You've been engaged for years. You’ve had a Pinterest board for your wedding plans since before you were even engaged. You've spent countless hours researching for wedding ideas and suppliers. You've been counting down the days to your big day and have felt the excitement grow of planning the next step of your lives together…
And then with just weeks to go, your entire wedding has to be cancelled because of a global pandemic.
Yep. We are talking Coronavirus today.
For a while, I put off talking about the Coronavirus pandemic in a blogging sense. I have continually updated my couples on my social media accounts, and have tried to reassure everyone that we can and we will make it through this unforeseen pandemic… But a year since this all began, I know that we need to talk about it. We are all in this together.
For those of you who don’t follow me, I’m Grace Elizabeth, and I’m a wedding and lifestyle photographer based in the U.K. I had over 40 weddings booked for 2020, but in the end, I shot just 16.
I have always tried to do my best for each of my couples, but sadly, I’ve also lost many couples since this began. These things happen and I still become frustrated that I couldn’t help EVERY couple. But it’s not always possible to match up on a couple’s new date, or perhaps the couple have had to make the heartbreaking decision to cancel completely for now, putting their entire wedding plans on hold. Everyone is in the same storm, but in different boats.
I have had panicked text messages, couples on the verge of tears on the phone, emails left right and centre… You name it, I’ve experienced it. I have done my very best to deal with every single one of my couples as best I can. But this blog post isn’t just about helping my couples, it’s about helping all of those of you out there who need a little reassurance and perhaps a bit of a gameplan to help you get back on track, and to put the JOY back into planning your wedding.
So, for those of you who are sticking to your plans of planning your wedding day (albeit not what you originally planned!) I thought I would put together my own little helpful guide to help you ride the wave!
Here are my top tips for planning a wedding during Covid-19
1. Talk to your wedding venue
The first people you’re going to want to talk to are your wedding venue. They will be talking to plenty of couples and have probably got a protocol in place to help you through this difficult time. But don’t go planning ANYTHING else until you’ve spoken to them. I cannot imagine the upset that might come from you moving your wedding date in a panic, only to find out your venue is fully booked and can’t take on your new date!
On the flip side, I know of venues who haven’t allowed couples to move their wedding dates until they’ve got further down their list of bookings, and I understand that’s been frustrating for you who feel in limbo, too. I know of couples who have actually even moved from one venue to another because their original venue wasn’t too accommodating, which is also another unexpected stress!
But, before we become angry, we have to understand that no one really knows how to deal with this pandemic, even a year later. Many venues are chain owned, and cannot do things on an individual basis, but have to wait for their company to make decisions. For those who are independent, this can be a really challenging time too, as many venues are family run by people just like you and I, which means their lives are literally on the line.
We are all learning every day. We might make mistakes. We might not be able to fulfil all of your wishes as suppliers, but we are definitely all doing our best!
So the best thing to do, is communicate. Speak to them, and if you can, get on the phone to them. Having a conversation is so much better than emailing, but make sure you do keep a record of everything in writing too. Stay in touch with them, keep them updated with your thought process. Ask them how they are dealing with this and ask yourselves what you’re prepared to do. But please, remember suppliers are just like you and I.
2. Consider Weekday Weddings
I know what you’re thinking. You’ve planned (and also very likely paid) for your wedding to be on a peak Saturday in July because the weather is meant to be great… and so understandably you’re GUTTED when you have to move your wedding date because of Coronavirus… I get it, it totally sucks.
But DO consider a weekday or an ‘off peak’ date! The likelihood is, your suppliers are already down to having only a few dates left. As an example, I had over 40 weddings booked for 2020, and for 2021 I had almost 25 booked before the pandemic hit. In 2020 I moved over 25 weddings to 2021, and the sad truth is that I simply do not have peak Saturday dates in July 2021 to give you… but I very likely would have a Tuesday in July 2021!
The other issue is business sustainability. If I were to move all 40+ of my 2020 weddings to 2021 peak Saturdays, I simply would not have a viable business next year, because I will have no dates to offer new couples. It's really difficult for all of us, and very much puts us in between a rock and a hard place, so please DO consider weekdays and off peak seasons. All suppliers want to do their best, but we can’t make miracles (I have lost sleep worrying about how I will fit everyone in too, trust me!)
Fridays or Sundays are in fact the new Saturdays, and over the years I’ve been shooting, I have seen an increase in people booking these days in general.
Equally, don’t ask your supplier for all of their availability. We will still be planning holidays and personal events within this time, and I am actually in the process of moving back to Devon, which is super challenging as I don't want to let my clients down as much as I an.
Our diaries will be busier than ever, so try to be be specific in your requests. It’s much easier for us to check our diaries for Tuesdays from say early April 2021 to mid May 2021 than it is to ask for all of our availability for the whole year. It also means this way we will be able to offer you very specific dates compared to another couple who are in the same boat as you but asking for Thursdays across the same timeline - avoiding cross booking.
And lastly, keep in touch with your suppliers. Ask for some dates they can do, check their cancellation or postponement policy, and get back to them as SOON as possible. Don’t leave it weeks to return to them, as dates will disappear almost as quickly as they are offered (and many like me won’t be able to hold a new date until you’ve signed a contract!)
3. Consider a different season carefully
Before you move your summer wedding to the winter, read this. It might be a good idea on paper, but think carefully! I know a few of my couples have moved from Spring to Autumn, or even Summer to Winter. Whilst it is possible, you may want to consider a few different things if you do this, including:
The weather: Is your outfit suitable for a wet and windy wedding day? You may need to re-think your outfit choices or buy accessories to help keep you warm (or buy a new outfit if you had planned for winter and will now wed in summer!)
The venue: Is your venue as good when it rains as it is in the sun? Many wedding venues require room changeovers, which in the summer works out great as you can all enjoy drinks and canapés in the courtyards whilst they do so, but if not, it’s not going to be fun being boxed into a tiny room whilst they do so (and it also makes it harder for us to get good photos if we are elbowing one another!)
The light: As photographers, lighting is a game changer when it comes to the way our photos look. Don’t expect lots of glorious golden hour photos if you move your wedding from summer to winter. The reality is we MAY have a beautiful sunset, but it’s unlikely. It also gets darker earlier in winter, which means people will likely be inside and there will be less opportunity for spaced out candid shots. Definitely consider this before you move your date to a new season!
4. READ. YOUR. CONTRACTS.
First of all, I would be very wary of working with any supplier with whom you do not sign a contract. It is imperative that both parties know where they stand.
If you get into a pickle, you might ask yourself: Will my wedding insurance cover me? What happens if I can’t re-book with one of my suppliers? Are we entitled to refunds? In this case, get legal advice or speak directly to your suppliers! Every contract you've signed will have varying terms.
Many of us as wedding suppliers take ‘non refundable retainers’ along with the signing of our contracts. These are a monetary value we take, in line with the signing of a contract drawn up by our lawyers. Upon receiving both, we will hold and book your wedding date for you, thus reserving it for you and no one else. We will have turned away other couples for your date (sometimes four or five times over), and may have completed work with you too (like your pre wedding session, a meeting or time sending emails, contracts and invoices!)
If you decide to move your wedding date and don’t consult your suppliers, they may not be available for your new date. If that is the case, it will be likely that the contract you’ve signed will outline that you’re not eligible for getting your money back and you will be bound by the cancellation terms of your contract. If however your wedding can't go ahead because of a lockdown, or if weddings are legally banned, then you should be entitled to your non refundable retainer back.
HOWEVER, changing your date for personal reasons, such as limited guest numbers, other reasons out of our control as suppliers, may mean that you're not entitled to your money back. Sadly it is out of our control if the government doesn’t allow full guest numbers, but if a wedding is legally allowed to go ahead, contractually we can be there to fulfil the coverage, which means you might be cancelling your wedding coverage unnecessarily (legally speaking) and may not be entitled to any money back.
In these incredibly difficult times, I sympathise with all my couples and the uncertainty they face with their planning but I hope you can also understand the difficult position we are in as well. I would definitely advise keeping an eye on the government updates in due course so that you’re able to make an informed decision.
For some companies it may be necessary to charge a new non refundable retainer fee, or to pay a little extra since costs will have gone up since you originally booked your date (such as with a cake maker, or florist for example.) Ensure to communicate with your suppliers and do seek legal advice if you are concerned, but please be kind to us, this is as tricky for us as it is for you!
5. Pay toward your remaining balances early if you can
There is the running joke that as soon as you put the word ‘wedding’ in front of something, it exponentially increases in price, isn't there? But the truth is, many of us are not rolling in money right now.
Everyone has been hit and affected in different ways by the Coronavirus pandemic, and the wedding industry is no different. As Joe Exotic said: ‘I am never gonna financially recover from this’ - and for some, this is the sad truth.
I’ve already seen friends in the industry close their businesses after more than ten years of trading. I’ve seen people in wedding industry advice groups fight with other business owners about how they ‘shouldn’t have spent their clients money before they had done the work.’ I’ve seen people not be able to pay rent, put food on the table, or have to take out loans just to survive. No one expected this, and throwing pitchforks at one another won’t help either, we have to come together.
The lack of income last year encouraged me to bring to realisation my dreams of doing other things. And thus I am working really hard on other creative outlets, like building this entirely new website, and working on educational materials!
But the reality is, if my clients aren’t going ahead with their weddings, then balances aren’t going to be paid, and I will have no money coming in.
It therefore makes an absolutely massive difference (and makes me do a happy dance!) when my couples ask to pay me early, or on time with their original payment schedules. So many of you have reached out to me to do this, many of you have actually paid your balances off early, in full, in part, or have set up payment plans. One couple told me that they were worried about me, and wanted to pay me off now, to which I almost cried!
Having couples pay you during this time is something I speak about gingerly, and is definitely not something I expect, as everyone’s situation is totally different. Some of you may have lost your jobs, some of you may have been furloughed, or some of you might have had to put off wedding planning altogether. But for those of you who are able to make payments, in whatever form possible, this is so gratefully received.
6. Hold onto suppliers, check their policies, and communicate!
It is as heartbreaking for me to lose a couple as it is for a couple to lose a supplier I am sure. I know that you’ll want to hold onto us as much as you can, but sometimes it’s not always possible. Many of my couples have re-booked their entire weddings around me - which feels slightly bizarre but is also really wonderful! Second to a venue, photographers, videographers and caterers are not only amongst the first to get booked up, but they’re possibly one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your day.
So, when dealing with your suppliers, ensure that you’ve got a copy in writing of their postponement policy, and ensure that you ask any questions you may need to. Communication is key at this time, and I often find a phone call or voice note can be the most helpful and reassuring, followed up with an email.
Also although it may sound cheeky initially, some suppliers may need to charge new booking fees, or increase the price of their packages. It is important to consider that for many suppliers, pricing will have increased since you booked originally a year or two ago - particularly when it comes to materials for say wedding cake makers or florists. Our pricing is based on taking these things into consideration at the time of booking, so for some it may be necessary to charge you a little extra. Ensure that you have asked about this!
7 . New date? Tell your guests!
You’ve got a new date?! Congratulations! No need to handwrite letters to everyone you invited though, don’t worry, and you definitely don’t send a WhatsApp group message to 150+ people… We have new ways to tell everyone about your new date!
Many of my couples have wedding websites, which are a fab way to keep your guests updated and help them RSVP to your wedding! You could use something like WithJoy or GettingMarried to do so! It’s quick, easy and simple to update (just in case of another postponement!)
You could also send out a new ‘Save The Date’ card! Get in touch with your stationer to see if this is something they may be able to offer you, as many will be able to simply change the text to reflect your new date!
8. Still celebrate your original wedding date if you have to postpone
Just because you can’t get married on your original wedding date, it doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate! From holding your own mini ceremony, to celebrating with family on a group zoom call, to writing love letters to look back on. There are still plenty of ways to celebrate!
- Have a little ceremony at home, write your own vows, get glammed up and make something special out of your original wedding date. That way you’ll still be celebrating, and it’ll just be the two of you. Make sure to crack open a bottle of Prosecco after!
- Write your own vows or exchange love letters. So many couples exchange their love through carefully-written words whether in their vows or letters before the ceremony, so why not take this opportunity to still do so? I’ve still got all of the letters my boyfriend and I exchanged from years ago. They’re such special keepsakes!
- Get your friends on zoom / FaceTime / even stream your ‘wedding’ live! Celebrate socially with the ones you love - with a bit of social distancing!
- Spend your day together in a way you wouldn’t usually. From something as simple as cooking your partner breakfast, or planning a ‘fakeaway’ to eat at home... To having a ‘date day’ or going for a walk together and enjoying the sunshine. Just do something that means you two can be together. It’s even better if you leave your phones at home too so that you’re not distracted!
- Spend the time planning your new wedding date and wedding activities together. I know a few of my couples have already put more money aside for videographers, better wedding outfits, and epic hen and stag do’s. Spend the day planning all of the exciting things you can do to get you back into the wedding planning spirit!
- Acceptance. Even just being together on a day that was meant to be so special STILL makes it special. We have our health, our happiness, and something to look forward to. Just think how epic everything is going to be after all this calms down!
9. Ride the emotional rollercoaster
It’s totally okay if some days you don’t even want to think about the ‘W’ word. After all, you’re effectively grieving for something right now, so you’re not expected to feel totally on top of things!
Having spoken to my own couples, having booked new dates, so many of them have now put their wedding planning on hold. Although they don’t want to think about planning their weddings right now, there will come a time and place where they can get back on the horse and get planning again. But don’t push yourself to feel any kind of way. This is a totally unprecedented time, not to mention a stressful one, and it will take a while to feel right as rain! Maybe you'll think completely differently and cancel the big wedding and go and elope! Who knows!
10. Throw out the rule book and get excited to re-plan!
If you’ve gone through the waves of emotion, the likelihood is you’re finally feeling a little better and are ready to get back on Pinterest and get re-planning this wedding!
For some of my couples, this has meant coming to the realisation that perhaps a big wedding wasn’t for them. I’ve even had new enquiries from new couples who have dropped their idea of having their wedding abroad and are now looking to have more intimate weddings in the UK.
Maybe you could still get married, but with a celebrant instead of a registrar, or have a back garden wedding instead of a church wedding - the options are endless!
For lots of you, this has been the time you’ve almost needed to sit back, re-evaluate, and make a new plan of action! So, throw the rule book out of the window. Plan things with a new, exciting perspective.
I hope this may be helpful to those of you planning weddings amongst the Coronavirus pandemic! Feel free to get in touch with any questions you might have!