In protecting our businesses, we’ve always set our own policies and guidelines that must be followed to protect our interests and those of our clients. However, this year, COVID-19 has placed strict limitations on live events that have naturally impacted our clients and their events. The tricky part is that states and localities have different rules, and the level of enforcement is subject to the area’s officials and health department.
As wedding professionals, we feel it’s our duty to give our clients the celebration of their dreams. However, as business owners, we need to be mindful of the COVID-19 restrictions in place to ensure health and safety for all. It can be challenging to be faced with clients who want to break those rules, but as an industry, we need to collectively put our foot down for the good of our businesses, our clients and their guests.
We spoke with industry experts about the best way to deal with couples who are looking to skirt the COVID-19 regulations of your area, and this is what they had to say.
1. Educate yourself.
You can only enforce what you know, so it starts with staying abreast of changes in your area. Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events elaborates: “You can figure out the rules in your jurisdiction by checking your state’s website--they should have a prominently displayed COVID-19 section that will explain what is allowed and what is required currently. Please note that this may vary on a county-by-county basis, but it will be decided by the state government. If you are planning an event for later this year, you should also be following along with your governor’s regular press conferences and press releases. The press conferences will give you an idea of what to expect in the future, whereas the website will give you the current state of affairs.”
2. Stay organized.
Next, you need to consider a way that you can keep the information in a place that you and your clients can access easily. “I keep a running list of the orders that affect our area on my CRM [Customer Relationship Management system] that all our clients have access to, so they are also kept in the loop,” explains Margaux Fraise of Harmony Creative Studio. “This had led to us not having any issues with clients wanting to break the rules, because they know we are aware of them and are on top of everything. If you haven’t yet set up an open link for a scheduler like Calendly or Acuity, I recommend that during this period. My clients know that if they want to talk about something, they can schedule a time to chat, and it doesn’t become a time-suck of emails back and forth trying to get a call on the books.”
3. Communicate effectively.
In some cases, providing updates isn’t enough--you might need to have a full discussion with your clients about the rules that are in place surrounding the pandemic. “The rules and regulations are constantly changing, and it is so vital to ensure that your clients are aware of this,” says Katherine Healy-Brown of Clover Events. “For 2020 clients, we have set up a weekly standing COVID check-in call where the couple, their family and necessary vendors are able to discuss what changes have occurred in our state that week. This provides everyone with clarity and allows for us all to be on the same page with realistic expectations. It allows for complete collaboration to make adjustments as we continue the planning process.”
4. Update your contract.
Safeguarding your business should be your first priority and, naturally, that starts with adding COVID-related clauses to your binding contract. “We have a special COVID contract with the current rules and protocols,” notes Jennifer Borgh of Borghinvilla Wedding Venue. “We also just go ahead and do things, even if it cuts into our profit—such as taking temperatures, checking guest counts, and spraying sanitizer. Get everything in writing before the wedding--and wait until the last minute, as rules can change weekly.”
5. Work on alternative solutions.
Abiding by the rules doesn’t mean you need to disappoint your clients; it just means you need to get creative and work up some new ideas. “As wedding professionals, our job is to educate our clients,” says Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com. “This goes for planning a wedding during normal times, but especially guiding them during challenging ones. Try to find suggestions and work-arounds to not break the rules but still achieve their goals. For example, if the government is requiring limited guest counts, suggest live-streaming as an option for everyone to partake.”
6. Protect your business and team.
At the end of the day, you need to be mindful of your liability and protect yourself from potential damage to your business. “For couples who try to skirt the rules and regulations, I always have them sign a release stating that I am not responsible for a COVID outbreak if one should occur. Safety first,” notes JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli. “I also let them know that we must have sanitation stations and temperature checks until we find a vaccine. Safety for my staff is equally as important. Make sure your staff has masks and practices their own social distancing.”
7. Be vigilant on-site.
In many cases, the rule-breaking won’t happen until the day of an event, at which point you need to be prepared to enforce the rules when you are on-site, explains Beth Bernstein of SQN Events and Essential I Dos. “In severe cases where you cannot locate anyone in charge or if the issue is not resolved and you feel unsafe, contact the authorities. This may sound extreme, but safety should be put above all else.”
8. Hold your vendor partners accountable.
It’s possible you have to deal with other vendors who are ready to push the limits on behalf of the clients, but that doesn’t mean you need to stand for it. “Find out what they’re doing and why,” urges Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events. “It might just be that they weren’t up to date on the regulations or they’re following other specific guidelines. It gives you a chance to have a conversation, share information, discuss concerns and come up with solutions. If after your conversation you are not comfortable with how they are planning on handling things, be upfront and let them know. Then, let the client know that this is an event you are not comfortable servicing.”
As an industry, we’re going through an unprecedented experience together. Collectively, we need to stay positive and continue pushing forward with health and safety at the forefront.
“No one is living their best life--personally or professionally--in this post COVID-19 world we are all living in,” notes Kimberly Morrill of Your Perfect Bridesmaid. “There is no doubt that this virus has decimated our industry. I understand the desire to return to normal and get back to a pre-COVID work life, but that is not our reality. We truly are all in this together. Because of that, we all need each other do our part in mitigating the risks. Lives are at stake. Businesses are at stake. We need each other to take this seriously.”
Let’s all commit to being safe, smart and mindful of our clients and their guests, while continuing to protect our own business interests. Although there is no end in sight, we must recognize that this moment is temporary, and our dedication to safety will help us move ahead despite the circumstances.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.