Maybe you always wanted an at-home wedding. Or maybe you’ve decided to plan a smaller, at-home wedding due to the social impacts of coronavirus. Either way, I am here with my advice for hosting a home wedding during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I am an expert in home weddings, and I will walk you through the event from the perspective of your guests. At the end I’ll talk about your staff and set up for a bit.
First and foremost, make sure you are abiding by all government restrictions for gatherings during this coronavirus pandemic. And you can’t only count your guests, you must also count anyone hired to come help with the event. Every catering waiter and photographer’s assistant will count towards that magic number.
Home Weddings: The Arrival
Second, let’s discuss, in length, the flow of the event at the home. Put yourself in your guests’ shoes and imagine the wedding experience from arrival to departure, while also considering recommended coronavirus precautions.
You need to figure out the logistics of guest arrival: where will they park or will you provide valet parking? If you provide a valet, they need to have visible supplies (wipes and sanitizer) so that guests feel comfortable with the transfer of their keys and vehicle.
I generally advise that my clients avoid letting their guests in the home. This means the footpath from the parking/valet to the ceremony needs to be clear. This can be achieved with a greeter giving verbal directions (good job for an enthusiastic family member,) or with signage.
One of the first things guests look for when they arrive at a wedding is the restroom. Typically I would always get a restroom trailer – even for a party of 50 – because I advise to keep guests out of the house when possible. A restroom trailer needs a flat surface to park on, and access to power and water. Your regular garden hose is generally sufficient. You should provide “guest relief” near the restrooms, with items like sunscreen, bug spray, and of course, hand sanitizer. If you decide to use the restrooms in the house, hire someone (from your house-cleaning company) to keep the restrooms stocked and address any issues that may come up.
Since the warmer temperatures are upon us, I recommend offering a welcoming treat such as a cool drink once your guests have arrived, dropped off their gift, and signed your guest book. In the past, we would have used a drink dispenser, but now you should have individually canned beverages. If you are marrying in a location or time frame where a warm beverage (cider, coffee, cocoa) is preferred, have the drink dispenser staffed by a waiter.
Home Weddings: The Ceremony
Thinking about the ceremony, who will marry you and will it be legal? Are the courts open in your jurisdiction to obtain a marriage license? Make sure you know the rules about your marriage license – who can sign it, does it expire, and is there a waiting period between when you get it in your hand and when it can be signed by the officiant.
Talk to your caterer about the chair set up, and if possible, leave more room than usual between the chairs and the rows. You can also provide sanitizing wipes for the staff to use on the ceremony chairs before your guests arrive. I’m not saying that the chairs are dirty or contaminated. I’m saying you will have peace of mind with this extra step completed.
Elderly and at-risk guests should probably not attend your wedding reception. Maybe they can attend your ceremony and view from a safe distance. This depends not only on the size of your ceremony area, but also how they would have to travel to your wedding. I’m not sure elderly guests will be safe on planes or trains until we have a coronavirus vaccine. Look into streaming options for them to feel included if they must stay home.
Home Weddings: The Reception
For your cocktail reception, skip the stationary hors d’oeuvres and serve only passed bites. A charcuterie display, though delicious, is not in keeping with current hygiene goals. Similarly, for dinner, you want to skip the buffet lines and consider a plated meal. (Unless a waiter will be there to serve the food and be the only one handling the utensils.) If you can, host your reception in a tent, and seat no more than 8 people to a table. Ask your caterer if your waiters and bartenders can wear white gloves (with latex underneath) – this will help your guests feel more comfortable with any food and beverage service.
Eventually it will get dark and you need to consider the paths your guests will travel to the restrooms and back to their car. (unless you did a brunch wedding, which is awesome because brunch weddings are less expensive and brunch food is the best.) You might need to bring in some lighting so that they aren’t walking around an unfamiliar place in the dark.
If the past three weeks hasn’t taught us this already, you must plan for the unexpected.
As a surprise treat, you should leave a small gift bag in their car (or distribute it as guests depart.) It should have wipes, sanitizer, a bottle of water, a thank you note for attending and maybe a snack like a cookie. Note: this thank you note does not replace the personalized one you will send later.
Home Weddings: What Else
Rain, wind, heat and extreme conditions – consider these scenarios, and the cost of addressing them, before signing contracts and putting down deposits. Your vendor team will need to to have a solid back up plan in place so that your guests have a great time at your at-home wedding, regardless of weather.
Also don’t forget to warn (or invite) your neighbors.
We’ve talked a lot about the guest experience at your home wedding through the lens of the coronavirus era. But we should also discuss the staff that will be on site. Another reason to have a restroom trailer is that the staff will wash their hands many times, and they should have easy access to do so. If you want to be a little more extreme, ask your planner to take everyone’s temperature before they begin work at your wedding. You will also want to allow more set up time that typical, to allow for extra cleaning.
If you liked my advice for hosting a home wedding during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, please download my 90+ page free ebook on at-home weddings!