“I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for people to tell me they have to cancel,” Connolly told The Washington Post on Wednesday — two days before her Pennsylvania wedding. “Most of our family is not from around here; we do have a lot of people traveling, but not a lot of people flying.”
As the novel coronavirus officially hit global pandemic status on Wednesday, Connolly and her fiance, Jon, are among the countless brides and grooms in the United States who are figuring out how to adapt the celebration of a major life event — often a carefully planned, emotional and costly affair — as the virus outbreak has started to significantly disrupt daily life.
“Everything is staying the same, except I bought two giant bottles of hand sanitizer for the wedding,” Connolly said. She has already heard from older relatives in the Seattle area who will have to cancel and said there’s a plan to keep people at a safe distance from her grandfather.
Connolly and her fiance may be among the last crop of couples whose nuptials take place before more widespread changes hit the United States’ $78 billion wedding industry. While changes are inevitable, weddings will still take place — albeit with various modifications, said Susan Cordogan, founder of the Chicago-based event planning company Big City Bride. Cordogan, who has been in the business for decades, has steered couples through events ranging from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to natural disasters to an incident in 2014 in which a man set a fire at the Chicago Air Traffic Control Center, crippling the country’s air traffic system.
“Yes, there’s going to be fear about it, but there are things you can do to help the situation at your particular event,” Cordogan told The Post. “And if it weren’t a pandemic, it could be something else. Being flexible will help, knowing the ultimate goal is marrying your love.”
Keep it local
So far, Cordogan said clients are not canceling weddings, but guests lists are shortening — especially if guests need to hop on a plane to attend. “If there’s not a lot of travel involved, the couples will see little to no impact,” Cordogan said.
Destination weddings should expect a dramatically reduced guest list. Weddings in which the majority of people can avoid a hotel stay or air travel will have fewer guest list disruptions, Cordovan said, but there are also benefits to locally sourcing attire, food and entertainment.
“We’re hearing a lot of bridal factories that make wedding dresses in China are getting delayed,” Cordogan said, advising to plan well in advance or find local alternatives. To avoid problems with getting attire from China, Candy Borales, a wedding planner in Washington, strongly suggests buying a dress or suit off the rack.
Ask a lot of questions
Cordogan suggests making a list of questions for a wedding venue, a transportation provider, caterer, the hotel staff or any vendor with whom a couple plans to work.
For couples getting married in a space widely visited by the general public, like a park district building, public library, museum or popular event space, ask what their cancellation plans look like. And read the contract carefully. For those getting married in busy places of worship, ask about the cleaning procedures.
“Some churches in Chicago do up to five weddings a day, bringing in large groups of people,” Cordogan said. “It’s okay to ask about their cleaning plan.” The same goes for hotels.
Should we cancel or postpone?
Depending on how those vendor contracts are written, couples could be on the hook to pay for everything if they try to change a wedding’s date. Most industry vendors have dealt with weather issues and government shutdowns. A pandemic is different. "Most of our contracts, while they cover acts of God, they lack the human element,” Borales said. She is advising clients not to cancel because the majority of them would lose the investment they’ve made. Because many venues in the D.C. area are booked about a year in advance, Borales adds that postponing would likely mean postponing until 2021.
Adam Ezring and Heather Foster, who live in Washington, had planned a May 3 wedding in Italy but are postponing until this summer. “We had some friends propose that we just get married in D.C. and do a one-year anniversary trip to Italy. But we’re not ready to give up on our dream wedding yet,” Ezring said Wednesday.
Whenever wedding planning stress boils over, Bree Ryback, a day-of wedding coordinator in Washington, reminds couples that they can always go to courthouse and get married. A wedding reception is “a party; you can move parties,” she said, adding that the District even allows for self-uniting marriages in which one partner acts as the officiant. So even if you and your partner are self-quarantined, you could still get married — and celebrate later.
Adam Sontag and his fiance are in the process of rescheduling their April 4 wedding in New Jersey. They don’t have a new date yet but Sontag reports that their venue and photographer have already offered to be flexible. “We want to feel good about everyone attending doing so when they also will feel good about it,” Sontag wrote in an email, adding that postponing the wedding “relieves some of the incredible stress of this moment as we can now go back to just being worried about this moment, rather than how it will affect our wedding.”
Weddings are by definition all about bringing people together, which becomes tricky during a period of social distancing. Cordogan suggested using technology to help include those who can’t attend in person.
“We’ve had the best man read the father’s toast, and had the toast live-streamed,” Cordogan said of past clients. Virtual guest books and prerecorded speeches can help, too.
When it comes to food and drinks, she advised skipping communal and self-service options like buffets, though the recommended alternatives of individually plated options are more expensive.
“I love a coffee station, but if someone coughs and the creamer is sitting right there, yikes,” Cordogan said. “I would have service of all food and beverage items.”
And please — no chocolate-dipping fountains.
When Ezring and Foster were planning their wedding in Italy, they didn’t even know wedding insurance existed. They found just two providers that covered Italy: One had an update on its website saying it doesn’t cover cancellations because of the coronavirus, and the other didn’t respond to a request for comment. “Even if we had bought it, it would be debatable about whether it would be covered,” Foster said.
Borales notes that most wedding venues in Washington require the hosts to take out liability insurance. “We always suggest to get insurance,” Borales said, which typically runs $300 to $600. However, it’s unclear whether wedding insurers will cover the costs of events canceled due to the coronavirus. “This is not something any of us have really had an opportunity to work through,” she said.