Pandemic Wedding Planning Advice

from real couples who managed to pull off amazing wedding days

If you are currently planning your own 2021 wedding (or beyond) and feel overwhelmed by everything, I gotchu. After photographing 16 amazing weddings in 2020, I have seen so many different couples pull off incredible wedding days, despite the pandemic. So if you’re seeking some pandemic wedding planning advice, you’re in the right spot. 

This post is a compilation of pandemic wedding planning advice from some of my 2020 couples. They put a lot of time, thought, and heart into their answers. Their hope is to be able to help all future couples plan their own wedding during a pandemic. This blog post would not have been possible without them. So a HUGE thank you to all of my amazing couples who contributed to this!!

*** I also want to point out that every. single. couple. who contributed to this blog mentioned that after having their wedding in 2020, and planning their wedding during a pandemic, they wouldn’t want their day to be any different than it was. To me, that’s pretty amazing to hear!

To keep things organized, I’ve arranged everything by question. Disclaimer: this is a LONG post, packed with so much info. So much real pandemic wedding planning advice from real couples. Scroll down to read all answers, or click a question below to have it transport you down to that specific question!

Here are the questions I asked my couples:

Erin And Nic Wedding

-Erin and Nic eloped on a big rock on their vineyard, surrounded by those closest to them (and their darling puppy, Ruby)

What worked well for you?

Cristina and Tony:

Keeping our expectations low and realistic. Yes, we were clinging to our date and some degree of normalcy, but we were also ready to postpone if we absolutely needed to (and we came VERY close). We tried not to sweat the small stuff. For us, downsizing meant that we would still be able to get married in the end. And we were okay with that. We also kept our details and ‘need’ list low for the day. This included decorations, extras, any niceties. We let the venue speak for itself in terms of most decorations and I just added my own flair (great if you’re DIY savvy).

Erin and Nic:

First, I’ll just say that I have zero regrets! We debated a lot and considered a lot of different pathways. But I am so so glad that we went ahead and eloped. It was everything I dreamed and more. We tried to stay focused on us and on the fact that we wanted to get married. We knew we could accomplish that much no matter the restrictions, so we did!

Meaghan and Jacob:

We were so lucky that we were getting married at our family farm, so we didn’t have to deal with a traditional venue during the pandemic. It reaffirmed our decision to have a “backyard” wedding was the right choice! We also had a lot of space to work with – so everyone could stay 6ft apart, and outdoors the whole time quite easily. Having the flexibility of a private property in the middle of nowhere was a luxury – one I realize not everyone has access to! The flexibility and understanding of our friends and family was such a blessing too. No one tried to tell us to do one thing or another, or was upset we had to downsize our original guest list. Even our grandparents – who couldn’t come due to safety – were relatively cool about it. That took away a huge layer of stress.

Alex and Lorne:

Though it wasn’t easy to cut a list from an original 150 to just 45 people, what we loved about it was we were really able to make the whole event more personal. From invites to place cards. To being able to sit and have meaningful conversations with people because you didn’t have to work a huge room. We set up small tables in bubbles. In the end, we had about 10 tables for 45 people. We wouldn’t have traded that day for a big wedding now, it was perfect.

Michele and Matt:

a)

Counselling: There are Type A personalities and there’s me: a Type A+++. I don’t like to relinquish control or the unknown. Waiting to see if my wedding would be canceled because of case numbers was really hard. Going to counselling to help deal with the stress and uncertainty was very meaningful. Being in a pandemic and getting married is stressful! I also needed to grieve over the idea I had about what my wedding was going to look like. Ultimately, it worked out well for us and we were able to have 50 guests at our venue. But we made it by just a few days! 

b)

Having an honest talk about our finances. A few months before our wedding the government of Ontario upgraded the province to a Red Zone and we could only have 10 people total at our wedding. Our venue shut down completely and wouldn’t allow us to even use their grounds. (We wanted to have the ceremony with just two of us, our officiant, our photographer and two witnesses). Our options were to keep our date and hope for the best or to postpone. 

We didn’t want to postpone because as much as things could get better, they could also get worse. So we decided that no matter what, as long as it was done legally and safely, we would be getting married on our original date. We looked at other venues as a backup. But ultimately, we decided we would get married at our original venue or our home. We didn’t want to gamble on a backup venue just in case we had to cancel that as well and lose more money. In the end, we made peace with losing all our deposits ($7,000). 

c)

Being flexible with our vendors but also knowing what I want. We tried to work with our vendors as much as possible. It is important not to forget that this pandemic is affecting a real person’s livelihood. Not once did I try to haggle with my vendors to have money given back to us. Having had to cut our guest list from 130 people to 50 people gave us some leftover money from our original budget. We used some of that money and rented an arbour from my florist to use in my backyard as a plan B. I changed my colours to make it match with my venue and my back yard just in case we changed locations. 

d)

Getting things done early. My favours were macarons and I bought them early and froze them. Matt got his suit made early and I got my alterations done months before I normally would have just in case everything was closed. Our bridal party got their attire months in advance too. I did my research and found local vendors for my accessories and gifts and bought them all in one shopping trip. 

e)

Doing as little as possible the day of. Delegating as much as possible and telling people they wouldn’t be able to reach me past a certain time on the day of so that I get a break. In the days leading up to our wedding, I wrote everything down. I made drawings of how I wanted things to be and accepted that at the end of the day, whatever happened, I would be grateful to have lots of help. We are so lucky to have great friends who think like us. If there was anything out of place I didn’t even notice! 

Cristina And Tony Wedding

-Cristina and Tony’s beautiful wedding at Lago was intimate, heart-felt and so meaningful to everyone in attendance

What surprised you (in a positive way)?

Erin and Nic:

At the end of the day, I was surprised to find that I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything! There was so much joy and beauty in our little evening. Any other details seemed insignificant. 

Michele and Matt:

How calm I was during the day. How much fun people could still have even if we had just a dinner and no entertainment. Or how incredible our photos turned out. And how we still had a lot of tiny emotional and love-filled moments during the day, even if it was remarkably busy. Oh, and no family drama!!

Alex and Lorne:

How understanding people were about our restricted guest list. And whether they made the cut or not. We thought people would be offended but people understood these were different circumstances. Another thing is that we loved how we got pictures of everyone because it was so intimate. It really felt like we weren’t in Montreal in a pandemic. We really felt like we were whisked away somewhere else for the night. Everything felt safe and everyone felt comfortable.

Meaghan and Jacob:

People’s willingness to make our wedding happen no matter what. A good example is the company I hired to do my makeup: the Capelli Club. They couldn’t do full-face applications due to the restrictions. So they honored my deposit by giving me a bunch of samples and a couple of virtual tutorials so I could do my makeup myself on the day. 

Another positive was just how happy our family and friends were to attend. I think for most people this was the only “event” they attended all year. And it was a bright spot. I had a few friends who were “uninvited” (gosh, that sounds terrible…) who messaged me to say they were happy we were going ahead with the wedding. Why? Because it’s about Jacob and I being in love, not about some big party or event. Also – straight up – we saved so much money by only having 30 people attend! Definitely a positive.

Sydney and Seamus: 

We definitely had to overcome a lot of hurdles while planning a wedding during a pandemic. But I think it’s perfectly normal to do so while planning a wedding, they are just different hurdles. We do not regret our wedding the way it was. And I honestly could not even imagine having had it any other way.

Our wedding was intimate, and perfect in everyway. I got to marry my best friend. I got to actually sit down during the “reception” and talk to our guests. And I got to FaceTime our friends and family who were not there. We are still hoping to be able to go to Ireland where we were meant to be married someday (hopefully sooner than later). And we look forward to being able to celebrate with a larger group of family and friends in the future. But what matters most is that everyone is healthy, and we are happy.

Cristina and Tony:

Surprised and blown away at how it all came together flawlessly. Our team of vendors were sincerely dedicated to our happiness and they were ready and available to help us along the way. The day was very stress free and blissful.

Meaghan And Jacob Wedding

-Meaghan and Jacob’s beautiful intimate wedding, hosted at Farmgate Cider (their family farm)

Can you share your favourite moments from your wedding?

Meaghan and Jacob:

Hands down my favourite moment was our first look. Which I owe all to you, Lauren. You suggested we read our vows to each other when it’s just the two of us – and it’s a feeling and a memory I’ll cherish forever. There was so much to do leading up to the day, and the morning was so busy getting ready. I was just looking forward to seeing Jacob. For it to be just the two of us in the forest for a few moments was really magical.

Erin and Nic:

Some favourite moments were having our first dance on the rocks, and sharing our vows in such an intimate group. Because it was literally just our family, some of the etiquette went out the window (in the best way). The ceremony became almost interactive. Comments, compliments, encouragement for Nic (the groom) were interjected along the way. And our guests just laughed along with us. I also liked how physically close our family was to us. They weren’t out in a big crowd, they were just right there. It was really reassuring.

Sydney and Seamus: 

When our wedding day came, we almost forgot that there was a whole pandemic happening outside in the real world. Our day was full of magic, love and happiness. It all happens so quickly that you don’t even notice the little things that don’t necessarily go the way you planned. And your whole day is just about your love and commitment to your best friend. I wish I could go back and relive our wedding day over and over again (luckily we have Lauren’s amazing photos!!)

Michele and Matt:

My grandparents seeing me in my dress for the first time. Being able to still get ready with my mom. My son, my husband and his dad all getting ready together. The speeches. And my father-in-law doing a tequila shot for the first time in his life! My toddler interrupting the ceremony to bring us toys and thinking all the clapping/cheering was for him. Having a break between getting ready and my first look to be alone by myself and take everything in. Seeing all of my guests, most of whom I hadn’t been able to see all year because of the pandemic.

Cristina and Tony:

We loved our sunset photos/video. Our dinner. The comedian we hired to entertain our guests for the night. Also, being able to chat individually (masked) with our guests since our list was so much smaller. We also loved the speeches, and finally seeing each other at the church!

Alex and Lorne:

Given the restrictions, we didn’t have dancing. But we made a playlist with all of our favourite songs on Spotify. We shared this with our family to collaborate on. It was so nice to have input from our loved ones and add their meaningful songs to our big day. It was a fancy dinner party with good food and good music. And we were able to chat with everyone we love.

At the end of the night, everyone who was still there (maybe 15 people) made a circle around the middle of the courtyard with spacing between each chair. Everyone was all gathered in a big conversation, listening to music, and enjoying a last drink together. It’s something that we may not have experienced in a bigger wedding, and I was so glad we had that moment.

Michele And Matt Wedding

-Michele and Matt hosted an amazing wedding at Strathmere and made so many good memories (including Matt’s father doing his first tequila shot!)

How did having a smaller guest list make your day more special?

Cristina and Tony:

The intimacy was really great. It was secluded and felt exclusive in the best way. These are all very special people to us. And I loved seeing them as I walked into the church. Even though I knew they were coming, it was still a heartwarming surprise. A smaller list also made it easier to navigate the restrictions, let go of details and things we didn’t need, and just focus on what matters: us, our family, and delicious food.

Sydney and Seamus:

For us having a smaller guest list meant being able to enjoy our day without being pulled in a hundred different directions. We got to eat and drink and laugh! Having a more personal venue meant that we were able to be so creative in our décor and not have to stick to any guidelines set out by traditional venues. Everything was whatever we envisioned for our day. 

Meaghan and Jacob:

Another pleasant surprise! We were able to actually chat and hangout with every single one of our guests. And we could still do all the things we wanted (which mostly included being on the dance floor all night). I didn’t have to worry about anyone, because everyone knew everyone. And they all were there to make it a good time. Of course, there were some important people we missed deeply, but that didn’t take away from the people who were there. As well, because we only needed six tables, I was able to splurge on the farmers tables and the wooden chairs. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that if we’d had our original 150 guests. There were lots of small silver linings like that!

Alex and Lorne:

Totally, the groom (Lorne) was able to make a speech and mention each person individually – which was so personal and beautiful. We also wrote a note for each person on their placecard as to why they meant so much to us. I think it made the whole day even more special. Not just for us, but for our guests.

Erin and Nic:

Having the tiny guest list meant that I didn’t need to feel guilty about just hanging around and gabbing with my brothers. There was no feeling of needing to spread our time around. There was plenty of time for everyone, and we could just soak it all in. Of course, I’ve mentioned before how the intimate setting was also really special to us. We never could have had a large group on the rocks at the vineyard!

Michele and Matt:

Because of Covid, we cut our guest list starting with everyone who wasn’t local. We picked close friends and family and that made it amazing. It was honestly super cathartic to be able to cut out some gossipy aunts or boisterous uncles. Or even friends that we are not as close with! And best of all: we could blame it all on the pandemic! Our guests really were the top of the top and almost everyone got emotional during our ceremony! Because of the smaller guest list, everything felt very intimate. After having done it once, I now know there’s no way I would have done it with almost triple the guest count!

Alex And Lorne Wedding

-Alex and Lorne had a magical wedding at Il Cortile, a courtyard restaurant in Montreal, surrounded by their closest people 

How were you able to be more creative in planning due to the restrictions?

Alex and Lorne:

I mean, instead of traditional take-home gifts, we did things differently. We provided mini bottles of hand-sanitizer and had our initials printed on reusable masks that people got to wear and take home with them. It was a cute nod to the times, while keeping our guests safe.

Cristina and Tony:

I knew I was already going to DIY a lot of elements, but it definitely pushed me to order items earlier and plan earlier. Aside from preparing a smaller guest list, we only made decisions when we really had to. This really helped ease our stress levels. And we came to terms with the stuff that was out of our control!

We got really creative when thinking about how to entertain guests at the reception. We wanted to keep people safe and at their tables since there was no dancing permitted. So in the end, we had a DIY disco piñata, a comedian, games and prizes during dinner (like the shoe game), and a song guessing game. It really kept the evening going and kept everyone busy but still seated. It helped to also imagine ourselves in our guests shoes. We always thought about “if we were attending a wedding, what would make us feel comfortable?”

Erin and Nic:

In terms of creative planning, I actually appreciated that I didn’t have to worry about details like table cloths and centrepieces. Plus, we were so happy with the simplicity of only having candles as decor.

Meaghan and Jacob:

The support of our parents was incredible. We didn’t rely on many vendors because Jacob’s parents cooked all the food, and my mum sourced all the plates and cutlery. Having only to count on ourselves was nice because we knew no one was going to pull out at the last minute. We also had the benefit of having a wedding later in the summer, so I had time to see what other couples did. And at that point, everyone had a better idea of how to act during the pandemic. Any disappointment I felt, I got out of the way early.

Michele and Matt: 

I really wanted a lot of flowers and greenery. But because of our initial 130 guest count, it just wasn’t feasible with our budget. With the smaller guest count, it freed up our budget to have these massive and dramatic floral arrangements made for us and greenery added to all our tables. It was so much more beautiful and romantic than I had even pictured it to be. 

Lastly, even if it was stressful to think of potentially getting married at our home, the creative process behind trying to organize how to decorate and still make my space intimate and romantic was really fun to do. It made me discover new spaces on my property. And see it in a totally different way. I can’t wait for the next time I’m allowed to have a party at the house!

Sydney And Seamus Wedding

-Sydney and Seamus planned their entire wedding in less than a month, and it was no less amazing or love-filled (as seen above)

What helped you navigate the ever-changing restrictions?

Meaghan and Jacob:

Being as flexible as possible. I had a little cry over the wedding we originally envisioned. But after we decided we were having a smaller ceremony, we just kept a fluid mindset. We knew that anything could change, and it was totally out of our hands. So it’s best to just go along with it. Again, we really lucked out on the timing. When we decided to go ahead, the restrictions would have only allowed 10 people. But by the time the wedding rolled around, we were allowed to have up to 50 people. Ultimately, we decided the most important thing for us was just to be married. And if it was just the two of us – then so be it. Everything else was just gravy.

Michele and Matt: 

Being aggressive with my research and patient with my venue. When I knew Ontario would be having a major announcement I would tune in and listen to see what the changes would be and how long they would last. I would then go and find the official documentation to confirm what we would be allowed to do legally. I was a part of a few Facebook groups in Ottawa and it made it feel like I wasn’t going through this process alone.

Cristina and Tony:

Support from family, friends, and co-workers – some who couldn’t even be invited! We luckily had a huge support system that didn’t force us to postpone.

Alex and Lorne:

Our vendors were amazing. We were all adapting to the ever-changing restrictions at the same time. We worked together to navigate anything that popped up. At the same time, we were very open-minded to solutions, which really helped the process. At the end of the day, you’re celebrating the love you and your spouse share – that’s paramount to anything else.

Erin and Nic:

In terms of navigating restrictions, I tried to keep my vendors close in early days and communicated often with them all. 

Julia And Will Wedding

-Julia and Will hosted a beautiful and intimate celebration in their very own backyard, creating a beautiful space out of a blank canvas

Is there any pandemic wedding planning advice you’d like to impart to other couples?

Michele and Matt: 

Find yourself a healthy way to cope with all of the stress and uncertainty. Be patient with your vendors – this is their job and it’s in jeopardy. Work with them as much as possible because they really are doing the best they can. And they will go the extra mile for you just like they always would. At the end of the day it really might not be what you originally imagined but maybe you’ll be surprised and it will be even better! Make a list of the guests you know you can’t get married without. Then talk to them to see how comfortable they are with coming to a wedding during a pandemic before you make any big decisions. 

When in doubt ask your photographer! Lauren has been our lifeline during this entire process! She helped us find local vendors, make a timeline, find the best first look locations for scenarios A though Z.  Lauren felt like my wedding planner at one point. She is so sweet and kind. I really appreciated all her knowledge and confidence that everything would work out. If you have a micro wedding – you don’t need to do something less glamorous. Lauren took half our photos of just the two of us in a literal field and they are amaaaaazing! 

Cristina and Tony:

Just focus on getting married no matter what, where, when, or how! I know we would have gotten married on that day no matter what. Or how many people we could have had join us. It was a huge weight lifted for us. Especially as it was starting to drag on and become something we wanted to ‘get over with.’ It was perfect. Hosting another celebration is not for us in the future (super done with planning weddings), but if that’s for you then know that the option is open!  Also, in the end, just do what you want (my personal life mantra).

Erin and Nic:

Being patient and trusting that everything was going to work out (though easier said than done!) would be some of my best advice. Once we decided that we were going to elope, our lives got so much easier. We just made sure to keep our guest list smaller than the outdoor restrictions allowed. That way, we really didn’t have to worry too much.

Meaghan and Jacob:

I think to be flexible. What are the most important things to you? Can you still have those things? Then being flexible about the rest of it will ensure you have a lovely day, no matter what. Clear communication is also so important. I probably sent a dozen emails to our guests leading up to the wedding about “rules” and making sure everyone felt comfortable. The weird thing about this pandemic is everyone has different comfort levels. And I really wanted to respect that while not making it an uncomfortable or unnatural experience. 

I’m so glad we decided to go ahead with our wedding. Especially since this pandemic seems to be lasting longer than anyone anticipated. I’d be pretty bummed if we decided to postpone in order to get the big “traditional” wedding. And still have to make concessions a year later. So, I think that these restrictions really force you to decide what’s the most important. A recurring theme I’ve seen from other weddings that happened in 2020 was that when you find the person you love, you want forever to start as soon as possible. I can relate to that!

Alex and Lorne:

It will still be special. It will still be fun. Most importantly, the day will still fly by so fast! So enjoy every moment. Is it what you always envisioned as a kid? Maybe not. But it doesn’t mean it will be any less amazing. As long as you have fun, and you and your guests feel safe and comfortable, that’s all that matters.

Sydney and Seamus: 

I read a post that worded it so perfectly: “There is no wrong answer in what to do about your wedding.” Plan it for now or postpone it. You need to do what will make you the happiest, whether that is just getting married to your best friend ASAP. Or being able to have the big white wedding and dancing all night to celebrate. There is no wrong answer, only love and personalized preferences.

During our whole wedding planning process, we had a lot of people tell us that we were so calm about not having control. Or so relaxed about things changing last minute, etc. There were definitely things that did not go the way we planned. But it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t stress over what you cannot control. What matters is that it will be your day regardless. Plus, you probably won’t notice them in the grand scheme of things anyways. Your COVID-19 wedding will be amazing regardless!

Most of all, HAVE FUN with it! You deserve this day to be every bit of magic that you desire and whether you are in your backyard, at the courthouse, or the grandest venue in Ottawa, your love will be where you are. Embrace it!

Steph And Phil Wedding

-Steph and Phil eloped on the Waller Street Brewery patio, right next to where they had their very first date (The Loft board game lounge)!

Other stories and anecdotes shared by couples

Steph and Phil:

We were planning on getting married at city hall, just the two of us with our parents as witnesses. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions made that impossible. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to get married where we had our very first date! Our plans changed, and we ended up having a very intimate wedding on a beautifully lit patio in downtown Ottawa on a hot August evening. It was completely different than what we had envisioned, and it was perfect. No matter what your wedding day looks like, it will be the best day of your life if you’re getting married to the love of your life!

Did you enjoy this pandemic wedding planning advice?

Write us a note, or leave a comment below to let us know! I’m sure the couples who gave all of this pandemic wedding planning advice will be happy to hear from you. Or if you have another piece of pandemic wedding planning advice to add, be sure to leave it below in a comment!

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