The Anxiety of Being a Wedding Guest


The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many people look at wedding invitations. While they want to be supportive of a couple, and celebrate with friends and family, they may be unsure whether to R.S.V.P. yes or just stay home. Before booking a flight, renting a car, or slapping down a credit card for a hotel stay, here are a few important questions to consider.

“Most people will ask themselves, ‘Can I get there by car?,’ which we’re finding is one of the safer ways to travel because you can sanitize it, roll down the windows for fresh air, and it contains people you know,” said Jove Meyer, the owner of Jove Meyer Events in Brooklyn. “The other things people should ask: ‘Does the area I’m going to have a high or low number of cases? And will I have to sleep over?’ These are important points to consider and depending upon your comfort level will affect your answer.” One more thing to consider: Some states may require you to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or after returning home.

Rules and regulations differ by state, and how a couple executes them can fluctuate as well. If guidelines aren’t found on the couples website or included in the invitation, call and ask the couple directly. “Our clients are wearing masks 100 percent of the time while inside, but once outside, they are observing social distancing and wearing masks at their comfort level,” said Emily Clarke, the owner of Emily Clarke Events in Dallas. She has been personalizing temperature checks and hand-sanitizer stations, and customizing masks for her clients. Ms. Clarke suggested that even though most couples will supply these items for guests, it’s always smart to bring an extra set of masks, wipes and gloves as backup.

For some invitees knowing whether there will be 25 or 80 guests in attendance may be a deciding factor. For others it’s about the health of those around you. “Some couples are making it a policy that every guest and vendor they hired need to be tested and require a negative result within 48 to 72 hours in order to attend the wedding,” said Mr. Meyer, who added that most event planners have been tasked with receiving and organizing everyone’s emailed or screenshot test results. “Some couples who can afford it are offering to pay for this,” he said. “Those who are not mean it’s up to the guest to cover the expense.”

“With all the talk of outdoor events being healthier or lower risk environments, it’s completely reasonable to ask if the entire wedding will be outdoors,” said José Rolón, the owner of José Rolón Events in Brooklyn. “And if it rains, will the couple have a backup plan? If so, what will that look like?” For many brides and grooms this might mean opting for tents just in case the weather turns unfavorable.

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If you’ve always feared being put at the singles’ table, or sitting among strangers, fear no more. In some cases you may be able to request who you eat with. “Many couples are letting guests say where they want to sit,” said Jason Mitchell Kahn, the owner of JMK and Co., a wedding event company in Manhattan. “This also prevents the chaos of people finding their seat that night and not feeling comfortable with where they’ve been assigned.”

Buffets, family-style portions, or preset tables are no longer the favored option. “You want as few people touching your food, and for food to be served as fresh and as individually as possible,” Ms. Clarke said. She suggested having one waiter assigned to a table for the entire evening and that food be individually plated with silverware prewrapped inside a napkin. “The fear is, the longer food or tableware is exposed, the more people could have touched it,” she said. “And all the wait staff should be masked, gloved and be ready to answer any questions about the food safety preparation.”

“Insight to the flow of the wedding will eliminate a lot of questions guests might have,” Mr. Rolón said. “Ask if the couple are willing to share a floor plan and structure of the evening. These will show seating arrangements at the ceremony and at dinner, how big the dance floor will be — if there is one — and the size of the main space. Visual markers are really helpful to guests and give them another level of security.” Understanding the timing for different activities throughout the wedding, Mr. Rolón added, also might give guests a peek into what time they should arrive or how long they should stay.

“Anything goes right now,” Mr. Meyer said, noting that some guests might stay for dinner, while others who are older or are compromised health-wise might leave right after the ceremony. “Letting your host know ahead of time that you might depart early, or that once the dancing starts you’ll probably go, is really helpful, too,” he said.

While some couples choose to have a single DJ tucked away in a corner, others are intent on having entertainment. “Those having a band are ensuring guest’s safety with Plexiglas screens that divide the band from everyone else,” Mr. Kahn said. “A good question to ask your host is, ‘If there is dancing, will social distancing be observed, and if so, who will help monitor that?’ Often when guests consume alcohol and are working up a sweat, masks come off and social distancing gets ignored.”

Some event spaces and hotels, looking to protect their guests and themselves, may ask you to sign a liability waiver in the event you contract the coronavirus. The Kimpton Brice Hotel in Savannah, Ga., for example, hands out a one-page waiver before an event that stipulates you understand the coronavirus is highly contagious, that you accept all risks and dangers you might be putting yourself and others in, and you relinquish your legal rights upon signing. Just because a hotel requests your signature doesn’t mean you have to give it. First ask that a copy be sent to you in advance so you can decide if you agree with their legalities and expectations they have for you. “Then call and ask the hotel how they intend to run the event,” Mr. Rolón said. “It’s your right to know what actionable things they’ve put in place to ensure your protection.”

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