11 Wedding Planning Tips for Couples Affected by COVID-19, According to Two Top Planners

11 Wedding Planning Tips for Couples Affected by COVID-19, According to Two Top Planners

Planning a wedding takes time and energy, even in the best of times. For couples with already-scheduled 2020 wedding dates, the planning process has never been trickier. Dates have to be postponed, vendor contracts renegotiated, and guest lists rethought. Even recently engaged couples are facing new obstacles, as next year’s available dates are quickly disappearing.

Luckily, top event planners are accustomed to thinking creatively and coming up with new solutions on the spot. With that in mind, Sonal J. Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants and Lauren Grech of LLG Events hosted a virtual Q&A for brides struggling with questions on social distancing, safety precautions, and other COVID-19-related scenarios.

Sonal shares, “We wanted to put this together as a service for couples.” During the call, Sonal and Lauren fielded questions from several brides-to-be — offering their hard-earned insight, expertise, and creative problem-solving.

Sonal ends the Q & A with words worth remembering: “Even under the current climate, I always focus on the fact that this is a very happy occasion for you — and for your families.” She acknowledges, “This is a day couples have been looking forward to for so long,” and urges couples to “continue planning the wedding of your dreams!”

Meet the Panel

A headshot of Sonal J Shah. A black background and she stands with her hand on the wall in front of her.
photo courtesy of Sonal J Shah

Sonal J. Shah (SJS)

New York, NY

Sonal J Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants has been in business for almost 18 years,  planning weddings and events all over the world. Her book, “The Complete Guide to Planning the Perfect Southeast Asian Wedding,” continues to influence couples world-wide. Her attention to detail, strong vendor relationships, and one-of-a-kind productions makes her a leading voice in the events industry.

Lauren Grech in a red dress sitting on a wooden desk and a book case behind her.
photo courtesy of LLG Events

Lauren Grech (LG)

Lauren Grech is the founder and CEO of LLG Events, an international event management and design firm. Her company plans and designs weddings and experiential events both in New York City and around the world. She was recently listed on HSMAI’s “Top 25 Extraordinary Minds 2020” list. She also builds curriculum for the first-ever event management graduate program at New York University.

1. How do you recommend setting up a timeline, and what do you think I should do first in the planning process during this time? 

SJS: I think that the first thing you should do is sit down with your fiancé and parents and make three guest lists. Guest list A includes the people who you are 1000% sure will be there. Guest list B includes people who have a 50/50 chance of making the list, and guest list C is for the people who you don’t personally know, but may still be included [because of their connection to your family.

After that, it’s time to start calling venues. Of course, a lot of people are furloughed right now, so it’s a really good idea to have an exact breakdown of the event and number of people you intend to invite.

I also think that it’s important to be open-minded when it comes to dates. Lauren will attest to this as well. Right now you are really competing with everybody in 2020 that’s trying to reschedule to 2021. And then all the couples who had already planned to get married in 2021, and their dates. Everybody is grabbing the same Saturdays, so it’s really important to kind of get started on that right away. 

LG: That was perfect. After you figure out your guest list, I would invest in finding your ideal venue and seeing what dates they have available in 2021 — or 2022.

2. What questions should I ask a wedding planner before hiring them?

SJS: I think that it’s really important that you ask someone how many years they’ve been in business. A wedding planner needs to have a certain level of experience. Make sure they are accredited. Ask them how many weddings they have planned at your specific venue and whether they have insurance. You want to make sure that they have the resources to be around next year when your wedding date arrives. 

I also think it’s really important that you meet with your potential wedding planner. And now it can all be done through Zoom or FaceTime. Face-to-face connection is still really important. 

LG: Ask for a list of references. I have on file a PDF of all my clients that have given, obviously exceptional, reviews. When someone asks for references, I send those over.

3. Do you feel it’s right to still have a small ceremony this year, and then celebrate our one-year anniversary with a vow renewal next year?

LG: I think that a lot of clients are actually leaning towards that. I think that you shouldn’t lose out on your original date if that’s something that you had your heart set on. Go ahead and still get married, or still have a symbolic ceremony, and then next year you can party hard and have a really great time with your friends and family, and feel safe about it.

SJS: I’d agree with that Lauren. Finding someone, falling in love, getting proposed to, and planning this whole union is such a special thing that I don’t think that we should just delay it for next year. If there’s a way that you’re able to do it this year, then your anniversary is still gonna be the same. I think that would be really meaningful and special.

4. With my wedding planning already completed, and now having to basically start all over again, what’s the best way to stay organized?

SJS: Since your planning is 95% done, I think it’s just a matter of calling your vendors and making sure that they’re available next year, for whatever dates you’re considering. And I’m pretty sure that if you ask them, they would probably help without a fee if they are able to and then still uphold your contract for next year.

I’ve been telling our clients, “Don’t change your mind about things just because you have time between now and next year.” There’s a reason why you picked these vendors and there’s a reason why you went with this décor. I think it’s really important that you stay focused on what was already decided. 

LG: Set milestones for yourself. So, on a monthly basis, you touch base with one vendor and then another. Like Sonal said, you have 95% of your wedding done already, so there might not be a lot of necessary information to discuss. 

If you have to reschedule, you can also create a Doodle on Doodle.com. It’s a way for you to input all the dates that your venue is available and then you put all of your vendors on the left-hand side of it. Then you can share it with all your vendors and they can select when they are available for the rescheduled or postponed dates. So, now you have one centralized system that can show you all of the vendors that are available that coincide with the venue date as well. It can make it a little bit easier for you, as opposed to going back and forth and having all these scheduling conversations.

5. Due to new government restrictions on social gatherings, what’s the polite way to tell somebody that they’re no longer invited, because we did send save-the-dates to them.

SJS: Although it’s a very sensitive topic, I think that a lot of people really understand why you have to make these choices. It goes back to having that guest list A, B, and C. The Bs and the Cs kind of get slashed off the list. And just see what happens and how your RSVPs kind of pan out too.

LG: I think the polite way to go about that is to send, obviously, your invitations to those that you really want to have invited and then you can send a card to the people that you would like to invite virtually, and this way you could say to them, “We want to protect our guests, so we cordially invite you to watch our wedding virtually.” And this way those people that did receive save-the-dates feel like they’re a part of your event.

6. My vendors say it’s still too early to reschedule my future date. What is the right timeline for rescheduling? Is there such a thing as asking too early at this point?

SJS: For some of our August clients, we’re not formally rescheduling anything, but we just told the venue, “Hey what do you have available? And if they say that they have every weekend in August available next year, we ask them to please put a soft hold on those dates for our client.

I would start with your venue first, then go to all your major vendors. That’s what we did with our April bride that we had to reschedule and there was one date that worked for every single vendor, like okay we have to go to this date and it all worked out. But I don’t think it’s too early to ask. I think the disclaimer, “I’m not actually moving anything just yet, I just want to be able to have the information,” works well.

7. Because my wedding was in August, I was waiting for my clothes to come from India. They are at a halt there. Should I just start looking into my alternative options of buying off the rack?

SJS: That’s a really good question that we’ve been asked by a few of our brides. For August weddings, our company is waiting until June to decide whether to move forward with things or not. By June, you will still have that two-month buffer to be able to figure it out. I also think that there’s nothing wrong with emailing the company to ask, “If you’re not up and running by the last week of May, are you still going to be able to deliver on time? 

Also, I’m always of the mindset that there should be a Plan B. So I would have a plan B when it comes to your outfits and invitations. At least that way, if you need to move away from this vendor and go to this vendor because of X, Y, or Z reasons, you at least have a plan.

8. We’re now looking at January dates. Are we making a mistake of planning for January; should we be planning further out?

SJS: We have weddings scheduled in October and November that people are not moving yet, so I think January is still okay. For new clients, we are trying to find alternative dates because a lot of properties are not even open now. Because of that, if you’re open to other later months, that’s fine too. It will give you enough time to be able to plan and create your guest list knowing that people will be comfortable to travel.

9. What kind of negotiations are you doing with venues in terms of flexibility, in the event that there’s a second peak for COVID-19 this coming winter?

Sonal: That’s a really great question. For us, I think it’s really important that these contracts have something about COVID-19 and the option to move the date twice. Most venues we found are really flexible under the circumstances. They understand that nobody knows what’s happening, and clients still need to have the flexibility to move their date. 

LG: I’m sure this is a question not just for venues but for vendors as well, so I want to just piggyback off of that and say that for anyone that’s rehiring vendors or having one postponement, you should definitely renegotiate into your contract at least one additional postponement. While some vendors may decide to charge you a fee to postpone, most are very understanding. I mean, they don’t want people to just up and cancel their events.

10. My wedding was supposed to be Memorial Day weekend of this year, and we have rescheduled for November of this year. But we had already sent out our invitations. Considering that there is a possibility that we might have to postpone the wedding again, what are your thoughts on email invitations?. Maybe even getting the people who designed our invitations to do a digital copy of it and just changing the date?

LG: I would consider doing the digital copy of your invitation, so that it’s easily transferable to your new date if you do need to double postpone. I would not recommend paying for production and printing of a secondary invite. Talk to your stationer and see if they can print you a beautiful invitation that has your new date, so you can have a Keepsake for you or your family. This way you also have something to photograph that pertains to your actual wedding date. 

SJS: People have already seen these beautiful invitations, and they understand why you selected that invitation. I think that a digital version of that would be great. But, I agree with Lauren, we just really don’t know what’s going to happen between now and even November. So, if you need to postpone it again, heaven forbid, then you’re not reprinting all these invites all the time.

11. When it comes to making my guest count smaller for potential government restrictions, do you suggest decreasing by half, a quarter? Because I would say my immediate family is about 120 people.

LG: Right now, I would recommend not having the larger guest count, just because we don’t know what the house restrictions are going to be at these venues. But you could also go with trying to find a larger venue. This way you can space out the tables more or have guests spread out over more tables. These are things that we need to start considering, since there will be health restrictions and health measures in place in the immediate future.

SJS: I think that this is a really good conversation for you to have with parents and your fiancé too. Obviously, you have to invite a certain number of people because, like you said, they’re all family. But I think in the last two years, guest lists have not been picking up the way that a lot of our clients think they will. There will be the odd wedding where all 550 people come. But, typically with airline travel, schools, and expenses for a family of four, many guests would rather just send something. And right now, it’s a lot for people to consider travelling for weddings. With that in mind, we’ve been recommending that a lot of our clients put lower numbers on their actual contract with venues. If there’s more people that come, no big deal. If there’s fewer people than what you have on your contract, then you’re on the hook [financially] for those people.