When the coronavirus shut down the state of North Carolina in late March, Jennifer Ball realized the weddings she’d planned for the spring were in jeopardy. Ball, the owner of Knot Your Average Events, a wedding planning firm, knew her couples — and their families — would have a lot of questions, and even more emotions. So she wasted no time springing into action to help her clients navigate an unexpected reality.
“I’ve had 22 years of event experience leading up to this moment,” she says.
She put together resources to assist her couples — and keep them safe — as they made tough decisions about their big day. Ball spoke with Carolina Weddings about the ways the pandemic has changed event planning, and offered some tips on how, with a little hand sanitizer and a limited guest list, couples can still have the day of their dreams.
CAROLINA WEDDINGS: How has the coronavirus changed the wedding-planning process for you and your couples?
JENNIFER BALL: “It’s been a quicksand mud pie! We had 11 or 12 weddings scheduled for this spring. Two canceled; one eloped, and planned a one-year anniversary event for next year. Most of our couples postponed or moved their date. But we’re looking pretty good for fall. And we’ve been seeing a shift: There are more microweddings on the horizon.
“Still, nothing is easy right now. If [the pandemic] is teaching us anything, it’s that “perfect” shouldn’t be in the description of the wedding day. Once couples come to the realization that it’s not going to be what society says, they should be looking at one another to plan what the day should be for them. What does their love story look like? What is most important for them? If getting married is important, then get married! No one is saying you can’t get married today. But how important is it for you to be married versus to have a wedding? That’s the main question.”
CW: What is a microwedding? How does it differ from other types of weddings?
JB: “Microweddings are 25 people or fewer, intimate family. Intimate weddings are 75 or fewer — think second and third cousins, co-workers, neighbors. Then there are celebrations, and the next level is everyone you’ve ever met in your life. They are all planned events; elopements aren’t really planned.”
CW: How are you helping your couples alter their wedding plans to comply with North Carolina’s reopening guidelines and ensure they celebrate safely?
JB: “Up through June 2021, we are still advising 100 or fewer guests. We tell our clients that they’re welcome to plan to invite more, but our rule of thumb is to understand that as we get closer to the day, the dream may morph. Our couples going into this fall have been given a heads-up: Limit guests to 100 total, and have plans for 25, 50, and 75-person guest lists. Know where your cutoff is, and be prepared to make changes. All we can do is prepare and wait. It’s not moral or safe to have a 300-person shindig in the backyard right now, and I personally will walk away from unsafe events. No money is worth it.”
CW: How should couples who planned to get married this year proceed?
JB: “Go ahead and elope this year on the day you planned. Choose to tell your family and friends, or make everyone think you’re getting married next year at your event. It’s just a few little word differences. A wedding is the size of the memory you want to leave behind. I tell our couples you can have a small wedding and still have it be [what you dreamed of].
“I think if you want to have a celebration, it’s wise to go ahead, rip the Band-Aid off and move it to 2021, but not the early part of 2021. You’ll still have a lot of people who are apprehensive [about attending large events].”
CW: If a couple decides to have a microwedding, how should they communicate that to their guests?
JB: “You want to let your family and friends know how intimate your wedding is. Let them know that you have truly whittled down your guest list to the most intimate number, and know that you can do other celebrations throughout life with all your other guests. For couples looking to save money, take advantage of this situation! Stop inviting 300 people. Divide your guests into circles. The first circle is your immediate family. The next circle includes your aunts, closest friends, first cousins. Sorting your guest list this way will bring you to 50 to 75 people. Don’t forget that your vendors will count toward your final numbers, too!”
CW: What advice would you give to couples who are newly engaged, or are still early on in the wedding-planning process?
JB: “Even before the virus, we’d tell our couples to think of every detail of your wedding from your guests’ point of view. Thinking of it this way will help you make decisions. Who’s attending? What are their risks? What are you doing to make those risks as limited as possible and make the best experience for that person? COVID-19 just makes this a lot more talkable. A focus on the experience changes the entire element of what that event was.
"For those who want to have a big celebration, I’m trying to encourage postponing. And if couples postpone, I can’t beg any harder: Out of respect and love for your vendors, please do not plan for a Saturday. Look at Sundays and weekdays. Allow your vendors the opportunity to have new income come in on a Saturday. There are going to be a lot of vendors who don’t make it if they don’t get new bookings on prime Saturdays in 2021. If you love your vendors and want them all to move forward to a new year, look at Sundays through Fridays for your celebration. I’ve been encouraging couples to get married this year, on their original Saturday date, so that next year their anniversary falls on a Sunday and they can celebrate then.”
CW: Planning a wedding is no easy task, but the coronavirus is posing new challenges. How can couples avoid succumbing to stress while planning during the pandemic?
JB: “This is the time where you don’t go cheap on your vendors. Hire experienced professionals and professionals in all aspects — they’re going to be the ones who help you get through the wedding day without the stress, no matter how many times you have to change things.
“Also, remember to walk away from planning every once in a while. Remember why you’re getting married. Focus on each other, lean on each other. Communication will hopefully make you wiser and unbreakable. I think people are starting to realize the difference between a wedding and a marriage — they’re two separate entities. You have a lifetime to celebrate with each other.”
[Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.]