Weddings are back in Illinois! Well, sort of. Maybe.
But what are those weddings like?
The state moved to Phase 4 of its COVID-19 reopening plan right at the end of June. That means with our July 4 weekend plans (“stay home again”), all of us wedding vendors got a host of guidelines, rules and practices to comb through.
Which means I can tell you, finally, what your wedding’s going to look like if it happens any time before the end of this pandemic.
Is it pretty? I’ll be honest: No.
So in this article, I’m going clarify exactly what you can expect if you’ve reserved a wedding DJ or musicians with Backthird in 2020 or in early 2021. I’ll tell you what “traditional” weddings look like now. You can decide if that sounds good to you.
And if it doesn’t, I’ll give you a non-traditional approach to think about instead.
Until the end of the pandemic
Phase 4 started on June 26 in Illinois. The governor has said this is the last Phase of reopening until the pandemic is effectively over. With a vaccine expected by the end of 2021 at the earliest, that means we’ll be here for a while.
And that means weddings will look like what I'm about to describe – or smaller – for at least the rest of 2020.
Unless we go backwards
When I say “we’ll be here for a while,” I mean the state does not intend to loosen its restrictions. Governor Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lightfoot have been clear in saying they will tighten them again if Illinois sees more infections.
What’s that mean? It means the following points describe what weddings will be like unless we have another outbreak. Right now, things look good for Illinois. But other states are struggling – and we’re all part of the same country.
There are no guarantees. But there are still ways to celebrate your love and have a ton of fun.
How your wedding's changing
If you’ve planned a traditional event with Backthird, we’ll ask you to sign our COVID addendum before we work at your event. You can read that addendum in full right here, but the following is a summary of what you can expect.
1. Fewer than 50 people.
State health guidelines cap occupancy at “the lesser of 50 people or 50% capacity.” That means if your venue held 100 or more people before the pandemic, you’ll be limited to 50 now. If held fewer than 100, your cap’s even lower than 50.
The bottom line: If you’ve got more than 50 people on your guest list and you haven’t cut it, now’s the time.
Some venues are interpreting the rules as “50 guests,” but a more literal read of rules would actually mean “50 people, staff included.” Ask your venue how many guests is ok.
The rules allow 100 people for an outdoor gathering, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Summer’s hot, and Fall is rainy. If your stormy weather plan is “send half of our guests home,” that will add a lot of stress to what should be a joy-filled day. Make a plan that works in any weather.
And consider this: If things don’t go well over the next month or two and Illinois has to move back to Phase 3, your permitted head count could drop down to 10.
2. No dance floors.
Are your guests allowed to dance? Yes, technically. But venues aren’t supposed to have dance floors (look here, page 4, point 6).
We’re DJs – full dance floors are what we do. This hurts.
But dancing is considered one of the most dangerous things to do during pandemics, so we kind of get it.
If our DJs work your wedding, you’ll have options. One choice is for us to play dance music anyway and just encourage guests to dance around their tables without mingling.
But only recommend this choice if your venue is carefully set up so that it’s difficult for guests to mingle. Otherwise, they’re going to find places to congregate anyway. That’s fun, but it's not safe.
3. Masks and social distancing.
The 50-person rule assumes your guests still stay 6’ apart and wear face coverings, except while eating. That’s a pretty major change from what you probably imagined on your wedding day.
And it’s a major change for guests, as well. How major? In most of the stories I’ve heard about weddings so far, and in our own company’s experience, guests almost never follow this rule. Masks come off at dinner time, and stay off.
That’s a problem, since it makes your big event a big health risk. Not just for guests – but for the state and country as a whole, since outbreaks never stop with one event.
We’ve come across a few who handle their events well and encourage distancing throughout. So what’s their secret? Are some wedding guests just really well-behaved?
Nope. Safe events come down to thoughtful planning.
Build safety into your setup and schedule
If you want to throw a wedding celebration that does NOT flaunt health guidelines and risk the spread of COVID-19, it won’t be enough to hand out masks or ask your guests to use good judgment while they drink and dance. That’s like dieting with nothing but ice cream in your house. It won’t work. Because you're only human.
Instead, your need to set your party up so doing the right thing is easy.
- Ask your venue for a distanced space. Remove the dance floor or put chairs and tables right on top of it. Spread furniture apart, so keeping good distance is easy and getting too close is not. The bottom line: Your venue has to be on board to make things safe.
- End your reception after dinner. Most receptions in Chicago go 6 hours, with 3 hours built into the schedule for dancing and drinking after dinner. During a pandemic, I’m convinced that nothing good can happen during those 3 hours.
If your guests dance, drink and have a blast – they’re bound to break health guidelines.
If they don’t, they may get bored and head home anyway.
Turn your little physical reception into a huge online one.
If you’ve booked a Backthird DJ for your wedding, you’ve got a decision to make. You can have your 50-person celebration, ask your guests to spread out and wear masks and still have tons of fun.
...Until your wedding dinner ends. At that point, folks are either having fun OR staying safe. I don’t think they’ll do both. (And neither do a lot of other wedding vendors.)
Since that’s not good enough, we’re letting Backthird couples end their parties early and add a Huge Little Wedding digital event – for free. You only pay what’s in your contract with us. Your DJ goes home 3 hours early. You pare down your guest list – and we use the extra DJ time to build an online party that lets all your other guests hang out with you for a whole week after your wedding day.
“What would you do if this were your wedding?”
Start asking your wedding vendors this question. See what they say.
I’ll answer honestly: If I were engaged right now, I would NOT put my wedding off. Your celebration is a taste of life and joy for you and all your guests; I think that matters right now more than ever. And I wouldn’t let a virus make me wait to start life with the one I love.
But I’d completely re-imagine what our wedding looks like.
I would cut my guest list – not to 50, but to 10 or fewer. I’d only invite a few close local friends, so we didn’t have to worry about travel restrictions. And I’d use a service like Huge Little Wedding to ensure that the TRUE party happens online
I’d make our physical celebration little. Intimate, upscale - and small enough that no lockdown, no outbreak, no pandemic complication could reset our plans again. And then I'd party huge online.
I'd make a plan I KNEW would work. And then, I'd enjoy every minute of it.
That’s what I’d do. And that’s how Huge Little Wedding was designed to work. I hope it works for you.
Because, even in Phase 4, I’m not sure a traditional wedding really will.