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Socially Distanced “I Dos” and the Future of In-Person Weddings

Published: 2020-07-27T22:56:05+0000 Author: Tyler Bethke

New study shows preference for in-person weddings, and what would make attendees comfortable.

Socially Distanced “I Dos” and the Future of In-Person Weddings

You may or may not have thought about the impact of COVID-19 on one very common event: weddings. If you did stop to think about it, that’s probably for one of a few specific reasons. Either you had a wedding planned yourself, your friend or family member had a wedding planned, or you are in the wedding planning and event business.

To discover more about the impact and what the “new normal” of weddings might look like, PromoLeaf teamed up with CensusWide to survey 1,049 individuals in the United States regarding their comfort level with attending a wedding, how far they would travel to attend one, and much more.

The results ranged from expected to surprising, and revealed just how much has changed in people’s thinking about weddings in general since the onset of COVID-19. Here are those answers, how they might affect wedding planners and couples planning to get married, and what we might expect from the wedding and events space post-pandemic.

Before we get started, It’s important to note that as the coronavirus crisis evolves, it’s likely that these feelings, and therefore the responses to some questions will change. We’ll look at those instances and some interesting regional differences that might explain a great deal about the way respondents feel.

Timing is Everything

Overall, 25% of all respondents said they would be comfortable attending a wedding now, despite the current circumstances. Just over 7.5% said “never.” Excluding those two groups, the mean number for months before most people would be comfortable attending a wedding is just over 5 months.

Responses were spread pretty evenly between answers from 1-12 months. The short answer? For the majority of people, it will take some time before attending a wedding is something they’ll include in their plans. The group most open to attending weddings now is between the ages of 25-34. The least likely to attend the wedding? The couple’s parents and their friends. Only 18% of those 55 and over would attend a wedding now, and nearly 30% of that group would wait at least 11 months to more than a year before they would feel comfortable attending a wedding.

The takeaway for couples and wedding planners? If you plan a wedding in the next year, the crowd will be smaller, and fewer gray hairs and less male pattern baldness will be present.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Would you fly to a wedding right now? If you think airports were tough places before with the inconvenience of security and the number of water bottles tossed in the trash at the entrance to the TSA maze, think of them now, with mandatory masks, hand sanitizer stations, and more. That’s probably why an overwhelming majority of respondents would say “no” to air travel.

How much is an overwhelming majority? 83% would prefer driving over flying to be exact, with 90% of those aged 45-54 who would prefer not to fly the not-so-friendly skies at the moment. Regionally, the split is pretty even, which we’ll see the importance of with the next question. But perhaps just as important to note is that only just under 10% of that age group would take to the air at all.

The remaining nearly 8% wouldn’t travel at all for a wedding, whether driving or flying. The next question revealed even more about the issue of travel.

Going the Distance

For over 25% of respondents who stated they would travel to get to a wedding, the distance they would travel before a vaccine is available would be within 50 miles of their home, for most somewhere around an hour’s drive. Another 36% would be willing to drive up to 200 miles. 18% would take a short flight, under between 2 and 8 hours long, and the rest?

Nearly 10% would be willing to fly to another state or country regardless of distance. The remaining 11% answered none of the above and they did not specify what distance they would travel to go to a wedding or the method of travel they would prefer.

This is one of the questions we mentioned above, where answers may change over time as the pandemic evolves. Right now, restrictions (temporary though they may be) prohibit much of American overseas travel, as a recent map shows . Even between states, as cases spike and change, there are mandatory quarantines and other obstacles to air travel and traveling from one area to another.

While the survey only addressed the willingness of respondents to fly and travel, their ability to do so may also be limited. This answer explains in large part the answers to the next question.

Location, Location, Location

You could say this is “where the rubber meets the road” because it’s probably the most revealing question on this topic. We’ve already seen that 61% of respondents would travel between 0-200 miles from their home to attend a wedding, and a smaller number would take short flights.

So when asked “If you had to travel to a wedding happening before a vaccine is available, where would you be most comfortable traveling to?” and offered the chance to tick up to three boxes, something interesting is revealed.

If you look at the straight numbers, overall the regions people would travel to break down like this:

Geographic Preference for Attending Weddings In-Person
Northeast > 26% Midwest > 25% Southeast > 23% Southwest > 16% Western > 13%

A handful would be willing to travel to an overseas destination, but just over 19% would be most comfortable not traveling anywhere before a vaccine became available.

The more interesting analysis of the responses comes when you look at where respondents are from.

Wedding Travel by Region

This validates the earlier question by showing that the majority of respondents would travel to their own region or a neighboring one for a wedding, but the further you get from where they are from, the less likely they are to travel for a wedding.

This is also another question that begs for a caveat. As various areas of the country become “hot spots” with more active cases of the coronavirus, wedding attendees will be less likely to attend a wedding in that area. As previously stated, in some cases they may not even be able to without a 14-day quarantine.

The takeaway from this group of questions for wedding planners and couples planning weddings is a simple one: guests are more likely to attend an in-person wedding if it is within a 200-mile radius of their home. Some will endure a short flight, but distant relatives who are at a distance are much less likely to attend.

Watching the trend of the pandemic in your area will also be a critical part of making decisions about what a wedding might look like, and whether or not postponing it is a better option for both the couple and their families.

A Safe Place

Once you get guests to your wedding, what steps do you need to take to make them feel safe? In the next part of the study, participants were asked: “If you were to attend a wedding before a vaccination is available, what safety precautions, if any, would make you feel most comfortable?” and like the previous question, they could choose up to three answers.

Here’s the simple breakdown:

Safe Place
We asked: If you were to attend a wedding before a vaccination is available, what safety precautions, if any, would make you feel most comfortable?
  • 42% preferred hand sanitizer for each guest.

  • 41% preferred that everyone mask up.

  • 39% favored social distancing being enforced.

  • 34% preferred an outdoor venue.

  • 30% favored temperature checks for every attendee at the door.

  • 23% favored handwashing stations.

  • Only 11% favored gloves being worn all the time.

Just over 6% said no safety precautions would make them most comfortable and 7.5% said they would not feel comfortable attending a wedding before a vaccine was widely available.

A small percentage offered “other” answers and most of those stated that COVID was either overblown or they were perfectly comfortable with no precautions at a public event.

The variety of answers raises even more questions. Some communities require masks and social distancing at public events. Other areas, in various stages of recovery, may have other legal restrictions.

But with some “mandatory mask” protests and even shoppers protesting the Costco mask requirement (instituted by several other businesses since), it’s important that couples and wedding planners understand that requiring masks, temperature checks, and even social distancing may drive some attendees away.

When weighed in light of local requirements and the comfort level of a majority of guests, it’s likely more important to make sure as many guests as possible feel safe and comfortable as possible. What makes some guests feel comfortable may make others uncomfortable, and decisions about what precautions to take will be as unique as the event itself. There are some creative solutions though.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

There have been a number of interesting proposals for how people can show their comfort level of comfort at public events. There has been talk of “safety cards” which could even show things like “I’ve had the virus” or “I’ve been tested” or even “I’m part of an at-risk population.” But one of the simpler, and more popular ones is simply a three-tier, plastic wristband system issued to each guest or event attendee based on their own comfort level.

These bands could be any color, even your wedding colors if you so desired, as long as a key is provided that explains what each color means. A more universal system would use the stoplight colors of green, yellow, or red.

Guests would be provided with a key, and then allowed to choose a band of their choice. Guests would be asked to respect the comfort level of others revealed by the band they wear. A simple key would be:

  • Red: I’m at risk or not comfortable at all. Please stay at least ten feet away from me, and respect the fact that I am wearing a mask.

  • Yellow: I’m comfortable, but still practicing social distancing and other precautions. Please remain six feet away from me, and respect whether I am or am not wearing a mask.

  • Green: I’m perfectly comfortable, and here for handshakes and hugs if you’re also comfortable.

As long as everyone at the event respects the comfort level of others, this can be a solution allowing you to be inclusive while enabling all of your guests to feel comfortable and welcome.

Crowd Control

While masks and other requirements may keep some guests away, and distance may keep others from attending, that could be a positive thing in some ways. You may want to limit your guest list.

First, local areas have issued restrictions on the size of public gatherings, which has had an impact on many weddings. Over 72% of our survey respondents said the number of guests would be an influencing factor on whether they attended a wedding or not.

How many guests are too many? Under 1% would be comfortable with 200 guests or more, and the median preference was 50 guests. The largest percentage of respondents, just over 24% would prefer a relatively small number of guests, under 20. Only 11% would be comfortable with a guest list larger than 100.

Crowd Control
We asked: If you were to attend a wedding, what number of guests would make you feel uncomfortable, given the current situation surrounding the pandemic?

For couples and wedding planners: keeping guests list below 100 will create the highest comfort level in the majority of our respondents. However, the best idea may be for the couple to conduct their own survey among family, friends, and potential attendees before making final decisions about the size and makeup of their guest list.

You are the Missing Link

All of this quarantine and social distancing has us missing face to face social interactions. But what do we miss most about in-person weddings? Survey respondents were allowed to pick up to three choices, and most of these were fairly predictable.

Missing Link
We asked: What will/would you miss most about attending in-person weddings?
  • 53% miss hugs and interacting with the bride and groom, family, and friends.

  • 35% miss dancing on the dance floor, although there could be a social distancing option in that case.

  • 29% miss buffets, likely not coming back any time soon.

  • 27% miss open bars, primarily male respondents. Who doesn’t miss free booze?

  • 20% miss ogling the bride’s dress.

  • 20% miss swag and gift bags, those fun wedding keepsakes.

  • 12% miss the decorations.

  • Nearly 6% don’t miss anything about in-person weddings. This percentage is a quick way to trim your guest list.

“There are going to be changes with catering options that I believe we will continue to see for a longer period of time,” says Saundra Hadley, Owner & Event Planner of Planning Forever Events . “Such as no self serve stations such as dessert tables, hors d'oeuvres, or candy tables [with pieces] that are not individually wrapped.”

So while you might not see the buffet or the self-serve drink station, many experts believe the in-person wedding will make a comeback post-COVID-19.

Because we are social in nature, there are distinct advantages to in-person weddings, and we, as social creatures, miss them. But there are other creative solutions.

The Best of Both Worlds

Photo courtesy of Mountain Event Services

In an age of digital streaming, you can do more than just binge-watch The Office while sending out invitations and purging the guest list. You can actually stream your wedding. That’s right, virtual weddings were already a thing before a global pandemic, and a wedding brought to you by Zoom is becoming a common option for couples.

“The guests have been the actual ones driving [the virtual wedding] phenomenon,” Matt Kays, of Mountain Event Services tells us. “Grandmothers paying for the service, for example, instead of the couple.” The company just added a new service, called Wedding Live Streaming. “Both couples and guests are pleased to be able to participate.”

When asked how they felt about virtual weddings and allowed to choose more than one option, 27% said they thought virtual weddings were a good alternative to in-person weddings, and 26% said they took pressure off the guests and showed that the couple cared about their safety.

At the same time, there were 23% who said they would have no interest in attending a virtual wedding, and 21% said they would rather the engaged couple consider postponing the wedding until after a vaccine is available.

Best of Both Worlds
We asked: How do you feel about virtual weddings?
  • 27% great alternative to in-person weddings
  • 26% less pressure and more safety for guests
  • 23% don't have any interest in attending a virtual wedding
  • 21% would prefer postponement until vaccine is available
  • 18% more likely to attend as it's hard to get time off work
  • 17% more likely to attend due to lack of budget
  • 12% I don't feel anything about virtual weddings
  • 1% other

The beauty is, you don’t have to choose between one or the other. A blended wedding is when a couple has an in-person event, but they also stream it for distant attendees. Guests can choose how they attend, can view a recorded virtual ceremony later, and the couple gets the best of both worlds.

“I'm hoping [virtual weddings will not] take the place of a live wedding, but instead as a complement to the nuptials,” Hadley told us. “For instance, having an option for guests that cannot travel (elderly or out of the country) who can still witness the ceremony virtually is great! I've said for years this should be an option available in churches or venues.”

From an officiant’s point of view, Hope Mirlis of A More Perfect Union in New York told us, “I totally believe that virtual weddings are great for those wanting a quick legal ceremony without leaving their house, as well as being able to celebrate with friends and family from all over the world.”

In her case, the officiant doesn’t have to be present with the couple either. The governor of New York is allowing video weddings at the moment. “The question is will they continue to be permitted once the world opens up? There’s no guarantee it will be extended.”

Because of the many advantages they bring, virtual weddings are an option that’s probably here to stay, but the open bar and dance floor aren’t going away either.


What’s next in the wedding and event space and when will a new normal emerge? That’s hard to say, and with the pandemic in constant flux, it’s even more difficult to predict with any accuracy.

However, we can draw some conclusions from this study, ones that should be helpful for couples and wedding planners in both the short and the long term.

  • How soon couples have a wedding may depend largely on guest comfort and local restrictions. The further you plan ahead, the more comfortable guests will be.

  • The further guests have to travel, the less likely it is they will come. Most will not fly, so that destination wedding may be out. It could be out anyway, depending on the pandemic.

  • Helping attendees feel comfortable and safe will be key, and creative options may make that even easier.

  • In the case of your guest list, size does matter.

  • People miss weddings, and you, as much as you miss them.

  • Virtual weddings or a blended option might make your special day even more special.

It’s probably way overstated that we live in unprecedented times, and hearing about the “new normal” probably got old weeks ago. But the one thing we can be certain of when it comes to in-person weddings is uncertainty. What will the future look like? No one knows for sure, but couples are finding creative ways to say “I do” no matter what’s happening in the world around them.


The research was conducted for PromoLeaf by Censuswide, with 1,049 general respondents in the US between June 25th and June 26th 2020. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.


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