ALTARations: Navigating an Unprecedented Wedding Season

It's your (postponed) party and you can curse if you want to. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace

Chances are if you are a couple tying the knot in 2020, you are doing what I refer to as the Pandemic Pivot and trying to find your equilibrium in a world of uncertainty. We understand this is a stressful time so we reached out to some experts in the field for their thoughts. Here is what they have to say.

Rachel Hoffberger, Plan it Perfect owner and a wedding and event planner in the Greater Baltimore (MD) area, says they were one of the earlier areas to get hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This unprecedented situation has required us all to be very flexible, and our plans to be fluid.  Clients with earlier dates, such as May or June, are not taking their chances that things will improve by then, and they are proactively rescheduling for later dates. Many of those with later dates booked, like August and September, are hedging their bets and considering keeping their dates on the calendar, while some others are not taking their chances.  The big issue becomes the availability of dates in the future.  Here in Maryland, September and October are the biggest wedding months, so those weekend dates are already taken at a vast majority of the popular venues.  Many of the folks who decide to rebook are choosing off-peak days of the week or off-peak months like December and January. Hoffberger gave us 10 bullet points to ponder, six steps to assess and four questions to ask.

Have faith that your wedding dreams will come true. Photo courtesy of Ashford Castle.

Six steps to assess

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Reach out to each vendor and ask them what your options are.  If you have a planner, let them handle this part for you.  Let the vendors know you are aware of the cancellation clause in their contract, but you are hoping they will work something out with you during this situation that no one has ever had to navigate before. Find out how they would be able to work through an outright cancellation, as well as a postponement.  Are there any charges/refunds, and are there any limitations to the timing?
  • Assess the potential losses that you would experience if you were to cancel or postpone.
  • Once you have decided to postpone or cancel, contact all your guests as soon as possible to inform them.
  • Formally notify your vendors of your decision.  This usually requires written notice.  Check your contracts for specific instructions for modifying or canceling your agreement.
  • Lock in your new date and notify your invited guests.  Perhaps you are inviting all the same people again, or maybe you’ve made Plan B a smaller event and you need to get the word out to a different group of people.
The road to your plans may have diverted but your destination to getting married can still be celebrated. Photo courtesy of Mission Point.

Four questions to ask

  • Are you going to love your Plan B as much as you love Plan A?  This is something I can help my clients work through.  I’m dedicated to finding a Plan B that is just as perfect, if not better, than their original plans.
  • Are your vendors willing to work with you on rebooking for another date or canceling altogether?  Under normal circumstances, deposits are non-refundable.  Furthermore, any money paid after the initial deposit is also usually non-refundable.  If the cancellation is very close to the event itself, such as my wedding that should have been this weekend and got canceled last week, chances are everything has been paid in full and little to nothing can be done to get any funds back.  But we were lucky for this wedding, and all the vendors, except one, was willing to roll over all monies paid to a new date.  The one vendor who couldn’t honor that was the florist because they had already committed to paying the farmer for the flowers that were grown for that particular event.
  • Are there any dates available at your venue, or at a venue that you like?
  • Would you be willing to make major changes to your event, such as getting married in your back yard, versus using a rented venue?Flexibility is key when making a cancellation or postponement in a hurry.

Paula Carroll, director of sales and marketing at Ashford Castle in Ireland, says that almost everyone who has scheduled weddings at The Lodge at Ashford Castle for the next six months have either canceled or rescheduled.  If they canceled, Ashford Castle has refunded the couple 100% of the cost of the wedding. “We are doing the right and charitable thing at a time of crisis,” says Ms. Carroll. “This is no time to be charging people for canceling.” Likewise, Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle are refunding anyone who is canceling room reservations now.

You found the one you love. You are well on your way to happily ever after! Photo courtesy of Mission Point.

Maybe wait and see

Liz Ware, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Mission Point says some couples can wait and see. “Our goal has been and will continue to be to create memories of a lifetime. As a drive destination and the “Crown Jewel” of Michigan, we’ve been fortunate in that smaller weddings have more flexibility in having a “wait and see” approach to keeping their wedding date and if necessary, postponing. Couples are planning the possibility of having fewer guests and we remain flexible on working with each and every one. For larger weddings, we are also seeing a wait and see approach but these weddings have more guests traveling and in some cases from around the world. Each wedding is unique and so is our approach. What we are seeing with the larger ones is that if they need or want to do a smaller ceremony in the near future, they are doing this at home but still want that large celebration later in the year. Again, flexibility is key for both the couple and the property,” says Ware. “At Mission Point, we are a family-owned and operated resort serving multi-generational families so a long term relationship means a lot. It’s hard right now and there is uncertainty. We’ve been known to shed a tear or two with a couple who needs to cancel or postpone. The key is to be there and to empathize. We are going to welcome these couples and their families when they are comfortable.”

Tell the (new) world your plans. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace.

Tell your guests your plans

Once you come to a decision, it’s important to communicate your news to your guests. We asked Laura Manteuffel, owner and creative director of Elizabeth Grace in Chicago for insight.”I’m seeing a lot of couples pushing their dates.  I think it’s more important now than ever to reach out personally to guests to let them know of the change in plans.  We are all feeling isolated and beholden to digital technology but a piece of mail stands out.  (if its hand-addressed, even better!)  I have had clients order some beautiful stationery to write individual notes to each guest (the bride joked that she definitely had time now!).  We have also had a few more irreverent brides using a bit of humor to diffuse the tension and anxiety!  No matter how you change the plans I think the more personal the better. We are doing everything we can to make it easy for our clients.  We completely understand how difficult a time this is and just want to do everything we can to help.  Many of our printers are still able to keep the presses running for us, so we are offering some deep discounts to help ease the financial burdens we are all experiencing in these times as well,” said Manteuffel.

Stay safe!

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