11 Tips for Planning a Socially Distanced Wedding

Submitted by cpotter on Tuesday - October 6, 2020

With the rapid, global spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, our sense of normal has shifted. Things we took for granted, like sitting in a coffee shop or hopping on a flight to see family, are suddenly out of reach. For couples planning their “I dos”, the pandemic has thrown a major wrench in the works — one so big, many couples aren't sure what comes next.

When postponing your wedding just won't work, use these tips for planning a socially distant wedding to have the celebration you deserve while keeping those you love — and those working behind the scenes — as safe as possible.

1. Remember to communicate with your guests and vendors

As unsure of everything as you are these days, your guests and vendors are just as confused. Family and friends are also facing a lot of questions, especially those who have to catch a plane to be with you on your big day. With so much uncertainty, open lines of communication are essential. As soon as you know what you're doing, pass along that information to everyone involved. Even if you're still working out the details, just giving your guests a heads up with a change-the-date card will help quell nerves.

2. Ask for help

Speaking of vendors, now is a great time to let the experts do what they do best. While no one has been in quite this situation before, chances are your florist has more ideas on what will work in terms of delivery and setup than you do. Make some calls, explain the situation, ask for advice, and listen to the responses. Finding out the tailor can do minimal-contact fittings now could save you or your beloved from a really baggy tux later.

3. Fall in love with a smaller event

Some wedding plans only need a couple tweaks to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Other couples will have to start practically from scratch. You're especially likely to fall into the latter category if you were planning a giant soiree. The truth is, it's hard, if not impossible, right now to get 300 people together for any kind of event — but that doesn't have to be a total bummer.
There are a lot of benefits to having a smaller wedding. For example, small weddings:

  • Cost less (or you can keep the same budget and spend more money per person, which could mean upgrading to better food and name-brand drinks)
  • Give you more time to spend with each person
  • Are easier to keep adjusting to CDC guidelines and/or state mandates as they change
  • Save you from having to be nice to that third-cousin twice-removed that your mom was going to make you invite
  • Are less stressful — having fewer personalities to wrangle leads to fewer problems

4. Get to know the latest technology — or befriend someone who already does

From Zoom planning sessions to livestreaming your ceremony, there are countless ways technology can help you pull off a socially distant wedding that still feels special. Some couples are staging interactive virtual weddings by giving guests Zoom access, encouraging them all to dress up, and handing out a recipe for their signature drink so everyone can share in a special toast.
This will all go a lot smoother if you know which buttons to push before you're ten seconds away from walking down the aisle. Do a Zoom tutorial, livestream your cat just to see how the process works, and double check the internet situation at your venue. Once you feel comfortable, help your guests understand what they'll need to do on the day of the event. Putting together a video or an easy-to-read document with screenshots will go a long way towards making the process as simple as possible.

5. Make appointments well in advance

The stress and anxiety of knowing your wedding date is just around the corner, but you still don't have all your paperwork in hand is both massive and, fortunately, avoidable. Though COVID-19 closures and socially distant staffing are leading to longer lines, some states have pivoted to allow for issuing marriage licenses online. If that's a possibility for you, by all means jump on board. If not, make your appointment for an in-person signing ASAP to avoid any problems legalizing your union.

6. Shop online

Many retail stores are open, but even those welcoming customers may have lots of restrictions in place. To make things easier, choose to shop online for your invitations, wedding programs, and other stationery. You can even browse dresses and tuxes online. Some companies will send you several choices for you to try on at home, while other shops will get your top choices over the phone or by email and put together a curated selection so you can be in and out of the store in record time.
If you do shop online, try to get physical swatches of your preferred color choices before making your final purchase. Colors can differ from screen to screen, and you don't want to end up with eggplant cummerbunds when you were hoping for plum.

7. Agree to a virtual bachelor/bachelorette party

The future of the club and bar scene is shaky at best, and even nontraditional bachelor and bachelorette spots like amusement parks and spas are iffy thanks to drastically reduced capacity and other COVID-related concerns. Instead of trying to find a way to go out when things are still weird, stay in and have a virtual party.
Have everyone jump on your go-to video conferencing platform, cocktails in hand, and let the games begin. There are programs that facilitate online trivia nights and karaoke, or you can set a theme and have everyone dress and order takeout accordingly. You can even put together party bags for all the original invitees and send them through the mail. When everyone has the same silly sunglasses or grass skirts on, it'll feel more like the silly, celebratory event it's supposed to be.

8. Know the pros and cons of your venue choices

You may have more control holding your wedding in an at-home setting like your backyard, but professional venues likely have better protocols in place and can spring for things like:

  • Thermal scanners to check guests' temperatures if necessary
  • Handwashing stations to place throughout the ceremony and reception areas
  • Regular sanitation conducted by trained staff

Consider outdoor venues for larger guest counts. They'll have more space for creative floor plans so you can spread your guests out without splitting them up in multiple rooms, and the open air will make for a safer environment.

9. Get creative with your cuisine

Imagine 50 people all queued up for steak and salad, all trying to stay six feet apart in a room that's only 20' x 20'. No, buffets are clearly out of the question for now, so some caterers are switching to staff-served stations. Plated dinners are another popular option and entirely eliminate the need for guests to leave their seats to stand in line — and they have the added benefit of feeling elegant, too.
As far as cocktail hours and passed appetizers, the future may lie in individually packaged snacks or amuse-bouches that are somehow self-contained or easily distributed (think profiteroles on a skewer that can be handed out to guests without guests or servers needing to touch the food itself or get too close to one another).

10. Design a flexible dance floor

To avoid a dance floor that's either packed with people dancing too close together or that's completely empty because everyone is afraid to do the Macarena in someone else's bubble, create multiple dance zones. A circle in front of the band, a few satellite floors nearby — it's better than taping off squares to keep people apart, and anyone who doesn't want to be part of the "main event" can enjoy a less public boogie off to the side.
You may need space for your band to spread out too. Ask your contact if there are any changes to their spec sheet.

11. Approach honeymoon planning with an open mind

The travel industry has been particularly hard hit by COVID closures. Some destinations, like Hawaii and Australia, require extended quarantine periods before you can leave your hotel or other designated facility to enjoy the sights. Other concerns, like worry over contracting the virus while flying, can put a damper on your original plans too.
Instead, think outside the box. Book a staycation and see your hometown as a tourist. Take a one-day road trip to a local attraction you might otherwise not see, like a ghost town or cool glamping site.
It's okay if it takes a while to come to terms with a new vision of your wedding. You've waited for this moment for a long time, and compromising feels a lot like disappointment. But if you can change your perspective along with your plans, you may discover that there's still plenty of magic in a reimagined wedding — and saving stress and money could just make your socially-distanced “I dos” feel downright awesome.