Happy, Healthy Ever After

Wedding experts offer their best tips for staying safe in the age of Covid-19.

The Vineyard is a popular spot for tying the knot, but big white wedding tents were noticeably absent this summer with the global pandemic throwing a wrench in many couples’ plans for Island nuptials. Most people responded by postponing their celebrations due to safety concerns. Those that didn’t typically transformed their big days into smaller ones and adapted to the circumstances with the help of their planners. The result was weddings that looked a lot different – think: guests in masks, hand sanitizer stations, and no dance floor – but didn’t lack for any of the magic that makes Island weddings so special.

Encouraging vaccine news means that brighter days are hopefully on the horizon for couples and guests hoping to celebrate freely. In the meantime, innovative practices devised and implemented by Island experts are mitigating the risk of exposure to Covid-19 at weddings, and in the process helping to keep our community safe. Any sort of gathering contains an inherent risk until the pandemic is fully resolved, so couples should either postpone their plans or continue to follow all relevant safety protocols until it’s deemed unnecessary. But who knows? Some of these changes have proven so popular, they may be the “new normal” for seasons to come.

“It may be a while before we get back to the way we were before, but I think the measures we’re putting in place now are creating a healthier environment,” says Kristen Gosselin, owner of KG Events & Design in Edgartown.

Planning a wedding or attending one in the near future? Here are the ten best practices and precautions Island professionals say they’ve implemented to make weddings as safe and special as possible for everyone involved.

move to micro

Sometimes less really is more, and wedding planners agree: small, intimate celebrations with just your nearest and dearest are the best way to stay safe, save money, and minimize the stress of planning for those who wish to wed in the near future. Besides, you can always plan a separate event to celebrate with everyone you love once it’s safe again. While the state of Massachusetts sets the limit on the number of event guests (currently, outdoor gatherings are capped at fifty guests, indoor gatherings at twenty-five), many couples who wed on Martha’s Vineyard this past year imposed even stricter regulations, inviting just five to ten quarantined family members and friends. The trend of small weddings is likely to continue as couples have learned that a small celebration can pack a large emotional punch and allow you more flexibility in terms of venues and d├ęcor options.

“Small weddings are so much more fun,” says Sandy Brooks, owner of Timeless Event Planning. “Limiting the size leaves you with more energy to enjoy the planning process and focus on the details.”

Take it outside

Jessica K. Feiden

Medical professionals have been clear: a natural air flow is key to minimizing the risk of virus transmission. What better place to find it than outdoors? Celebrating in the open air also allows more space for guests to comfortably spread out. Thankfully, outdoor weddings were already popular on Martha’s Vineyard. According to this magazine’s 2019 Real Wedding Survey, they accounted for 70 percent of all ceremonies and receptions that year. That means Island vendors were well experienced staging outdoor weddings. Since the pandemic began, they’ve stepped up their game further, creating socially distant seating plans for ceremonies and receptions, among other improvements. To maximize safety, Jim Eddy, co-owner of Big Sky Tent and Party Rentals, suggests couples order the largest tent that their venue can accommodate, which will allow for protection from the elements and more personal space. Looking for a celebration under the stars? Eddy recommends asking about a “bistro lighting” setup where towers are used to run bespoke lighting overhead, no tent required.

Set Expectations Early

Constant communication with guests and vendors is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page before the big day. That could be as simple as sending out a list of ground rules that guests should expect to adhere to, such as staying home if they feel sick in the week leading up to the wedding and wearing masks throughout the event if they choose to attend. For every wedding her company plans, Gosselin requires each person affiliated with it to fill out waivers certifying they have tested negative prior to their arrival. The waivers can then be used to check in guests the day of. “If everyone follows protocols that were laid significantly reduces risk,” says Gosselin. 

Space Out Shuttles

With guests often coming from off-Island, it’s important to arrange a shuttle service to provide transportation from the ferry or their hotel to the wedding venue. To accommodate guests and avoid cramming separate parties in together, some services are limiting how many seats they fill for each ride. Jeffrey Corr, owner of All Star Tours and Transportation, says his shuttles load back to front with an empty seat in between each party to make sure the ride is “as safe as possible.” He’s also implemented safety measures such as taking guests’ temperatures before they board and spraying down the shuttle with sanitizer between each run. If guests are able to drive themselves and parking is available on site, even better.

Get Creative with Social Distancing

Lucy Cuneo

Everyone has their own comfort level with social interactions during the age of Covid-19, so why not give guests a way to express it? That’s the idea behind KG Events & Design’s colorful and creative wristband system that allows guests to show those around them the level of contact with which they feel comfortable.

If a guest is wearing a red wristband, that means anyone who’s not in the same household should stay away from him or her. A yellow wristband indicates that the person wearing it is cautious but willing to engage with other guests and workers. A green wristband indicates an inclination for close interaction, including hugs. “We also assign people in the same household to pods, cocktail tables, and dinner tables so they won’t be walking around,” says Gosselin, who adds that she spaces dinner tables at the reception twelve feet apart to allow for plenty of room between each group.

Pivot to Plated

Scrap the plans for a serve-yourself, family-style buffet and hire a caterer to serve you instead, says Jaime Hamlin, who owns V. Jaime Hamlin & Sons Catering and Party Design in Vineyard Haven. That means no punch bowls or shared appetizers until the pandemic has subsided. For one safety-conscious couple, Hamlin’s team prepared only individual plates of cold food for each guest in order to minimize the time servers interacted with attendees. Brooks adds that couples should go ahead and book a plated meal with a caterer now with the option to switch to family style if it becomes safer later on.

Stagger Vendors

A wedding takes a village to run successfully, from the hairstylist to the clean-up crew to everyone in between. Many people with roles in the wedding come and go throughout the day, but couples can be proactive in limiting interaction by staggering arrivals, says florist Aubrey Sirois, owner of Aubrey Maria Designs. That also helps to keep the vendors safe. Instead of delivering bouquets directly to the bride this season, Sirois started offering no-contact bouquet drop-offs to avoid interaction. Guests are also encouraged to repurpose flowers throughout the event so that Sirois’s team doesn’t have to remain on the premises. “Setting up things earlier and shifting timelines has been really helpful,” she says.

Live Stream the Festivities

Larisa Stinga

Thanks to technology, limiting the amount of people who can come to your wedding in person doesn’t mean you can’t invite others to tune in. Enter live streaming, where all you need is a good camera, microphone, and internet connection to allow friends and family members to attend virtually no matter where they are. Photographer Larisa Stinga says she worked one wedding (facing page) where the bride and groom set up “virtual tables” using Zoom breakout rooms. They learned of the idea through the virtual wedding company Wedfuly and enlisted a friend experienced with Zoom to help them put it into action. “The guests were instructed to dress up and have a drink and chat with their ‘table’ as they would do in person at their wedding,” says Stinga. “After the ceremony they hopped from one break room to another saying hello and virtually cheering a glass of champagne.”

Gosselin adds that photographers and videographers she’s worked with have also started offering faster turnarounds so that those who couldn’t attend the event don’t have to wait long to see what they missed.

Move the Music

It’s practically impossible to maintain distance on a sweaty wedding dance floor when “Shout” starts playing. That doesn’t mean you can’t have live music at your wedding, but precautions must be taken – and large groups on the dance floor should be discouraged for the time being. For those who choose to hire a live band, Gosselin says setting up barriers and giving performers sneeze guards to protect themselves and wedding guests is essential. She also recommends having the band set up equipment far enough away that guests can dance safely at their tables if the mood strikes. Toned-down acts such as string trios or acoustic musicians are also a great way to soundtrack a more intimate celebration and won’t have guests as inclined to crowd together. 

Go With the Flow

Wedding planning is stressful enough even without adjusting to ever-shifting state, local, and federal Covid-19 restrictions. It’s easy to get frustrated and flustered and maybe wonder if cancelling the ceremony or postponing it for a year are your only options. Island wedding planners and vendors, though, echoed that there are silver linings to the situation, such as gaining more time to plan and focus on the details, that have led to intimate and magical celebrations despite the circumstances.

“For those who did get married, even though guest counts were smaller, the weddings were overflowing with love and positivity, and the couples didn’t feel like they were missing out,” says Gosselin.

“Just laugh and spin everything into a positive,” adds Brooks. “It’s going to be a crazy story to tell your kids someday.”