Wedding Vendor Questions: Important Things to Ask When Booking Vendors
From key vendor questions to avoiding surprises, this article from wedding planner Elisabeth Kramer unravels contract intricacies to help you know what to look for to ensure all your bases are covered on the big day.
One of the most useful services that I provide my clients as a wedding coordinator and consultant is to review the proposals and contracts that they receive from wedding vendors. Nearly always, I note several wedding-specific details that they didn’t know to look for. Repeatedly doing so has resulted in compiling the following list of must-ask questions for wedding vendors.
What should you consider as you review your own wedding vendor contracts? Below are my top suggestions as a professional wedding planner, as broken down by vendor type. Obviously, I’m not a lawyer; but I am someone who reads wedding vendor contracts a lot.
Catering and Bartending
Make sure to ask your wedding caterer and/or bartending vendor the following questions:
- Do they take out the trash? About a third of the time, I find the caterer won’t remove trash or will only remove trash specific to their services (so nothing related to decor, flowers, or the other waste produced at a wedding). This is important because unless the venue has on-site trash, recycling, and compost, you will be on the hook to remove these items at the end of your wedding.
- Do they provide ice? This might sound silly but more than once, I’ve learned that the bartending team requires the client to provide all ice or “only” the ice to keep the beverages cool before the wedding. This is important whether you’re serving alcohol or not. Getting and storing ice is logistically tricky so plan accordingly.
- Does the caterer include a quote for rentals? Nearly always, proposals from catering companies will include an estimate of what rentals will cost, if the caterer is also providing or arranging those rentals. I also find that those estimates are usually woefully low (which makes sense; it’s harder to book a client if you also hit them with a $5,000 rental estimate).
If you don’t see an estimate for rentals on the proposal, ask the caterer if they arrange those and if they do, if they charge an additional fee (sometimes called a “rental coordination fee”). That fee can sometimes be multiple hundreds of dollars, and can typically be waived if you arrange your own rentals (not as hard as it sounds) or you have a coordinator or planner who does this.
- Is a tasting included? I’m seeing more and more caterers charge for a tasting. This is likely to cover labor and food costs, which makes sense and can also be inconvenient for you. Many caterers are also starting to “only” offer tastings a few times a year (vs. individual appointments) so this question can help unearth those details.
Coordinator or Planner
Ask your wedding planner the following questions:
- Will they handle the music? Many wedding coordinators or planners will not do anything related to music. That means that if you are, saying, streaming your ceremony and reception music off of a phone, they’re opting out of being the one to hit play and monitor that playlist. This then becomes a job that you need to assign someone else, usually a guest.
- Do they charge extra for an assistant? Often, any assistant(s) are included in the original quote but not always. Check your contract to see what this fee would be and when the coordinator or planner makes the call on if they want an assistant or how many they want to bring on so you aren’t surprised with last-minute charges.
- How much set-up and clean-up will they do? Never assume that a coordinator or planner will do a certain level of set-up and clean-up. While many do, many also have firm boundaries on setting up and cleaning up heavy furniture, tables, and chairs. More often than not, they’ll request that you source that labor from another vendor or from within your guest population with the coordinator or planner helping but not doing it all on their own.
- For even more questions to ask a wedding coordinator or planner, give this list of interview questions a gander.
Ask your wedding florist or rentals vendor the following questions:
- What needs to be returned by when? Nearly all of my clients end up using some of their florist’s inventory at their wedding. This saves the clients money but also means that they’re on the hook to return those items to the florist, usually within a certain number of days immediately after the wedding when they may be otherwise booked.
Hair and/or Makeup
Ask your wedding makeup artist the following questions:
- Are photos required ahead of the wedding? About a quarter of hair and/or makeup vendors I work with require that anyone getting a treatment from their team send them a photo or two by a certain number of days before the wedding. If you have a number of people getting treatments, you can see how this can pile up (and it’s typically on you to coordinate that the photos get where they’re going).
Ask your hotel accommodations the following questions:
- Are you on the hook if rooms don’t get booked? I’ve only seen this once or twice in my seven years as a wedding planner but it’s a doozy when it happens. Make sure that you know if you have to pay for unclaimed rooms and if so, by when.
Music (e.g. band, DJ, etc.)
Ask your wedding entertainment vendor the following questions:
- Do they require a table and/or tablecloth? Many do. This is something you will need to provide, usually by adding the table and linen to any rental order.
Photo and/or Video
Ask your wedding photo or video vendors the following questions:
- How exclusive are they? Nearly all photographers and videographers include an exclusivity clause in their contracts. This means that you cannot have another vendor of that type at your wedding who’s doing the same job (guests taking photos or video off their devices are usually OK).
- When do you get your content? Clients are often surprised at the number of months that fall between their wedding and when they see their photos or videos. This isn’t because your vendors are lazy; it’s because they’re busy shooting other events and need a lot of time to edit your work, too.
- How long do you have to file a complaint? There are often very specific time limits on how long you can tell a photographer or videographer that you don’t like the final product and have them make corrections without owing additional labor fees. Proceed accordingly.
Ask your wedding transportation vendor the following questions:
- Can you have open containers of alcohol onboard? Not always, which can dampen the mood if you were planning to pregame with some booze on the ride to the venue.
Ask your wedding venue representative the following questions:
- Do they allow outside food and beverage? If you plan to get ready at the venue and want to eat and hydrate while you’re doing so (highly recommend), make sure that your venue is OK with you bringing in outside food and beverage. Nearly always, they are but if your venue also provides catering, they might not be as into this idea.
- Is a rehearsal included? About a third of the time, it’s not and that can be a nasty surprise for many clients, particularly if the venue charges additional money for you to get access to the space for your rehearsal.
Also note if the wedding venue only offers specific days of the week and/or times of day for a rehearsal. That can be a bit of a wrinkle for clients who have a high number of people traveling into town for the wedding who will need to orientate their travel plans to align with a rehearsal that happens two days before the event, in the morning, or at another less standard time.
- Is set-up and clean-up included? If your venue provides any inventory (e.g. tables, chairs, linens, decor, etc.), be very clear on if they also set those items up and if they clean those items up. Very often, they will but they’ll charge you to do so. If you don’t want to pay that, all good but you will need to source that labor from within your own community.
Contracts are, at the end of the day, a communication tool. A good one ensures that you and the person you’re hiring know what you’re each getting into. Approach your vendor conversations with that perspective and you’ll be set up for success, whatever the situation.
And above all, don’t be afraid to ask your wedding vendors these important questions! Clarity is key to setting expectations and being happy with the ultimate outcome of your wedding day.