To Couples Affected by COVID-19

 In Ballroom & Restaurant Weddings, Loft, Gallery & Alternative Space Weddings, Museum & Historical Building Weddings, Real Weddings by LOLA Event Productions, Wedding Tips & Trends from the LOLA Pros

To Couples Dealing with Hard Decisions…

I have been a wedding planner and small business owner in Chicago since 2006. My incredible staff of dedicated planning ninjas has sent over 650+ brides and grooms down the aisle to their happily-ever-after and been involved with thousands of weddings in some way shape or form in our 70+ combined years in the business. We’ve laughed, cried and planned side by side with you through the years and we feel your pain deeply and we are sharing your sleepless nights and emotional upheaval in these crazy days of COVID-19.

I want to inform other couples of what we are doing to manage the crisis with our own clients, and share some perspective about the financial, moral and ethical challenges we are going through as small business owners and event service providers. It’s VERY hard to be rational right now… I see you. I feel you! That said; let’s take this one step at a time TOGETHER.

 Get out of your own head and build a game plan…

The landscape of this virus is changing daily. Rather than sit passively ruining your wedding health kick by binging carbs and stress-chugging wine while watching the 24-hour news cycle unfold (or is that just me?!), take some concrete steps and create an action plan. Even if you aren’t being required to cancel/postpone your event at this time, there is the potential that could happen in the near future. You want to be ahead of the game with your strategy so you can pivot on a moment’s notice. Contact your vendors with specific questions so you can act quickly if the time comes. The planner’s motto – “Hope for the Best and PLAN FOR THE WORST.” Here is a list of questions we’ve been using to gather information from vendors. This way our clients can efficiently and rationally weigh their options and understand the financial liability and deadlines for making decisions:

  1. What is your cancellation policy as it specifically applies to the XYZ Wedding on XYZ Date including loss of deposit, balances still due, etc? Are you making exceptions or allowances to these policies in light of cancellations/postponements due to government recommendations to limit unnecessary gatherings and self-distancing practices?
  2. Are you, as a company, willing to execute an event that could potentially have more than the recommended number of attendees guidelines outlined by the CDC and local government and the potential exposure to illness that implicates?
  3. Do you have a backup in place in case critical event staff are quarantined or cannot be available as booked?
  4. If we reschedule to an alternate date/day of the week later in 2020, would this be an amenable outcome for your company?
  5. Would the original payment schedule apply?
  6. Could the deposit be applied in full to a future date?
  7. Can you outline the available acceptable dates for rebooking so I can compare them to my full vendor list?

Am I going to lose all the money I’ve put down in deposits?

What many company owners that I’m talking with are doing is applying all or a portion of the original deposit to a new date later in 2020 and maintaining the original payment schedule for the original date. The outliers are florists, caterers and decorators that use the bulk of their deposits to cover cost of perishable goods that can’t be transferred to a new event date, but every vendor is putting different policies in place that take care of their team’s needs. The more notice you give vendors, usually the more flexibility they have in helping you transfer a deposit to a new date.

Most of the new available/transferable dates that are going to be open are going to be NON-SATURDAYS or off-season dates. Couples rescheduling need to realize that not only are there only 52 Saturdays in any given year (most of them booked months and even years ago by other couples), but that a small business needs to be able to maintain at least some level of their income for the current year. Postponing into a prime booking date for 2021 or beyond is detrimental not only to immediate financial needs the business owner has to make a living, but would hinder their ability to serve new clients in their next season. Everyone wants to help the client, but it doesn’t help ANYONE if the business goes under because it can’t cover their overhead, pay their talent and make a living. It’s in both parties best interest to work together to figure out what everyone can live with in terms of parameters for rescheduling.

It’s hopeful, but unlikely that you will be able to transfer an entire vendor team to a new date. Therefore, it’s important that you make a ranked list of the most important elements and rebuild as much as you can. In the event that a vendor needs to be replaced, you are likely going to be held to the cancelation terms of the original contract. That might mean your balance us due in full regardless of whether you use the vendor or not.

Consider marriage now, and a party later…

Who says you can’t still have a small intimate ceremony with your immediate family and friends and have the bash later when your guests can laugh and hug and high five and celebrate without fear? Especially if you have a deposit you are going to “use or lose” or have already gotten your marriage license, consider splitting the ceremony from the reception. I personally took this approach years ago when I had my own wedding and reception weeks later and now I get to have double the anniversary dates (silver linings, guys!). You could still do a vow exchange or blessing when you have the reception.

All your guests are peppering you with questions:

Remember when you first got engaged and everyone immediately asked, “When’s the date?!” and you didn’t have one… and it instantly stressed you out? That same thing is likely happening right now with your guests as your wedding date approaches. They might have RSVP’d yes and feel guilty canceling. They may be caring for or in proximity to people in high-risk categories or older themselves and concerned about exposure.  They might just be wondering if they need to change their flights or hotel reservations.

I recommend adding some wording to your wedding website and directing everyone with a question to the site. Answering the same questions over and over is ONLY going to stress you out more. Yes, they deserve answers. But you also have enough on your mind without the stress of others adding to your state of mind as you make decisions.

The wording on your website can be short and sweet.

“Due to the current COVID19 advisories at both the state and federal level, we are making the very hard but necessary decision to postpone our wedding celebration. We very much look forward to celebrating with you on our new date of XYZ and we will be making regular updates to this website to keep everyone in the loop on the new and improved plan. We love all of you and want everyone to stay safe and healthy.”

Even 48hrs ago I would have said that the wedding website could have addressed concerns about travel and how extra measures were being taken to assure guest safety. While that may still be an acceptable avenue to take in some markets, in Chicago where we work, it is no longer something we are advising clients to consider. We are encouraging and helping ALL our clients with events between now and the end of April to reschedule and monitoring action plans for our May clients.

The liability to your guests and the vendors are too high and the day-to-day news as of the time I am writing this article (March 15, 2020) it is too risky to stay the course in our opinion. The likelihood of every guest being able to reschedule to a new date is unlikely, but we feel it’s still a more rational decision than expecting guests to go against the warnings put in place by local and federal government offices.

The moral and ethical questions we’re facing as wedding vendors…

Please know that by and large, the wedding industry is FULL of incredibly talented, passionate and hard working small business owners and dedicated but small teams of wedding magic-makers that are truly dedicated to their clients. This is unprecedented territory for all of us. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but personally when this all started happening I didn’t even THINK about my own health or welfare. All I could think about was helping my clients and doing whatever I could to make their dream wedding a reality and take some of the stress off their shoulders. I canceled a trip to Paris long before it was necessary because I was worried about the (at the time) remote possibility of being quarantined or kept from coming home from overseas and not being available to my client. That was 4 weeks ago… It seems like a lifetime ago.

The questions that I’ve had to weigh in the last week have been heavy. What is my moral obligation to my clients and is it better to err on the side of caution in my advisory capacity or support decisions to “Keep On Keeping On” in the face of the increasing challenges? What is my ethical responsibility as a member of society to do my part in limiting the spread? What liability do I ask my team to accept in these same circumstances when walking into an event that has groups larger than those ‘recommended to gather’ by the local and federal government? How is this entire situation going to affect my ability to run a fiscally viable business? What happens if I have to quarantine myself or my team due to a potential exposure days before a scheduled event? Everyone is going to answer these questions differently, but know that we are asking them. My personal and professional commitment is to keeping my team healthy and my clients happy. I am very hopeful that I can do both and do my part to make sure we as a society kick this virus’s butt!

It’s OK to grieve…

I know that a having a pandemic scare in the weeks before your wedding is something truly horrible. You are grieving and deserve the time to work through your shock, denial, anger and frustration over having to make tough decisions that affect a dream many of you have had for a lifetime. Just know that working rationally with your vendors to find solutions is in everyone’s best interest. We’re uncertain of the future and trying to make the best of this cluster*uck too and want to find results that will get you to your happily ever after! As I tell my clients all the time, planning a wedding is like marriage itself, it’s fraught with sticky family situations, financial frustration, compromise and now… sickness as well as health! Be well, be safe, and be smart. The only way we get through this is together.

With love and hope for a better tomorrow,

Lori Stephenson

Owner & Principal

LOLA Event Productions

For constant updates please visit the CDC and WHO website

Cover photo credit to Katie Kett Photography, decor by Life in Bloom
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