I don’t write blog posts often. But I think that with all the uncertainty facing both my industry and my couples who’ve been directly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, sharing my experience can be both cathartic and hopefully helpful. I’m writing from the perspective of a full-time Wedding Host with SCE Event Group based in New Jersey, USA.
Heather & Adam secured me for their wedding celebration in August of 2019. This came together shortly after I had the honor of Hosting for Adam’s brother and sister-in-law just a couple of months before. They’d planned on a May 2020 wedding at a beautiful location in Stevensville, MD.
None of us had any idea the challenges that lay ahead.
As we’ve all experienced, the chaos that 2020 has imposed on the event world has been crippling. From an industry perspective, it has decimated calendars and destroyed “daily norms.” It’s challenged businesses not only on how to be flexible in working with couples to help them adjust their plans, but also on how to simply survive. Revenue streams have been cut almost instantly, yet we still have to operate.
Adjust, or fold.
As overwhelming as this might be to us, it is, after all, our business.
Then there are our couples. As this began, it personally crushed me to think what my couples were going through. They don’t “do this every weekend.” They do it once. And they plan for it for months, years even! I could feel the anxiety through email chains that relayed their indecision, their sense of lack of control, even their helplessness. All my SCE Event Group team and I could do was to provide support and guidance as best we could.
In NJ, wedding celebrations as we’ve known them are still … well, practically illegal. But Heather and Adam were scheduled to celebrate July 12 in Maryland!
So, we did!
After rescheduling 3 times!
Imagine the frustration, if not merely the logistics, of coordinating 120 of your closest friends and family to join you for your wedding, three times over. But they did it, and we finally got to celebrate this past weekend!
Here’s how it went —
The entire celebration happened in 3 areas, only one of which was actually indoors. The ceremony took place on the rooftop of the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club. Though there was a roof, it’s surrounded by glass on 3 sides which created an outdoor feel once all doors and windows were opened. The breeze off the bay made it feel comfortable and well ventilated.
Guests were lead to the Tavern Lawn, a tented outdoor area, for cocktail hour. Masks are not currently required outdoors in Maryland, so many guests didn’t wear one. Most of the older guests I observed did keep masks up for most of the time.
Dinner took place inside the Sunset Ballroom of the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club, and was completely indoors. Seated guests were not required to wear masks, but any guests walking about indoors, say to the restroom or bar, were asked to wear them. Few masks were on as guests were seated.
To comply with current restrictions and mask mandates, the reception portion of the evening with dancing had to be held outdoors. So, back to the Tavern Lawn. With gorgeous weather and a beautiful setting, it seemed like a small concession that would allow for my couple and their guests to actually celebrate and feel “normal.” Again, masks were not required in this space. And yes, there was a dance floor in the center of the tent (currently not allowed in New Jersey). Seating was limited to a few cocktail tables, though most of the guests really just wanted to let loose!
Two weeks before the event, I spoke with Heather and Adam to not only finalize details, but to get a sense of the rules, any requirements for me and my team, and to understand the flow of the evening. I also connected with the venue to corroborate the info, get more detail, and simply introduce myself and let them know we were on the same team. My goal is always the same— coordinate as much as possible behind the scenes so that the experience for the hosts and guests is fluid, effortless, and stress free. This was exceptionally important on this event given the circumstances.
Logistically, I planned on a setup for each space to avoid any breaks in program and added commotion of moving gear unnecessarily. This provided for fluid transitions for each segment, and less stress on me and my team. Ceremony and cocktail hour were executed normally.
Dinner was the most unusual, as the space was only dedicated to the meal, toasts, and cake cutting. We have very few, if any, venues in New Jersey where you’d run into various spaces and transitions like this, so it required some forethought.
Since this was my first true interaction with the guests, I wanted to create excitement without being overbearing. I seized the opportunity to introduce myself as I normally would, while adjusting delivery and tone to the room. Trust me … they were ready!
And yes, I crafted a modified Grand Introduction to welcome Heather & Adam into the dining room!
The questions I’ve received most often revolve around this subject. SCE Event Group and I have established guidelines for our team that put everyone’s health, safety and security at the forefront. This includes sanitizing microphones when handled by guests, having hand sanitizer readily available throughout the event for the team, sanitizing wipes as needed for equipment, frequent hand washing, keeping socially distant from guests, and the wearing of masks during setup and breakdown. Mask wearing for the Host during the event is at his discretion and the discretion of our couples, or determined by current guidelines.
I wore a mask for the majority of the time.
My team wore a mask the entire time (they are rockstars!).
I did specifically remove my mask to speak on the mic.
When I introduced myself and my couple to the guests at the beginning of our dinner hour (inside), I deliberately removed my mask as I started so that guests knew that I’d only do so while hosting. I did take the top of the room as the focal point with minimal walking about. I was in an open space directly in front of the Sweetheart Table, with the closest guests about 8 feet away in a ballroom that would easily hold 200 people in normal times.
Mic off. Mask up.
That’s how I envisioned it, and it worked well. For me.
Everyone seemed very comfortable with it, from guests to staff. It also made me comfortable being able to execute the way I would like. Perhaps this is a personal preference and you might think differently. Ultimately this is a decision based on the rules at the time, and the discretion of all involved.
For the actual reception (outdoors), I ultimately chose to leave my mask off for most of the time. I personally like to talk on the mic at times while I DJ, so I found this to be the most practical approach. Going forward, I’ll personally adjust based on each situation. The dance floor was about 25 feet away, and the few guests who weren’t dancing were scattered at the far end of the open space. So, I personally felt comfortable.
In my observation, very few guests wore masks during this portion of the evening. There were a few times when really excited guests approached my booth for a request (or a compliment 😃). I did my best to cover my face while interacting with them, and kept them at least at arm’s length. In my opinion, this is the hardest part— keeping your space, respecting theirs, and not appearing rude. The open bar is certainly the variable.
This was Chesapeake Bay Beach Club’s first wedding since the insanity of COVID-19 began. It was mine, too. Teresa Hunter and her staff were fantastic at making everyone feel safe and welcome. Everyone wore masks the entire time. Everyone!
Hand sanitizer stations were conveniently set up throughout the space, and staff was stationed to open doors for guests (a really attentive touch). An unobtrusive but effective sign was set up by the entrance politely informing guests of the guidelines. Everyone on the same page.
Candidly, I didn’t know what to expect. Would guests be a little off? Would they be scared of me, and I of them? Would they even dance, or would the mood be tempered? I believe all of these are still variables affected by the guidelines that need to be followed.
But for this particular event, it was nothing but joy all around!
And this was the biggest reward for me! Not only did I have the privilege of celebrating with this group for a second time, but after months of not sharing what I love to do with actual humans in front of me, we just danced and had a good time!
My final thoughts
There was one thing in particular that struck me and my teammates very early on.
I smile. A lot. And I have the lines on my face to prove it! 😊
There are many times I randomly connect with guests before a celebration, and before they even know who I am. Whether it’s passing in the hall, an interaction at the bar, or simply a “where’s the restroom” that leads to a fun 15-second exchange, the eye-to-eye contact coupled with a smile connects us, at least for me. It establishes personality and, I believe, starts the conversation. I’ll miss the smile-and-nod as long as it’s absent. It’s my nonverbal way of saying, “Hey, there! I see you and welcome you.” The mask, unfortunately, hinders that.
Everything is weird— that’s just a fact.
But there is some comfort in every one going through it together. Think about it— we’re all on the same page, at the same time. We can only hope that things get just a little more normal. But for the time being, I think we’re all adapting in real time to what is arguably a “new normal.” And that’ll keep changing as we go through this insane period.
Weddings will happen again. I can prove it after this weekend!
You can watch for yourself and hear some of my personal perspective in the video below. I share my candid thoughts and insights, and some scenes from the actual celebration. My sincere thanks goes out to my team without whom I couldn’t do what I do— Chris “Ninja” Marica, who is always my right hand man; and “the” Chris Atwood for capturing and editing the exceptional footage and candid interview.
Yes, New Jersey is being slow and deliberate with guidelines. But with some modifications, you will have that opportunity to celebrate your marriage in the company of your family and friends. And if my experience is any indication, you’ll get to dance your feet off while you do!
(and masks up)