Happy Monday Everyone! Can you believe that we are already a full week into August?! I’m certainly excited as August and September are my two busiest months! With this being my first official season in business under my own brand name, I am so thrilled at the number of couples who I have had the pleasure of working with this year. I am even more excited that 2019 is starting to book up and I can’t wait to get to know my new couples and help them plan their weddings over the next year!
One of the services that comes included with my partial and full-service planning packages is contract review and negotiation. Being in the event industry for a number of years, I am accustomed to looking at various contracts and have a good idea of what to look for. However, I know for a lot of you, this may be the first time you are looking at a wedding vendor contract. I’m a member of various Connecticut wedding Facebook groups and I can’t tell you how many posts I see where couples are concerned because a vendor backed out last minute and won’t return their deposits, changed the amount they are charging for the services they are providing, or are no longer responding to their phone calls or emails. Planning a wedding is already stressful enough without having to worry if your vendors are going to show up and provide a quality service.
With that being said, I wanted to spend this post talking all about contracts! They may not be the most glamorous part of planning your wedding but they are NECESSARY! Each contract with your vendors is different and can range from a simple 1-page document to a multi-page contract so it’s important to know what key facts you should be on the lookout for before writing out a hefty deposit check. Let’s get started on contract basics!
1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CONTRACT!
This might seem obvious but I have seen it come up from various brides in these Facebook groups that their vendors are no longer responding or have backed out last minute. Someone in the comments always asks “Did you have a signed contract” and they say no! Before you write a check to anyone, ask to see their contract. You want to make sure that a) you agree to their terms before making your final decision and b) that they even have one to provide you with. Without a contract, you have no legal document to show what you and this vendor agreed to and no way to hold them accountable. Once you send back the signed contract, make sure to ask for a countersigned copy from the vendor to keep in your files. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
2. MAKE SURE ALL MAJOR DETAILS ARE ADDRESSED
You also want to make sure your contract covers the basics including:
You and your fiancee’s name or whoever will be the main point of contact
Date of the wedding
Location of the wedding or where their services will be provided/delivered to
Start and end time (if this isn’t set in stone, for example – let’s say your photographer agrees to 8 hours of coverage but you haven’t decided the 8-hour block you need them for, just ensure the contract notes the length of time you have them for with exact timing To Be Determined)
Detailed list of services being provided
Deposit and payment schedule
Contact Information for the vendor providing the services (including a day-of phone number)
3. REFUND AND CANCELLATION POLICY
Of course no one goes into their wedding day thinking it is going to be cancelled so it’s natural for people to overlook this clause. The future is so unpredictable and anything can happen so you want to make sure your investments are protected. The clause should state what happens if you cancel and what the penalties are and what happens if the vendor cancels and any refunds you are entitled to. It’s very common for your initial deposit to be non-refundable but after that, a lot of times the refunds you are entitled to are pro-rated depending on how far in advance you need to cancel. The closer you are to your wedding day, the less you are entitled to or in some cases, you may still be liable for the full amount. Make sure to review these clauses carefully and ensure you understand what you are signing.
4. PAYMENTS AND FEES
This is a big one. You want to ensure your contract explicitly states pricing. For some vendors (for example, your caterer or florist) the exact amount due may not be able to be given until your final headcounts are in and you know how many people will be eating or how many centerpieces you will need. That is fine but make sure you have a locked in price per person for catering charges. You’ll also have wanted to generate an estimate from your florist based on mock-ups you’ve discussed. This should give you a pretty good estimate of pricing from your florist based on flowers selected, size of the centerpieces, number of bouquets needed, etc.
You also want to make sure the contract states any extra fees – for example, is there a travel fee? Will you be expected to cover parking? If this is a destination wedding, is the vendor also expecting you to cover travel expenses and lodging (this is a reasonable request from the vendor but something you would want to know beforehand so you can budget appropriately). For catering and venues, make sure you are aware of the local taxes and service fees (often referred to as administrative charges, admin fee, service fee, etc.) You also would want to know if gratuities are included. Some caterers charge an administrative fee which is not distributed to servers/bartenders as a gratuity. Are you expected to provide a gratuity on top of that? Make sure you know this beforehand.
Lastly, make sure you also ask what forms of payment the vendor accepts. It is not uncommon to be charged an extra service or convenience fee if you wish to pay by credit card which could be as high as 4%! If you’re looking at large deposits, that extra fee adds up quickly! Make sure that after each deposit is paid that you also get receipts from your vendor to keep on file in the event there are any discrepancies in the future on what you have paid.
5. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING
This doesn’t necessarily have to be in your contract but I recommend getting anything you agree upon with your vendors in writing. Many venues for example throw in added concessions to sweeten the deal to get you to book. They may offer a complimentary appetizer, upgraded linens, a free dinner on your 1-year anniversary, whatever it may be, make sure you get that in writing. It’s not uncommon for the coordinator or manager you signed with to leave their role before your wedding date and if you don’t have things in writing, you may not get the enhancements you were promised. This goes for all your other vendors as well. Let’s say you originally contracted 6 hours with the photographer but have since decided you really need 8 hours, get that in writing.You originally weren’t planning on doing uplighting with your DJ but have since decided to add it, get that in writing. You originally told your officiant it would be a 4pm ceremony but decided to move it to 4:30pm, get that in writing! I’m sure you catch my drift by now but getting any changes in writing is imperative to ensuring you are setting yourself and your vendors up for success!
I hope this helps each of you when reviewing your own vendor contracts. This is by no means a comprehensive list and each vendor category has its own set of questions to ask. I always recommend doing your research beforehand. Also, if you’re on the fence about a particular vendor, never be afraid to ask for a reference or two. Sometimes it helps to hear from someone who has worked with them in the past and hear about their experience. Most vendors would be happy to provide you with this.
Thanks again for stopping by and as always, Happy Planning!
Disclaimer: This list is also not meant to serve as legal advice, this is purely a guide based on my experience in the industry.