, you can ask your MC/DJ about it and potentially minimize that.
6. Colored wristbands.
Although we haven’t seen it ourselves, a few friends suggested colored wristbands (red/yellow/green) that people can wear to indicate their comfort level with close contact. While this may not necessarily help eliminate COVID, it could go a long way to making your guests feel as comfortable as possible. Remember that your guests are likely all over the place comfort-wise. For some, your wedding could be their first time not wearing a mask in public. For others, their lives may not have changed much. Something like a wristband allows more cautious people to non-verbally express their caution to those who might not be as used to picking up on those cues.
There are a few main points we hope this article made clear:
- We all want normalcy and a fun, safe wedding.
- Communication is HUGE. You are in charge. Setting limits and communicating them goes a long way.
- Most people are understanding that there’s a pandemic and things may not be normal.
Planning a wedding is never easy. Doing it during a pandemic is flat-out stressful. Make sure that however you decide to do it, that you communicate your comfort levels (and your requirements) with those that will take part in your wedding. There is no perfect solution, but with some thought and communication, you can feel much more confident that you did the best you could to protect the safety of yourselves, your guests and your vendors.