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Could couples get married in their car, with the reception following later? Possibly yes, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

WIPA Wedding Experts Chart New Normal in Wake of COVID

WIPA chapter leaders look at challenges, opportunities for wedding professionals in wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Confusion, anxiety, and a new norm for weddings will be challenges facing wedding planners in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. These findings come from the “State of the Wedding Industry Part 2” webinar held yesterday by the Wedding International Professionals Association.

MARKETS VARY The panelists agreed that the wedding outlook varies greatly by market, with big cities—such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York—operating under stricter “shelter at home” restrictions than states with smaller populations. For example, Mara Marian of Fuse Wedding and Events in Park City, Utah, said her state might lift restrictions on May 1, and she has a wedding on the books for June 13, though with a backup date in August. She reported that her bridal couples are “cautiously optimistic.”

What else varies: the anxiety level of bridal couple and their guests. “Some of my clients are ready for June [weddings], while some fall couples want to postpone,” Marian said.

Today’s worried bridal couples are upsetting the plans of couples who are booked for dates later this year and next. Daniela Grafman, partner with New York-based Vision Event Co., noted that that when her clients want to postpone their upcoming weddings, “My new clients want those dates, too!” As a result, she is getting a bit “tougher” on changing plans, she said.

Mary Wright Shah, owner of Dallas-based Diamond Affairs, pointed to the issue of bridal clients trying to move their events not just once, but twice, and how this indecision affects the planner in terms of costs. “We had the bride ready to go down the aisle,” she said. “Where does it stop?”

FEARS AT PLAY It’s not just the emotions of the bridal couple that will change the face of the weddings, the panelists said. Anxiety on the part of guests will also play a role. For example, some guests—particularly those who are older—might not want to travel to weddings.

Here, wedding planners can be a steadying hand. “We have to be calm,” said Gillian Marto of Atlanta-based Events of a Lifetime. “That’s why we’re planners.”

GET READY FOR CHANGE Grafman shared some good news: New York governor Andrew Cuomo has approved a measure enabling couples to get a wedding license online, versus appearing in a state office in person. Further, clerks will be authorized to conduct ceremonies over video conferencing. This development will enable new versions of weddings, such as a small ceremony followed by a big reception. “It’s the movie trailer followed by the feature,” Grafman said.

But going forward, planners will be compelled to create weddings that address COVID issues--both issues mandated by law and those prompted by client worries.

“What will weddings look like?” Marto asked. “Will we need masks? No hugs? Will we offer Zoom for elderly guests? Will we cut down on guest lists?” Indeed, several panelists said the smaller, “intimate” wedding is the coming trend.

Foodservice will likely be transformed in the wake of the COVID crisis. Be on the lookout for the end of passed hors d’oeuvre, buffets and family-style service, said Renee Dalo, owner of Los Angeles-based Moxie Bright Events. Shah added the industry might be moving back to the perfect, cloched presentations of the 1950s.

Other panelists agreed that the wedding industry is about to enter a “new normal.” Lauren Carter, owner of Chicago-based Curate Plan Style, noted that planners can “expect limits on gathering sizes until there is a vaccine” against COVID. And part of the job of professional wedding planners will be to “normalize” this new landscape for clients, she said. “Intimate weddings are the trend,” Shah added.

WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT? In some ways, the COVID crisis can help planners force their wedding clients to ask what their wedding really means.

When considering the size of the guest list, does the couple want to include “just the family, or all their frat brothers?” asked BreeAnn Gale, owner of Seattle-based Pink Blossom Events. Along the same line, panelists suggested asking clients which is more important—the date of the wedding or the size of the guest list. Small weddings can take place far faster than big bashes, they noted.

In searching for ways to adapt toe changing business landscape, Shah encouraged attends to look to other industries to learn their solutions. “What do they do, where are they getting loans?” she asked.

Marian urged planners to come together and stick to one message for clients. Noting that some vendors such a makeup artists are offering 100 percent refunds for canceled events, she said, “Brides are hearing different things from different people.” She urged attendees to be careful with the language they use with clients, inluding such charged words as “penalty.”

“We need to stick up for one another,” she said. “It’s happening to all of us; we need to stick together.”

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