The New Reality: Health & Safety, New Wedding Formats and Guest Experiences Top of Mind for Couples Planning Weddings During COVID-19
As the World Slowly Reopens, Weddings May Look Different, But Will Be Valued More Than Ever
NEW YORK, NY—May 13, 2020—As the world begins to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Knot, a leading wedding planning and registry resource, shares the new reality of weddings. Hundreds of thousands of weddings happen around the world every weekend, and according to The Knot’s global research, most engaged couples whose weddings have been impacted by COVID-19 are not canceling their weddings (92% globally, 93% in the US), and are rescheduling for either later this year, 2021, or not making any changes at this time. With a strong desire to celebrate their weddings as they had originally planned, 94% of couples in the US and 87% globally do not plan to reduce their overall guest count, and 95% in the US and 90% globally do not anticipate lowering their budget, according to research from The Knot.1
“To-be weds and wedding professionals are experiencing an unprecedented time as this pandemic has halted one of the most celebrated moments in a couple’s life, but love is not canceled,” said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, Editor in Chief of The Knot. “It’s not a matter of if, but when events are permitted again, couples and guests will be more eager than ever to celebrate love and one of life’s biggest moments together after long periods of isolation.”
A New Reality: From Health & Safety to New Formats and Rethinking the Guest Experience
While the world opens back up, many countries and states are still implementing guidelines limiting large group gatherings and events. As countries and states continually adapt local regulations in response to the potential of changing circumstances, The Knot anticipates weddings being celebrated a number of different ways. One factor that will remain constant is the desire for human connection and the celebration of love with loved ones—no matter what that celebration looks like.
With the help of wedding industry experts, The Knot shares the new reality of weddings regarding health and safety measures, layouts and new event formats, and rethinking the guest experience.
Health & Safety Measures
Creative Sanitizing Top of Mind for Couples and Vendors
While sanitizing products have not always served as staple wedding décor, health and safety measures will be incorporated into wedding day protocol in creative ways. Planners or venue owners will help couples come up with unique ways to distribute highly coveted hand-sanitizing solutions to guests, which can include personalized bottles in welcome bags or as prewedding favors, and having waitstaff pass out mini bottles styled on silver trays.
Masks & Gloves Become Wedding Staples
Additionally, couples may offer gloves and masks to guests (potentially even in colors or patterns that coordinate with their overall wedding day décor and style), and even adopt formal gloves as a fashion accessory for their wedding day look. Historically, gloves have been seen as an elegant and timeless fashion accessory, which some couples have natively adopted with handshakes in mind. Vendors will likely be required to wear personal protective equipment, especially those who are serving guests, such as catering staff and bartenders.
Plated vs. Buffet Meals
While great food and libations are still top of mind for couples, the manner in which dishes and drinks are prepared and served will follow stringent safety precautions. Most couples will likely opt for plated meals instead of a buffet in the near future, but if a serve-yourself-style meal is preferred, smaller stations will be incorporated rather than a long assembly line for a full buffet.
“The health and safety of guests is of utmost importance. Couples should communicate to guests the measures being put into place and emphasize that by following their guidelines, they’re showing love and respect to them and others in attendance,” said Emily Clarke, founder of Emily Clarke Events. “Putting a personalized touch to these measures will go a long way in normalizing the incorporation into weddings and keeping the positive, fun spirit of a wedding intact. For instance, create personalized hand-sanitizing wipes in petite packages with guests’ names on them so people can sanitize as soon as they sit down for dinner.”
New Wedding Formats and Layouts
Open-Air Add-Ons Rise in Popularity
Couples are encouraged to work with their wedding venue in staging socially distant, yet creative, ceremony and reception groupings for guests, as large, dense crowds will still likely raise concerns. Couples in early planning stages, who have not yet chosen their vendor team, may consider incorporating open-air or outdoor elements to their celebrations to eliminate guests feeling confined. For those who have chosen their venue already, couples will be more intentional with who they’re inviting and guests they’re grouping together at both the ceremony and reception dining tables.
Ceremonies Adopt Standing Room and Socially-Distanced Seats
Shorter ceremonies with more room for standing will be the norm, allowing guests to be as close to others, or not, as they feel comfortable. For those who prefer to have a seat, expect to see ceremony venues accommodate social distancing with spaced-seating arrangements. Wedding officiants may also request that couples stand a bit further away from them during the ceremony, and that wedding parties place more space in between individuals.
The New Age Receiving Line: Gesture Lines
While greeting each guest is suggested etiquette for couples and their family members, couples may put a unique spin on contactless greetings, whether this involves an element of their culture like a bow, or something more casual and playful like a contemporary “gesture line” filled with winks and waves, in lieu of a traditional receiving line. Whatever the couple decides, don’t be surprised to see gentle reminders to social distance displayed throughout the ceremony and reception spaces at many weddings.
Satellite Stations Steal the Show
When it comes to late-night celebrating, dancing will still be a part of weddings, and now couples can explore the concept of satellite dance floors and satellite bars to provide more than one space to bust a move or refresh their beverage. Not only will this serve as a health and safety precaution, but it will also allow guests to explore different entertainment experiences throughout the festivities.
“Venues can anticipate an increased desire from couples to incorporate outdoor elements into their wedding celebrations, such as small, carefully placed lounge furniture vignettes among blooming gardens and ambient lighting displays,” said Melanie McAfee, owner of Barr Mansion, Ballroom and Farmstand. “Additionally, wedding venues that have more than one space dedicated to weddings—perhaps a tented outdoor site along with an indoor ballroom with an adjacent open-air terrace—may opt to leverage all the spaces on their grounds for one celebration, allowing couples and their guests to spread out more than normal.”
Format of Events
The Rise of the Quarantine Minimony: Marry Now, Wedding Later
While in quarantine, many couples have gotten creative with ways to honor their original wedding dates, with some planning to get married before their rescheduled celebration (27%) and partaking in mini-ceremonies, or what The Knot has coined a “minimony.”2 Couples are celebrating their marriage ceremony intimately between the two of them or with a small group of loved ones in person or virtually. While minimonies don’t take the place of a couple’s postponed wedding celebration, the small commitment ceremonies are often a cathartic way for couples to bond in honoring their original wedding date during this unprecedented time. In addition to a couple’s officiant joining virtually to conduct the virtual ceremony, they can also lean on their wedding planner to help bring a “minimony” to life. Planners are helping couples coordinate with their other wedding vendors, such as their cake baker who may be able to provide a smaller “mini” version of their wedding cake, or their florist who can create a mini bouquet. Couples can also hire their wedding photographer to capture this smaller minimony, and then post photos to their wedding website as a sneak peek for guests of what’s to come.
Evolution of Event Formats Influence Timelines and Guest Count
The influence of social distancing and limiting large group interactions will likely continue to shape weddings even after distancing restrictions are loosened or lifted. Couples will likely make changes to their wedding day formats, whether that be shifting to a weekday wedding to ensure their full vendor team is available, revisiting their guest list for a more intimate and intentional gathering, or planning multiple wedding celebrations to accommodate various guest groupings. New wedding day formats may include:
Many couples are being flexible when rescheduling their wedding date, with some US couples opting to switch their wedding celebrations to a different day of the week (12%)—most commonly Thursday (8% of those who switched days), Friday (40% of those who switched days), or Sunday (33% of those who switched days).2 Couples are making this decision to ensure their full vendor team is available on their new, rescheduled date. Plus, these days are often still convenient as an extension of the weekend for both traveling and in-town guests.
The Knot initially coined the term “sequel wedding” in 2019 when referring to couples who had multiple ceremonies for cultural, religious or other reasons. In the time of COVID-19, sequel weddings are taking on a new meaning for couples who still want to celebrate with all those nearest and dearest to them safely. A sequel wedding is a larger-scale second celebration (i.e. a wedding that’s been postponed), following an event that is more intimate in nature like a minimony or microwedding. Having a minimony allows couples to solidify their union or to honor their first proposed date, while throwing a sequel wedding allows them to bring their wedding vision to life and celebrate with all their guests.
The concept of a shift wedding may also appeal to couples who want to maintain a full guest list, allowing them to celebrate with all their loved ones in a similar way to what they initially planned, but in shifts. With shift weddings, couples are able to host their wedding day festivities at their original venue and with their full team of wedding vendors in shifts of people, allowing them to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and event capacity restrictions. Venues will properly clean and sanitize between groups arriving on site. This concept may help couples create a fulfilling celebration after a long period of self-isolating, without having to make the difficult decision to cut their guest list.
Guests can utilize the events they already had planned for their wedding weekend (the rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception and next-day brunch) to host multiple celebrations, inviting different groupings of their guests to each event. This concept, similar to a shift wedding, allows couples with a guest list on the larger side to celebrate with each and every one of their guests throughout multiple separate festivities. Unlike the shift wedding, multiweddings happen over a span of an entire weekend instead of just one day, allowing for lengthier events.
Due to unpredictable lifting of social-distancing restrictions, some couples may look to move forward with planning a microwedding, or an intimate wedding celebration with a reduced guest list. With a couple’s reduction in guest count, they can create a truly one-of-a-kind macro experience, splurging on elements like a top-shelf open bar, a decadent sit-down brunch at a five-star restaurant, or outside-the-box guest entertainment. Some couples who host microweddings may also choose to host a larger party in the near future with the rest of their guest list.
Rethinking the Guest Experience
Guest Communication Enhanced by Digitization and Increased Frequency
To help guests feel safe and in the know, couples will likely shift their methods for communicating with guests in advance of wedding celebrations, inclusive of incorporating more details on paper stationery, like heath and safety information, and an increased reliance on technology like wedding websites, digital wedding registries like The Knot Registry, virtual gifting, and streaming platforms.
Wedding websites are the best way for couples to remain in constant contact with guests on updates related to their upcoming wedding. A list of frequently asked questions is a great place to start, with details on any new accommodations like hotel blocks or day-of transportation, and any new health and safety precautions that will be incorporated into wedding festivities.
Guest Experience Enhanced With Alternative Entertainment
Couples are planning with precautions in mind for limiting close quarters and may include hyper-personalized alternative entertainment for their guests to enjoy at a safe distance. These experiences can be a fun play on the couple’s relationship, their passions or their cultural backgrounds with unique, live musical performances, or the couple’s band or DJ creating a few different themed music areas throughout the reception to limit crowds. Music vendors may also lean into technology, like the silent disco concept, so guests can celebrate more spread out at a safe distance.
Personalization to Reach an All-Time High
Hyper-personalization doesn’t stop at entertainment. Couples will incorporate more of their unique love stories into every element of their celebration, from favors and welcome bags (which may now be mailed to each guest in advance) to creative send-offs at the end of the night. With planners working closely with couples on curating a completely personalized celebration, The Knot anticipates many creative new trends emerging in the next year due to couples infusing more personal, unique touches into their special days.
“Pros will help couples curate intricate food and beverage moments, allowing these staple wedding reception elements to become part of the entertainment for guests,” said Emily Elizabeth Gordon, owner of Em and E Events. “You may see a string quartet perform during the soup and salad course, followed by a carefully interactive magic show during the main course, with an interactive dessert display to end the evening. The options for couples are endless if they get creative with their pros, and can also include caricature paintings for guests with different scenes from the wedding incorporated, or a local school marching band show for high school sweethearts.”
Livestreaming for Faraway Loved Ones
The rise of wedding streaming for loved ones tuning in from afar will also likely increase in the next year due to guests who may be uncomfortable traveling or being in large crowds immediately following the pandemic. In addition, guests will likely take a digital-first approach when it comes to gifting for weddings and wedding-related events like showers and bachelor(ette) parties.
Wedding Planning Continues in a Social-Distancing World
For couples planning weddings for 2021 and beyond, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, wedding planning is still very much able to happen right now and can easily be done in the comfort of your own home. Many vendors are conducting virtual appointments and getting to know couples and their style just as easily as they would in person. Couples can take virtual venue tours, try on dresses at home, enjoy home-delivered tastings from caterers, browse photos from photographers and videos from videographers, and read reviews of all vendors they’re looking to book for their day. In fact, one-in-four vendors surveyed in The Knot’s research have used video chats to connect with clients, and among venues, one-third have hosted a virtual tour.3 Second, couples should be flexible and open to days like Monday and Thursday. As 93% of couples who have had to postpone their weddings have rescheduled for later this year or 2021, couples are open to alternative wedding days to lock in their desired season or preferred team of wedding professionals.2
“Wedding pros are seeing many of these changes come to fruition in real time and are quickly building creative solutions to address necessary adjustments for engaged couples’ celebrations,” said Bill Zaruka, President of Wedgewood Weddings. “Pros are certainly tapping into the rise of weekday weddings and couples’ willingness to be flexible when rescheduling, as well as leveraging streaming technology to ensure high-risk loved ones can join the festivities from afar. We’re also thinking through new formats for events—like the ‘shift wedding’—and how these new formats can work for each couple’s unique wishes for their wedding day. Each and every dedicated wedding professional is constantly thinking about what the new reality of wedding celebrations holds for their couples and how they can make this moment in time incredibly treasured—even if it looks a bit different than their initial plans. What we do know is that couples, venues and wedding pros are all working together to assure that weddings can go on safely, while still maintaining the fun and beautiful environment couples have always dreamed of.”
Source 1: The Knot Worldwide Global COVID-19 Study, April 2020, N=14,356 (couples across The Knot Worldwide’s service areas: U.S, Canada, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, U.K, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, India)
Source 2: The Knot Worldwide US COVID-19 Study. April 2020. N=2,020
Source 3: WeddingPro Q2 2020 COVID-19 Study. May 2020. N=8,341
About The Knot
The Knot is one of the nation’s leading multiplatform wedding resources offering a seamless, all-in-one planning experience—from finding inspiration and local vendors to creating and managing all guest experiences, wedding registries and more. The trusted brand reaches a majority of engaged couples in the US through the #1 iOS and Android mobile app The Knot Wedding Planner, the #1 wedding planning website TheKnot.com, The Knot national and local wedding magazines, and The Knot book series. Since its inception, The Knot has inspired approximately 25 million couples to plan a wedding that’s uniquely them. Visit The Knot online at TheKnot.com and follow on social media: Facebook.com/TheKnot and @TheKnot on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.