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Be Our Guest: How Reception Service May Change For Weddings During the Covid-19 Pandemic

“We welcome you tonight, and now we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair” as we proudly present your wedding. As a Disney fan and former Disney Cast Member, I have always loved this movie and song in particular. With the exception of Belle tasting food straight from the tray, I even think there are many things we can take from this production as we move into a new era of service. We all know there will be changes in how we can present your wedding due to Covid-19 and many couples are concerned their wedding will not look the same. I can assure you it will not. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing!

We are working on ideas on how to properly service the clients from start to finish. Some things we have in mind include ensuring all items are properly cleaned and disinfected prior to use, decreasing capacity or guest counts to allow for more spacing. It also may include changing types of food service. It will likely include having bathrooms cleaned multiple times throughout the event focusing on touch points like door handles, toilet handles and faucets and having hand sanitizer available. As we are working hard to provide answers for you, we know there are meaningful ways we can do this for you. The updated services will be better than we have seen in a while. It will be higher end. It will include higher safety standards and when done right, it will leave you feeling pampered, maybe even spoiled.

There are some obvious changes that will need to take place and since many cities, counties and states have yet to issue official guidance, we are working off what we do know. As we set up for your ceremonies and receptions, the physical and décor layouts will need to change. This is to ensure proper distancing during times when emotions are high (the bride’s mom crying as she sees her daughter walk down the aisle or the father of the groom as he sees his son in his tux. Yes, these are the moments when someone may need to blow their nose and we want a little extra room between them and the other guests. In addition, guests will be discouraged to have any unnecessary forms of physical contact including handshakes and hugs.

A bride walks down the aisle with the mother of the bride and the father of the bride by her side. They escort her to the groom waiting at the alter under an arch in an outdoor arena surrounded by large trees. The wedding planner fluffed her dress right before she walked onto the outdoor patio for the couple's wedding ceremony.

When it comes to dinner, we will need to have tables further apart than they have been at weddings in the past. If changes for restaurants include having tables spaced 6 feet or more apart and / or physical barriers, then we should do that at a wedding as well. BizBash recently wrote an article about this highlighting AllSeated’s new ability to create a socially distant layout using their software. We will have service staff wearing masks and in some cases gloves to limit their contact with items they deliver and remove from your tables. Servers and bussers will be separate jobs and not performed by the same person. The servers will be able to access the tables more easily as will the bussers clearing your tables. We believe that no self-serve anything including buffets, stations / charcuterie spreads, grab and go apps, water, doughnut walls, candy stations, etc. will be permitted. If having one of these is important to you, you will likely need to add an attendant to serve the guests and possibly a sneeze guard in place.

A Wedding Planner lays out an Assortment of masks in pink and green for the wedding party and white lace and black silk for the bride and groom for a flat lay wedding photo

Since restaurants are limiting party sizes to 10 people, we may be able to get away with having two families together and tables of 10. Diners are not setting their tables with utensils or glassware, but maybe we still can since it is only one round of service. However, having utensils in roll ups may be a better solution vs exposed items on the table. We may not have the plates out but a charger to hold its place and still have a gorgeous set up waiting for your guests as they sit down. The good news here is that it will be more comfortable to sit at and get up from your table. You’ll even have the elbow room you’ve always complained you were missing!

We will also be encouraging our guests to dine outdoors al fresco whenever possible. This will allow better air flow and not have air recirculated during a time when guests are the most exposed. If your venue has the space, move the dining to the outdoor lawn and add bistro lights to make a beautiful outdoor dining room feeling.

We are partnering with venues and caterers to ensure when it is time to serve dinner, it is done in the safest way possible. So what will the actual dinner service look like? We have heard from several service teams and they actually have varying opinions. We have heard some will prefer Chefs serving guests directly from buffet stations to eliminate a server touching the plate. Most buffets will have sneeze guards and guests would order from the options available, but some will not have the plexiglass dividers. Others feel covered dishes like you have seen at high end event in banquet halls will still be a viable and safe option but the covers will be removed at the table.

Many teams are hard at work finalizing their plans. While some are still in process others are ready to get back as soon as they get the green light. As we write this most venues and caters agree that their team will be wearing masks, but that is fluid and could change based on future regulations. An example of venue that is ready is Calamigos Ranch which has four venue sites on their property and typically hosts hundreds of weddings each year. They have been bold in their intentions and have put out their next steps which include adding temperature checks for all staff, vendors and guests, hourly cleaning for the restrooms and added hand washing stations. The Lodge at Malibou Lake will have portable hand sanitation stations set up to help prepare for reopening. The Summit House will require their employees to wash their hands every thirty minutes and will provide utensils in roll ups when set out. In addition to many of these policies, Marvimon Productions which operates the Valentine, Grass Room, Flora Chang, Millwick & the SmogShoppe will have a liaison confirming proper mask usage and counting the number of people entering, similar to many retail locations. We encourage you to check with your venue to find out their policies for specifics.

A Small Wedding Cake is sitting on the table before the bride and groom cut it during their wedding. The wedding planner decorated the farmhouse style table with candles and flowers at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, CA.

Once dinner has ended, our service doesn’t end. We are managing the flow of the entire evening and this includes the evening festivities. Since we have amazing weather in Southern California, why not also move the dance floor outdoors whenever possible. You can dance under the stars allowing guests to get funky with a lot more breathing room. And the cool evening air might help people dance a little longer. In the case where we dancing is not yet permitted like the current orders in Ohio, we will be encouraging our guests to switch from a DJ dance party to a live band, concert style event. Guests can stay at or near their dinner tables and enjoy some great music without getting too close on the dance floor. All in all, as long as your guests have a great time celebrating your love story, that is what really matters.

While the guidelines will change and your guest list may change, maybe your mind has changed as well. Do you want to know the silver lining in all of this? Many venues, caterers and wedding and entertainment vendors are going to be implementing new higher standards for safety and sanitation that will remain long term. I hope this gives you hope in your upcoming wedding will be better than you could have expected it to be!

This blog was written by Ebeling Events owner, Kim Ebeling, in collaboration with an expert group of professional wedding planners based throughout Southern California. It is the 5th in the series. Please check out their blogs as well to get a full, detailed picture of what it is like to be wedding planning during Covid-19. Click on the logo above to read the next blog in the series written by The Blushing Details.

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