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Thinking of Canceling a Major Life Event? Here’s What Event Planners Would Do

Following this comprehensive guide from the pros will help ensure the health and safety of your guests while proactively reassessing the details of your upcoming celebration.

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COVID-19 and your special day

From brides-to-be and 13-year-old boys having a bar mitzvah to expectant parents’ baby showers and couples celebrating their golden anniversary, milestone celebrations are some of the most precious moments in life. Unfortunately, many of these special events are being postponed or even outright canceled due to the COVID-19, the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

Residents of several states have been ordered to shelter in place and others have imposed curfews. On top of that, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for events and mass gatherings recommends limiting all and gatherings to no more than ten people.

Additionally, “travel bans and the concerns of traveling right now have halted plans for destination weddings both domestic and worldwide,” says Kristine Cooke, owner of Simply Charming Socials in Atlanta. “Not only can guests not attend, but some couples cannot even reach their wedding destinations.” With 2.5 million weddings in the United States each year, you can imagine how many are currently being disrupted.

“In addition to venues, countless vendors are being directly affected during this unprecedented time, making it extremely difficult or even impossible to follow through with their duties,” says Cooke. “Whether it be supply shortages, limited gatherings, layoffs or safety concerns, we’ve seen nearly every type of event professional and business, from catering to florals, having to pivot or stop business during this time.”

Once you factor in birthday parties, high school reunions, family reunions, showers, graduations and proms, and other gatherings, it’s clear the event industry as a whole is taking a financial hit. In fact, here’s how much the coronavirus is costing the world (so far).

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First things first: Breathe

No doubt, this is an emotionally charged time for any event host: you’re facing an unprecedented and constantly evolving situation, having to weigh the pros and cons of moving forward and how it could impact the health and safety of all your closest loved ones, and even calculating the potential financial ramifications of your decision. That’s a lot of unexpected responsibility to shoulder. Plus, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of the daily news cycle, the uncertainty of how long this pandemic will last, and all of the scariest “what-if” scenarios. “With everything going on, we forget to take a moment to breathe and regroup,” says Jacqueline Vazquez, a certified wedding and event planner, international master wedding planner, and owner of Lifetime Events by Jacqueline in New York City. “Take a moment now.” While it’s hard to check your emotions at the door, it’s crucial to let logic (and the expertise of the CDC, WHO, and the government) prevail. If breathing alone isn’t doing the trick, try one of these 9 secrets to staying sane a month before your wedding that may also bring a sense of calm.

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Decide whether to cancel or postpone your event

Is your event a small gathering or a major life celebration? “We’re seeing birthday parties, bachelorettes, baby showers, and other socials that have a shorter planning time or are associated with a special date—such as a birthday or upcoming birth—postponing for now without a new date in mind yet or canceling completely,” says Cooke. “Other milestone events, like anniversary parties and mitzvahs are working to reschedule for new dates in the future.”

When it comes to weddings, one of life’s most important celebrations, the stakes are even higher. “Thousands of couples are having to make the very emotional decision to postpone, reschedule, or cancel an event that is sentimental, expensive, and life-changing for them to begin with,” Cooke continues. “We have started assisting our clients whose events fall between March and May choose a new wedding date. Due to the sheer size of events, many moving parts, and countless logistical details, it’s nearly impossible to meet the original expectations and move forward as originally planned.”

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Be flexible about new dates

With so many brides and hosts changing the date of their events simultaneously, you may need to consider some options that aren’t what you had originally envisioned. “The longer a bride waits to choose a new date, the more limited she will be,” says Cooke. “As Saturdays are a hot choice for weddings, the majority of those fall dates are already taken.” Consider hosting your event on a Friday or Sunday, instead.

Also, consider months that are typically off-season, like August or November. “These tend to be slower months and many venues and vendors should be able to accommodate the change,” says Anna Noriega, creative director and luxury event planner for Aloré Event Firm in Miami. “Looking into dates toward 2021 might also give you time to regroup after this pandemic is hopefully behind us and better make choices for your event.” Don’t miss these other 12 secrets event planners won’t tell you for free.

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Communicate your decision to guests

If your budget allows, a mailed postcard is a nice touch, otherwise, digital communications are entirely acceptable. “Create a wedding website for free on The Knot or make a private Facebook Group so that it’s easier to interact with your guests,” suggests Nicole Heinbaugh, a wedding planner and owner of Simply Sweet in Pittsburgh. “Either way, use that space to provide updated info as you make decisions on the new date, venue, and other pertinent info about travel arrangements or the itinerary.” Also, prepare yourself emotionally for the fact that some guests will change their minds about attending, even if they’ve already RSVP’d “yes” — backing out of a social commitment is one of 10 etiquette rules you can now ignore because of coronavirus.

Your invitations haven’t gone out yet? Troy Williams, owner of Simply Troy Lifestyle + Events in Los Angeles, California, is currently including a special insert with all of his clients’ soon-to-be-mailed invitations for weddings that will take place in May or June that says: “We cannot wait to celebrate our special day with you, but we are also aware of the current global health concerns, travel limitations, and postponements. At the time of this mailing, our wedding is scheduled to continue. Should anything change, we will be in touch via email.”

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Contact your vendors, immediately

“Review your vendor contracts thoroughly before reaching out to each one, in order to familiarize yourself with the cancellation or rescheduling policy,” advises Vazquez, noting that since this has been labeled a pandemic, many event professionals are being flexible with offering clients options beyond the contracted terms. “Then start communicating with your vendors right away for spring and summer events and be sure to get everything in writing.”

Once you’re ready to reach out to your vendors and venue, Amy Shey Jacobs, owner of Chandelier Events in New York City, suggests asking them the following questions:

  • What are my options?
  • What dates are available for postponement?
  • Can I hold the date and decide a little further down the line, such as 30 days prior?
  • If I can have the event on my original date, can I commit to fewer guests?
  • If I hold the date and a deposit is required on the second date, will that money be carried over to my balance?
  • If the venue does not have a new date within a reasonable amount of time, may I have my deposit refunded?

“Overall, the events industry has been incredibly helpful, flexible, kind and proactive,” says Jacobs. “Venues and vendors are working very closely during these unprecedented times to help their clients because everyone wants the celebrations to continue.” If your honeymoon or other celebratory trip is canceled, you’ll also want to know how to get a refund on travel.

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Prioritize any vendor issues

“Unfortunately, some vendors will not provide you with a new date until the ban on large gatherings has been lifted,” says Joe Mineo, an event designer and owner of Joe Mineo Creative in Youngstown, Ohio. “Others are able to ‘pencil you in’ for a future date while you work on securing all your other vendors. If you find that a vendor you have been working with is not on board during this stressful time, then they are no longer the right vendor to help you with your special occasion. It just shows what type of person they are and what type of company they are running.” If you do run into a bad apple, you may need to kick things up a notch. “Remember that every state or country has different requirements and laws, so if you need legal advice, reach out to an attorney,” says Vazquez.

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Be open to virtual versions of your event

Technology makes it easier to stay connected in times like this, so lean on it when possible. “If you’re missing your bachelorette party, have a virtual wine tasting or cooking night,” says Jacobs. “Get on Zoom or Skype and have a dance party. Find other ways to stay connected with those you love—that’s what these life celebrations are all about in the first place.” She also suggests considering a “ceremony now, party later” approach of moving forward with the ceremonial aspect of a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah on the original date with live streaming for those who cannot attend. Then you can host the party portion at a later date.

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Continue to monitor the news

Like the rest of the world, you’re probably already glued to various news outlets in hopes of staying abreast of every bit of COVID-19 information you can get. For brides and event hosts, each detail you learn can help with your decision-making process, so it’s wise to stay tuned in. “Every day brings changes to the event industry based on the news, so be diligent on staying updated about the CDC guidelines and by reading relevant news articles,” says Williams. Other good sources of information include the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of State for travel information.

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Consider hiring a professional event planner

If all of these tasks seem a bit overwhelming, there’s no reason you have to navigate this process alone. “If you are struggling with a decision and need a professional’s assistance, contact an event planner to discuss your options,” says Vazquez. “During this crisis, some event planners may offer a complimentary chat, and some may charge a consultation fee, but it will be worth the investment.” If you don’t think your budget allows for a wedding planner, run the numbers. Some wedding and event planners also offer a la carte services if you don’t think you can swing the cost of a full suite of services, so be sure to ask about customized package options. Now, take heart in these 12 wonderful things that will never be canceled.

For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.