Love may conquer a lot, but it’s no match for the COVID-19 pandemic – at least as far as weddings are concerned.
Not only have countless couples’ plans been shattered by the virus and social distancing, but the entire wedding industry is in meltdown, said Kim Horn.
Horn knows full well how the wedding industry – from venues and florists, caterers to clothing shops – has been devastated by the pandemic.
As one of only about 75 professionals in the world who hold the certified title of Master Wedding Planner, she has planned more than 650 weddings in her career and has developed a vast network of all the different businesses that help make a bride’s dream come true.
And right now in Arizona, those dreams are nightmares – and not just for the bride and groom and their families and friends.
The impact is particularly heavy in Arizona because March and April are one of Arizona’s two peak wedding seasons – the other being October-November, Horn said.
But regardless of when any area in the country hits a peak for marching down the aisle, the coronavirus has taken a major toll, Horn said.
“I got a report the other day that said that weddings are going to be down this year 30 percent,” she said. “I think that’s very low.”
The scramble is already on as couples that postponed nuptials till later this year are now competing with those who had or were planning to schedule in the fall.
“All of those brides are trying to move to a September, October, November,” she said, adding that even before the pandemic struck, the competition was keen for Oct. 10 because the idea of having a wedding on 10-10-20 had a numerical attraction for many couples.
On a macroeconomic scale, the breadth of the devastation is almost incalculable.
“Caterers are going to be hit very hard,” Horn said, “and the reason is they have food and if they have their liquor license, they have food and bar materials ready for those events that were supposed to happen. They’ve already purchased it because the events were supposed to happen and then the client calls and says, ‘Hey, we canceled or we’re postponing. It’s perishable things that they can’t wait on. They’ve already ordered it. It’s on its way to them.”
Even companies and individuals that don’t necessarily come to mind when you think of weddings have suffered a major blow, Horn said.
Take the rental companies, for example, that supply linens, tables and chairs for receptions.
They’ve already lost out on spring and Easter events in general, especially at churches, Horn said.
Then there are the musicians and DJs, who already lost considerable income they may have earned playing gigs at now-closed bars and restaurants.
Some of those musicians – and many other wedding vendors – also have lost out on vying for any weddings that might be held later this year because the June Arizona Wedding Show that Horn helps to organize at the Phoenix Convention Center has been canceled.
The biannual event – the January show went on without interruption – draws thousands of brides and their entourages for an up-close-and-personal look at musicians, gown makers and other vendors available for the big event.
Of course, venues and the couples and their families are among the prime victims of the social distancing tsunami that has swamped so much of the economy, Horn said.
But in there is a lesson for couples that may be thinking of a wedding down the road.
Many venues likely have already received partial or full payment if they were hosting an event when social distancing regulations took effect, Horn said.
“It’s very important that everybody reads their contracts – not only reads them but I should say reads and understands the contracts they’ve signed,” she said.
That’s particularly important when it comes to language on cancellations.
Normally, 75 percent of wedding expense involves the venue.
“So let’s say the venue has a non-refundable retainer and they are traditionally forfeited if the client cancels the event,” she explained, some may have a ‘force majeure’ exception that provides an escape from a major financial hit.
But, Horn said, “‘force majeure’ is defined in many different ways... so that’s important” to understand exactly the kind of major, unforeseen circumstances in which a venue will either allow the couple to postpone the reception or refund at least part of the money they’ve paid.
But the virus has opened a myriad of issues.
Even before the full brunt of stay-at-home orders took effect, couples who had big wedding plans even in mid-March, for example, likely had paid already for food and beverage – only to find guests canceling out.
“And so, when your guest count drops off,” she said, “you may have to pay the minimum for attendance.”
Venues don’t want to get stuck, said Horn, explaining:
“Let’s say you picked March 21 and you said ‘I am guaranteed 100 people.’ They’re saying, ‘Okay, then we’re going to buy enough chicken and potato salad, everything for 100 people based on what you’ve agreed with us and sign in your banquet event order.’ They paid for it. There are no refunds whether you hold that event or not. They’ve already hired the staff. They’ve ordered the bar. They’ve taken that date out of inventory.”
“There are so many things that go into that that people don’t see – If they had to order the cake. If they had to order special linens, crystal centerpieces or they had a specific champagne that they wanted. They’ve already ordered that in order to get it in for that March 21st date.”
“That’s why it’s really important that you have documentation in writing” as to what a venue will do or not do in the event the wedding is abruptly cancelled or postponed, Horn said.
“There are people that put their heart and soul into planning their wedding and haven’t thought about their life the day after their wedding,” Horn said. “Then there’s the people that at the end of the day say, ‘you know what it doesn’t matter on what day it is.’”
But even those couples who just think eloping will do are running into problems since the actual exchange of vows not only requires an officiant but also two witnesses, Horn noted.
“There’s at least five people involved,” she said.
Given the uncertainty as to when some semblance of normalcy might return to Arizona and the country this year, Horn is recommending that couples contemplating a wedding this year to put off the big event until 2021.
“They’re saying that potentially this epidemic will affect us for 18 months,” she said. “I would rather err on the side of safety for my family and for my clients….The whole thing is they have to be aware of what is happening on travel restrictions, what’s happening on local quarantines.”
And people who think wedding insurance might cover them might want to carefully read the contract since “a lot of the wedding insurance doesn’t cover a pandemic.”
“The whole thing is knowing what you’re signing before you sign it,” she said.