Remote guests, micro-weddings, virtual receptions, Zoom nuptials – all of these ideas, even a year ago, would have sounded foreign and strange to us. But now the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has been going on since December 2019, the way people are tying the knot has changed. Savvy wedding planners are on the lookout for how they can still make their clients’ dreams come true. And in a way that respects the new guidelines and restrictions we’re all living under.
Some people have, unfortunately, gone out of business. Others are feeling the pinch. While still others are pushing their creative faculties to discover new ways to make time-honored wedding traditions adapt to this new normal.
One of these people is Natasha Russell, event planner and creator of Guest in a Box. This brand new UK service sends absent wedding guests, AKA remote guests, a fantastic box of bespoke treasures. The possibilities are endless – from QR codes to a wedding website with a live-streamed reception to recipes and ingredients to create your own wedding meal. There’s no shortage of ways couples can express themselves and their love for their guests. Even if they can’t celebrate face to face.
Related article: Planning A Micro-Wedding: The New Normal For 2020 Weddings
Creativity Growing out of Empathy
Natasha is a seasoned veteran in the events world, having worked in it for 15 years. After working with Cancer Research UK and Oxfam and on the London 2012 Olympic Games, she’s been freelancing and working for herself for quite some time.
Before coronavirus hit, Natasha was extremely busy. “I still work on a huge amount of outdoor public events that make up probably 70 percent of my work. That could mean a festival, or a food and drink event. And I also do an annual conference for a membership organization that we’ve really just turned on its head to make it more exciting. And, I’ve been lucky enough to work on the Adobe Summit.”
But then everything changed. Not just for people planning weddings, but for event planners of all kinds. “I really feel for people who can’t have their weddings at the moment,” Natasha empathizes. “And everyone was telling me I had to pivot to virtual and start doing digital events. I had done some of those. But it just kept pinging around in my head that this is really terrible for people who are having weddings.”
Though not a wedding planner herself, Natasha nevertheless put her creative mind to work and eventually came up with the idea for her new product. “With all the restrictions in the UK at the moment, people can’t have a huge wedding with hundreds of people. So I looked at how to bring someone to a wedding, and the box was really central to the idea.”
How Guest in a Box Works
The whole idea of Natasha’s product is that a couple sends out a box that is a reflection of their personality and captures what they want their guests to remember about their special day. There’s an option to link the box to a website where couples can livestream their wedding. And it’s this box that connects remote guests to the couple’s big day.
“The box could contain a recipe or even have ingredients for a meal that you wanted to have at the wedding. There’s a QR code that allows you to see the livestreamed wedding ceremony and sit and enjoy your meal. The box can even have a drink so that you can toast the couple,” Natasha explains. “But that’s just one idea. You might just tell people to go mad and party at home and send them a hangover kit. Everyone’s wedding is different, and it’s a very personal time. That’s where you can really show your personality. It’s actually pretty adaptable. So if you want to include your guests in your favorite meal, you could send out a recipe kit or a shopping list, or you could even do it live online. There’s something really nice about making a meal that you know everyone else is making as well.”
Guest In A Box Can Scale With The Virtual Event
And it’s not just individual personalities that the box can be adapted for. Natasha says that it can suit virtually every budget. “It’s quite scalable. Obviously, the box itself has a cost to it, as does setting up a website. Still, a livestream can be anything from somebody sticking their laptop in front of them and getting married to sending out a whole film team,” she notes.
“Even if your budget is quite small, there are lots of people you want to be there, so sending out something quite small makes a difference. You could literally just send out a slice of cake. It’s just a way to say, ‘I really want you here. I’m really thinking of you, and I wish you were here.’ This is where the budget comes in. If you’re doing the meal idea I mentioned before, you can send a recipe card that costs pence to produce or send the whole meal kit. A top-end budget would mean you’re going to send out all the ingredients weighed out in a lovely recipe kit. It might even come in a refrigerated package, and there might be a video you can watch online while you cook.”
Some other elements Natasha has included in her remote guest boxes are a QR code that links to a Spotify playlist, decorations like party poppers, bunting and balloons, or private Instagram accounts.
The Technology That Makes Remote Guests Possible
And it’s this involvement of technology that’s integral to creating a memorable box, Natasha says. The platform that the client ends up using is dependent on the vibe each couple wants for their wedding. “If you want to talk to everyone and see their faces, then Zoom is a good option. There’s also a really cool platform called Yotribe, where you walk around using the arrow keys on your keyboard. You can pop into a video call, and if someone stops to say hello, you can have a video chat together. I had a look at another program called High Fidelity, which is similar but audio-only. There are lots and lots of options that depend on your setup. The box is the mechanic of inviting people – what you do beyond that is up to you.”
Once couples decide on a platform, they can choose what traditional wedding events they want to include for their guests to be a part of. “You can livestream your speeches, or have them recorded on the website for people to watch. Depending on restrictions, people in the same social bubble can get together, watch the wedding, and have their own little party. There are two angles to this: the box and then whatever else you decide to do.”
A Bright Future For Remote Guests
Although Guest in a Box was born as a solution for couples planning their weddings during COVID-19, Natasha says it’s an idea that has a lot of longevity and momentum to move forward.
“People are still going to run off to Vegas and get married. So imagine if you run off to Vegas, you don’t tell anyone, but then on the day or the day before the wedding, a box turns up for your guests that says, ‘Surprise! We’ve gone to Vegas to get married!'”
And being in the middle of a worldwide recession, anything that helps keep weddings unique and memorable while giving couples more options is very important. “There’s a figure that comes out every summer in women’s magazines. It looks at the cost of finding your perfect wedding guest outfit, getting your hair done, booking a hotel, buying new shoes. It actually says that the cost of a wedding, for guests is huge. Not everyone thinks about that,” Natasha confides. “A wedding, a marriage, is about two people in love. But what a wedding has turned into these days is a show-stopping spectacular. Girls grow up thinking, ‘I’m going to have this great wedding in a great big dress’ — so maybe this bridges the gap.”
With plenty of friends in the wedding planning industry, Natasha’s got a lot of positive feedback about her idea. “A friend of mine who works for a wedding venue says that she thinks this will change the face of weddings forever,” Natasha affirms. “She said that this is really going to change things because if people suddenly can only have 30 guests at their wedding, the whole idea of spending loads of money is going to change.”
Guest in a Box Looks Beyond Weddings
And it’s not just in the world of weddings that Guest in a Box operates. Natasha says she can definitely see a future for the service for other events, too. “In the end, it was just an idea that sprang up from me looking at what I could do right now when my business literally went from so busy I barely had time to sleep to nothing because of the pandemic,” Natasha remembers. “It switched off overnight, and the longer it went on, the more doubts people had about when things would go back to normal. And yet people are still getting married. They still have events. So I just asked myself, ‘How can I solve this problem?'”
And if the glowing reviews on Natasha’s website are anything to go by, this idea of hers has struck gold. And is likely going to take not just the wedding world but the entire event planning world by storm.Frankly, we see this wowing live event-attendees, remote guests and everyone in between.