Pandemic Wedding Etiquette - Colorado Wedding Photographer
I want to preface this blog by saying that this blog has NOTHING to do with the actual restrictions or what you require of your guests. The last time I did an etiquette blog, it was viewed on EVERY continent except for Antarctica. So the restrictions are going to be completely different all over the world. This blog is how to deal with people, not Covid. That's for you to decide based on the restrictions and recommendations of your local government and the venue where your wedding will be held. This is NOT medical advice.
Wedding Etiquette in the times of Covid
Problem One: We need to send out invitations so guests know when our wedding will take place, but we are unsure of our guest count. Solution One: People are well aware of the uncertainty that pretty much everyone is facing right now. They may not have thought about it when it comes to wedding plans, but if you take the time to explain right now... the understanding will likely come easy. What I have suggested to many of my couples is to send out more of a 'Save the Date' type of invitation. Make sure it includes the information that you have like your names, the date and approximate time and the location. But in the subtext or on the back where it typically has additional information, include something along the lines of: "Due to the uncertainty of the restrictions that could possibly face our event, we would love to have you attend our wedding but this may or may not be possible. Please view our wedding website here: _________________ and please make sure we have an updated email address to keep you informed about any guest list adjustments that we may have to make. If you are unable to attend or are uncomfortable attending at this time, please kindly let us know as soon as possible so we may consider it when making adjustments to our guest list." Problem Two: We need to uninvite some people due to covid restrictions and/or new financial complications. Solution Two: This is something that has always been considered bad etiquette but has now been completely thrown out the window. It is no longer bad etiquette to uninvite anyone and pretty much the entire world does (or should have) a sympathetic response. TRY, if you can (obviously if you have to cut 100 people, it's a bit different) but try to do this individually and make it personal. A call would be nice for certain people you are close to, but for the bulk of un-invitees a personal email (with request for confirmation) will do. "We really were so excited to see you both and the kids, unfortunately we have had to make cuts to our guest list because of Covid. We are working on a video option for the guests who cannot attend and may either stream our ceremony live or we may share a video just after."
Problem Three: We have completely changed our wedding plans. Solution Three: There are a lot of reasons for changing wedding plans at the moment. It could be moving to a venue with more space or an outdoor reception option so you can accommodate more guests, it may be moving a destination wedding somewhere local, changing your date or it may just be pivoting away from a large wedding and eloping. Either way, it is important to notify your guests as soon as possible. As formal and nice as actual paper, mailed invitation 'redos, updates or change cards' can be, speed is more important than formality right now. My personal recommendation would be:
1. Update your wedding website immediately. 2. Email all of your guests about the changes, updates or cancellation. 3. Call any guests that aren't tech savvy. We all know that there are some people who still don't keep up with their email or may not even have one. CALL THEM. Ask people in the email to confirm that they received it and then after about a week, call anyone who hasn't responded yet. If it's a long list, enlist some help from your fiance, parents, siblings or anyone who knows these people in your bridal party. And again, a simple email blaming covid is pretty much all that couples have to say these days. "Due to the uncertainty or new regulations facing our wedding due to Covid 19, we are unable to get married in Mexico and will now be planning an intimate wedding closer to home."
Couples +_Guests: Information and Communication
Typically in the etiquette world, things are a bit vague and it's considered rude to ask too many questions. WELLLLLL that's another etiquette rule that's out the window. Couples: Give your guests as much information as you can so that they can make the decision that is best for them. On your wedding website, it's a great idea to add information on local restrictions, mask mandates, venue requirements etc. If there are no restrictions or mandates, just tell people to make decisions based on their comfort level. It's also a good idea to add any extra things that you will include like 'masks and hand sanitizer will be available' etc. Just communicate. Many couples are afraid to share this information so GUESTS, don't use this as ammunition. Just make the best decision for you personally. Couples, communicate with your vendors and family first, then the bridal party followed by out of town guests and then the remainder of your guest list about any restrictions, changes and necessary information. Encourage your guests to check your wedding website frequently. Wedding facebook groups are a good way to share without leaving out people who aren't included and email chains can be helpful as well. Don't forget the guests who aren't as techy and make sure they are called with updates.
Couples - How to Handle People Who Are Uncomfortable With Weddings Right Now:
Guests As we all know by this point, everyone has a different comfort level right now. And that is OKAY. It can be a bit sad and frustrating for those who are trying to just get married right now. I get it. You want to share your big day with all of the people who mean something to you and not everyone is comfortable with that because of things outside of all of your control. We have two kinds of guests who are uncomfortable at the moment. Those who are handling it with grace, kindness and understanding and those who are not quite so nice or understanding about it right now. Either way, I encourage you to handle them in a very similar way. Respectfully express your understanding and just say you are looking forward to seeing them again once this is over. That's it. If they feel the need to continually push their opinion, I encourage you to just say thank you, I'll take it into consideration and make sure you take them off any mailing lists. People can be a bit overbearing and nasty right now. I just encourage you to approach them with empathy and limit the conversation(s) that you have. Create some boundaries to keep them at arms length until things cool off. By doing this, it will prevent both of you from saying things that you regret and ultimately ruining your relationship. Again. EMPATHY. Some people are just unfortunately not very kind right now and it's nothing to ruin a relationship over. Just be understanding and have empathy for them
Vendors Okay so this one may catch some of you off guard because of all you've heard all about supporting small businesses this year. BUT on several occasions I have heard about or personally witnessed vendor relationships that have become strained or worse because of this. Again, everyone has a different comfort level right now and that includes vendors. Vendors are people too ;) And while some of us are completely fine working weddings right now (like me), there are some, for many reasons who are uncomfortable. Some are at a higher risk or have family members who are at a higher risk, some just have the financial stability to say no and some are realizing that they really do just want to do elopements... gosh I could go on and on. There are a lot of reasons. But whatever the reasons are, it's not always a cut and dry situation. Many vendors won't just come out and say that they don't want to do your wedding now. Often times they try to push you to postpone or cut your guest list. Sometimes it's a bit more vague. But it does often cause stress and strain on the relationship. If you still have a bit of time before your wedding, I would recommend contacting ALL of your vendors at once and just flat out ask if they are all comfortable working your wedding still and if there are any things like a higher guest list or if restrictions go down that would make them uncomfortable working your wedding. I would encourage you to do this so you aren't trying to find new vendors the month of your wedding. I had this on a few occasions in 2020 sometimes with less than a month's notice. By doing this, you give them an opportunity to bow out instead of getting to the place where the relationship just isn't working at all. It also gives you a chance to find a vendor who is not only comfortable but is a great fit for your wedding day vision. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to find someone with the style you desire. If you are in more of a last minute situation and the relationship is strained, I would still encourage you to offer them a 'get out of contract' free card. NOW I am in no way suggesting that you should just be able to get out of contracts scot free. I am talking about seeing if the feeling is mutual and agreeing together to go separate ways. Often times if the vendor is uncomfortable working, they will not just come out and say it, it can be scary for reputations etc to say that it's 'not a good fit'... so in the cases I have seen over the past year, if the client offers and the vendor is truly uncomfortable, they will agree to go separate ways. You may or may not get your deposit back, that is between the two of you. Saying something along the lines of "Hey so and so, I am kind of getting the vibe that you may be uncomfortable working our wedding (or uncomfortable with the guest count or covid precautions). I completely understand that everyone has a different comfort level right now and I wanted to offer you the opportunity to cancel our contract now so that I have the capability of finding a replacement who is more comfortable before our wedding. As I am sure you know, it is important for wedding vendors to be on the same page as their couples and I just want to make sure that if we do go forward that you are fully invested in our wedding day. As I said before, we completely understand if you are not, we just think it would be better to find out now then to end up with a strained relationship." There are MANY businesses that are desperate for this business right now. Find someone who is the right fit for you and your circumstances.
Family + Bridal Party This has been the HARDEST thing for many clients to overcome this year. Someone can completely love you and support your marriage and love but be uncomfortable attending. It's okay. It's hard. It's sad. But again, don't let anyone push or bully you into changing your wedding plans for them. I encourage you to offer them a special opportunity to facetime with you (if you want) or to watch a stream or video uploaded later. Also, covid isn't the only reason that a close family member or bridal party member might be unable to attend. With the economic repercussions from lockdowns etc, traveling to a wedding or buying a $200 bridesmaid dress right now might just not be in the cards. Don't ruin your relationships based on this. Alternatives Again, the best alternative is likely going to be doing a live stream of the wedding. Some venues do not have good enough service/wifi to lifestream... so check with the venue first. If a live stream is not available or you want to delay the broadcast for some reason, you can have a guest video the ceremony and other important moments to share the following day on social media. There are some video companies that offer streaming services but understand that many do not and most wedding videos will not be available for sharing immediately following your event. GUESTS - How To Act If You Are Uncomfortable With Weddings Right Now:
How to Politely Decline "Hi 'insert couple here'! We are SO excited for you to get married and celebrate such a beautiful time in your life! Unfortunately we are unable to attend in person due to Covid. Please know that we truly are so excited for you and wish that times were different and we will be celebrating with you from afar. We cannot wait to see photos! And let us know if you are having a live stream or will be sharing a video, we would love to watch!"
What NOT to say Anything along the lines of 'WE CANNOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD HAVE THE AUDACITY TO WANT TO GET MARRIED RIGHT NOW!!!!' Or anything with overbearing opinions, angry exclamation points or the caps lock turned on. You don't need to 'make anything clear' or guilt the couple in any way. Just kindly decline and step away. They did not come to this decision lightly and they already have enough stress on their plate. It's not worth ruining your relationship... and if it is, you probably shouldn't have attended either way.
You can have an opinion and keep it to yourself. And DO NOT go talk behind their back. Gossip isn't attractive. Neither is being passive aggressive. Leave them be and let them get married.
Gifts Gifts are not expected but very appreciated. Like I said earlier, most etiquette has gone out the window and a new etiquette is developing. It is completely understandable with the economic hardships that many are facing to NOT send a gift. Now, with that being said, if a couple is getting married (eloping, intimate wedding or full reception)... they may also be facing some economic challenges. If you are blessed and would like to, a gift would be greatly appreciated.
How to Support the Couple From Home 1. Do the things above. 2. Ask if there is anything you can do from afar (if you have the time and desire to do so). 3. Watch the live stream or video. 4. Comment on all of their photos. 5. Call to congratulate them. GUESTS - How To Act AT Covid Weddings:
Weddings Might Be During the Week. With all of the weddings rescheduled in 2020, 2021 wedding dates are a bit hard to come by. Expect more Thursday and Monday weddings. The couple already is anticipating that this will be difficult for some, so you don't need to tell them. Just know that many of them really didn't have a choice due to availability of venues and vendors.
Be Respectful and Understanding. Weddings look a bit different right now and like I've said before, it wasn't easy for the couple to get to this point. Please be respectful of any restrictions they face, any rules or requests that they have made and the rules and restrictions that vendors have to abide by. Please just do your best to be a kind and fun guest without causing the couple or vendors any additional stress. Be helpful, cooperative and positive.
Keep Your Comments and Complaints To Yourself. The couple is well aware of all of the things that come with covid weddings. They really don't need any snide comments or complaints about things out of their control. Trust me when I say that they are just happy to have any of this and unless you planned it and paid for it, your comments should really only be about 'what a WONDERFUL ceremony it was' or 'how amazing they look!' Be positive and supportive and loving. That's what they need right now. They don't need to hear how weird the seating is or how strange the barriers look at the buffet. Covid has been around for a while now, we all know there are differences. Just be excited for them. That's why weddings have guests right? To celebrate with them!
Couples: Postponing or Changing Wedding Plans
My Least Favorite Topic Right Now. This really is something no one wants to talk about or think about... but it's important if it's the road you are facing. Try to postpone if possible. We all understand that cancellations may happen. We really hope not. But if it is at all possible, please postpone. The event industry is suffering like the restaurant business. If you do have to cancel and need some sort of refund from your vendors, understand that you are still within the guidelines of your contract and you may not get one. That is up to your vendor especially when it comes to deposits. If they do agree to a refund, please offer them time to get it to you. This isn't just side money for most of us, this is how we pay our bills, so please offer these vendors time to adjust and come up with the money to do so and understand if they hold you to the contract that you signed.
If you are considering cancelling, pivoting to a different location, size wedding or date... please talk to your vendors right off the bat. Give them a heads up that you are thinking about it. Be clear that no decisions have been made, but let them know what your 'possible plans are'. They may be unavailable for your new plans or they may have suggestions or even some new package offerings for you.
If you do cancel or pivot plans, let your vendors and family know first, then bridal party and out of town guests and then the rest of your guests. Give them as much time as possible to pivot with you. Communication is KEY. To end this blog, I do want to make the point to say that I have done MANY fairly normal weddings at this point. This post is not to get you down or discourage you in any way. It is only to answer the hard questions that many people just don't know the answer to right now. I have told many of my clients this but right now I am trying to be more than a photographer, I want to be a resource for all of you. I have done weddings for 11+ years now and I did do a variety of different weddings last year. These weddings all looked different and had different challenges, but I hope the things I have learned and experienced while photographing them helps you a bit.