How to plan, postpone or cancel a wedding during coronavirus pandemic

By JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — As engaged couples prepare to star in their own fairytale wedding story, the coronavirus pandemic is an unforeseen plot twist.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends canceling mass gatherings of any size amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and many state officials continue to prohibit big events to help slow the spread of the disease.

From vendor contracts to dress shopping to keeping guests informed, key wedding planning elements are being rewritten overnight.

As a result, couples have been forced to promptly shift gears and find creative ways to plan one of the biggest days of their lives.

“We know weddings and events will need to pivot, but we also know weddings will always be about love and connections — that will never change,” Renny Pedersen, owner and senior event planner of Chicago-based Bliss Events, told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

If you are wondering where to start, GMA has tapped several industry experts to help answer the most burning questions from brides- and grooms-to-be currently wedding planning during a pandemic.

Should I postpone my wedding? If so, how?

Experts agree that postponing is highly recommended during this time. As information on regulations is still uncertain for the rest of 2020, planning for a new wedding day in 2021 is more feasible. Pedersen suggests May-December 2021 as an ideal time frame to consider.

To postpone, begin by immediately contacting your vendors, including everyone from your venue to photographers. Be sure to review all contracts previously signed, and confirm a new date.

Next, thoroughly review your guest list to assess your guests’ travel needs, as several will likely appreciate having time to adjust their plans.

If you previously booked any wedding blocks at hotels, contact a manager to either ask to have rooms released or talk through options surrounding a block for your new date.

“If a vendor is not going to budge and it is really unreasonable, you need to go back to your priorities and see if they are a vendor you want to continue to work with,” said Pedersen. “Or, you need to understand there may be some loss due to this pandemic and move on in a positive direction.”

What’s the best way to communicate to guests that you are postponing?

If you have already sent out “Save-the-Date” correspondence for your special day, Pedersen advises sending an updated “Change-of-Date” note.

Here’s a template for that message:

In light of recent world events, our wedding is postponed until we can celebrate together on NEW DATE 2021.

Despite the circumstances and delay, our hearts remain filled with joy and excitement for the wedding and we are forever thankful to have such supportive friends and family.

Please be on the lookout for a follow-up announcement in the mail in the fall to collect new RSVPs. We are so excited to celebrate with you at the same place on the new date!

If you are continuing with a fall or winter wedding in 2020, you might want to consider sending a “Hope” card. Here’s a template for that:

We wish you and your families health and safety during these unprecedented times.

We hope to celebrate with you on DATE 2020 and will continue to monitor the situation and communicate plans on our website.

Additionally, make sure to include a line advising guests to regularly check your wedding website for updates.

“We also highly suggest clients pick up the phone and call each and every guest to let them know as well, which is lovely and definitely keeps every one of their guests feel connected and important,” said Pedersen.

How do I navigate wedding costs?

The coronavirus has financially impacted people all over the world, and pre-pandemic wedding budgets may no longer be feasible.

If you would like to stick to your original guest count, vendors, etc., consider pushing your wedding date to later in 2021 to allow more time for saving and figuring out where you can cut costs.

“It is time to go back to your priorities and understand what is most important to you,” said Pedersen.

Also be mindful that vendors you had planned to work with will likely lose most of their 2020 income but still need to support payroll, rent, taxes and staff insurance to keep their small business afloat, she said.

“A planner can help you talk to your vendors and find solutions, but not by asking their vendors for extra discounts or extra negotiations at this time,” said Pedersen. “Instead you should think about other ways to cut back.”

What is wedding insurance and what does it cover?

The most common type of wedding insurance is wedding liability insurance, Event Helper director of operations, Sharla Cartzdafner, told GMA. This is often required by the venue’s rental contract and protects the couple in case of claims resulting from property damage or injury during the event. It does not cover cancellation or postponement, and pandemics are not generally covered.

A less popular type of wedding insurance — wedding cancellation/postponement insurance — can pay couples back for nonrefundable expenses if they’re forced to cancel or postpone the wedding due to reasons beyond their control.

Most wedding cancellation/postponement insurance policies include a communicable disease exclusion, which would prevent coverage during a crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak.

“These policies also include exclusions for any known potential issue prior to purchase,” said Cartzdafner. “So, if the wedding couple purchased wedding cancellation/postponement insurance after COVID-19 was a worldwide issue, a claim would likely not be covered.”

If you have purchased wedding liability insurance and are planning to reschedule or cancel your wedding, discuss options with your provider. They may be willing to reschedule the date of your policy or offer a refund if the wedding is being canceled.

How do I safely shop for a wedding dress?

Dress shopping for your wedding can already be daunting, let alone during a global pandemic. Most physical bridal boutiques and stores remain closed, but most retailers are still offering online service.

David’s Bridal vice president of marketing and communications, Callie Canfield, confirmed to GMA that the company’s distribution and fulfillment centers remain open.

“We have over 300,000 dresses in stock in the U.S. and ready to ship today,” she said.

If you have specific questions, several bridal shops also have virtual stylists and customer care associates available to assist you.

Or, you can try scheduling a one-on-one consultation with a bridal stylist to remotely figure out everything from sizing to the fabric.

“As always, we advise that brides bake in as much time as they can when shopping for their wedding dress in case any special orders or alterations will be needed,” said Canfield. “All of our stylists at David’s are able to check on specific lead times for our gowns, and they will work backwards from your event date to ensure the product you are looking at will be available.”

What is the etiquette for handling registries/gifts?

If you plan to postpone your wedding, Pedersen recommends keeping any gifts already received and maintaining current registries.

If you are canceling your wedding, she suggests the best etiquette is to remove your registry immediately and return all gifts.

What wedding planning tasks can I handle in the meantime?

– Start narrowing down your ideal glam (makeup, hair, nails, etc.)

– Pick out rings for your big day

– Put together a list of “must-play” songs for your band or DJ

– Send updates or set up video conferencing with guests on how you are doing and how they can potentially help

– Put together visual needs and preferences for your photographer/videographer

– Brainstorm ways to celebrate your guests and thank them for their support

– Practice self-care with your partner during stressful times

What are some wedding alternatives during COVID-19?

Try a virtual wedding! Many couples have found success in this concept, and experts predict there will be more.

Wedding planning and design firms like Bliss Events have been adapting to create unique virtual experiences for couples who’d like to keep their original dates.

“We are creating custom virtual wedding designs for our clients by sending them a curated box of decor goodies to include linen samples, interactive vision boards, floor plans, mini versions of their floral table centerpieces, menu flavor profiles, rental suggestions and signature drinks in mason jars to try at home,” said Pedersen.

For a smaller event, couples can hire a videographer to capture a live version of their virtual wedding and send party packages to guests to help everyone feel involved.

Another idea is to have a family member get ordained online and host an intimate wedding in your home, then plan for a larger celebration in 2021.

“This might be a fun opportunity to come up with new, unexpected designs and moments you might not have had the nerve to incorporate previously,” said Pedersen.

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