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Virtual Weddings: Passing Fad or Here to Stay?

Published: 2020-08-13T21:34:52+0000 Updated: 2020-08-13T21:34:53+0000 Author: Tyler Bethke

New Study Reveals Attendees Thoughts on Virtual Weddings

Virtual Weddings: Passing Fad or Here to Stay? Photo: James Isbell

We’re doing everything on Zoom or other video platforms nowadays. Everything from birthdays to conference calls, from graduation celebrations to--weddings. Weddings? That’s right. If you or anyone you know planned a wedding this year, it’s already been impacted by COVID-19 unless it was a fairly small affair anyway.

The disruption has come from several factors. Travel restrictions, local regulations about the size of in-person gatherings, and many other factors mean that weddings with the buffet and open bar just aren’t happening.

PromoLeaf, together with CensusWide, recently conducted a survey of over a thousand people in the United States and while the study revealed an overwhelming preference for in-person weddings, it also showed a surprising trend, one wedding planners around the country are seeing as well: when it comes to alternatives to postponing the wedding, one of the top options on the list is a virtual wedding.

What do people think of them, and what do virtual weddings actually look like?

In-Person vs. Virtual Weddings

First, let’s start with the truth at the heart of the matter. Despite travel restrictions, and the fact that an overwhelming majority, 83% of those surveyed, would prefer not to fly at this point, people still prefer in-person weddings.

The qualifiers are that they would prefer weddings to be within 200 miles of their home (61%) and only 11% would be comfortable with guest lists over 100. Only 6% would be comfortable attending a wedding before a vaccine is available where there are no safety precautions in place. A majority would be more comfortable if there were various safety precautions in place, including fever checks, social distancing, and even mask requirements.

“There are going to be changes with catering options that I believe we will continue to see for a longer period of time,” Saundra Hadley, Owner & Event Planner of Planning Forever Events told us. “Such as; no self-serve stations such as dessert tables, hors d'oeuvres, or candy tables (that are not individually wrapped). Closed in photo booths for a while, will not be recommended by some venues.”

In-person weddings, while still more favored, will likely be smaller, and many who would normally attend may not be able to until a “new normal” emerges with either a vaccine or effective treatments.

So how do people feel about virtual weddings as an alternative, and what does it mean to couples and wedding planners?

Attendees Feelings about Virtual Weddings

When respondents were asked, “How do you feel about virtual weddings?” and allowed to select more than one answer, here is how the list broke down:

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 numbers appear to be pretty split between those who see in person weddings as a viable or even good alternative, and those with little to no interest in attending a wedding virtually. In fact, when asked what would encourage them to attend a virtual wedding, nearly 27% said nothing would encourage them to attend digital nuptials.

That group overwhelmingly included those aged 45-54 (33%) and 55+ (44%). Generally speaking, this would be the friends of the parents of the bride and groom. While they are also the group most likely to send cash or gift cards rather than a second toaster or panini maker (despite your best efforts to spread the word about your gift registry), they’re much less likely to attend an in-person wedding any time soon. In fact, 30% of those 55 and older would wait 11 months or more before attending any wedding at all.

Despite the drawbacks, virtual weddings do appeal to a large segment of respondents.

The Appeal of Virtual Weddings

What would encourage people to attend a virtual wedding? When asked, and allowed to choose more than one answer, the survey found the following answers.

Virtual Wedding Appeal
We asked: What would encourage you to attend a virtual wedding?
  • 24% would be enticed by a recording of the event.

  • 24% would also love mementos like those offered at an in-person wedding.

  • 23% would love it if live music was streamed.

  • 23% would enjoy catered meals delivered to their door to have during the reception.

  • Just over 19% would love the option to dress up.

  • 19% would love to have decorations they could put up in their own homes to celebrate

  • One-on-one virtual sessions with the bride and groom would appeal to 19% of potential attendees.

While not specifically asked in the survey, it’s likely that some of those who would dress up would do so only from the waist up. Seriously, “there are tons of ways to make these virtual ceremonies fun. First off, they are novel on their own. Sure, many of us are Zoom-ed out, but there’s a new excitement around a wedding and seeing everyone gathered from around the city or around the world,” Hope Mirlis of A More Perfect Union says. “I have seen some couples ask each of the attendees to introduce themselves, as well as each give blessings to the couple before I pronounce them married.”

Recordings of the wedding are popular incentives. Even with in-person weddings, recordings are rising in popularity that rivals or complements photos, but with a “streamed” event, it is even easier to achieve, since cameras are rolling anyway.

Some of the most interesting responses involve physical wedding decorations and mementos, making it seem more like the guests are there.

So what are people missing about in-person weddings, and how do you replace that feeling with a virtual event? One of the most overlooked parts of planning a virtual wedding is also the most important: the guest experience. “If you didn't mind having any guests, then you wouldn't be planning a virtual experience for them,” says Ivy Summer, author of Poise over Panic: How to Plan a Wedding During a Pandemic . “The guest experience, including the way the music sounds on their device, the way you invite them to interact on your wedding day, and the way you minimize technical difficulties, all of these become much more important in the seamless flow of your big day.”

“The most important detail for a virtual wedding is lighting - nothing worse than your guests not being able to see you in a dark room!” Jen Campbell, Founder and Editor of Green Wedding Shoes . “I recommend having the wedding outdoors in [the] late afternoon or close to sunset.”

If you’re going to give guests a great experience, you have to sweat the details of the ceremony and address the things they miss the most about in-person weddings.

Aiming to Replace What’s Missing

What do people miss about in-person weddings? Some things, like hugs from friends and family and the bride and groom, can’t be replicated by a virtual wedding.

“Although there are a lot of moments that could not replace the real wedding, like hugs and kisses and a real presence, the virtual wedding definitely has its benefits. It allows you to invite as many people as you want and not going crazy on your budget,” says Kseniya Elksnis, Editor of Wedding Forward . “Also, it helps people who live abroad and maybe don't have an opportunity to travel still be a part of something important. Technologies and innovations allow us to make fresh decisions and take ‘wedding’ to a definitely new level.”

How do wedding planners and couples replace what people miss about in-person weddings?

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. One on one video sessions are an attempt to duplicate this.

  • 35% miss dancing on the dance floor and streaming live music can help ease missing this. You could even try organizing a virtual dance floor.

  • 29% miss buffets, but a wedding meal delivery might help ease the hunger pangs.

  • 27% miss open bars but in some cities, this can be replaced by apps like Drizly, Minibar, and Winc to name a few. Instead of a location, the open bar is just tied to a high-limit credit card.

  • 12% miss the decorations, but that can be alleviated by sending decorations for those who want them to put up at home.

  • 20% miss ogling the bride’s dress. A video shoot might make this possible.

  • 20% miss swag and gift bags, those fun wedding keepsakes. These could be mailed either before the ceremony or after.

Essentially, wedding attendees want to feel like they are a part of the ceremony, whether they are there or not. The real appeal, and the real incentive for virtual attendees to engage, is the ability to leverage both technology and creativity to make the experience as real as possible.

“Consider selecting an assortment of recipes they can cook for your virtual reception. Give guests a heads up … to give them a chance to stock their pantry, freezers, and fridges with the ingredients. Suggest recipes that mean something to you as a couple." Ivy Summer says in her book Poise over Panic: How to Plan a Wedding During a Pandemic . “Give guests a time range for suggested cooking or baking in their own kitchen. This informs a sense of the duration and flow of the event.”

“[You can] give guests the option to cook or bake with you and/or one another over a video conference call. Among your suggestions, inform guests about what you plan to drink. You can choose fun cocktails or mocktails to recommend before, during, and after your wedding meal. There are also options to incorporate a garter toss and/or bouquet toss for guests to enjoy!”

Do couples have to choose one or the other though? Or are there other, more inclusive options?

In-Person, Virtual, or Blended

The truth of the matter is modern technology has made it possible for us to have both in-person events and virtual ones simultaneously. For wedding planners and couples, it means that Aunt and Uncle who relocated to Greece when they retired can attend a wedding anywhere without leaving the comfort of their Mediterranean paradise.

For those who are close enough to attend and willing to, an in-person wedding can be an option, and the wedding can be simultaneously “streamed” to those who are unable or unwilling to travel. It’s a service that wedding planners are increasingly offering couples, and the demand is being driven as much by guests as couples themselves.

Does all this sound a bit ‘tech-heavy’? “Get to know the technology! Make sure to know the features of whatever video conference platform you use, or have a friend or wedding planner or professional handle that portion,” Marlis emphasizes. “This also includes the logistics of signing the license. I find that even though I am super detailed in the instructions and options, some couples do not make sure they are prepared or that everything works ahead of time.”

Just like any other detail of wedding planning, the tech isn’t something you throw together at the last minute. Even if you as a couple are tech-savvy, you may want to hire someone so you can focus on enjoying your big day.

How “Real” Can Virtual Weddings Be?

The beauty of camera technology is that as it gets better and better, more realistic streaming is possible. There are all kinds of options. Here are just a few:

  • 3-D Cameras strategically placed could offer an augmented reality experience for attendees through VR Goggles or even using their mobile phones.

  • Multiple camera feeds can be streamed simultaneously, allowing the viewer to choose their angle.

  • Wedding productions, much like celebrity weddings or even the super bowl could offer switching viewpoints, superior audio, and even commentary if desired. Imagine Fox commentator Joe Buck color commenting on “The Wilson Wedding.”

“I did see an interactive MC at [a virtual] event that used the chat box to keep everyone engaged,” Hope Mirlis commented. “While it didn’t happen during a wedding I performed, it would be a great addition.”

“Wedding trends and logistical practices that will be on the rise in a post-pandemic world, [include] getting a marriage license over the internet and making requests to videographers and planners for virtual components like 360-degree cameras and/or virtual reality goggles for guests who can't attend their events in-person,” Ivy Sweet told us.

How real can a virtual wedding be, then? As real as you want it to be. With modern technology, the possibilities for creating an interactive experience are endless.

Virtual Weddings Post-COVID-19

So are virtual weddings here to stay? How about blended weddings, where in-person events are also streamed?

Opinions of experts and wedding planners seem to be mixed. “I do not think [virtual weddings] will be more commonplace. In fact, I expect the opposite as more people will now want to celebrate in person after experiencing not being allowed to for so many months,” says Kelly McWilliams, Owner at Kelly McWilliams Celebrations . “I think there could be smaller guest lists and shorter engagements because the Covid-19 essentially exposed who and what is most meaningful to couples.”

“I'm hoping this will not continue to be a trend to take the place of a live wedding, but instead as a complement to the nuptials,” says Saundra Hadley of Planning Forever Events . “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!”

“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.”

“Moving forward, wedding professionals should expect to get requests about virtual components of the wedding to be implemented as part of their wedding services,” Ivy summer says. “One couple within my network said their virtual wedding exceeded the expectations of their original in-person wedding plans. Unfortunately, that couple just recently lost a close family member due to COVID-19. The couple was thankful to have had their family witness their wedding celebration before that family member passed on.”

The truth is, the only certainty we know in the wedding space going forward is that there will be uncertainty. But it appears from all the recent data collected in this survey and from the experts we have talked to that a “new normal” will emerge. That normal will likely include smaller in-person gatherings with shorter guest lists, revised food and beverage options, and long-term safety precautions in place to protect the couple and their guests.

But that normal may also include a lot of technology. Expect the bride, groom, and officiant to be mic'd up, lighting to be camera-centric, several types of devices recording video, more screens present so couples can “see” distant guests, and a solid WiFi connection to be a priority when choosing a venue.

While people may not be “Zooming” back to in-person events as quickly as they assemble to wish the couple the happiest of futures virtually, it’s doubtful the destination wedding, the open bar and the dance floor, even socially distanced, aren’t going away either.


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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