As we progress further into 2021, it's become a reality that we very likely will see some COVID-related guidelines throughout the coming wedding season and through the end of the calendar year.
I know you had big plans. I know that you had an original wedding vision. Because of the pandemic, you may be questioning how much you'll have to compromise on that vision in order to safely celebrate on your 2021 date.
After witnessing some wonderful celebrations in 2020, I'm confident that with the modifications below, you can keep your 2021 date and have a wedding day that exceeds all of your expectations.
Spoiler! Scroll down to the bottom to see images from a gorgeous tented wedding that was downsized from 200 to 35 guests.
Reducing Your Guest Count
This is likely going to be in play in 2021, but it doesn't have to be viewed as a negative thing.
I'm a huge proponent of keeping the guest list more intimate for a number of reasons (budget, quality time, keeping expectations and stress low), and now COVID is prompting this discussion more than ever before.
When narrowing down your list, be sure to understand what your state's current limitations are for both indoor + outdoor events (in partnership with your venue's guidance). Let's say that you are celebrating tented, outdoors, and the capacity limit is currently at 50 (like we saw for parts of last summer).
A list of 50 will likely include your immediate family and their partners, your wedding party and their partners, and perhaps a bit of extended family like grandparents, aunts and uncles, some very close family friends, or a few very close friends that extend beyond your wedding party.
A guest list of 100 may also include your entire extended family (including cousins).
I'm recommending that you create an A list of folks that fit within your state's current gathering guidelines, a B list for if that list can extend a bit, and then a C list if that list can extend further. As an example, this may look like a list of 50, 100 and 150.
A big driver of decision making is going to be invitation mailing. Because of COVID, you may have to order more invitations than you end up mailing, and you may have to mail them in waves.
Once you've determined your core group that will fit within the current guidelines, feel free to mail those invitations out as early as 10-12 weeks out. Prioritize mailing to those that need to make more involved travel plans. As you receive those RSVPs and learn whether any of those folks cannot attend, while also closely watching re-opening plans and expanded gathering limits, you can continue to mail in waves. As you approach your wedding date and you're a month out, final plans will begin to look more clear. If you need to mail any last-minute invitations to more local folks, that's OK.
Everyone understands that we are still in a pandemic, and this process will not be perfect for anyone.
Tenting and Outdoor Celebrations
It comes as no surprise that outdoor gatherings have been far less restrictive than indoor. Exploring with your venue whether there's an option to tent on the property will be a conversation you'll want to start up, if you haven't already. Some couples have opted to forego their venue deposit and move to another outdoor venue or an at-home celebration, knowing that they'll save money with a reduced guest count. This is an entirely personal decision and I'm in no way advocating for it, just be sure that you're thinking through all of your options in order to have the type of celebration that you desire.
Social distancing will very likely be in play in 2021. From an events standpoint, this means the following things:
- Spacing all tables 6' apart
- Limiting number of seats per table (state dependent, this could look like tables of 6 or 8)
- Seated cocktail hour
- Spacing out chairs during the ceremony, encouraging seating by household
Essentially, your venue/caterer/planner are going to want to collaborate with you to minimize the clustering of guests from a space flow standpoint.
Note that even if you have a reduced guest count, the max count of 6-8 per table may mean that you end up with just as many tables are your original plan of seating 10 per table, so your floral and rental costs may not shift as dramatically as you were hoping for.
This area gets a little tricky. It's very likely that all service professionals will continue to work with masks on for the remainder of the year. Whether or not guests are required to wear masks will depend on your state and venue. From my experience, some venues have been very stringent about enforcing guest mask wearing. Some, not at all. So, please talk to your venue about their plans to encourage/enforce mask wearing for weddings. Sometimes, these conversations are better had over the phone as opposed to email.
It will likely be recommended that you supply face masks on-site for your desk and have hand sanitization available throughout. You can order silk face masks for yourself and wedding party to coordinate with your attire and make the mask situation feel a little more upscale. You can provide black or white masks for your guests as well, and even customize with a wedding monogram or something to make the mask look more uniform and less distracting in photos.
Food and Beverage Service
We'll very likely see modified methods of food and beverage service in 2021. These modifications aren't new at this point and caterers had a lot of opportunity in 2020 to really refine these new service offerings. They may include:
- Plated meal service as opposed to buffet or food station, to minimize guest movement/clustering. Work with your caterer to see how you can transition your menu to a plated meal or even within your hors d'oeuvre selections. With a more intimate guest count, consider this a super fancy dinner party with all of your favorite people. Perhaps you offer beef and seafood. Include a really decadent dessert. You can enhance your menu offerings since you'll be saving on number of guests.
- Cocktail service vs. bar walk-up, to minimize lines or clustering around the bar area. Create fun tabletop bar menus for guests to order from, and ramp up your signature cocktail game! Order custom cocktail napkins and other décor and personalized items that may have been cost prohibitive with a larger wedding.
- Cocktail hour, dessert, and late night snacks: dessert buffets, hors d'oeuvre stations, and items that encourage walk-up service will likely need to be transitioned to pre-portioned and pre-packaged offerings. Talk to your caterer about creating individual hors d'oeuvre plates, serving dessert to the table or individually packaging, and creating a sweet or savory snack to-go at the end of the night.
Caterers have been working creatively to adapt menus and service for quite a while, so they will be your best guide here.
I know that the banning of dance floors has been a deal breaker for a lot of couples. But hear me out: you can still dance. The purpose of banning a dance floor is to not create an intentional space that invites guests to cluster together. You can still have your first dance, you can still have your parent dances, and you can still dance after dinner. Creatively space out your tables so that there's room for these special dance moments, without a dedicated 16' x 16' dance floor.
Work with your band or DJ to be sure to adapt to the mood of the room. A small guest count can still have a killer post-dinner vibe, even if guests are a little more socially distanced. No matter your guest count, a DJ/band is essential to emceeing the evening and keeping everything flowing smoothly.
With a smaller wedding, you have an opportunity really upgrade your design. Here are some areas to revisit and ramp up:
- Invitation design: vellum enclosure, wax seals, belly bands, wax seals
- Ceremony backdrop and design
- Chair upgrades
- Linen and napkin upgrades
- Floral centerpiece upgrades
- Place cards, escort cards or seating chart
- Lighting! Chandeliers and bistros
- Tenting - upgrade to a sail cloth or clear top tent
And so many more opportunities to enhance the look and feel of your wedding day.
With money saved on a reduced guest count, you now have room to:
- Hire that videographer to capture your day on film
- Hire that planner/coordinator to ease the process and ensure you enjoy this time
- Involve your pets and hire a professional pet sitter
- Upgrade your transportation (trolleys for all!)
- Go all out on food + drink selection
- Buy/rent that décor that you've been eyeing
- Provide even more luxurious welcome bags + gifts for your guests
And more. There are so many things you can do with a smaller guest count and bigger budget. If you're looking to chat more for your 2021 wedding, reach out and say hello!
Photography: Kjeld Mahoney
Videography: LoveLocked Films
Venue: Scituate Harbor Yacht Club
Planner: Revel and Joy Events
Transport: Rockstar Limo