The outbreak of coronavirus has had far reaching impacts over the past few weeks. And, for many individuals, it's personal. From weddings to celebratory showers and planned trips, COVID-19 has forced couples to postpone or cancel long-awaited events. Navigating the logistics and etiquette of handling these decisions is stressful during an already confusing time. 

Vermont Weddings sat down with Wedding and Event Planner Leah Stewart of Black Dog Affairs for a professional's guide to handling these situations. "To start, please let me extend a virtual hug," says Leah. "Try to find peace in knowing that for the first time in our lifetime, we are figuring out the unknown together."

Our hope is that this guide provides couples with some comfort and a starting point to move forward.

Note: This guide is based on the professional advice of the experts mentioned, and current recommendations at the time of publication. This guide is not a substitute for legal advice. With information changing rapidly, couples should refer to the most current federal/local guidelines and speak with their contracted wedding professionals. Thank you!

It's okay to be upset

Before we dive in, take a moment. It's okay to feel sad, angry, or nervous. Whatever you're feeling, it's okay. Let yourself feel your emotions so you can move forward.

When you're ready, take a deep breath and continue. 

Please remember to be kind

We are all in this together. "It's important to remember the three principles of etiquette: respect, consideration and honesty," says Leah. "This is certainly an emotionally-charged time; showing compassion as you communicate with your vendors and guests will go a long way."

Determine the impact

Look up the current guidelines on gathering sizes and timelines. Which event(s) are affected? This will help you to prioritize your next steps. 

Recommendations are changing rapidly. For the most current guidelines and mandates please refer to:

Look at your event insurance

If you have event insurance, you may be eligible for compensation on lost deposits. Contact your insurance agent for more details.

Communications

Once you've made the hard decision to postpone or cancel your wedding or event, it's time to communicate this decision with your vendors and guests. 

Remember: from supplies and staffing for vendors, to accommodations, travel and gifts for your guests, these people are also invested in your event (emotionally and financially). Additionally, consider how the pandemic is affecting them beyond your event.

Working with your vendors

First, make a list of all the vendors involved in your event. Review your contracts, paying special attention to the terms for canceling or postponing your event. If you need assistance understanding the terms, ask your family attorney for guidance.

Leah recommends calling your vendors to discuss your options. Take notes and follow up with an email to ensure you're in agreement with a plan (that you both have in writing). Here are some questions you might ask:

  • Are you able to make any amendments to your contract with respect to the current situation?

  • Is it possible to postpone services?

  • Would current payments be applied towards a future event?

Be prepared that each vendor may be handling this situation differently. Please be understanding and patient with vendors; they are likely answering other clients' questions as well as yours, while trying to maintain their own livelihoods as well.

Talking with guests

You may wonder: is there a right away to tell guests about a cancellation or postponement? Thankfully, Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette 6th edition and co-president of the Emily Post Institute (as well as the co-host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast) offered some etiquette advice. 

First, "be prepared for a variety of responses," advises Lizzie. You'll have guests that are relieved and eagerly applaud your decision. While others will respect your decision, they may not be able to instantly commit to your rescheduled event. And unfortunately, you may have guests who are vocally disappointed in your decision. 

Lizzie recommends taking the time to reach out to guests by phone, as written communications can be misinterpreted, especially during this emotionally-charged time. 

Follow up your calls with a detailed email to your entire guest-list (bcc everyone) to communicate your decision and help guests navigate next steps. "Sending a longer message that sympathizes with your guests goes a long way," says Lizzie. In addition to phone and email, update your wedding website with the new details.

Be prepared for questions and provide solutions around the following:

  • Travel: Most airlines are providing credits and refunds for these disruptions in travel. Recommend that guests reach out to their airline for more information. 

  • Accommodations: Do you have hotel blocks? If so, reach out to the hotels to see what their policies are for refunds or cancellations; communicate this information to your guests. (Include this information in your website updates as well.)

  • Gifts: If you are rescheduling an event where gifts are common, like a bridal shower, Lizzie says it's appropriate to address this in your communication. "I'd recommend saying something like: Many of you have called asking about gifts. If you would like to hold onto the gift until we're able to celebrate in person, please do so. If you'd like to mail the gift, our address is _____. If you'd like to return the gift at this time, we completely understand." Provide solutions, but ultimately leave the decision of what to do with the gift to the gift-giver.

A sample email template

Here is a sample email you can use as a starting point to communicate your decision with guests:

We were so excited about the gathering to celebrate [event name], but like many other emails I'm sure you're receiving right now, we have decided to [postpone/cancel]. This was a really hard decision for us that we made after a lot of careful consideration. We know this is the best decision with everyone's wellbeing in mind. 

[Next, address the specific details about your event. Include helpful information for guests about considerations such as accommodations, travel, and gifts, as well as a link to your wedding website if applicable.]

We feel lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive community, and we look forward to celebrating with you in the future! 

Wishing everyone health and wellbeing. 

Love, 

[Your names]

A special note to guests

If you're on the receiving end of a change notice, please offer sympathy and kindness to the couple. This decision is not one that couples are making lightly, and your support will go a long way. A response like "I'm sorry you've had to make this decision. I'm looking forward to celebrating with you in the future!" is perfect.

(Feeling like the couple could use some extra kindness? Reach out on the original date of their event to let them know you're thinking of them.)

Finally, stay hopeful!

When you're ready, daydream about how you'll celebrate once restrictions are lifted. This may mean looking forward to rescheduling a similar celebration. Or, you may reimagine your plans. Perhaps instead of bachelorette party, you organize a weekend getaway with your girls after the wedding. Or, maybe you and your sweetheart decide to elope and host your larger wedding celebration as a vow renewal on your first anniversary. Whatever you choose, your milestone is worth celebrating - now and later.

"Most importantly, remember: you will be married!" says Leah. "While it may not look exactly like you had envisioned, it will be extraordinary because no matter when or how, you will be making a lifetime commitment to the love of your life!" 


Thank you Leah for sharing your expertise. If you need additional assistance beyond this guide, at the time of publication, Black Dog Affairs is offering discounted consultation services to help couples facing these challenges. You can reach Leah for more information at [email protected]