Now is the time that caterers and other wedding professionals are supposed to knee deep in wedding season. A time celebrate, eat, drink and be together. Instead however, everyone is staying home, dreaming about the date that celebrations and events once again come back in a post COVID-19 world.
“The tone is starting to change a bit,” said BreeAnn Gale of Pink Blossom Events in Seatle during the recent WIPA webinar State of the Wedding Industry – Part 2. “It was doom and gloom a few weeks ago, now we’ve been educated, we’ve prepped, we’ve changed our contracts, and now we need to party.”
The need to celebrate has given rise to a unique challenge for event professionals however, date availability. Spring and summer nuptials are having to be postponed due to continued health advisories and restrictions on gathering sizes. Unfortunately, those couples are competing for many of the same dates as couples who are just starting to plan.
“It’s that fine line of what we can do to help everyone with these backup dates and holds, but then we’re also running into situations of new clients calling us, which is great, but they want the same dates as our clients who want to postpone,” said Daniela Graffman of Vision Event Co. In New York during the WIPA webinar. “We’ve been really busy with this and it’s exhausting, and emotionally it’s been hard, but all we can do is take it one day at a time.”
An emotional decision
Deciding to reschedule their wedding is obviously and emotional roller coaster for couples. You could almost compare it to the five stages of grief: denial, anger bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial by ignoring the current crisis and waiting to postpone. Anger in having to not only reschedule your date, but also finding it challenging to find a date that works with everyone. A willingness to reschedule only if you get everything that you want. Descending into depression and stating that the wedding won’t event happen. And finally finding a new date and switching.
However, a sixth stage has come into the mix in the form of fear. Spring weddings have already had to be postponed once, and some couples are worried that they will have to reschedule a second time as we continue to be in a holding pattern.
“They feel like they’re going nowhere but in circles with clients and there’s no way too get off,” said Jacqueline Hill of Jacqueline Events & Design during the recent WIPA webinar Difficult or Delightful: How to Manage Your Clients During this Time. “It’s the fear of the unknown right now.”
Flexibility is key
First and foremost when working with couples on rescheduling their dates, you must first refer to your contract. Many couples will probably ask for refunds on their deposits, so make sure to explain to them why you need to hold onto the deposits and adhere to current payment schedules set in place.
“If I let all of my 2020 clients move their dates to 2021, I won’t be here in 2021 to do those weddings because we just won’t make it,” said Mara Marian of Fuse Wedding & Events during the state of the industry webinar. “The clients aren’t seeing that part of it because to them it’s simple, they think ‘I’m still having my wedding, I’m not cancelling my wedding, I’m just moving it.
“We have to help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing because no one is getting rich on this.”
The biggest challenge in rescheduling is the demand for peak dates and both new couples and existing clients competing for the same dates. Some existing clients may demand that they get priority over new clients. The key is to re-enforce the need for flexibility. Talking with couples about why a Friday may be the best option or look at using alternative venues or vendors. The wedding that they had previously planned may not be possible, but they can still celebrate in a special way.
“None of us know what the future holds,” Hill said. “Venues are closing, vendors are going out of business, so we can’t promise anything that we don’t know.”
A few ideas to help with aid you in handling rescheduling is to hold off on opening peak dates until there’s a better understanding of when the crisis will be over and what events will look like. You can also require couples to make a decision on a date within 24 or 48 hours so that they can be offered up to other couples more timely.
“We’re trying to be human and we’re trying to be kind, but at the same time we’re all losing money,” Grafman said.
And how do you handle the couples who are dead set on a date when you aren’t available?
“If you pick a date that I’m not available, I can’t help that,” said Caroline Fox, an industry attorney, during the recent WIPA webinar Contracts, Cancellations and COVID-19. “I’ll have to treat it as a cancellation if you they won’t pick another date.”
Be there for your clients
The most important thing to remember when helping couples through a postponement is to support them and a lend an ear if they need to talk with someone.
"We’re the captain of the team, they want us, they need us on their team more than ever," said Renee Dalo of Moxie Bright Events during the state of the industry webinar.
“Show your human side, show that you want to help them,” she said. “We need to shower them with love right now too.”
Think about doing something special for a client who has had to postpone their wedding. Maybe you can send them a card or gift, give them a call, do a virtual get together on their previous date because they will most likely be struggling on that. Hill had a client who did their first dance virtually with friends and family.
“You have to think about what you do when their date comes and goes,” Hill said, “because there is a sort of stress that comes with that date.”