We’re officially in 2021 wedding planning mode! If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that intimate weddings can be just as special as large-scale celebrations—and in many instances, even more personalized and detailed. Having to reimagine your big day can be stressful and complicated, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. We’ve reached out to some of our local wedding experts to help navigate the new norms planning an event. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that even if your day isn’t what you originally envisioned, it’s going to be absolutely perfect.
Don’t Stress (too Much…)
Wedding vendors (venues, caterers, florists, etc.), and the live events industry, have been hit hard by the pandemic. “This is certainly a tough time for wedding planning however try not to be discouraged!” advises Renée Sabo of Urban Soirée. “Lean on your vendors to help guide you on how to navigate planning. There is a balance of trust and risk when planning a wedding, especially during the pandemic, but having open communication and understanding of each vendor's contract and services, will help you feel comfortable with moving forward.”
If You’re Newly Engaged & Looking for a 2021 or 2022 Date...
Start planning, like now. “Nail down a venue and reach out to your must-have vendors as soon as possible,” says Rachel Lynn of Daylynn Designs. “Dates in 2022 are booking up at a rapid rate, so it's important that you get vendors under contract ASAP. If you need help feeling like you have control of your planning process, be sure to inquire with a planner! Our 2022 seasons are also booking quickly as we help couples navigate the current landscape, so the sooner we chat, the better.”
"For couples newly planning their big day, I would recommend they sit down together and get on the same page as far as guest count, budget, and overall desires because they'll need to make decisions quickly," reiterates Nicole Mower of Nicole Mower Weddings and Events. "Most vendors are almost (if not already) fully booked for 2021 because all of the 2020 postponements. This means vendors can't hold dates as long as they might have in the past, and it also means that 2022 is booking up much quicker than usual since a lot of newly engaged couples are planning on waiting until 2022 so they can have their pick of vendors and to not have to have less stress while planning during a pandemic."
Above all, do your research. A number of planners and wedding industry pros are publishing resources to help couples navigate this uncharted territory. Erica Trombetti of Infinite Events created The Wedding Reschedule Blueprint, a helpful guide that walks couples through all the steps to see if rescheduling is for you or rocking your original wedding date is the way to go.
Stay on Top of COVID Restrictions
“It's important to make sure you know what the COVID restrictions are for your state,” says Sarah Glick of Brilliant Event Planning. “Not just for the wedding itself, but for the guests who might be attending your wedding from out-of-state. They are changing all the time, so it can be hard to keep up. We do periodic summary posts of all of the information we can find on our blog. This is our most recent post and we plan to continue to do them quarterly.”
Events with smaller guest counts seem to be the new reality, so if you’ve postponed your wedding to 2021 or are getting married this year, understand that a guest list of 200 might not be an option. To err on the side of caution, consider scaling back or segmenting your guest list into two or three groups (“Group A” being your immediate family, closest friends and wedding party; “Group B” being your less immediate friends or extended family, and so on). Given the climate of the last year, your guests will likely be understanding and will want you and your S.O. to have the best day possible, regardless of whether or not they’re in attendance.
“I often share with couples that the ‘big celebration feel’ has less to do with how many people attend and more to do with the camaraderie and a full ambience that envelopes and immerses guests into the wedding day. It’s more about how a large event makes you feel over the actual number of guests in attendance,” says Keri Ketterer Walter of Always Yours Events.
"Instead of just a quick hello and then on to the next table, you will be able to dine with your favorite people, share stories and laughter, and also create a very intimate vibe where all of your guests feel like they're a part of something truly special," says Mower.
Up the Ante When it Comes to the Details
Smaller celebrations also allow for greater design opportunities, since you can essentially pay for quality versus quantity. “When you've got a smaller group coming together, you can really ‘wow’ with table décor, florals, immersive elements, and more,” says Lynn, adding “with larger gatherings, the cost to attend to the details can be exponential. I've been having so much fun reworking larger plans down to smaller sized events because the result is overflowing with thoughtful details.”
"These days social media—such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest—plays a big role when it comes to brides and grooms finding inspiration," says Katie Cole, Senior Account Manager at PEAK. "Couples have so many unique wedding ideas that can influence the feeling they want to evoke and we (and all of their vendors) are here to help them pull that off. Whether it's a décor photo or a style or theme they'd like to see come to life, we work with clients with all different budgets to get them the look and feel of the wedding day they want."
For Ketterer Walter it’s all about focusing on ambience and camaraderie. "Think curated table settings of embossed chargers, mixed and matched fine crystal glassware, gold flatware, personalized touches through stationery such as hand stitched menu cards and tiny custom favors at each place setting. Live music playing in the background adds energy and creates a feeling of “fullness” in a small space that can emulate that of which you would experience at a wedding with a larger guest count. A thoughtful menu of multiple courses and cocktail selection creates an experience that keep guests engaged and conversing throughout the dinner. And hospitable touches for guests create a memorable experience that they will think about long after the celebration ends. Put all of these elements together and I can assure you that your guests will have the same out-of-this-world experience at a wedding for 30 as they would for a wedding for 300.”
Glick agrees: “To put it simply, if you take a budget for 150 people and instead, only invite 50 people, you can do a lot more with the décor, splurge on guest welcome gifts, and you might even be able to host a weekend of events, versus just one day.”
Choose a Meaningful (and Practical) Location
Hosting a downsized wedding could also unlock more opportunities for unique locations. “Something so many couples might not realize is a smaller celebration opens the doors to more exclusive venues and locales—think private beaches, vineyards, city rooftops, terraces and, my favorite, your own backyard with a beautiful tent,” says Ketterer Walter. "I am partial to weddings at private estates and residences because of how special these locations feel to the couple and their guests, so when it comes to designing intimate celebrations I tend to focus on hosting in a location with meaning to the couple such as their private home, the parents’ home, a family lake house, a vacation house on Cape Cod, etc.”
Now, more than ever, wedding reception tents are a practical and ideal venue option for social distance-friendly celebrations. The possibilities are essentially endless when it comes to tented spaces, which offer a “blank slate” for event design and layout. Whether your gathering is an intimate dinner for 10 or a celebration for 50, there are a variety of ways to customize your wedding tent and provide a unique al fresco-style experience for your guests.
“Allow yourself to think outside the box—literally," advises Tarryn Prosper, Senior Director of Tent Sales at PEAK. "Tents come in unique configurations and sizes such as with rounded ends and bump outs. A smaller guest count can allow for a unique configuration such as a collection of smaller round tents, or a customized backyard installation that might otherwise not have been possible.”
Make Your Event Stand Out
Whether it’s a curated design element, upgraded wedding rentals or a special dinner menu, there are myriad ways to impart your personality into your event and make it unique to you and your significant other.
“I always recommend a statement design moment, whether that is with a lush floral moment, or custom stationery or a special entertainment experience,” says Sabo. “Something that sets your celebration apart and represents your style and personalities most.”
"Tell a story with your place settings and tabletop," says Nick Vitale, Account Manager at PEAK. "There are simple and elegant ways to layer in statement pieces to your tabletop décor and really make it pop. Upgrade your glassware with a colored glass option, switch out standard flatware for something with gold accents, add a playful, printed napkin to tie in your décor. Top off the table with a unique floral installation or centerpieces that are personalized and meaningful to you."
"I feel like a lot of couples have been stuck or confused on if they should have a "DJ" or a "Band" at their intimate wedding or if they should just play music on a speaker (please don't do that)," says Mower. "Having a live music element like a singer / songwriter guitarist, a string quartet, or a keyboardist really brings the event to another level and adds in energy and entertainment."
Really focusing on your food and cocktails, especially if your guest count is smaller, is another way to entertain guests and ensure a memorable event. “We are very into tapas styled dinners,” says Trombetti. “We do a variety of different, small portion foods served throughout the dinner. It's a great way to show your guests your favorites items, without having a heavy entree plus it's a great conversation starter.”
This goes without saying, but it’s imperative to ensure the safety of you and your guests and to make them feel comfortable at your event. One easy way to create social distanced dining, is using larger tables with fewer seats (we recommend seating 6 guests at a 60" round table or farm table versus 8-10 guests).
Another idea is to cluster your guests during portions of the event when they’ll be eating and drinking based on who they’ve been spending time with during quarantine, advises Lynn. “Think: couples, families, pods, and keep them close to each other,” she says. “While it may seem to isolate, it actually makes guests feel safer during their time spent without a mask on as they eat and drink. Part of the guest experience is making sure that guests are thought of, and that's a huge factor in it all.”