COVID-19: How to Handle Rescheduling Your Event

Here in the greater-Baltimore area, we were one of the earlier areas to get hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Governor Hogan shut down all non-essential operations pretty quickly once the first death from the disease was reported in the state.  Fortunately, for my business, I only had one wedding on the horizon when the social distancing began, and the rest were slated to happen in May, onward. (Thanks to my newborn baby, who is keeping me happily at home for a few months.) However, that one March wedding was postponed indefinitely, due to the virus.  It was originally my clients’ decision to postpone, but the venue ultimately would have cancelled it anyway.  That location decided it was best to cancel all events with greater than 25 people in attendance, between March 13th and April 12th, and they have since extended that, as the virus continues to spread at rapid pace.  It may be extended, yet again, as more information becomes available.

This unprecedented situation has required us all to be very flexible, and our plans to be fluid.  Clients with earlier dates, such as May or June, did not take their chances that things would improve quickly, and they are proactively rescheduling for later dates. Many of those with later dates booked, like August and September, hedged their bets in the beginning, but now even many of those clients are considering postponing. Still, some others are taking their chances.  The big issue becomes availability of dates in the future.  Here in Maryland, September and October are the biggest wedding months, so those weekend dates are already taken at a vast majority of the popular venues.  Many of the folks who decide to re-book are choosing off-peak days of the week, or off-peak months like December and January. This is a concession they are willing to make in order to have their event take place within a year.

How to Decide

Ultimately, I leave it up to my clients to decide if they should reschedule their event, but I also want to offer as much insight as possible, as an event professional.  Although it is difficult to muster up any kind of expertise in this unprecedented situation, I do find myself drawing from the only massive lock-down situation the Baltimore area has seen during my 12-year career in events.  After the riots that took place in response to the death of Freddie Grey, a curfew was enacted in Baltimore, and the city was a scary place.  Many events were cancelled, and others were postponed indefinitely.  And then there were the people who powered through it.  I’m seeing a lot of the same decision-making happening now with the virus circulating, and I’m able to draw on my experience in post-riot Baltimore to give guidance to my clients.

Here are some of the things I ask my clients to consider when deciding to cancel, postpone, or continue as planned:

  • Are you going to love your Plan B as much as you love Plan A?  This is something I can help my clients work through.  I’m dedicated to finding a Plan B that is just as perfect, if not better, than their original plans.
  • Are your vendors willing to work with you on rebooking for another date or cancelling altogether?  Under normal circumstances, deposits are non-refundable.  Furthermore, any money paid after the initial deposit is also usually non-refundable.  If the cancellation is very close to the event itself, such as my wedding that should have been in March and got cancelled the week before, chances are everything has been paid in full and little to nothing can be done to get any funds back.  But we were lucky for that wedding, and all the vendors, except one, was willing to roll over all monies paid to a new date.  The one vendor who couldn’t honor that was the florist, because they had already committed to paying the farmer for the flowers that were grown for that particular event.  To be clear, the florist did what she could to accommodate the couple, despite the fact that her contract allowed her to retain the payment in full.  While many vendors are being flexible, please don’t get your heart set on any of them loosening up their contract terms. We all have small businesses that may not survive this pandemic if it continues much longer, so realistic expectations about what a business can endure is much appreciated!
  • Are there any dates available at your venue, or at a venue that you like?
  • Would you be willing to make major changes to your event, such as getting married in your back yard, versus using a rented venue? Flexibility is key when making a cancellation or postponement in a hurry.

Next Steps

Here are my recommended steps to navigating the situation and making the right decision about how to proceed with your event:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Reach out to each vendor and ask them what your options are.  If you have a planner, let them handle this part for you.  Let the vendors know you are aware of the cancellation clause in their contract, but you are hoping they will work something out with you during this situation that no one has ever had to navigate before. Find out how they would be able to work through an outright cancellation, as well as a postponement.  Are there any charges/refunds, and are there any limitations to the timing?
  3. Assess your potential losses that you would experience if you were to cancel or postpone.
  4. Once you have decided to postpone or cancel, contact all your guests as soon as possible to inform them. Let them know if they are responsible for canceling their hotel reservations in your room block, etc.
  5. Formally notify your vendors of your decision.  This usually requires written notice.  Check your contracts for specific instructions for modifying or cancelling your agreement.
  6. Lock in your new date and notify your invited guests.  Perhaps you are inviting all the same people again, or maybe you’ve made the Plan B a smaller event and you need to get the word out to a different group of people.

How Can I Help?

I think the biggest responsibility I have as a wedding planner during this time is keeping my clients calm and ensuring them that everything will work out for their event.  I take as much of the burden of rescheduling or cancelling as I can off their shoulders and handle it on the back end for them.  These are the things you hope your planner never has to do for you, but you’re glad to have them when something like this pops up.

On March 21st, the day that should have been Heather and Emily’s 10th Anniversary Celebration and Vow Renewal ceremony at the Peabody Library, was a gloomy, disappointing day for the couple.  They had expected to see all-white décor with gold accents, taste an international variety of cuisine, and listen to some peppy music that represented who they are as a happy couple.  So, on that day, I brought a little bit of the aesthetic they were looking for to their front door. (They live ½ mile away from me)  It’s not nearly as lovely as the arrangement they would have gotten from their florist for the event, but it’s the best I could do with an assortment of bouquets from Harris Teeter! Hopefully I made Heather and Emily’s day a little better.  Together, we are looking forward to the event taking place more than a year after they had originally planned.