I'm Planning A Pandemic Wedding – These Tips Have Helped So Far

Experts share advice on planning amid pandemic uncertainty – including that very crucial wedding insurance.

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up to the Life newsletter for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

Last week, I took a day off work to buy a wedding dress – for a wedding I’m not sure will even happen. I wore a face mask during the entire appointment because, like brides-to-be around the country, I’m planning a wedding during a pandemic. It’s not a sentence I’d ever imagined typing.

The dress shopping itself was a surprise success, not least thanks to the wonderful shop owner, who diligently explained each dress is cleaned between appointments, before the (spotlessly clean) shop is re-sanitised. I could see her welcoming, smiling eyes behind her mask and visor, as she asked about my plans for the big day.

And my mum – my one and only permitted guest – ensured the day was fun, cracking jokes to help me laugh at the whole thing, then crying on cue when I found The One. The dress might be sorted, but I still have more questions than answers about other elements of the day.

How do you plan for a wedding when you have no idea what the government restrictions will be in advance?

Receptions are currently banned in England, and only socially distanced ceremonies of 30 people are allowed. We don’t know when that might change, so should you plan for the best case scenario, or get used to the idea of a more intimate affair?

A lot depends on when your wedding is, of course. If it’s in the next few months and you’re simply adding the final touches, you might have already cut down your guest list. But if you have a 2021 wedding, it can be hard to know what to plan when you don’t know what restrictions will be in place then.

Unsure what to do myself, I turned to leading industry names for their advice, in the hope it’ll help brides and grooms facing the same conundrums.

Steven Ritzer / EyeEm via Getty Images

Should you play the waiting game?

It’s tempting to wait until the last minute to plan the finer details of your wedding day, to see what the Covid-19 situation is nearer the time. But Hamish Shephard, founder of the wedding planning app Bridebook.co.uk, cautions against leaving things too late.

“If you have a wedding due in the next few months, now is the time to work out how you’re going to adapt to the current situation,” he says.

A popular option for couples having 2020 weddings is to go ahead with an intimate ceremony this year, but postpone the main party until 2021, he adds. If you choose this option, be aware that a big 2021 party isn’t guaranteed – it’ll all depend on a potential second wave, or the roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine.

If your wedding or reception is planned for 2021 anyway, Shephard recommends beginning your planning now to avoid disappointment.

“We’re seeing more people than ever getting engaged and 2021 looks set to be a bumper year for weddings,” he says. “We estimate a whopping 400,000 weddings and celebrations will take place next year, so it’s time to book in those suppliers before your ideal date gets filled up.”

What should you consider before booking a supplier?

Whether you’re chatting to a florist, entertainer, caterer or hairdresser, be sure to check their cancellation policies before booking, says Shephard.

“Check the contracts carefully to ensure you have something that suits your needs,” he says. “Some [suppliers] will cover if certain guests can’t make it, while others may be less flexible.”

If you’re going ahead with a scaled-down event, remember that suppliers who need to stay on site will count towards your head count, adds Jennifer Claire Constant, founder of The Celebrant Directory.

You’ll also want to get wedding insurance if you didn’t do this at the time of booking your venue. “There are a lot of different types of wedding insurance, so each couple will need to check their policy details to see precisely what is covered by theirs,” Shephard says. Make sure you’re covered, should the event not be able to go ahead exactly as you’d planned.

Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images

Is it time to uninvite some guests?

If it looks likely that you’ll need to postpone your wedding or brutally cull your guest list to 30 people, it’s best to let guests know as soon as possible, as some may be booking time off work or hotels for your wedding.

When choosing your shortlist, Constant recommends casting family politics aside. “Close your eyes and imagine who’s a big part of your life and, if they weren’t there on your wedding day, would be a really upsetting thing for you,” she says. “Also think about people who make you feel happy and have always been there and supported you.”

Try to have the conversation in person or at least via a video or phone call, she advises, as a text feels less personable and is more likely to cause upset.

If your wedding is next year and you don’t yet know how many people you’ll be able to invite, tell your invited guests that if you need to cut the list down, you’ll let them know nearer the time. We’re in the grips of a pandemic, they’re bound to understand.

And remember, it’s likely that everyone will need to be happy to share their contact details with your venue, for track and trace purposes. “Be prepared to assist with the collection of this information,” advises Kelly Sinnott, owner of the private wedding venue Baddow Park House. “There are a few apps out there that are starting to offer this service whilst adhering to GDPR rulings.”

Should you move the whole thing outside?

Bread and Butter Productions via Getty Images

Emma Hla, founder of venue directory Coco Wedding Venues, says the site has seen a 9,000% increase in couples searching for a ‘garden’ wedding venue during the pandemic.

Something to remember, though, is that mass gatherings are still banned – whether they’re inside or outdoors – so while the fresh air might make everyone feel more comfortable, it won’t necessarily fix the problem. For now, you’ll still have to keep things small.

“When planning an outdoor ceremony or wedding, it’s important to have the good ol’ British weather in mind,” adds Hla. “Ensure your chosen venue has a suitable plan B option that you’d be equally happy to use.”

Some venues may have a marquee in place you can use, but if you’re looking at hiring a marquee yourself, there’s a lot to consider – from power sources to nearby port-a-loos. Again, all these elements require people to set up and manage – which will eat into your head count.

Depending on where your venue is in the UK and its licensing, you also may not be able to get legally married outdoors, so do check this first.

What should you do about food?

The traditional wedding breakfast is banned right now, even for 30 guests. So if you’re getting married in the next few months, you’re best bet is to plan your post-ceremony bash with food later down the line.

Hla says the bar-restaurant venue style category has seen a +151% increase on her site, indicating a more-relaxed, cost-friendly post-ceremony celebration. But current rules state you can only mix with two households indoors.

“A private dining room is a wonderfully intimate option post-ceremony – once the party element of a wedding is allowed,” adds Hla. If your wedding is next year and this sounds up your street, research relaxed dining venue options nearby, should the distancing rules be relaxed.

It’s hard to know what the future of food may look like at weddings, but experts say an option could be to have covered boxed meals, bento-style – designed to match your wedding decor. As ever, discuss with any potential caterer what their cancellation policy is before going ahead.

Oh, and it goes without saying that buffets won’t be making a comeback any time soon.

Is live music a no-go?

Under the current rules, singing, chanting and shouting are banned at weddings, as are instruments “that are blown into”. Will you want to go ahead with a band if it’s instrumental? Or is a DJ (or Spotify) a better option?

Organs and pianos are allowed (as long as they are thoroughly cleaned afterwards), so that might be the answer if you’re longing for some live music as you walk down the aisle. Again, check cancellation and postponement policies before paying any deposits and remember this will eat into your head count.

“You can still create the romance through your favourite songs digitally,” reassures Constant. “Walking down the aisle to a song that is special to both of you can have the same effect.”

If all else fails...

Planning for two dates might be the safest option, says Sinnott.

“Approach your venue and suppliers to see whether you can work towards your date but have a ‘plan B’ date allocated to fall back on,” she says. “This may help to alleviate some of the stress and the unknown if you know you already have an alternative date saved if things cannot go ahead as you had wished.”