Guidance on Wedding Receptions
Wedding ceremonies are now permitted in all of the UK, however guidance in England, Scotland and Wales prevents any form of wedding reception taking place. Where other hospitality venues are now open, can a wedding group book into a pub, hotel or restaurant following a ceremony?
The simple answer is yes, unless they are planning something that might constitute a wedding reception. We’ve looked at what this means to your venue.
Why are guests different from wedding guests?
The current social distancing guidelines for hospitality work on the basis that no more than 2 households will mix with each other indoors. If a case of coronavirus is reported in one of the households, only one other household is affected.
Hotel and restaurant guests are unlikely to know others there and don’t tend to mix. Meanwhile, weddings are social events. The reception celebrates the coming together of two families and two groups of friends. You can’t achieve that while keeping everyone apart.
What government advice would apply?
Guests can now gather specifically for a wedding ceremony to take place, with different number and venue restrictions set out by each country However this exception is specifically for the ceremony and social distancing is required throughout.
Before and after the actual ceremony, the usual social gathering rules for each country still apply. This means that in England, for example, guests are limited to up to 2 households indoors or up to 6 people from different households outdoors.
Yet even those small numbers should not celebrate the marriage in the usual way.
English guidance is that “Any receptions that typically follow or accompany marriages or civil partnerships are strongly advised not to take place at this time”
The Welsh government adds “Enabling such gatherings is not the purpose of the amendments to the Regulations.”
From the experts
The right to gather is related to the ceremony itself and cannot be used as a justification for a social gathering which exceeds the normal two household rule. Source: Guidance on marriage in Wales
- Although hotels can use overflow dining areas to allow for better social distancing, opening of banqueting facilities is not allowed. Any celebration would be within the communal dining area.
- Guests would not be able to have speeches in the usual way as government guidance does not allow for raised voices. This is to avoid ‘the potential for increased risk of transmission – particularly from aerosol and droplets transmission’. Guests could possibly use a microphone, as this reduces the need for the user to raise their voice. However, if there are other diners who are not involved in the wedding, they would need to raise their voices to be heard.
- This guide also prohibits the use of live musicians, especially singers.
- Venues are encouraged to ‘prevent close contact activities’ such as communal dancing.
- Guidance encourages venues to reconfigure entertainment to enable more customers to be seated rather than standing, with dance floors being repurposed for customer seating.
The advice seems clear; the couple and one other household can enjoy a meal and a drink together, but that’s all.
Where do venues stand contractually?
For the majority of approved venues, this firm stance preventing receptions is good news. It allows them to wait for wedding parties to be large enough to be profitable before offering receptions.
Sequel weddings, with couples having the ceremony now in their approved venue and the reception when it is safe to do so, builds customer loyalty and assists with cash flow.
Couples who booked a ceremony and reception as a package should be allowed to postpone if they need to as you are unable to fulfil the contract. We would encourage venues to allow these postponements early enough to avoid the risk of demands for refunds if it becomes clear that the wedding can’t take place.
We have asked for the government for clarity now on when wedding receptions can return and financial support for venues.
What happens if multiple guests have booked into your venue?
Clearly venues aren’t going to encourage their couples to ignore government guidance. However, what happens if all the guests at a wedding ceremony are booked into your pub, hotel or restaurant?
Many venues approved for civil ceremonies have the capacity for far more than the 30 people permitted to be at a ceremony. So, there is potential for far more than just those at the ceremony to gather for a drink or a meal.
Some hotels are actively discouraging any chance of a celebration, allowing just the couple and one other household from the wedding to stay in the hotel overnight.
Others are treating wedding guests in exactly the same way as others guests, for example with staggered seating times.
Most are taking the view that as long as all the regulations are followed, in particular those around social distancing, whether or not their guests attended a wedding ceremony earlier in the day is irrelevant.
Government has powers under schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 to close venues hosting large gatherings or prohibit certain events from taking place.
They are putting the responsibility on venues to “make customers aware of, and encouraging compliance with, limits on gatherings.”
What needs to happen for receptions to take place?
- The government needs to understand the risk. We believe that the chance of someone with coronavirus symptoms going to a wedding is low. Wedding guests are part of a close group, accountable to each other and with a shared moral duty to keep each other safe. They are unlikely to take the risk of going to a wedding if they feel they may have been exposed. We hope that data from the Guides for Brides Track & Trace app will demonstrate that point to the government. Furthermore, the app’s early warning system will ensure that suppliers and registrars don’t take the virus from one wedding to the next if there is a case.
- It needs to have the elements of a reception. Couples are wanting the reception to feel like a reception. At the very least that means toasts, a communal meal, perhaps speeches, cake cutting and a first dance.
- The 2 household social distancing rules need to be relaxed. A surprising number of couples have indicated that they are very happy to have a micro wedding. So far, it seems most have opted for just 15-20 guests, well under the 30 person limit. Many would argue that there is minimal increased risk in continuing to mix as a group for those who would like a small reception in venues able to offer that option.
- Maximum group size needs to increase. For wedding receptions to be financially viable in the majority of venues, the minimum group size needs to be increased from the current limit of 30. Most venues indicated that they could be profitable at either 70% capacity or with a minimum of 60 guests.
- There needs to be equality. As a multicultural society, we need provisions in place for all cultures and religions to celebrate marriage in a meaningful way. Furthermore, the industry is unlikely to support the government in helping some venues open before others in a way that would encourage couples to cancel and rebook elsewhere.
For now, we have to wait a little longer for weddings to be back and appeal to the government to support the industry while we remain on standby.