Wedding planners share their best advice for anyone getting married soon
What to consider if you’re postponing, downsizing, or need to pick a date
Spring and summer are traditionally the high seasons when it comes to weddings. According to a 2015 Weddingbells magazine survey, 67 per cent of weddings in Canada took place between June and September.
This year, because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of couples getting married has dropped significantly across Canada, and many celebrations have had to be postponed. "For couples who had to postpone their plans, a lot of it came very last minute, when all of these strict isolation and quarantine regulations came into effect and their wedding dates were just a couple of weeks down the road," says Jessica Minnie, the B.C.-based principal planner and creative director of Petite Pearl.
If you're currently engaged, have plans to get married this year or next, or have already had to postpone your spring 2020 wedding, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns around what your nuptials may look like, and when you may be able to have the celebration you want. To help you better prepare for the big day — whether that means postponing to a new date, getting married now but having a party later on, having a more intimate celebration or working with a more modest budget if your finances have been impacted by the novel coronavirus — I asked four Canadian event pros their thoughts and tips for wedding planning right now.
Consider your risk tolerance
According to the wedding planners I interviewed, almost all of the couples they work with who were scheduled to get married this spring or summer have postponed their nuptials. With travel restricted, borders closed, venues shut down and mass-gathering restrictions in place, many couples have made the decision to move their wedding to later in 2020 or to 2021 — though now, some are wondering if their new date will also be impacted.
"The biggest challenge, really, is just the level of uncertainty. We're waiting on a weekly basis for government officials to make announcements on restrictions," says Lynzie Kent, owner and creative director of Love by Lynzie in Toronto. "People have spent an immense amount of time and money and energy to have these wedding plans, only to then have to make the big decision about postponement when there might be this off chance that they can go forward with some of these events, depending on the size."
Because of the many uncertainties involved and the potential financial implications of any date change — for example, venues and vendors may charge fees for postponements, or you may have to forfeit deposits in some cases — the decision to move forward with a wedding celebration this year (or not) can be both complicated and emotional. "We've seen most of the summer [weddings] postpone ... but we've still got people on the fence for the fall," says Minnie. "Some couples are hanging on until a more last-minute decision has to be made, and others are being a lot more realistic in [terms of] how this will affect overseas or cross-border guests and how they felt their wedding would unfold — they're just opting to postpone to next year altogether … and making that change now."
Do what feels right, but have a backup date
"Because the situation is so uncertain and so nerve-racking for a lot of people, I think the best advice right now is do what feels right to you," says Elyna Kudish, owner and head planner of Elyna Kudish Events in Montreal. Some of her clients have postponed to 2021 or 2022, while others have sent out postponement notices but are holding off on setting a new date until the situation is more resolved. Kudish recommends speaking with your family members to see how they feel; for example, couples with elderly parents and a lot of older guests may feel more comfortable gathering once there's a vaccine, whereas weddings with mostly or all younger guests may proceed with "a big party as soon as it's OK."
Whichever route you choose in regard to timing, the pros recommend monitoring the latest and projected developments closely and having a backup date on the calendar with wedding vendors. "My perspective is that it's very important to have a backup plan in place," says Kent. She recommends that couples check in with their venue to find alternative date options, and put one on hold that works for all their vendors. "Then, basically sit and wait until your risk tolerance runs out." So far, Kent has advised clients with weddings scheduled up until the end of August to postpone. Those whose big day is scheduled for September or October could "sit tight for a minute … as long as [they] have a contingency plan."
Work with your vendors
"What we're all trying to navigate now is being able to find a new day that works for everyone, or at least most of the vendors, at this point," says Gina Humilde, owner and creative director of Gina Humilde Events in Toronto. With so many 2020 weddings being pushed to next year, you may have to consider scheduling alternatives such as weekday celebrations, a brunch wedding, or having your ceremony and reception on different dates.
You'll also need to work with your wedding vendors to sort out the cost of rescheduling. Kent recommends rereading your contracts carefully: "It's important to understand what your vendors' policies are around cancellation, date change, postponement, 'force majeure' and financial penalties in relation to any of these topics." Next, talk to each of them to see what's possible. Some may charge an administrative fee for postponements, while others might be able to move your deposit to the new date penalty-free.
Throughout this process, just keep in mind that this is a very challenging period financially for everyone that works in the wedding and events industry. "When you have to have really difficult conversations around contracts and financial losses or penalties, [know that] it's just as difficult for the vendor," says Kent. "Kindness and understanding is going to get you a lot further."
Reassess your priorities
You may want to stay true to the original vision for your big day no matter what. But the challenges around in-person events right now can also serve as an opportunity to reconsider plans and re-evaluate priorities. "It's very much a personal decision for couples [that depends on] what their priorities are ... the logistics and investment they had in their wedding... and how creative they're willing to be," says Minnie. If it's important for you to have a big wedding with lots of international guests, then postponing to next year or 2022 may make more sense. But if you'd be happy with an intimate celebration and are able to edit your guest list, then you might be fine to proceed with your wedding later this year, when mass gathering regulations may be more relaxed, says Minnie.
For couples who really want to get married this year, Kent — who also runs a company called The Pop Up Chapel Co., which offers one-hour "micro weddings" for up to 50 guests outdoors — suggests looking into alternative options. "You can host a virtual elopement at home... or look into switching to a micro wedding." The good news is that, for intimate weddings, there are now many more dates, vendors and venues available for this year that may have been booked up previously.
In any case, you should understand and accept that your nuptials might look slightly different than you originally imagined because of new health and safety precautions, notes Kent. "It's going to be normal that people wear masks in big groups; or that there are hand-sanitizing stations; or that cocktail tables will have to be a little bit further apart; or that service staff will have to wear masks and shields on their faces," she says. "It doesn't necessarily mean that the event won't happen or … will be filled with any less love and excitement. I think it just means that in order to move forward with life as we know it, we just have to adapt."
Consider the potential impacts on your budget
"The economic impact of COVID-19 means a change for a lot of people's personal financial situations, but it also means a change in the way that vendors might charge," says Kent. " There could be surcharges for any activities that a vendor has to do in order to comply with restrictions, penalties for moving your date [and] inflated rates on prime weekends because we have a double cohort of brides and grooms planning for 2021." These are all things to keep in mind as you look at your wedding budget (and consider any changes to dates or vendors).
If you do need to cut costs, Humilde recommends trimming your guest list and hosting a more intimate event; this type of change can be done easily and without penalties, as most early deposits don't specify a set number of guests (but many costs are priced per person). You can also easily eliminate or scale back some of the "frills" that may have been part of your original wedding plans, like a fancy photo booth or elaborate floral arbour.
Newly engaged? Get planning
The experts all agree: start planning now if you hope to get married in the next year or two. "2021 is booked up significantly, and dates are very limited. Almost all of this year has been pushed to next year, and so space has been eaten up," says Minnie. "You do need to move forward with securing a venue and your key vendors ... or the vendor in particular you're looking to work with." If you're concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic continuing through next year, you could include a clause in each vendor contract that specifically addresses postponements, suggests Minnie.
Generally speaking, you should always discuss questions around date changes and deposits with potential vendors. "Weddings can be postponed or canceled for a million reasons outside of COVID-19," says Kudish. "I don't think that there's a [one-size-fits-all] formula in terms of deposits and refunds." Especially now, it's important to ask detailed questions, make sure you're satisfied with the contract terms, and hire vendors that you feel comfortable working with.
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.