COVID-19 has been all over the news and social media to the point I feel sick of talking about it, but with my job as a wedding planner, that is all we have been able to do for a while now. Our clients turned to us as the experts on events and what to do in this crisis even when the experts in the medical field didn’t know how to proceed.
We all retreated to our homes to wait it out, but the thing with weddings is that you have to make decisions early. We couldn’t wait for April to pass to make decisions on May weddings. Invoices were due, some with non-refundable payments. Food and flowers had to be ordered at least three weeks in advance. Guests had travel plans and accommodations that were not refundable if you were to cancel fewer than 30 days from the event. Most importantly, our clients’ emotions were on a wild roller coaster that would not be able to stop unless we made some major decisions.
My company scrambled to find information with very little guidance on how to proceed when we could hold events again and how many guests would be allowed to attend. The answers to these questions differ between counties, so we have events on the same date that have different rules because of where they are located. Currently (as of May 27th), Sevier County is governed by Executive Order 30, page 3, item #3 that lists weddings as excluded from being considered a social gathering, along with funerals and religious gatherings. This means the headcounts are not limited to 50 or more recently, just 10. In Knoxville, the case is completely different as the Health Department governs restrictions within Knox County. On May 26th, we moved into Phase 2 and the limit for the headcount went from 10 to 50. Knox County will revisit the guidelines on June 12th to see if we will move to Phase 3 where guest counts can be closer to 100.
Of the 110 events my company booked for 2020, we had 38 events at risk from the end of March through June. In total, 22 postponed, 11 canceled altogether and five decided the show must go on. Some events moved forward with very tiny guest counts, some with only the couple, but our events in June do have a guest list to plan for. We worked on plans to try to make guests comfortable and protect everyone as much as possible.
Below is the same guidance we are giving our couples:
- Switch to only disposable plates, cups, utensils, and napkins if possible.
- Keep windows and doors open throughout the duration of the event to encourage airflow. Outdoor areas are safer than indoor areas.
- Consider moving food tables to another area to encourage more room for guest seating. Try not to have food tables near air vents.
- Consider spreading guest tables out, having fewer guests at each table, or having guests sit at tables in smaller groups (by household or according to who is staying in a cabin together). We have one wedding doing a cafe-like bistro seating so groups of 2-5 are sitting at tables that are 30 in or 36 in wide (vs. our normal 60 in wide tables).
- Encourage guests to clear their own plates into trash receptacles or have bussers switch gloves often.
- Have guests wear disposable gloves while eating and immediately throw them away or wash their hands immediately after eating if they do not wear gloves.
- Ask vendors how they are cleaning items that will be used by multiple people (for example, the props at a photo booth or the guest book pen).
- Ensure your vendors provide staff with gloves, masks, sanitizers, cleaning supplies as needed.
- Stay six feet away from guests when possible (no hugs!).
- If guests are ill, encourage them to stay home.
- Use disposable tissues if you cry.
- Extra hand sanitizers at all entrances/exits/bar/guest book signing station/etc.
- If there is a buffet dinner, consider having a staff member on hand to serve all food so everyone does not touch the same serving utensils.
- Use extra tongs for the appetizer displays/late-night station and bar.
- Add extra seating at the ceremony site so guests can choose to sit further apart.
Overall, we have been taking things in stride. A lot changed and we have adapted, but I can’t foresee the future. We are trying to stay as informed as possible, err on the side of caution, and help our clients still have a wonderful day.