What events may look like moving forward due to Covid-19

May 20, 2020

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Almost 20 years ago most of us had not heard of al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, and ISIS didn’t even exist.  The federal agencies didn’t share information, our surveillance was not at all where it is today, and airport security was minimum. 

Going through an airport was a breeze.  You didn’t have to arrive super early as there were not as many checkpoints. You could literally run through a metal detector with your shoes on and a drink in your hand thirty minutes before your flight and not worry about getting your ID out.  You didn’t have to cringe at the hole in your sock, dig through your bottomless pit of a bag looking for your ID, while you were being body scanned or patted down AFTER you had just dumped your $7 Starbucks in the trash.  

Although these changes in security and agency communication have arguably made our country safer they did not come without a cost.  It’s not as convenient to fly. Travelers now need to pack a certain way, arrive much earlier, wait in lines for security, have proper documentation, and there are definitely some infringements on privacy rights. The good news is that these changes happened so long ago, we don’t even think about it anymore.  It just is what it is.  Travelers who were too young to remember what airports were like before 9/11 never had to adjust.  This is just how it has always been. 

Just like with the after-effects of 9/11 we are here again with the Corona Virus. 

The average consumer has been blindsided by this virus and there is not one industry that has not been affected. There is not one person that has missed the 24/7 news cycle.

As states across the country start opening up, and phases start going into effect, many people are still wondering what events will look like moving forward.  There are many changes that have already happened, and there are some that are ever-changing.  I encourage you to stay on top of your state regulations and be in constant communication with your vendors.  Being proactive in this climate will be immensely helpful. 

In times like these, it is hard to remember that a wedding is a celebration.  

I can assure you that this is the industry that breaks down barriers and challenges and rebuilds them into new things every day.  We work through teamwork and collaboration to come up with the best solutions possible.  We are creatives, entrepreneurs, makers, and service providers. We will figure this out. Weddings will be gorgeous, and fun, and safe again. 

Many of these regulations have not been officially put into place in Virginia just yet.  This post is to start the conversation, get people thinking about things moving forward, hopefully, generate new ideas, and get a pulse on everyone’s risk tolerances.  Are you comfortable moving forward, do you want to postpone, is a micro-wedding looking better and better?  These are all questions to think about and speak to your friends, family, and your event planner about.  I am just hoping to provide a soft place to land as we navigate this new horizon together.  

This post will mostly be discussing the event itself. There are several vendors who will come on-site before guests arrive who have their own set of rules to abide by, but they aren’t usually interacting with the guests.

Guest Counts:

The largest adjustment many couples have had to figure out is a decrease in their allowed guest count.  Depending on where you live these numbers can be different. In Virginia Phase 1 will allow 10 or fewer people, Phase 2 allows 50 or fewer people, and Phase 3 does not have any current restrictions. 

In other states there are restrictions based on square footage, tables are required to be set up six feet away from each other, and guests must be seated with family members only. 

The social distancing requirements are expected to stay at least for a while. This will lead to an increase in more intimate affairs taking place in larger venues to allow everyone to have the proper spacing. 

There will be a rise in at-home weddings, tented weddings, and micro-events. 

There will also be a rise in destination weddings as guest counts are required to remain small.  Destination weddings already lend themselves to smaller affairs, it will now just depend on what the travel industry looks like.  We will have more on that later. 

Venues: 

This will change how you should shop for venues as many of them are designed to ‘just fit.’ Many venues may feel to large for an intimate wedding.  This is where having an experienced event planner will come into play. There are several creative ways to make an event feel intimate in a larger space and still allow for social distancing. 

You may start looking for an open-air venue, venues with more outdoor space, or utilize a tent.  If you are considering outdoor venues make sure you have a solid in-climate weather plan. 

Venues that require elevator access will need to devise options for social distancing.  Planners and vendors this will require much more time built into the timeline as we can’t crowd everyone into an elevator at once. Venues, what does the cleaning cycle look like here?

Entrances and Exits that typically become a choke point that we will need to reevaluate.  Maybe we are routing guests through multiple doors, maybe there is an attendant allowing a certain number of guests through a door at a time. 

Cleaning:

There will definitely be an increased standard of cleaning and sanitation.  Bathrooms, light switches, door handles, railings, and all other high touch areas will need to be cleaned and marked off on a tracking sheet.  Many venues have opened the position of ‘sanitation manager.’  This role serves as the on-site cleaning team manager.  Butlers will be utilized to open front doors and any doors where several guests may need to walk through. 

This does require an increase in staffing which will most likely raise the costs of events. These vendors will also count towards your allotted amount of people in the space.  This is definitely something to consider when you are working on your guest list.  Your vendors count as people in the room.

Keeping Staff and Guests Safe:

There will be an increase in sanitation stations and education of the staff.  Some venues or events may require a temperature check prior to entering the building.  This may be very similar to walking through a metal detector or a very quick handled thermometer.  The client, event planner, or host of the event will need to gather each person’s contact information.  Should there be an outbreak those guests will need to be notified immediately.

Vendors will most likely be required to wear masks. There have been some creative executions of this idea.  Some suggestions are to be monogrammed, themed, or even have the menu written on the servers mask.   

Setting up hand sanitizer stations around the venue is most likely going to be required. 

Some clients have been offering branded masks to their guests so they feel more comfortable and it looks more consistent as you look around the room.  You don’t want uncle Bob in a bandana, Aunt Mary in silk satin, and your college roommate in something neon.  This may be something similar to providing kippots at Jewish weddings. 

Protective acrylic paneling may be required to be set up around people, bars, or the band. Again, work with your creative team to come up with a fun execution of these safety precautions.

There are lots of ideas being thrown around as to how to keep guests safe during ceremony, dinner, and reception.  This may mean increased spacing between chairs, a special place for seniors and those with health restrictions, the use of video and live streaming for those guests who couldn’t attend, etc. 

We don’t want the event to look sterile.  We still want people to be relaxed and have the space to be aesthetically pleasing.  However, if there are no safety precautions taken your guests may not be able to feel at ease and enjoy themselves.

What is happening with food service:

No more buffets: This has been pretty unanimous across the board. It is almost impossible to keep everyone safe. Buffets typically require quests to gather around a food table, touch the same serving utensils, and converse with each other while they are in line.  The suggested approach, should a buffet be necessary, is to have a server available to plate the food.  This will limit the number of people who touch the serving utensils. There have also been suggestions about having prepared plates wrapped and individually wrapped utensils set out for guests to pick up. Condiments will also be individually wrapped.

A Rise in Cocktail Style Receptions:  We have already seen a rise in this type of dining over the past few years, but now with the elimination of buffets I expect we’ll see many more.  This style of dining consists of various food stations set up around the room.  The food is already in individual serving sizes, plated on small plates, and most often manned by a server.  This is actually a really fun dining style as you can get really creative with your food choices and display.  Your guests can try many different options and it leans to a more fluid event.  The food is prepared to most often not require utensils, or at least only a fork.  This is also a less rigid style of dining.  With tables strategically placed around the room, guests can mingle or distance as they feel comfortable. 

Restrictions on Seated Dinners:  There will probably not be any more family-style dinners. The risk of passing around a platter is just too high.  There will be fewer people to a table to practice safe social distancing. There have also been conversations about the table not being set prior to guests’ arrival. The plate and utensils will be brought to each guest with their food.  This is to reduce the chance that someone were to contaminate the flatware before the intended guest was able to sit down.  There may even be a rise in plate covers and cloches to protect the food coming from the kitchen to the dining area.  We may also see a rise in cabaret-style dining. 

Cocktail Hour:  Appetizers will most likely be passed.  These will be individual sizes and spread out on a large enough serving platter so you won’t accidentally touch the one you aren’t grabbing.  This is another place that the presentation can end up being really fun.  We may start to see ‘themed’ serving pieces such as tennis racquets, or long-handled pizza boards. This will create some interest in the event, but also help keep the distance from the server and the guest. 

Bars:  There will be more bars set up around the space to reduce the bottleneck at a single bar.  More beer/wine/signature drinks being passed so guests are able to maintain social distance and still enjoy a cocktail.   Some bars may require sneeze guards.  This sounds horrifying, but it could be yet another element that can be customized and done in a really cute way.

Food Trucks:  Food Truck events have been expected to be on the rise.  With people still wanting a fun experience this is a good option.  Food trucks typically only operate with one or two people in the truck.  This protects the kitchen staff, catering, and also the guests.

Desserts:  The days of having cake slices laid out on a table are probably gone.  This is definitely a move in the right direction COVID or not. Cakes will most likely be cut and served to guests.  Couples may decide to have a smaller cake made for the cutting cake and the other guests receive an individual cake or dessert.  If a dessert bar is desired, the desserts will most likely be individually wrapped or boxed.

*If you had planned on using disposables anywhere at your wedding, you may want to double-check with your caterer.  The cost of disposables has gone up due to supply chain issues.  It may be equivalent or even less expensive to upgrade to china and silverware. 

Bands and Dance Floors:

This is an area where we have not come up with any great solutions just yet.  There are several brilliant minds working on solutions for this so it will just be a matter of time.  

Dance Floor:  Some of the regulations we have seen in other states are that there will not be any dancing as you can’t practice social distancing.  Weddings that are taking place during certain timeframes will be more like a restaurant with just dining. If this is your market I would highly suggest looking into some sort of elevated dining experiences.  If all you have is dining definitely make it interactive.  If you are able to have a dance floor you may be required to increase the size of the dance floor so guests can stay further apart.

Bands: If you are moving forward with a band what does that look like?  Most bands require staging to keep their instruments and cords away from the guest but also put them just high enough to project sound over the crowd.  I don’t need to paint a visual for you, but the risk here is high.  If your venue has the space to put your band a safer distance away from the crowd that is great.  If there is not a safe location for the band, are you able to put up acrylic walls around the stage that will still allow your guests to see band, but keep your guests safer?

Toasts: When there are toasts being made the microphones will need to be cleaned in-between each speaker.  This may require a band or DJ bringing multiple microphones. 

DJs: I have spoken with some DJs who are working on a system to accept text messages for song requests or any changes in the timeline that a planner might need to make.  They are trying to limit person-to-person contact.  DJs are a bit easier to move away from the guests as they don’t require such a large setup. 

We are working diligently with other industry professionals, our creative partners, our clients, and we are following the trends in guidelines and rules around the country.  I will try and keep everyone as updated as possible. 

There is one thing to note. There have been mentions of events taking place outside of the regulations, ordinances, laws, etc. Of course not being a lawyer, I can’t advise or really speak to this.  However, there have been situations where civil suits have come about when a person got sick at an event. From what I can tell it has been hard to prove the origin of the virus so it can’t be a criminal offense, but there have been some creative lawyers who are finding those loopholes and issuing civil cases to the venue, party host, etc. I would recommend you weigh your risks, talk to your attorneys, and really make smart decisions.  As much as we would all love to celebrate and get back to work it is not worth someone’s life.

There are lots of ways to have events and create positive memories without risking everything.

As always, I would love to chat.

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