Here's What It's Really Like to Plan a Wedding During a Pandemic

While weddings are coming back, many engaged couples still face cancelations and postponements. So, how do you plan a wedding during COVID-19? An E! News bride-to-be takes us through her journey.

By Leanne Gutierrez Jul 03, 2021 2:00 PMTags
Leanne Gutierrez, Foster Rubin, Love in LockdownInstagram @laurengutierrez

Love is not canceled. Or at least that's what all the wedding blogs I read say. 

As the coronavirus pandemic changed the way we shop, travel and savor disinfectant wipes, millions of brides-to-be were stopped in their tracks as they tried to make their way down the aisle. Weddings were postponed, turned into elopements and "micro-weddings" (an option gaining more popularity during COVID) or canceled altogether. 

So despite being incredibly happy when I got engaged to my fiancé Foster Rubin in August 2020, I couldn't help but think about when it would be safe enough to actually have our wedding. I wasn't into the idea of a micromony. I did not want to compromise on the bigger wedding I had always envisioned since I was a little girl. For me, it was go big (our initial guest tally hovered just above 175) or stay at home. 

A full-on roller coaster of emotions came immediately after I said "yes". At that point, any kind of gathering was considered dangerous. How was I supposed to wrap my head around a big event, with half the people flying in from the other side of the country? My fiancé and I knew we'd have to wait out the pandemic to hold our dream event. But would it ever be safe enough to happen?

Couples Celebrate Love in Lockdown

Having been fantasizing about my wedding day since roughly age 10, never once did I consider scanning contracts for force majeure and "Act of God" clauses, taking pains to hire vendors that wouldn't go out of business in a year and a half (a very real concern!), not being able to hug all my friends and extended family once the proposal happened, etc. It was like being handed the keys to the castle, but discovering the moat was filled with crocodiles. And I thought the hardest part would be finding the guy!

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Not knowing where to start, I turned to traditional resources like Mindy Weiss' Wedding Book (my bridal bible!), but also Facebook COVID bride support groups—yes, they are real and helpful—@betchesbrides on Instagram and their awesome podcast, and other places on social media where thousands of newly engaged brides could find solace and laugh at this crazy, highly emotional journey.

I found spaces where brides would vent together about dance floors being banned, guest counts being cut (how do you politely uninvite someone to your wedding?), deposits being lost, etc. It felt nice to be part of a community where COVID brides turned to each other for advice, opinions and help in circumstances that seemed helpless.

With a squad in place, my fiancé and I started to visit venues, and it was clear that most wedding staff were struggling to roll with the punches during the pandemic. We visited several potential locations along the California coast until we found The One: The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. The oceanfront grounds took my breath away, but most importantly, their wedding point person Amanda Wolters explained how they'd work with us to postpone or cancel/refund us if COVID got in the way of our wedding.

That was my biggest fear while planning: That another round of COVID would strike and we'd lose our deposits if we couldn't legally hold a big event, a situation many brides faced in the last year. The resort's policy—a rarity among the venues we checked out—helped get our minds around the idea of putting down a deposit and trusting that we were in good hands.

Leanne Gutierrez

One task down, fifty bajillion to go.

As COVID numbers started to decrease in Southern California and vaccinations began, event restrictions slowly lifted and the race to book wedding venues and vendors was on. Even though we were over a year and a half out, we lost our initial wedding date choices because other couples had already booked up the month of September! The wedding industry was definitely backlogged and we were competing with a bunch of 2020 brides and grooms.

Though choosing a date felt a little like a stab in the dark back then (how did we know when things would be safe again?), we ended up locking in August 19, 2022. And after we booked the venue, I tried blindly reaching out to vendors all by myself. It took me maybe a week to see that a seasoned wedding planner was necessary. Enter: Meg Herzer of Events by M&M.

As a COVID bride herself, she made me feel like I was in good hands from the second we first spoke. Scouring through her glowing reviews, I saw that she'd already combatted countless COVID wedding scenarios with grace, and that her brides were grateful to have her.

Couples Married During COVID-19

Still, as we recruited our dream wedding line-up—photographer, videographer, welcome party venue—I had to become an amateur contracts attorney, scanning endless paperwork for that must-have clause that would allow us to reschedule their services or refund our deposit, should COVID force us to move our wedding. Luckily, we found awesome businesses like Lin & Jirsa and El Paseo Restaurant who would work with us in case something happened. All I can say is pick a team based on their ability to adapt to change. Check WeddingWire or The Knot reviews, and you can tell pretty quickly who will have a plan A, B, C and D!

Leanne Gutierrez

With vaccinations now rapidly rolling out across the country, we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Brides and grooms are becoming more confident about pulling off a safe event, and many are requiring guests to get vaccinated or at least COVID-tested before the big day. The "wedding boom", as The New York Times put it, is upon us, and judging by our friends and family, people will be ready to get out and party after the year we've had!

That all-important phrase "in sickness and in health" has never meant more to me than it does after this experience. Though planning my wedding is more challenging than I ever expected, my fiancé and I can finally start to relax now that the COVID numbers are going down and we can confidently envision our special day.

I am so lucky to have the most amazing future husband, family and friends that saw me through all the bridal freak-outs and scary moments of the last year. I'm not ashamed to admit there have been more than a few tears planning this thing, but if anything, it has made us even more excited to say "I do" and to celebrate with everyone we love…safely! Perhaps the wedding blogs are right: Love is not canceled. 

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