What's Next? Managing the Wedding Timeline (COVID-19 Edition)
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
One of the most important things that have come out of the pandemic is the need to have wedding insurance under your belt if you are newly engaged. Hospitality was the first industry that went under when the pandemic began. It started with bartenders, service staff, caterers, venues and eventually, it came down to the wedding industry with booked vendors that were left i.e. DJs, florists, photographers, planners, and videographers. I will discuss wedding insurance more in detail later. At this time, I would like to just start the conversation on how to deal with things when everything outdoors is uncertain.
COVID-19 came out of nowhere and it put a huge dent into the American economy. No one was truly prepared to handle this unexpected situation. Still today, we are slowly figuring out the stringent steps to be safe. News media is saturated with answers that oppose each other and the public is already inundated as it adds to the stress. The primary focus of everyone and myself has been to take care of my family especially my parents and grandparents. We are not going outside until the curve is totally flattened and then wait to observe the period afterward to see the effects of it. We are staying indoors and only stepping out when we need essential supplies. The governor of Texas will start the ease of restrictions on May 1st, 2020 and it will allow for many businesses to open at 25% capacity, however, this has caused a huge polarization between small business owners and the public itself.
The first week when COVID-19 started in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was around March 22, 2020, I witnessed a lot of posts on social media by couples who were devastated, frustrated, and some outright full of indignation. One of the things many couples were figuring out was should they cancel their wedding, postpone it or continue on with their scheduled celebration? In the beginning, many couples remained hopeful and did not make a single modification to their wedding timeline. But when the country started imposing regulations in terms of the number of individuals in a designated space, the wedding industry finally came to a halt. The weddings at the end of March and April were canceled. The weddings in the month of May are more than likely to not happen either. A substantial amount of states are ending their stay-in-order at the end of April and the beginning of May. You can see the full list by states here. My fellow wedding vendors who do international elopements and weddings have been forced to reschedule with their upcoming dates especially in places like Italy till spring or fall of 2021.
The pandemic has caused about 19% of the US labor force (over 30 million Americans) to file for unemployment. Others have been arranged to work at home, remotely, or be on paid leave until things start to open back up. Not everyone has been fortunate enough with their employers to have a stable setup. People have delved into their savings and few have started working in essential places like grocery stores. Now, it may have been human nature, and the first major protective measure couples have taken, but at the beginning of the pandemic, couples requested their money back from all their booked vendors. This could be due to economic hardships due to layoffs and the uncertain future. The requests that have been prevailing on social media have shown the positive and negative side of the legality of the contracts and the relationship between couples and vendors.
"...one of our pet peeves is when an individual is searching for their vendors on social media and they say "we are looking for a reasonable photographer"..."
The purpose of a retainer (we charge 50% of the total fee) is to secure your wedding date. It helps protect vendors if they lose the wedding. A new wedding cannot be replaced if vendors have turned away new inquires when your wedding is already booked for that requested date. Unlike corporations, small business owners are like mom and pop shops, brick, and mortar. For us wedding videographers, we have to pay for wedding insurance (venue and gear coverage), maintenance and rental fees of the equipment, subscriptions to media software, travel, 1099 employees, taxes, web hosting, domain registration, advertising, music licensing, courses, back up services and about 60-1000 hours of editing. The profit margin is relatively low and we always try to educate our clients on the breakdown of the prices so they understand what they are paying for. Also, one of our pet peeves is when an individual is searching for their vendors on social media and they say "we are looking for a reasonable photographer" because that implies that the pricing structure of vendors out of their budget range is ridiculous and not acceptable. What they mean to say is that "we are looking for an affordable photographer that is within the range of x and x". Every time I see a post online that uses that word, I sigh.
Not to digress, back to the wedding conditions of the pandemic. A retainer fee is made to secure your wedding date. Wedding vendors like us videographers have a force majeure clause in our contract specifying an exemption from a pandemic like this. If you are looking to reschedule, you must communicate with your wedding vendor and be flexible in terms of finalizing a new date. Lots of brides are rescheduling for 2021, which means vendors will lose not only their business this year but also miss out on new couples next year. Some vendors have arranged to double book their weekends and utilize their second and third teams. Some vendors may have rescheduling fees that they may or may not choose to waive.
If you are asking for a full refund from your vendors, you are more than likely will not have that returned. A retainer is to protect and save a small business from running to the ground. So if every booked couple asked that one vendor to return their full amount, that vendor may go bankrupt. Your options are to reschedule your wedding to a new date or communicate to your vendor that you will wait until the conditions ease before you pick a new date. If you decide to choose a new date, make sure to work with all your vendors. If you choose a new date and a vendor is not available, do not expect a full refund and do not ask one of your parents to get involved especially, if they are lawyers. I have seen some really abhorrent messages sent by the parents of the couples to vendors, and they are some of the most manipulating messages I have read in a while. As a professional, you are legally obligated to the contract and you should respect each vendor with the reverence that they deserve.
A trend I have noticed in the industry is that venues have been the strongest vendors throughout this pandemic. If a venue has refused to fully refund you and keep the retainer fee, do not, I repeat, do not go down the list, and bully other vendors in giving you your money back. Work with vendors in rescheduling your date. Work with your vendors in figuring out new ways to adjust to this environment and how to get the best product when the time finally arrives. The safety of an individual precedes anything else. If the vendor does not feel safe to film your wedding this month, next month, or the new few months, due to health or family reasons, then respect their wishes. This is not the time to put someone's life in danger or jeopardize a trusted relationship between you and the vendor. Recently, on a Facebook live conversation, with other fellow wedding videographers, everyone informed me that they have rescheduled their weddings to next year. Few of them mentioned smaller weddings they have to film this summer with a group of 10 and less. This will be followed by a larger reception TBD. I will be talking about multi-day South Asian weddings and sequel weddings in my next blog. What we can learn from one culture and apply it to a bigger celebration in American culture. Sequel weddings is a term that has been around for a while and it can play a major role in the future of our wedding industry.
Insurance? As I promised, I will now discuss wedding insurance. This protects you from vendors. Things do not always play out the way you imagined and it is rare but things can go wrong on your big day. You may have the top-notch vendors lined up but unexpected things like COVID-19 can come up. Coronavirus definitely opened up the eyes of couples who are in the process of wedding planning and those who are approaching their wedding date. If anything, every wedding planning guide should start with the first mandatory suggestion- "Get Wedding Insurance, Today". Right now, many couples can file a claim and get coverage if they had a policy with their insurance company that covered natural disasters and nationally declared emergency like this pandemic. If couples applied for an insurance policy after the pandemic was declared, they are unlikely to get their claim approved. Wedding insurance protects you from any financial loss from vendors, damages, thefts, etc. and protect you in canceling or rescheduling your event. You can learn more about the benefits of wedding insurance here.
To summarize, hold off on your wedding celebration. Take this time to enjoy engagement with your significant other. Talk to your vendors about rescheduling or positioning your wedding. Understand what your legal contracts between you and your vendors mean. Approach everyone in your wedding process with respect. You never know what struggles they might be facing due to the current climate. If you do not have wedding insurance, it is now the best time especially as you reschedule. Listen to health officials in terms of the next steps that will keep everyone safe. And finally, stay home. There is a lot of misinformation out there and numbers speak more than anything.