Guides for Brides logo
Fairs & Events Planning Tools
How To Have a Great, Socially-Distanced Wedding

How To Have a Great, Socially-Distanced Wedding


Alison Hargreaves Guides for Brides Bio
Alison Hargreaves Updated:
8th of March 2023

This blog was last updated in June 2021 and is no longer being updated. Please see our coronavirus news article for the most up to date information or visit your government’s website.

Is your wedding planned for 2021? Unsure whether to postpone? We explore what a socially distanced wedding will look like to help you decide.

In England, wedding ceremonies with more than 30 people will be allowed from June 21st with a reception at permitted venues, outdoors, or in private gardens for over 30 guests also able to take place. This is part of the roadmap for moving out of the national lockdown in England. Read our article on how weddings are affected by each step of unlocking for more information on this.

Northern Ireland’s guidelines state that marriages and civil partnership ceremonies are limited to 25 people. Northern Ireland has also announced a pathway out of coronavirus restrictions, with four steps out of lockdown. Wales’ government guidelines say that the size of the wedding will depend on the venue’s capacity and how many people they can safely accommodate in the room. For Scotland, larger weddings may go ahead after the national lockdown ended. See Scotland’s 5 tier system for more information on weddings outside lockdown.

Before making or finalising plans, we recommend that you make sure you understand your local restrictions for both weddings and gatherings.

Bridesmaids

Around 150,000 weddings from 2020 have already been postponed in 2021, but social distancing will still be in place until at least July 19th. The wedding industry is pulling together to help every bride or groom have an incredible day.  Venues and businesses have put measures in place to help couples to celebrate their marriage safely with family and friends during what we know will be a prolonged period of social distancing. However, you can't plan a social event during a period of social distancing without making a few changes. 

Should you be planning to get married in 2021?

With the current roadmap in place, we have provisional ideas for wedding allowances going forward. So, if you have already confirmed a date for 2021, have booked a registrar or the church, booked the venues, given notice, and paid deposits to numerous suppliers, don't be in a hurry to abandon your plans and postpone until you have looked at the options. Couples forced to abandon their wedding dates have described how despondent they felt in giving up on their plans. 

What are my options?

  1. Carry on with your existing plans for your wedding ceremony. Accept that there will be some adjustments to the plans to accommodate social distancing, particularly relating to the numbers that will be permitted.
  2. Make significant adjustments, such as having the reception and a small ceremony (or "micro wedding") this year and a bigger party later in 2021 or in 2022. This is known as a sequel wedding
  3. Postpone entirely to 2022.

The biggest factors to consider in making the decision are:

Are you prepared to lose deposits and/or pay more? Postponing may cost you more. A voluntary postponement is when the venue is open and suppliers are available but you choose not to go ahead. Then, you are not entitled to receive refunds on deposits or any other payments you have made. You may be asked to pay an extra fee for a peak date later in 2021 or in 2022.

Does it need to be a Saturday? If so, it will be harder to postpone without compromises.

Are there important guests that can't attend this year? Guests travelling from overseas and shielded guests may be unwilling or unable to attend. 

Is it a venue or a marquee wedding? You'll have far more flexibility with a marquee wedding. For example, being able to spread the celebration over two days and add to space by increasing the marquee size.

How do you feel? This is the most important factor, which is why only you can make the decision. It is your day! Will the two of you be more disappointed if you have to postpone than if you go ahead with a socially distanced wedding?

To make the decision, it helps to understand exactly what a socially distant wedding will be like.

We’ve been looking at some of the measures venues and suppliers are putting into place across four key areas to ensure that your wedding can go ahead as soon as permitted.

  1. Ensuring you can plan your wedding effectively and safely.
  2. Ensuring you and your wedding guests are able to be there on the day to celebrate, including making special provisions for the more vulnerable guests.
  3. Offering a solution to involve family and friends who are unable to attend.
  4. Offering alternatives, rather than compromises. So, although the day may be different, it will be just as special as you’d planned.

Bride trying on wedding dresses with her entourage

How will weddings and wedding planning look during COVID-19?

During planning: Replacing face-to-face consultations with video meetings 

Photographers, florists, cake suppliers, hairstylists, and more have been taking part in events such as Wedding Fair Live on Facebook. We've even had venue tours and seen behind the scenes at bridal boutiques. It’s shown couples, and businesses, just how easy it is to carry on without needing to meet in person. It will remain the first option in shortlisting your suppliers for some time, with face-to-face meetings or venue viewings only when you are ready to buy or book.

During planning: Changing appointment protocol where meetings are needed

Couples will be encouraged to include only people that absolutely have to be at the appointment. Instead, others can attend via video link. There also will be time between appointments for cleaning. Many couples have really supported this move. It puts more control of wedding planning back in their hands and reduces time pressure during appointments.

Allowing for social distancing

Most suppliers are enabling couples to reduce their guest numbers to make social distancing easier when weddings and larger receptions are permitted. Then, allocating that budget to upgrading their menu or drinks package or paying for extra safety measures. For example, hiring additional toilets and handwashing facilities.

Changing the order of the day

The order of the day and some traditions may change, and some will say for the better! This is mostly relevant for when larger celebrations are allowed to occur but social distancing is still required. Traditional receiving lines won’t be appropriate. You might choose to make adjustments to the normal order that events take place to allow for those that are shielding to be there for key moments such as cake cutting and the speeches, then leave before the wedding breakfast. We're also expecting to see changes to the first dance, which might take place while guests are still seated, perhaps even between courses. 

Wearing masks at weddings

It is legally required for people to wear masks indoors at a number of venues across the UK so be prepared for this. The bride, groom, and officiants are usually exempt from this rule. Catering staff and suppliers at your wedding are also likely to wear a mask for their own protection and for added safety for your guests.  

Including guests remotely

You may be reluctant to go ahead with your wedding plans knowing that guests from overseas, grandparents, or other vulnerable guests will be unable to attend. However, those guests will feel awful if they feel they are preventing you from getting married. Think about ways to involve them.

There are a number of ways you can include guests who are unable to attend due to shielding, including live streaming or bespoke food services! For example, DineDelivered is able to offer wedding breakfasts to guests who can’t attend your wedding in person. The team will create a delicious three-course celebration meal for your guests that arrives ‘oven-ready’, so that they can easily join in your celebrations. You can also add canapes, a bottle of champagne, children’s meals, and meals for special diets to make sure they have a truly personalised and special occasion in their own home.

Videographer live streaming wedding

How are suppliers adapting their services to the current climate?

We've spoken to venues, caterers, toastmasters, car companies, celebrants, wedding planners, bridal boutiques, and more; asking them about their plans to make their businesses 'COVID secure'. Here's what you can potentially expect from your suppliers if your wedding is able to go ahead during social distancing.

Venues

From installing clear, dome structures to utilising outdoor spaces, venues are preparing for social distancing to become a part of life for the foreseeable future. They have clear risk assessments and processes in place already and will be able to guide you on what is and isn't possible. If you are hiring a venue such as a village hall, or using a marquee, a lot of these measures will become your responsibility. There is plenty of government guidance and checklists online for you to follow. Please ensure you follow these guidelines if you do go for a show round. 

Wedding Car Companies

Transport companies are having to adapt effectively in order to protect drivers and those they are transporting. Those that provide open-top cars or carriages are less concerned about the risk to their drivers as the threat of spreading coronavirus is reduced outdoors. However, those who provide vehicles that are confined spaces are having to adapt more.

Some companies are investing in perspex screens and adapting the vehicles to ensure the driver and passengers are separated for the entire journey. The clear panel will help reduce the risk of potential infection in a confined space.

Open top vehicles such as this one from Exclusive Cars will be very popular, with a perspex screen behind the driver and shelter from the wind for the bride.  We're expecting to see an increase in wedding cars as brides will want to arrive in style if their guests are congregating outside before the wedding.

Exclusive Cars wedding transport classic vehicle

Catering

Caterers will be working closely with venues and marquee companies to ensure they have the space they need to safely operate. However, their primary concern is for their service team, whom they rely on to effectively function. These people will be placed more at risk when serving your guests. 

Caterers are also being faced with an increase in food hygiene standards and the potential loss of services such as buffets and canapés, which can be a challenge to monitor. This may mean needing to adapt your menu and needing to prepare for last-minute changes if ingredients are unavailable in the current demand. 

In our focus groups, we heard from caterers who are coming up with new ways to support their couples. Some had considered introducing a home delivery service for those living within a specific distance of the venue. This would allow the majority of guests who are shielding or unable to attend the wedding in person due to guest list restrictions to still be a part of your meal. Some are considering providing ingredient box services or videos of how to prepare the meal to give guests the chance to create it themselves. Others are investing in outdoor equipment and adapting their services to suit weddings which may need to move into the external setting. 

While caterers are happy to adapt, they stressed that they needed to put the safety of their staff and your guests first, warning that the investment of safety equipment and PPE could offset potential savings from serving fewer guests than originally planned. Where there is a cost-saving from a significant reduction in guest numbers, caterers will be encouraging couples to upgrade their menu choices to maintain the same minimum spend.

Marquees

We anticipate an increase in demand for simple marquees from wedding venues wanting to increase their outdoor space, as well as for newly engaged couples who are now looking towards having weddings outdoors. We are hoping local authorities will allow marquees to stay in place for more than the current 29-day limit. This would allow venues to keep a marquee up throughout the peak wedding season.

More extravagant multi-level marquees will be popular for winter weddings, particularly during peak weekends when venues are already fully booked with postponed weddings. 

Marquee companies are actively finding ways to adapt by investing in more small structures such as domes and bubbles. One company also told us that they have created an innovative, portable hand washing station as an addition to their current service.

Celebrants

Wedding celebrants are preparing for an increase in demand, especially as registrars are likely to be under pressure. Celebrants perform ceremonies that are not legally binding but are tailored to the couple and their personality. This means you can have the ceremony at your wedding and do the legal part later for a nominal fee. 

For the ceremony, celebrants will be standing slightly further away from the couple to allow for social distancing and will wear a mask if asked to by the couple. Celebrants booked for weddings that have been postponed are also using this time in lockdown and social distancing to help couples mark their original wedding day with a commitment ceremony virtually with friends and family on Zoom. These nearlyweds are still able to celebrate while promising each other that they will still be married on their new date.

Jennifer Patrice Celebrant

Image: Jennifer Patrice

Toastmasters

Like celebrants, toastmasters are also expecting an increase in demand for their services thanks to their ability to be the eyes, ears, and messenger on the day. Toastmasters can help you and your venue's wedding coordinator to ensure guests are following guidelines. They will be able to direct guests where they are needed, ensuring the couple doesn't need to be concerned for the welfare of their guests and can simply enjoy their day.

Again, the toastmasters we spoke to were all very happy to wear face coverings and gloves if the necessity presented itself. They were also willing to help couples with any issues that could arise during the day. Many toastmasters are also trained as celebrants and have expressed that they would be happy to step in if the couple's registrar or celebrant were unable to attend due to illness or the need for isolation.

DJs and Musicians

There have been predictions that certain elements of the wedding day would be more greatly affected by social distancing guidelines. This includes the role of DJs, musicians, and other entertainers who rely on close contact being allowed.

With the party potentially being at risk thanks to the inability to keep people distanced on a dance floor, DJs and musicians are turning their hands more towards the Master of Ceremonies role, providing couples and their guests with entertainment throughout the day. 

Photographers

Great photos, to share with guests who couldn't be there, will be even more important than ever. Photographers are generally happy that they will be able to distance themselves easily at weddings and still be able to capture the day as the couple had hoped. Most photographers have trusted connections they could turn to and ensure your wedding day was captured if they became ill or needed to isolate. The majority were also happy to wear masks, gloves, and other PPE to protect themselves and your guests.

Many photographers were concerned as to how couples could include their guests attending and those remotely in wedding photos. They expressed that group photos could prove a challenge, potentially needing to turn to equipment such as drones to safely include the entire guest list. One solution was to create a photo wall where family groups and households could have a formal photo taken, which would later be edited and created as a collage in substitute. Others, considering guests who were attending virtually, thought about instant, pre-edited images being able to be streamed so guests at home could see the photographer's images in real-time and feel a part of the action.

Little Vinny

Another great idea is to have a photobooth! Then households can take their own photos together, keeping everyone separated. Then, these photos can be edited to create a collage or put together in an album. David Rucker, of David Rucker Photography, has such a solution.

"'Little Vinny' is totally portable and unlike anything else on the market. It uses a Battery pack giving 6 hours continuous use which opens up a whole range of possibilities, such as outdoor weddings. It can produce prints there and doesn't compromise on picture quality. Little Vinny uses a 24.1 Megapixel mirrorless camera for exceptional quality and takes sharp images. Also, a flattering 400 Watt Ring Flash together with continuous Video LED light produces studio-quality lighting. Most importantly, it's Covid-19 friendly! It can be set for ultra-wide so you get up to 12 people in the frame whilst still practising social distancing."

Videographers

In addition to capturing the day for you to re-live, many videographers are now turning their hand to live streaming, setting up cameras that can capture the day in real-time for guests who are shielding or unable to attend. This will be particularly important for those who have had to reduce their guest list.

Bridal Boutiques and Menswear

Bridal boutiques and menswear stores will be reopening from the 12th of April 2021. Many stores will be operating on an appointment-only service, reducing the number of people in-store and leaving time to deep clean between appointments. We recommend that you prepare accordingly and understand what you'll expect from your shopping experience.

Bride unsure between dresses

What can you do to help your venue and suppliers?

Your venue and suppliers will be doing all they reasonably can to help you, so it is good to know where you can help them.

  1. Remember it isn't their fault either! They would rather your wedding was exactly as you planned too, so try to be understanding if they are being asked to put different health and safety rules in place or need to make other changes.
  2. Be flexible on the exact details. Your florist, chef, or cake maker may not be able to source their usual products or ingredients and may need to make adjustments.
  3. Remember that having fewer guests doesn't necessarily mean a lower cost. The increased costs from complying with strict health and safety rules will increase costs for most venues and suppliers. 

Don't let financial issues come between you and your suppliers. If you are having financial difficulties, let them know and make a payment plan. If you are concerned about paying a large deposit, ask if they have a client account that it can be held in.

Postponing? If you can afford to, we urge you to offer to pay your supplier at least a percentage of your final bill when rebooking. This helps the supplier enormously to secure their income this year and helps you feel secure that they are fully committed to your revised date.     

Married couple kiss at their venue

Top Tips for a great wedding during social distancing

Your family, your friends, your venue, and all your suppliers will be delighted that you are going ahead with your plans and will all be determined to ensure it is a day to remember. But, there are a few things you can do to help. Whether you are largely keeping your original plans, or changing to a small wedding ceremony now and a celebration at a later date, follow the top tips from our venues and suppliers: 

Let your suppliers guide you.

You may need to make adjustments to the menu, the way drinks are served, your entertainment, your group photos, or even to your bouquet. They should just be small adjustments, your suppliers will talk you through the options so you really shouldn’t feel like your day is compromised.

Make the most of your venue

Two-thirds of venues have additional space your guests could use within the venue or on the grounds so make the most of it and spread out. Just remember to allow extra time for guests to be rounded up when needed.

Get outside if you can

Never before have people enjoyed being outside so much, so make the most of it. If you are concerned about the weather, a marquee without the floor or walls will give sufficient shelter. Speak to your venue and registrar to see if you can be married just inside the doors to the approved room, with your guests outside. Consider offering hampers with picnic tables and rugs so that guests can choose how much space they’d like. 

Help guests to keep themselves safe

We’re expecting to see additional hand-washing facilities and sanitiser around the venue. We have also seen mini hand sanitisers and colour coordinated masks as favours becoming a bit of a trend for those who went ahead with their wedding in 2020.   

Choreograph your guests 

If you have a toastmaster or dedicated wedding planner, they’ll already know what is needed to get guests in the right places at the right times and this is going to be even more important with the logistics involved in social distancing. If your venue supplies a planner or toastmaster for the day, check that they’ll be on hand throughout the entire reception so you have a single point of contact. 

Think about your table planning

Keep family groups on the same tables as each other. Avoid mixing complete strangers or different age groups with different risk factors. Know which guests will be particularly anxious about being out with others and seat them with other guests in the same situation. 

Plan around vulnerable guests

Think of them as your VIPS. Arrange for reserved seating away from other guests for the ceremony. If you are getting married in church, could they use the choir stalls? Ensure they aren’t put in a position that they need to be close to others. Have toilets just for the use of your VIPs. Arrange for them to be able to eat away from other guests or for a meal to take home after the ceremony.  

Change the day to suit your plans

If your drinks reception is outside, could you have the cake cutting and speeches outside too before going in for the wedding breakfast, so VIPs feel included? Can the first dance be between courses so guests are less likely to get up and join you on the dance floor? 

Rethink your entertainment

DJs and wedding entertainment companies are moving from evening discos to all-day entertainment, keeping guests involved throughout the day. For example, Nigerian weddings are all-out affairs, filled with dancing. As this is a key aspect of the wedding tradition, consider your options carefully. So, if it is really important for you to have a disco, you’ll need to allow for a bigger dancefloor.  Consider a silent disco where parties naturally tend to dance further apart.

Have a back up in mind

If your registrar, photographer, best man, or chief bridesmaid is showing mild symptoms or has come into contact with someone that has, you need them to stay at home, so know who you’ll call on if that happens. If you have a toastmaster, DJ, or wedding planner they may be prepared to step in as celebrant - you won’t be legally married but you’ll at least have a ceremony to celebrate.       

Finally, and most importantly, be ready to go with the flow

If plans need to change, don’t let it affect your enjoyment of the day. The most important thing is that the two of you have a great day, surrounded by those that you love.

Coronavirus restrictions have led to the cancellation or postponement of many couples’ weddings. There will still be certain limitations, as social distancing measures are in place for the foreseeable future. But, it is clear that these adjustments do not need to completely change your wedding dream!

If one of your suppliers is unable to attend your wedding or you need to make a last-minute change, our late availability page shows suppliers available on your wedding date.

On a final, but important note, please mark your venue and all the suppliers you have booked in your wedding planner. In the unfortunate situation they have to permanently close, we will endeavour to contact you.

Alison Hargreaves Guides for Brides Bio

About the author


Alison Hargreaves

Alison has been advising brides, grooms and bridesmaids for more than 25 years. She has an unrivalled knowledge of the British wedding industry and frequently appears on podcasts and expert panels. She regularly attends international wedding conferences to keep the UK at the forefront of wedding planning trends.

Read More

Search for venues & suppliers near you