Planning a wedding is an exciting time. While much of your big day is filled with emotions, there’s a lot of paperwork behind it. When else in your personal life have you hired so many vendors or put down so many deposits?! We get that no one wants to be bogged down by boring details, but reading those contracts can have a considerable impact on how your wedding day goes. As brides over the past two years can tell you, it’s especially essential these days.
Part of getting your dream wedding is making sure your expectations and services are agreed to in writing. And when it comes to worst-case scenarios (think a global pandemic!), it’s so important to fully understand the fine print so you can navigate back up plans like a pro. Not to worry though, we’ll guide you to know what to look for in venue and vendor contracts so you can confidently sign on the dotted line.
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Don’t Skip Contracts, Get it All in Writing.
Even if the photographer is a friend of your parents or the venue is at a local park you visit often, you should still get everything in writing. This helps protect both parties and makes sure everyone is on the same page. The last thing you want if something goes wrong is to not have any formal agreement on file. It always helps to reference this document, so step one is to make sure you get a written contract.
Once you have everything in writing, don’t stop there. Make a copy of executed agreements, and if any amendments are made down the line, request a document that includes the edits with new dates and signatures from both parties. Don’t make the mistake of thinking an email or text will do in place of a contract. Without written acknowledgment that your vendor agrees to your changes, they could always claim it was requested but never agreed to.
Every Contract Should List These Details.
Look over the initial contract before you sign to make sure it includes these essential details at a minimum:
- Names of those involved in the agreement, including a day-of contact
- Date, time, and location of your wedding
- When and where your vendors should set-up and breakdown
- Deposits and payment schedule (check if they are refundable)
- A detailed description of the scope of services being provided
- Substitutions and backup plans in case of rain, etc.
- Cancellation and termination policies
- Copy of your vendor’s wedding liability insurance (check if your venue needs to be added as an additional insured)
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If you spoke to your florist about using specific flowers and colors, and will not accept any substitutions, make sure that is written there. You want to be confident that everything you discussed regarding the services you are expecting is clearly laid out in your contract. If fees or additional charges are mentioned, make sure you understand them fully and agree to them. Speak up if something is unclear to you.
Let’s say you’ve hired a live band and prefer one of their lead vocalists; your contract should state the vocalist’s name as the person who will be at your wedding. Be on the lookout for a failure to comply or substitution clause. You’ll want to know what happens if that person gets sick or has an emergency on your wedding day. Will you get money back, or will someone of an equal skill level perform instead?
If your vendors must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or wear masks, be sure it is specified clearly within the contract. Also, keep an eye out for travel fees, parking, and delivery fees. These are not to be overlooked, as they can add up quickly. So ask as many questions early on, and we can’t stress this one enough: get it all in writing.
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Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Modifications and Negotiate.
Your venue and vendors will usually send over a standard contract. This doesn’t mean it is the final version that you have to sign. In fact, we’d advise against that since these initial contracts are proforma and not customized to your specific needs.
Reasonable adjustments are usually accommodated. For example, if their contract has a photo release clause saying they will use your wedding photos for marketing and you prefer your privacy, speak up. If you want the first right of refusal in case of rescheduling, ask to include this in your contract. Before anything is signed, now is the best time to negotiate and ensure your needs are met.
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These days, many vendors have adjusted their contracts to cover their interests in case the pandemic drags out longer than expected. You’ll want to carefully look over these sections of the agreement and ask for softer language that gives you more leverage in case of such a situation.
Also, scan the document for a modification clause. This paragraph usually mentions specific steps that must be followed to amend the contract. It might require written notice within a particular timeframe. Be sure to read this over carefully and follow the guidelines if any changes come up. Never assume that it is accepted just because you request an edit over the phone or via email.
If you really want to negotiate hard and have access to a trusted attorney, consider having them look over your contract. There’s simply no replacement for that level of review; after all, each of these contracts is a legal document.
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Mark Down Payment Schedules and Ask Questions.
Most vendors will request a deposit to hold your wedding date for their services. Make sure you understand if this is a refundable deposit or not. Find out what happens if your wedding is rescheduled. Will the deposit be applied toward your new date?
Discuss the acceptable payment methods with your vendors, make sure the timeline is clearly written, and find out what form of refund is available should you need to exercise that action. It’s best not to assume anything when it comes to payments and ask as many questions as you need to.
You’ll want to pay for as much as possible with a credit card offering further protections and recourse in case of any problems. If someone is asking for wire transfers or cash only, that is a major red flag. Even payments via Zelle or Venmo leave you with little recourse if something goes wrong, so keep this in mind before handing over your deposit.
Another tip is to mark all of the contract payment dates in your calendar. The last thing you want is to be assessed a late fee or, worse, have a vendor terminate your contract because you forgot about the payment schedule that was previously agreed to.
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Review the Termination and Cancellation Policies Carefully.
These days especially, the most crucial section of your wedding contracts is the cancellation policy. Ideally, you want to receive at least a partial refund if you, unfortunately, have to cancel. You should also make sure that you will receive a full refund in situations where the vendor cancels on you.
Typically, there is a timeline of corresponding percentages of your deposit that you’ll get back if you have to cancel. As it gets closer to the wedding, this refundable portion is likely to decrease significantly. Many venues and vendors also require written cancellation notices within a specific timeframe. Be sure you fully understand this portion of the contract and agree to it before signing. Also, check it over for any rescheduling fees or cancellation penalties.
Cancellation and termination clauses are often confused but actually serve different functions. If you are unhappy with your vendor or they have breached the terms of your contract, your termination clause can kick in to help you get out of the contract and find another vendor. This section usually includes language describing the steps to take if either party wants to nullify the contract. Be sure this section expressly states what happens to any payments if the agreement is terminated, along with how and when a refund will be issued.
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Keep an Eye Out for These Additional Provisions:
Before the pandemic, little attention was paid to force majeure clauses; that is no longer the case. Typically, this paragraph excuses either party from non-performance due to extraordinary “acts of God,” don’t assume this includes pandemics. Many do not; you’ll want to read over the contract to see what is considered a force majeure and how it can be invoked.
Indemnification and Liability Waivers
Keep an eye on this provision, which is becoming more and more standard. Often this language will say that you indemnify vendors and waive any damages. In other words, you’re responsible if a guest or other party sues the vendor, and you won’t sue them if something goes wrong on your wedding day. This is another section to pay extra attention to; you’ll likely want to amend this, so you retain the right to sue if a problem is due to their negligence.
Litigation Venue or Governing Law Provisions
Some contracts will include a litigation venue or governing law provision. These are especially important to review for out-of-town or destination weddings. This paragraph will identify which court will hear a dispute in case of litigation; or for a governing law provision, it will spell out which state law governs the contract.
Travel fees could become very costly if you live far away from the litigation venue or governing law state. Not to mention the inconvenience of taking time to travel back and forth if things were to go wrong. It's definitely something to consider prior to signing the agreement.
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This provision typically spells out what is considered a damaged good when it comes to wedding rentals. For example, you want to be sure crumbs or wax candle drippings are not considered damage to linens because these are likely occurrences. If your rental company is too strict with this provision, consider going elsewhere or looking into insurance as a backup.
Courtesy hotel blocks give you a timeframe for guests to book their rooms. After that date, typically a month out from your wedding, they will release the rooms to the general public. However, if you booked an attrition hotel block, you might be on the hook for the blocked-off rooms or a percentage of those rooms that are not secured by a specific date. Be sure to check over the contract to see which type of block your preferred hotel offers. Attrition rates are not intrinsically bad, as long as you know what you are getting into. You want to be certain that you will meet the hard cut-off dates and minimum room guarantees.
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Keep these points in mind when looking over your next wedding contract, and do not be afraid to speak up and ask questions. If something makes you uncomfortable, talk to your vendors and work to amend the agreement so it looks out for your interests as well as your vendors. This is your big day, and you want to entrust a team that can work with you to meet your vision.