It’s an anxious, uncertain time, to say the least, and particularly so when it comes to weddings and the copious amount of paperwork involved in putting together that special day. “Contracts are a whole different ball game now,” says Virginia Frischkorn of Colorado’s Bluebird Productions.
“We find that our clients are reading them :)” adds Alison Semmler, owner of Lifestyle Maven Events in NYC: “A lot of couples are feeling taken advantage of by vendors, and, on the flip side, vendors are feeling taken advantage of by couples.” So, how can you create mutual trust and feel confident about signing a binding agreement when the future is unpredictable? Here are some tips for what to look for in a wedding vendor contract.
Don’t simply assume that a wedding vendor contract is a final word. “The best advice is that you should consider it as a negotiable item,” says Bay Area Wedding Planner Olivia Wong. “The worst thing a vendor can say to a request for changes in a contract is no. A great vendor will also listen and hopefully accept a few of your change requests.” Adds Bay Area Wedding Planner Ashley Smith, “If you have an existing contract that doesn’t mention COVID-19 or pandemic-related clauses and you would like to ensure [that] you are on agreeable terms with the other party, ask to create an addendum with both parties’ signatures.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask the vendor to explain it to you. “Sometimes clauses in the contract are just pulled forward from someplace else,” Wong says. “If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask! If they can’t explain it, ask for it to be removed or stricken out.”
And remember, keep your best interests in mind, and look for places in the contract to make clauses more amenable to you or to give you a little more leverage. “Most businesses have sought legal language to protect themselves about this and how to proceed if another pandemic arises, or this one is dragged out for months/years to come,” says Smith. “Make sure this language is also covering you, not just the business you are seeking services from.”
“Add something along the lines of ‘The client will be given the first right of refusal,’ or even state in the contract that if there are any changes at the vendor, they must notify the client immediately,” Wong says. “While this seems like common sense, a vendor may not inform you of any changes, like venue constructions, until closer to your date, leaving you with less time to adjust your plans or find another wedding venue. Or, a vendor could accidentally double book and pick the other client instead of you. Then, you have left in a bind [with] very little recourse.”
You’ve jumped into wedding planning with gusto, and—score!—you’ve found a special location or vendor that you love. Your impulse might be to sign the contract quickly to lock down what you want. But consider resisting the temptation to do so. Always take the time to read your contracts carefully before signing a wedding photographer, florist, or another wedding professional for your big day.
You want your special day to go swimmingly, but it’s important to map out any undesirable scenarios. (And in the time of COVID-19, this might be more likely than you think!) Keep in mind that many vendors have already done so, with their interests in mind, so you want to think about your interests, too. For example, some wedding vendor contracts drafted since the ongoing pandemic began to stipulate that if a vendor is unable to provide services because of circumstances outside of its control for any reason (including government intervention), the client is not entitled to any refund of the fees.
Whatever you settle on, make sure that all of this is in the contract.
Read through your wedding contract closely, and make sure that you understand every word. But, as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic (and generally, as things inch toward a semblance of normalcy), here are some common clauses to look out for.
- Rescheduling/cancellation: If you’re set on a certain wedding venue and need to reschedule (and a certain vendor isn’t available on that rescheduled date) or cancel, what happens to your contract with that vendor? Are there any related fees for rescheduling or cancellations?
“I’ve seen many vendors be more flexible with rebooking and cancellation clauses in recent months, given the last few months,” notes Wong. “Many vendors are very understanding of the current market and will try to win your business,” Semmler adds that most vendors are not charging postponement fees, except wedding planners, who work additional time if a wedding is postponed.
Finally, “in the event of a reschedule or postponement, please be understanding with partners, as they offer their available dates to you,” says Bay Area Wedding Planner Lea Stafford. “Our event dates are essentially inventory, once you have secured a date on our calendar, the inventory has been claimed.”
Payments and deposits/retainers: Vendors typically ask for a non-refundable retainer or deposit to lock down their services on a certain time and date. But what happens if the event cannot go on as scheduled in the manner initially contemplated?
Termination: What happens if you’re just not happy with your vendor or if they do something that breaches the terms of the contract? How will you and the vendor address this situation?
Indemnification and liability waivers: Often vendors will have such language in their contracts.
With so many details involved in the planning of weddings, it’s easy to quickly sign off on a contract without looking closely at it (particularly these days, when it’s so easy to provide an electronic signature). But it’s extremely important to pay attention to the language that you’re agreeing to. And make sure that you retain copies of every contract, signed by all parties, for your records (this goes for any addendums, amendments, and modifications to the contract, as well). Whether you're booking a wedding photographer in Phoenix or a florist in Los Angeles, don’t just sign and forget about your wedding paperwork; you never know when something will come up and you need to refer to it.