Coronavirus wedding rules: The new social distancing guidelines for a Covid-secure ceremony and reception

Is it possible to socially distance as you walk down the aisle, and should you postpone your wedding? Here's what the experts say...

wedding receptions allowed new Covid coronavirus rules uk how many guests
Weddings restarted from July 4 - but there is a long list of new government guidelines to follow Credit: mooboard/Cultura RF

The venue is booked. The invites are sent. You’ve found The Dress. And then the pandemic happened.

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent UK lockdown have left many couples unsure what lies in store for their summer and autumn 2020 weddings.

Weddings have been able to restart since July 4, with up to 30 people able to attend under social distancing rules.

From August 15, receptions of up to 30 people have been permitted. Before that, only two households could attend a reception held at an indoor hospitality venue.

Yet in the latest turn of events, social gatherings of more than six people are now illegal in England. Rest assured, however, certain occasions, including weddings, are exempt from this six-person rule. Coronavirus rules for weddings will therefore remain the same.

Nonetheless, with these conditions in place, some couples might be uncertain about going through with their wedding this year.

We have spoken to wedding industry experts to find out what a socially distanced celebration might look like, and whether you should postpone your wedding for the foreseeable future.

Are weddings back on in the UK?

Yes – but not as you know them. The Government announced that weddings and civil partnerships could go ahead again from July 4, but only with 30 people present – including the couple, guests, suppliers (such as the photographer), and registrar or celebrant. This is provided they comply with social distancing rules. Guests will have to stand or sit at least one metre apart, as well as take other safety precautions – such as wearing a face mask

For those who were originally planning a big bash, this means seriously downsizing if your venue is still able to accommodate you safely; although the measures may come as a blessing for couples already grappling with a spiralling guestlist.

From August 15, up to 30 guests can attend wedding receptions.

Be aware that the new guidelines differ by location. In Northern Ireland and Wales, small socially-distanced weddings can take place outdoors, with guest capacity depending on the venue. In Scotland, marriages and civil partnerships can take place indoors at public places, including registration offices, hospitality venues and places of worship, as well as outdoors.

What are the new safety measures?

Wedding ceremonies in England should be kept "as short as reasonably possible" and limited to just what is legally binding, according to the guidelines, Covid-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships. Religious ceremonies which would usually take a number of hours or days will need to adapt to a shorter service. 

As mentioned above, there is a cap of 30 people in attendance. 

Ahead of the latest government advice, Bernadette Chapman, director of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners said she’s “pleased that ceremonies are allowed to commence again”, but would like to see the restrictions eased even more. “I would love it if they would allow receptions of 30 people, because it would mean that couples would be able to have some form of celebration; at the minute, it’s a case of getting married and then going home again,” she said. “You can’t even get away with a mini drinks ceremony after[wards].”

Food and drinks are discouraged as part of the event. The venue should have the floor marked with tape or paint to help people maintain social distance. 

However, in the new government guidelines, there is a section that explains that where "should" is used (i.e. "No more than 30 people should attend a marriage or civil partnership") this means the rule is advised but "not a legal requirement". Legally, therefore, you could have a larger celebration – but this could increase risk of transmission of Covid-19, and will depend on your wedding venue, which might have additional restrictions. 

What about the traditions?

Social-distancing rules will put paid to fathers walking their daughters down the aisle (unless they still live in the same household), while brides and grooms will be encouraged to wash their hands both before and after they exchange rings, and say their vows without raising their voices.

Hymns are off limits, too. “This might not be an issue with a civil ceremony, but with religious ceremonies in places with worship, a lack of singing could be a problem,” said Chapman. She also advises brides to be aware that while hairdressers will be allowed to visit, they won’t be able to have their make-up professionally done.

Should I postpone my wedding?

If you have a wedding booked for 2020, should you postpone it? It depends on whether you are comfortable with having a socially-distanced celebration of only 30 people, with only two households allowed in an indoor reception venue.

Wedding planner Katrina Otter has had a lot of her weddings postponed to 2021.

“All my couples up until October have postponed because they want the weddings that they dreamed of, and have spent months, if not years, planning,” she says. “These days, weddings involve so much more than just a legally binding ceremony; they’re a celebration of friendship and families, and this is something that the current guidelines don’t allow.” While many of her clients remain “optimistic” about their weddings next year, she said that whether future ceremonies will be able to operate at full capacity remains uncertain – particularly if there’s a second wave. 

Another popular option is to press on with a small ceremony with a handful of guests this year, and postpone the big celebration until we can party properly again

Some might opt to have a small ceremony in the summer, with a handful of guests, and postpone the big party to next year. “I can see an increase in couples having a simple ceremony this year when allowed for just them, the registrar and witnesses,” says Chapman. “And in 2021 they will plan a larger wedding for all their guests but opting for a celebrant ceremony.”

Will my wedding next year be OK?

It’s all a matter of “speculation”, Otter says, and the situation could change so rapidly. “At this present time, no, I do not see 2021 being an issue,” she explains, “but have this conversation with me in two weeks’ time and I might be saying something totally different.” From the rate of increase, as outlined below, it's easy to understand Otter's uncertainty.

If you do postpone your wedding to next year, you might face another challenge: finding an available date. Given that most weddings this year will be postponed to 2021, on top of the weddings that were already planned to go ahead next year, suppliers and venues might have limited dates available. As such, a lot of couple are having mid-week weddings, according to Otter, “so they can keep their suppliers”.

She tells me that one couple wanted to move their wedding, which was supposed to take place this September, to any Saturday between the beginning of April and end of October 2021. There was only one date that the suppliers could do.

When restrictions are lifted, what might the weddings look like?

Wedding planner Matthew Oliver, who specialises in international weddings, says weddings will “absolutely” have to adapt in the future.

“I feel like we will need have to look at bigger venue options,” he says. “For instance, if you’re working with a couple that are inviting 150 guests, instead of looking for venues that hold exactly 150 people, we’re going to have to look for venue options that are larger.”

This would be to allow guests to socially distance – which, he thinks, will still be our mentality after lockdown is over. “After this whole situation is finished, people are still going to have that in their way of life – of ‘I don’t want to be close to you,’” he says, adding that venues and suppliers might be more “protective” about their contact with guests.

Other wedding venues have also found creative solutions. Bijou Wedding Venues, which specialises in country house weddings, will use "airport quality" temperature reading cameras to test all staff and guest temperatures on arrival, and will live-stream the ceremony to different areas of the venue, so the mandatory witnesses can be present at the ceremony and the other guests can view it from a safe distance. 

The wedding venues company also plans to replace buffet queues with table service, install marquees and gazebos to maximise time outdoors, and hold ceremonies outdoors where possible.

Otter does not see the need for such changes. “I think when we are allowed to get back to weddings as they used to be, weddings will go back to how they used to be,” she says, adding that “if social distancing rules are relaxed, things will very quickly get back to normal”.

Some couples might opt for “alternative” ceremonies on Zoom, even when the restrictions are lifted, but this won’t work for everyone. “It’s going to work for some couples,” Otter says. “It’s definitely not going to work for the majority.”

What about international weddings?

Whilst travel restrictions are slowly starting to lift, Oliver does not imagine there will be any international weddings this year because “people are scared”.

If weddings are able to go ahead in the coming months, he says they “might be smaller weddings, they might just be elopements”.

Most of his clients have postponed to next year, or cancelled altogether. Usually, he takes on between 15 to 20 weddings this year, but says next year he will have double the number due to the postponed weddings from this year.  

He’s still getting new bookings for 2021, as “people are looking past this whole situation,” he says. 

Have you postponed your wedding, are you worried about the new rules? Tell us in the comments section below