30 Seated at a Wedding Reception – Protecting your Business
Many couples, venues and suppliers could understand the government allowing small legal weddings to take place so that couples could be legally married where it was important for legal or social reasons. The update on Friday 17th of July, allowing wedding receptions in the form of sit down meals for up to 30, was not good news for the majority of venues, suppliers or couples. We are still awaiting an update on the COVID-19 Secure guidance that these weddings should be run under and are really hoping that the guidelines will take all suppliers into consideration.
Please note, the 30 people limits were reduced to 15 people in September 2020.
With the information we have so far, what do we expect the next few months to look like?
- August and September – 30 person limit for seated receptions 1st August. We are pushing hard to find out whether this might gradually increase, which would be helpful for suppliers and venues buts adds to the uncertainty for couples
- October – The types of venues that host some of the largest will be allowed to open when the events industry opens up on 1st October, but this doesn’t automatically mean large weddings will be permitted. Restaurants and pubs opened 4 weeks before small seated wedding receptions will be permitted to take place in them.
- November and December – the Prime Minister is aiming for a “more significant return to normality”. Is this the signal that weddings will return to normal?
- January and February 2021 – There is speculation of a high chance of a second spike in early January following increased social activity over Christmas and local lockdowns may be more of an issue. We are not expecting the usual rush of January enquiries as 2022 couples “hedge their bets” and wait a little longer before booking. This is, however, an area the industry can influence by helping to give them more confidence to book.
- March 2021 – A large number of weddings have been postponed to March as so many venues won’t allow postponements into the following financial year without penalties.
- April to October 2021 – Predictions of “weddings every day” are unrealistic and are not supported by data; we’re expecting 50-60% of postponed couples will move their weddings to the 2021 wedding “peak season”.
How can you help your business recover faster?
- Focus on reputation. If you have looked after your couples well – which may come down to how reasonable they have been in their demands – let people know. If you have couples that you have helped to postpone from this year, ask them to write an online review now. If you have had issues with any of your couples, do what you can to make amends before the wedding. Couples who are in dispute with their venue or suppliers are not naming them online in order to preserve a working relationship up until the wedding date. The reputational risk will be after the wedding has taken place at which point it is harder to influence. We are contacting any of our venues and suppliers personally to let them know if we see anything “brewing” online.
- Understand what is important to the new couples thinking about booking now. They are looking for transparent contracts as well as fair (or no) penalties if they have to cancel or postpone. Sign up to our Book with Confidence pledge if you can; there is a good reason that so many travel businesses including British Airways and Premier Inn, are offering the same pledge. We’d all prefer unconditional bookings, but couples are too nervous and it is better just to have that pipeline in place.
- If you can set up a “client account” it can give couples reassurance that their deposit is protected. This is only possible for those businesses who don’t use deposits as working capital so is not going to be an option for many, but is worth being aware of in case it becomes more popular.
- Don’t focus on the January rush as it might not happen. Keep your marketing efforts steady throughout the year. Data studied by a UCL business analyst suggests that the peak of enquiries most businesses expect in January will be in May 2021. Couples will wait to ensure there isn’t a second spike, see how the early season weddings go and ensure that venues and suppliers have survived the crisis before committing.
- Use the online calendar (available free to advertising clients) to appear on the Late Availability pages and fill mid-week dates next year.
- Be alert for shifts within the industry. Weddings will change and those able to adapt fast to the changes will benefit. Use these quieter months to look at possible opportunities.
- Use CBILS loans and Bounceback loans for business growth, if you are lucky enough to qualify. It is worth knowing that historically wedding businesses, particularly bridal, have been considered high risk for banks to lend to. However, this scheme is 80% backed by government funds and has a long interest free period which should cover next season. Data shows that the wedding industry will recover very fast after COVID.
- Position for growth if you can. Your competitors may already be positioning themselves to “land grab” and make the most of the boom next year, using government-backed loans to aggressively market themselves and expand. If you know your business will survive to next season, don’t be complacent now; position yourself for growth.
Dealing with cancellations and postponements?
We are doing all we can to encourage couples to postpone rather than cancel and most importantly to consult with all their suppliers, not just their venue, before postponing.
If your business is not currently permitted to work at weddings under the government guidance, it is likely that the contract would be considered “frustrated” and couples will demand a refund for the service you are not able to deliver.
The CMA has encouraged couples to seek a full refund in the event of a cancellation, however, you can deduct “reasonable” costs. There is no clear guidance on what reasonable might consist of sector by sector, but it could include any expenses already directly incurred.
Our biggest concern is that the new 30 person seated receptions will lead to a huge increase in suppliers being cancelled, with couples opting to go ahead with a small wedding, rather than postpone.
We’ve heard from suppliers and venues who are concerned that they have been told by their couples that, once at the wedding, they plan to do what they choose. Others have been asked to supply catering, marquees and other services for secret weddings on private land.
There is a worry for the safety and reputation for those being put into such a difficult position, and there are potential concerns over employer liability and public liability insurance. We are all eagerly waiting for the latest guidance and we’ll be keeping businesses and couples updated on all we know – including more video updates on Facebook so we can address questions as they arise.
This is an incredibly hard time for all in the wedding industry, we really appreciated the support of so many raising awareness with the #whataboutweddings hashtag last week. We’ll continue to be here for all the incredible businesses we support, in whatever way we can.