How Weddings, Birthday Parties, and Other Life Events Can Still Be Celebrated Virtually

Stay-at-home orders forced these social event-focused companies to pivot their services. Here, they share tips and resources for planning weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals while families can't be together in person.

'Just because your plans have been altered due to the outbreak doesn't mean that you're not entitled to commemorating a special day—in a modified but meaningful way,' says Karen Norian of Simply Eloped.
"Just because your plans have been altered due to the outbreak doesn't mean that you're not entitled to commemorating a special day—in a modified but meaningful way," says Karen Norian of Simply Eloped.
Photo: Emma Bauso/Pexels

Social distancing doesn't mean important life milestones need to be put on hold—and many event-related companies are finding ways to adapt with out-of-the-box virtual ceremonies and customized home deliveries. BizBash caught up with three such companies, who have all pivoted their services to accommodate this new event landscape. Here, they offer tips and resources for planning a meaningful in-home celebration. 

Weddings
After experiencing an 80-percent decrease in bookings, Simply Eloped—a national company focused on planning intimate and affordable weddings—knew it was time to adapt. “We've had to cancel or postpone 350 ceremonies all throughout the U.S.,” says the company’s photographer Karen Norian. “We decided that rather than raise the white flag, we were going to come up with an alternative way that would still allow our couples to celebrate their day.”

Simply Eloped's virtual weddings (like this one from last week) can be recorded and sent to additional family and friends at a later date.Simply Eloped's virtual weddings (like this one from last week) can be recorded and sent to additional family and friends at a later date.Photo: Courtesy of Simply ElopedThe team quickly launched a virtual ceremony package, where planners work with clients to choose an officiant, set up and test equipment, and enact the ceremony. While most states—with some recent exceptions such as New York and California, which both have temporarily changed their rules—do not allow virtual ceremonies to be legally binding, Simply Eloped presents them as symbolic commitment ceremonies, and can also offer advice on obtaining a legal marriage license. Pricing for the virtual ceremonies starts at $200.

"Just because your plans have been altered due to the outbreak doesn't mean that you're not entitled to commemorating a special day—in a modified but meaningful way," says Norian. "Plus, there's no rule that says you can't have a virtual ceremony now, and then hold another in-person ceremony with friends and family when you're able to gather safely."

Norian offers a few tips for hosting a meaningful virtual wedding. The first step, she says, is to choose a video platform and whether or not you'd like to invite guests. If you want something more private, Zoom—which offers specific links and passwords—is a good option; Simply Eloped has its own Zoom account that clients can use if needed. Clients should also decide whether or not they want guests involved. If not, ceremonies can be recorded and sent to family and friends at a later date.

In terms of filming atmosphere, Norian encourages couples to make it special, even if it's taking place in your living room. Open windows or position lamps to make sure you're well-lit, and consider buying a microphone to enhance audio for your virtual guests. Do a tech dry run to make sure you're positioned appropriately and that the technology is working as needed. Don't forget to speak loudly and clearly, and consider the backdrop of your video. (Related: 5 Tips for Producing Professional-Looking Video Content at Home)

Norian also suggests finding creative ways to incorporate guests. "Use this opportunity to make your guests feel even more immersed than they would’ve expected," she wrote in a recent blog post on the Simply Eloped website. "Send them party favors or a bottle of champagne they can pop as soon as you both say ‘I do.’ Let all your guests know what the theme or dress attire is so they can arrange and come appropriately prepared. Perhaps even throw a digital bachelor or bachelorette [party] or reception so your guests can really get down with you both in a celebratory way."

Birthday PartiesThe Effortless Affair's 'party in a box' deliveries include cake, decor items, balloons, and crafts for children's birthday parties.The Effortless Affair's "party in a box" deliveries include cake, decor items, balloons, and crafts for children's birthday parties.Photo: Courtesy of The Effortless Affair
Michelle McKenna Shuey, owner of The Effortless Affair in New Jersey, recently shifted her children’s party-planning company to a “party in a box” delivery business. She now offers no-contact, doorstep delivery with everything needed to celebrate a child's birthday in style—including a cake, candles, balloons, decor items such as banners or streamers, and a craft activity.

“I saw lots of parents on Facebook asking what they can do for their child's party while under quarantine. I thought, we are having everything delivered these days—why not parties?” Shuey explains. “Parents are so busy and wearing so many hats, I thought delivering everything you need to have a party would take that burden off their plates.” Clients can pick and choose from a variety of themed boxes starting at $195, or create their own custom packages. Fifteen-foot yard signs or 10-foot balloon garlands can be added on, which may be particularly useful during the recent trend of drive-by birthday celebrations

Celebrations and birthdays are still milestones in our lives, and we need to pause to commemorate how much we have grown,” says Shuey. “Celebrations at their core are about coming together as a family, and that is what matters the most.”

Shuey imagines her boxes as complements to a virtual gathering on a platform such as Zoom. She can offer additional crafts as add-ons, if parents want to order several and deliver to their child's friends. “I also include a party playlist, as well as a virtual entertainment vendor list so everyone from grandma to camp friends can be entertained during the virtual party,” she adds.

Shuey offers a practical tip: Order items well in advance. “The supply chain is really stressed, and I am seeing long delivery times,” she notes. “I also recommend buying local whenever you can. These are your neighbors, and we need to support them.” For her part, Shuey is making a point to work with local businesses to fill out the boxes. “Small businesses … are the people we go to for school donations, they are the ones who will stay open late for you, and they are the ones who don't have the large bank account to absorb a downturn like this,” she points out. “We need to support them where we can so they can continue on after this.”

Funerals
After her father died in 2018 and she experienced first-hand the challenges of funeral planning, Effie Anolik left her job at e-commerce platform Shopify to launch Epilog—software that facilitates online funeral payments—in an effort to simplify the process for grieving families. After the coronavirus outbreak, she decided to create a sister company, PlanaFuneral.com, to ease the burden even further through virtual memorial services.

'It's important for families and friends to come together to share memories and start the grieving process. We can still be together from afar,' says PlanaFuneral.com founder Effie Anolik."It's important for families and friends to come together to share memories and start the grieving process. We can still be together from afar," says PlanaFuneral.com founder Effie Anolik.Photo: PlanaFuneral.com“Planning a funeral is always hard, but the situation today poses new challenges,” explains Anolik, who is based in Toronto and offers free consultations and customized virtual funerals starting at $200. “Grief doesn't pause because we're unable to host traditional funerals. It's important for families and friends to come together to share memories and start the grieving process. We can still be together from afar.”

While many funeral homes have begun livestreaming services, Anolik wanted to offer additional add-ons, including helping families choose and facilitate the appropriate platform, sending out invitations, creating a customized program, and serving as emcee if needed; her company can also work directly with funeral homes to facilitate the entire process as requested. “Even before COVID-19, the trends show that families are moving away from traditional funerals and towards direct cremation and celebrations of life,” she notes. “I saw a need for families to host wakes and virtual celebrations of life so they can still come together while we're apart.”

Anolik offers a few tips for hosting a digital funeral. “Assign roles and make a schedule,” she suggests. “Treat your online gathering as you would a traditional event. It's always easier to delegate tasks and share the responsibility.” For traditional viewings and burials, Anolik suggests that families watch the livestream or recording together, and make it personal: Wear the deceased’s favorite color, share their favorite beverage, or eat their favorite food, she says. Her company can also help put together slideshows of a person’s life.

On a practical note, Anolik suggests designating a technical moderator who can ensure everyone is muted, speakers can be heard, and the slide show is playing correctly so nothing interrupts a somber moment. And “schedule follow-up gatherings,” Anolik adds. “For example, hold a video call at 5 p.m. every Wednesday for friends and family to join and share stories. Ask friends and family to invite anyone you may have missed. It's always great to hear stories from the people in your loved one's life.”

Further Reading: Find more resources for event planners during COVID-19 at bizbash.com/coronavirus.

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