Some wedding pros are longing for the days when the most significant things we worried about were whether or not to go ahead with the rain preparedness plan or if everyone would get started on time. The pandemic has had quite a ripple effect on wedding and event planners worldwide. From event cancellations to bypassing state regulations signing non-disclosure agreements, to moving ahead with events regardless of the pandemic–COVID-19 has affected everyone from couples, to planners, caterers, DJs, rental companies, etc. As everyone pivots in response to the new normal, we are reflecting on our responsibility to one another during this time.
COVID-19 Cancellations and Postponements
With the uncertainty of stay-at-home orders and regulations on the number of event guests; most event professionals have dealt with loads of cancelations and postponements. Some pros have had to create rules on how many postponements they can allow. Not to mention the number of times event pros have had to scramble to review contract agreements and have discussions about possible refunds. The loss of business in 2020 has been staggering for the entire wedding industry. We hope our wedding pros are managing their time and putting the additional time in to reschedule or postpone events.
To Refund or Not To Refund
Discussions about refunds can be extremely polarizing. The bottom line is–what does your contract say? Does your agreement talk about deposits being nonrefundable? Does it stipulate that all funds paid are considered earned? Having an up-to-date and professionally drafted agreement is the first step in protecting you and your business. We highly recommend consulting a contract attorney who practices in the jurisdiction where your business is based.
Beyond legalities, professionals must examine the potential loss of future business and damage done to their reputation if they refuse to give deposits back. Social media and threats of negative reviews have dragged wedding and event professionals into some ugly conversations. Remember, only you can decide what is in the best interest of your business.
State By State Differences
If you are one of the lucky businesses operating in a state or city where things are reopening, you may be encountering a unique set of dilemmas if there are no uniform practices and policies about how weddings and events can continue to take place. Several New York Times articles have discussed the breadth of issues COVID has posed for weddings and those involved in planning them. From a bride and groom waiting 14 days for everyone after their wedding to not experience symptoms after finding out that an infected person had attended, to vendors feeling helpless in controlling guests' risky behavior– the fears can seem overwhelming and endless. One planner, we spoke to works in three major cities in the same region. Each of them and their surrounding counties have different rules and capacity limits.
Knowing exactly what is allowed in each region and or city is a must. A great way to find out what is allowed is to visit the local city's website and find out what their response to COVID-19 has been and the changes to event capacity. The CDC also has some helpful tips for event planners, but please note: they do not break things down by city, since each state has its own different regulations.
The Great Mask Debate
Like the rest of society, there are people in the industry who firmly believe in wearing masks and those who don't. At the end of the day, operating your business under any local health guidelines is a must. Beyond that, consider that even if there is only a slim chance that masks really help – you are increasing the odds that you can keep your business and staff as well as those of your colleagues safe.
Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should
With so little guidance surrounding the legalities of hosting an event, who is responsible for enforcement, and who is ultimately liable, you may find yourself at odds, with other planners and with what the morally right thing to do is. Trust us. As an event pro-people will judge you on how, when, and why you may decide to operate during COVID-19. Learning how to gracefully prepare yourself for negative feedback whatever you decide is the key here.
Suppose a venue is legally allowed to host a large wedding or event. Couples may be feeling that their hand is being forced to put the potential loss of a large deposit over their guests' safety. Couples are disgruntled over venues not allowing them to reschedule, while venues are challenged with trying to stay operational. What will the real costs look like a year down the road in contrast to what the couple paid when they booked. Beyond that, are venues now forced to turn away new business at a higher price point because of re-bookings?
If an event moves forward, is the venue responsible for adhering to social distancing, mask requirements, and even health screenings? As wedding professionals, what is our responsibility beyond protecting ourselves and our team?
Legally, everything seems to be as grey as the parameters of what kinds and sizes of events we can host. Much like anything else in life, people can try to sue for anything they want. The courts in many jurisdictions are just beginning to look at cases surrounding cancellations and deposits – and not only in weddings and events. The possible legal repercussions surrounding hosting events where guests may be infected won't be known for quite some time.
Saying "No" Can Be a Way to Say "Yes"
Only you can judge what will happen in your own business if you choose to say no to a client. Although, when you do choose to say no to a client, it is vital to educate them on why and how you are refusing to meet their requests. Saying no doesn't always mean you can't do something completely– it can mean that you are willing to do what they are asking, just within certain parameters.
Saying, "No, I'm not okay with shooting getting ready photos in a hotel suite," might best be followed up with suggestions about possible larger spaces where the shoot can still take place with social distance restrictions in mind. If you are an MC with a band or DJ, you might want to put practices in place to effectively clean microphones between toasts. Another great idea is to set up signage with a 'Text Your Song Request' number to keep guests at a distance.
There are some pros who are willing to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement for venues or clients who are looking to move forward with events that go against local laws. This puts everyone at risk. There are also venues and hosts requiring pros and guests to sign a waiver of liability. When all is said and done, we hope that we all help create change for the better. Hopefully, we take a minute to examine our responsibility to one another during this time.
Hero photo courtesy of Helen Davies