Planning for the unexpected

Featured Sliders / HER Community / Lifestyle / Stories / November 17, 2020

What to keep in mind when planning a wedding during a pandemic

Story by Nina Todea
Photos by Liv Paggiarino

Jordyn Pitts jokes her wedding would make the perfect Amazon advertisement.

For two months, she scoured the website from top to bottom, picking out florals for her centerpieces and burgundy and white mesh for the wedding arch adorned with a single, white wooden letter “P.” And when it was all said and done, she had a wedding dress shipped in the mail as well.

At her wedding Sept. 18, held in the comfort of her own 20-acre backyard, no one could quite believe it, she said. Amazon?

Honestly, everything came out perfect,” Pitts laughed. “I’ve become an Amazon queen!”

Like many other couples planning a wedding during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitts’ experience was less than traditional. From venue and food to wedding party and guest list, what is seen on that final day is a culmination of meticulous planning, oftentimes rescheduling and a few layers of worrying if Plan B is needed.

Listicles, mood boards and a good support group are helpful, but there’s one new thing that remains simply out of a bride’s control — the pandemic.

Matt & Jordyn Pitts. Courtesy photo

At BHive Events in Columbia, owner and executive planner Racheal Hollenbeck had rescheduled 13 weddings by Oct. 8. Her yearly average, scattered across the Columbia, St. Louis and surrounding Mid-Missouri areas, is 15.

Weddings, she said, are very seasonal anyways. And as the weather warmed up come March, so did the coronavirus.

I think people were still a little bit concerned about what it was looking like,” Hollenbeck said.

But, she added, “I think the good thing is the event industry and the wedding industry has really come together for brides and grooms in this season of uncertainty.”

So, how do you plan a wedding during a seemingly endless pandemic?

The No. 1 question Hollenbeck gets deals with something everyone holds dear: money.

What’s your rescheduling policy?”

Right now, she said, people want to know that if for some reason they’re not able to have their wedding on their wedding day, what is it planners, venues and pre-booked services will do for them?

With thousands of dollars on the line, Dori Newhouse and her now-husband Alvin simply couldn’t reason rescheduling their Sept. 26 wedding. An optimistic and seemingly always positive individual, Dori Newhouse had already re-evaluated the situation at hand to account for any obstacles. The couple had been engaged for more than a year. Much of their planning had started before March.

“‘Listen, we’ve already paid all this money,’” Dori Newhouse had told her husband. “We weren’t going to get our money back anyway. And if 10 people show up, we’re blessed. If 100 people show up, we’re blessed.”

Though the wedding ceremony was moved into a second rental space at Capitol Plaza Hotel (the chapel at First Christian Church had a restriction on the number of guests), the Newhouses stayed focused even as their budget flexed with last minute changes.

We just promised to not get groomzilla or bridezilla,” Dori Newhouse joked. “We tried to stay focused on the fact that it was about the union.”

Fortunately, for the Newhouses, a complete rescheduling wasn’t necessary. A later fall date likely helped their case, as they avoided a statewide shutdown in early April through May.

But for Amanda Byrd and her fiancé who were to be married April 18, having her wedding on her original date was out of the question. Saving her the difficult decision of rescheduling entirely or holding a small, intimate wedding, the venue canceled the event due to COVID. But when she looked at the venue’s possible date changes, the space was booked for the rest of the year, including through a large part of 2021. Originally to be married in Jefferson City, the Holts Summit couple ventured out to Sedalia to have their wedding Sept. 19.

Their vendors followed them — for a price.

We ended up having to pay a lot of travel fees to have our original vendors come out,” Byrd said.

Amanda & Brent Byrd. Courtesy photo

By the time the original venue had refunded the couple, the rescheduled venue had been booked, vendor prices were adjusted with travel fees included and new invitations were printed, Byrd estimated they paid an additional $2,000-$3,000.

With increasing costs, she worried about the payout of the event as well.

If I had to reschedule again, honestly I wasn’t going to do it because of the stress from the original one,” she said. “A lot of my fears came true with a lot of people not coming. We had about 20 families RSVP that they couldn’t attend. … If our numbers were going to be so low on attendance, it was likely that we weren’t going to have it as well. Just me thinking — I wasn’t going to express that to my fiancé, of course.”

Another factor to keep in mind when rescheduling a wedding is any guest list restrictions that may come with the venue or an official city ordinance, if there is one. Because BHive Events services such a wide area of clients, Hollenbeck has seen her share of differences.

A Pacific, Missouri, wedding in October planned with BHive Events had no restrictions. All the venue asked for was a seating chart — “and I think that was a great compromise from the venue,” Hollenbeck said.

But for venues that restrict the guest list to a fragment of the originally invited, it can place an unwanted — and awkward — burden on the couple. Many brides have already opted to reschedule, and it’s why 2021 and 2022 are already “phenomenal years” from Hollenbeck’s perspective.

They just want to make sure they have all their bases covered and are able to take everything into consideration,” she said.

Pitts wasn’t forced to cut down her guest list by any venue, since the wedding was held in her own backyard, but she did so anyways out of concern for high risk family members.

Her wedding party was a total of four people: the bride and groom, the maid of honor and the best man. Her ceremony was only open to immediate family and friends, estimated around 50 people.

We did have to cut people. I’d say we probably cut about 75-100 people,” Pitts said. “It was hard, because we had several people who wanted to come, but we just had to send out a post stating that we want everybody to come, and we’d love to have everybody come, but due to COVID, we had to scale it back. … We just asked everybody to not be offended if they didn’t get an invite.”

And while Byrd also was not forced to cut down her guest list, attendance did drop. A handful of guests opted to stay home, citing their jobs. Attending the wedding would have required a two-week quarantine period for some of her guests, she said.

If they did go to a larger event, it would put their jobs on the line,” she said.

It’s important, Dori Newhouse said, to make guests feel like they have a choice. She never wished to guilt trip people into going. More than anything, she valued their safety and level of comfort.

It just happened organically, unfortunately, so we didn’t feel the need to cut anybody. … We just told people ‘Your health and safety is very important to us,’” Dori Newhouse said.

Having to trim her guest list would have been hard, she added.

Part of making guests feel like they have a choice is offering a way to interact, even from home.

Dori & Alvin Newhouse. Courtesy photo

The Newhouses called on the expertise of a group of University of Missouri students, giving them “100 percent control of creativity” on the final product. They ended up livestreaming the entire event, from rehearsal to ceremony to reception.

In Washington, D.C., one of her bridesmaids donned her dress and watched the online stream. The pastor directly addressed the online attendees. And as Dori and her bridal party played a prank on Alvin, friends watched and laughed from the comfort of their couches.

It was very interactive. We got so much feedback on how people appreciated that,” Dori Newhouse said. “They got to feel like they were a part of it.”

But if you’re not sold on the extra effort it may take to have a pandemic wedding, Hollenbeck will be the first to suggest an elopement. As the trend goes, many couples have been opting for smaller ceremonies with less pomp and circumstance.

I always tell my friends and family that I’m not always my ideal client,” Hollenbeck joked. “Personally, I am a giant fan of intimate elopements, and that will always be something that I suggest to brides. Sometimes life just happens, and we’ve had people that have had to have quicker ceremonies because of health issues with loved ones. I think it’s always a great option. It’s about you and your fiancé and your day.”

It all plays into what a couple’s priorities are, she said. If a spring wedding is an absolute must, a delay to 2022 would be the safer choice, but a fall wedding in 2021 is a higher possibility. Whether or not BHive’s wedding season will pick up soon all depends on the felxibility of couples.

But personally, Hollenbeck said, people should “do whatever they feel like is best. You know yourself, your wedding party, your friends and family. I think it’s kind of up to you to make that judgment call.”

Micaela Digar is holding on dearly to her Halloween-themed Oct. 30, 2021, wedding date. She’s always wanted an October wedding, she said, and with October 2020 simply being too complicated — as well as having a high-risk family member — she decided her best choice was to officially save the date for next year.

We’re hoping that everything will kind of calm down by then. It might happen, it might not happen,” she said. “(My fiancé’s) mom has lung cancer, so if (COVID) is still going on at that point, it’s definitely getting rescheduled … because they’re really important.”

As the soon-to-be-bride has started planning her wedding, she’s run into similar roadblocks as those of the just-married couples. She plans to limit her guest list and offer those who can’t make it a way to watch online through Zoom or Facebook live, and she recently began getting into the nitty gritty of securing a venue. Some, she said, still have restrictions on people.

There’s been so many times I’ve started to plan this that I just wanted to be like, ‘I’m done. I’m going to the courthouse. We’ll do something after this is all over,’” Digar said. “It does get very frustrating whenever you have to go through so many different people, because this place you were looking at is in Fulton or this place doesn’t accommodate for what you need. It definitely gets frustrating.”

For the brides who had their weddings amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s few regrets. Byrd said she felt “pretty happy with it,” and Pitts said she was grateful she chose to have her wedding on her own grounds with no time constraint.

Amanda & Brent Byrd and bridal party. Courtesy photo

The Newhouses are just grateful it turned out better than they could have hoped. Of course, they would have wanted all of their guests to be there.

But that didn’t happen. So what are you going to do? You’re just going to feel really good about what did happen … and that you had a really great, collective group of people around you to celebrate with you,” Dori Newhouse said.

Her daughter, Bailey Bedell, who helped plan her wedding, agreed.

For us, with that just being so unforeseen and really not being sure about when the end (of COVID) will even be near, we thought putting our whole heart into it and making it the best that we can, within our comfort zones of course, really worked out to be the best choice,” Bedell said.

There’s a secret to success: Don’t get overwhelmed, and always keep a positive outlook.

My biggest thing is I’m an over thinker and I have anxiety. It was very hard for me to, at times, just realize this is the situation we’re in right now and there’s some things I can’t change,” Pitts said. “People are going to have to deal with it, and if you just calm down, relax and go with the flow, everything will turn out perfectly. And it did, honestly.”

In addressing criticism of having a wedding during a pandemic, Pitts said she was worried “people were going to kind of see me as a hypocrite for having the wedding” after months of self-quarantining. But, she said, they did everything they thought they could to make it safe.

I feel bad for those of us who have gotten married during this time and for people who are criticizing us for wanting to get married during all of this — it’s our big day, too,” she said.

The average wedding in the area runs upward of $20,000, Hollenbeck added.

If you had $20,000 on the line, what would you do?” she asked.

It may sound super cheesy, Digar said, but she’s just excited to marry her best friend.

We are not really people who do big things,” she said. “This is our one big thing that we get to do together and get to have.”

Dori Newhouse didn’t hesitate to point out what she thought was most important and the driving force behind her decision to have her wedding.

At the end of the day, she said, it’s about the union and joining your lives together.

The rest is just either tradition or putting on a party. You have to boil it down to what it’s really about and stay positive, because right now, so many things can drag you down,” she said. “You have to be positive about the things you can control, and you have to be positive about the things you can’t control and know that you’re not in control anyway.”

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November 17, 2020