What happens when there’s a worldwide pandemic during what’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life?
We're not talking about Coachella — which was moved to the fall. As church services are being livestreamed and public events canceled, the wedding business is filled with uncertainty.
This past weekend in Garland, a happy couple prepared to say their vows, but some people in attendance might've been more nervous than the bride and groom tying the knot. Pairs of guests were stationed by the event space's door, taking shifts to count every head as it entered the venue. Once the number hit 250, they were instructed to turn people away. For many in attendance, at least those who made it through, this was sort of a social "Last Supper," the last time they'd allow themselves out of the house for a large social gathering in the upcoming weeks.
Every wedding season sees its changes in trends. This coronavirus season, you can expect more exclusive affairs with smaller numbers of invitees and sanitation stations to become all the rage.
Dallas County leaders and city of Dallas officials have banned meetings of 500 people or more, and are discouraging gatherings with as many as 250 people. Most wedding guest lists fall under this count, which makes it legal for people to carry on with their fairytale weddings. But will they?
“I’ve had brides call me crying because they don’t know if they should cancel their wedding or not,” says Michelle Phu, a Dallas wedding planner with Michelle Phu Events.
Dietra Benton of Socially Glam Events is having many similar conversations with her brides and grooms to be:
“Couples are devastated,” she says. “This issue is affecting my clients as well as my peers in the wedding industry at alarming rates.”
The owner of Sistered States Event Styling, Sarah Wintersteen, says that all the weddings she’s working with between now and May have either been canceled or are in danger of being canceled. “Their emotions right now are really anxious, really nervous,” she says of her brides. “They don’t really know what to do.”
Hosting what will likely be the biggest party of their lives is already a stressful predicament for most brides (one that has earned aggressively organized brides the nickname of "bridezillas"), but now there's an added level of fear that not even the most diligent of RSVPers can assuage: whether guests won't make it at all, as they practice social distancing.
“Everyone wants to try to do their civic duty to not spread it anymore,” says Wintersteen of COVID-19. “But for now, I think the biggest concern for my brides are that people aren’t going to show up.”
One of Wintersteen’s weddings had over 30 guests cancel in 24 hours, which meant 30 plates and seats worth of money wasted, totaling close to $1,500 in losses.
“Each guest that comes is a significant amount of money we’re paying, upwards of $50 a head,” Wintersteen explains.
And having to consider costs of canceling an event with non-refundable deposits is putting many families in a bind as they calculate what will ultimately be more costly: pushing through with the wedding and wasting money when guests don't show up or else canceling and losing money on vendors or venues.
“(If you) cancel and postpone, you’re going to lose a lot of money,” says wedding planner Jessica Deltoro. “All of my brides have basically been like, we’re just going to move forward. Whoever goes, goes. If people don’t feel safe, they can stay home.”
It seems that for the most part, the nuptials will go on. At least for now, until the next government measure.
“Everyone still wants to have their wedding,” says Julia McLoughlin of Julia Winters Events. “They’re not freaking out like people at the grocery store.”
But whether or not brides are taking up the same frazzled hysteria of some panic shoppers stripping the world of its toilet paper, the Dallas wedding industry members say they're taking precautions.
McLoughlin sent out a mass email to her clients Thursday morning, informing them on the option to move their wedding dates to July or August, when — hopefully — things blow over. These are typically less busy months in Texas because of the heat, so the wedding planner is optimistic that venues will still have openings. If couples want to keep their wedding date in the next coming weeks, some things will need to change, she says.
“I said we need to have sanitizer stations and I’m going to be wearing gloves and having hand sanitizers at events," McLoughlin says. "Avoid guests opening doors and anything like that.”
Charles Udoh of Charlie’s Cakes and Catering is going above and beyond the steps he normally takes to make sure the food and cakes he delivers are safe for consumption.
“I would hate to think that somewhere in my production line or prepping line, all of a sudden something, somewhere, someone came into contact with something and there could be a possible spreading of this,” he says of keeping a close eye on every step of the process.
Udoh says he's rethinking self-serve appetizer stations and making sure guests have access to hand sanitizer before they come in contact with food.
“On my business end we’re going to do whatever it takes,” he says. “We’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure that everything we supply for you is safe for your consumption, (and) you feel confident enjoying the service that we provide without any fears or doubts.”
Wedding planners are recommending that brides and grooms pay attention to their contracts and study the cutoff dates for backing out. Usually, about 30 days before the event, there is still a possibility to cancel or postpone without losing most — or any — money, depending on the vendor.
As for guests thinking about celebrating with a happy couple this spring season?
“Number one, don’t ask the bride if she’s canceling the wedding unless you’re like a direct family member,” Wintersteen advises. “It’s stressing them out. They’re getting lots of texts from guests of them being like, are you going to cancel the wedding? ... If they do cancel, they will let you know.”
The thought of getting hitched during a worldwide pandemic might sound more like a dystopian film than a romantic comedy, but Dallas wedding planners are keeping a cool head (and gloves on their hands).
“Everything is going to be OK,” Wintersteen says she tells her clients. “Your day is going to go exactly how it’s supposed to go. If you want to keep doing this, all your vendors are on board. If you want to reschedule, we’ll make it happen. The most important thing at the end of the day is you’re getting married to the love of your life, and that’s a forever thing. This is just a small bump in the road for the rest of your life.”