Wedding Vendor Contracts: 4 Questions to Ask
Your wedding contracts are binding legal agreements, so it’s important to make note of all the details. Don’t overlook these four important points in your wedding vendor contracts.
If you’re planning a wedding, a daunting piece of the puzzle can be securing clear and fair wedding vendor contracts.
Here’s my advice as a professional wedding planner on what to look for in your wedding vendor contracts. As you read, please note that “vendor” here means anyone who is performing a service at your wedding. This includes any venue(s) you may have booked.
How much do you owe and when do you owe it?
In nearly all situations with wedding vendors, a couple pays said business a deposit and then, in the months leading up to the wedding, the couple pays the business again, sometimes multiple times.
For example, a couple who hires me as their wedding planner pays me a 50 percent deposit when they book me. This buys the date off my calendar.
The couple then pays me again at 60 days out for their wedding; this is a 25 percent payment and it covers the time I’ve spent working for them between when they first hired me and the 60 days out mark.
The final payment is due 14 days out from the wedding and is the final 25 percent of the contracted balance. This payment buys my labor between 60 days and 14 days as well as my labor from 14 days through the events of their wedding.
Other vendors have very similar structures but it depends on each individual business that you and your partner have contracted to work at your wedding.
So, check your contracts. When are those payments and how much are they for? This information is important for budgeting. It’s also important because it’s much easier to get money back that you never paid to begin with (more on this in a moment).
What’s the deal with health and safety?
In a post-pandemic world, we have all had years to learn what helps us feel safe. This is important because it’s much easier to feel joy when we also feel safe and don’t you want to feel joy on your wedding day?
Because of this reality and the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more couples are asking themselves who they’re hiring. Notably, this is also happening on the vendor side of things; more and more vendors are asking themselves who they’re working for.
What do your vendor contracts say about health and safety?
These days, many wedding vendor contracts have specific sections dedicated to COVID-19 or, often, pandemics in general. They may also have clauses related to the vendor’s personal safety (i.e. “I won’t break the law for you if you’re hosting a wedding that is in violation of local, state, and/or federal guidelines” or “if I feel unsafe at your wedding, I’m not contractually obligated to attend”).
I also highly encourage any couple who is actively hiring vendors to communicate any boundaries they have as a couple to vendors before they sign a contract or pay any money. For example, is it a boundary for your wedding that the people you hire be vaccinated? Be vaccinated and boosted? Agree to wear masks even if they’re not legally required to do so?
Get these details before signing your contracts
Talk about this stuff before you enter into a legal agreement. If you don’t know where to start, try the interview question at the top of this article.
Did you already sign a contract and/or pay money and now need to communicate boundaries to your vendor team? Do not be afraid. I do this all of the time on behalf of my clients. It’s not easy but it can be done. These free communication templates can help. I also recommend reading this piece because remember: You’ve signed a legal document and we need to respect that reality, too.
What happens if you cancel?
In this situation, “cancel” means you end your contract with the vendor or the vendor ends their contract with you. I spell it out this way because often, you can adapt your services with a wedding vendor so that you all are still working together, you’re just working together in a different capacity than you originally contracted for. That kind of change will likely lead to a new contract that voids the old contract but it does not mean you are completely ending (i.e. canceling) your working relationship with the vendor in question.
However, in some situations, a couple ends the contract or the vendor ends the contract. Somebody cancels on somebody. I call this “breaking up” and what happens if it happens to you?
Cancellation fees, refunds, etc
In most situations, you won’t get a refund for any money previously paid. This is not because wedding vendors are filthy rich Scrooge McDucks. It’s because deposits are the money we live on. Deposits also buy a date off of our calendars (i.e. our inventory). When we sell you that date, we either don’t sell it to anyone else or, depending on the scale of our work, have less inventory to sell our people. Your deposit pays for that service. Any payments you may have paid since that deposit cover work we’ve already completed (see my example in the previous section on why I have a payment due at 60 days).
So you’re canceling and you’re not getting your deposit back… but what about future payments? This depends on when you cancel. If it’s close to the wedding (usually, less than 60 days out) there’s a good chance you will also owe vendors money that you’re contracted to pay.
This is why it’s so important to know your payment deadlines. It’s also why I recommend 60 days as the drop-dead deadline for any couple to decide their wedding plans.
What happens if you reschedule?
In this situation, “reschedule” means you change fundamental details of your original contract with the vendor. Most likely you change the date that the vendor is contracted to work for you.
To make this change, you and your partner will likely pay what’s known as a “rescheduling fee.” Again, this is not because wedding vendors want to bleed you dry. It’s because you have now bought not one but two dates off of their calendars. The rescheduling fee in your contract pays for that additional purchase. The amount of the fee will likely go up the closer you are to the original date you hired the person to work.
For example, in my contract, my rescheduling fee is 20 percent of the original balance if a couple tells me they want to reschedule more than six months before the original wedding date. If they tell me this less than six months before the original wedding date, my rescheduling fee goes up to 50 percent of the original balance.
“But I had friends who rescheduled back in 2020 and their vendors waived their rescheduling fees!” I did this myself because I felt so bad for the couples I was working for in 2020. I also had no idea how long the pandemic would last and how deeply it would impact my business (at various points in the pandemic, I have experienced 80 to 90 percent revenue loss and have had to rely on unemployment and my husband’s income to afford rent and groceries).
This is why in nearly all situations I no longer waive my rescheduling fees. It is also likely why you and your couple will owe any vendors you’ve already hired rescheduling fees if you two reschedule your work with them.
Remember who you’re talking to.
This is a lot of information and it’s about some very heavy, very challenging topics. Let’s take a breath and remember who we’re talking about. We’re talking about wedding vendors who are nearly always extremely small businesses run by one or maybe two people. These people are heart-centered individuals. They have literally devoted their careers to serving others.
This does not mean we should manipulate or abuse them. It does mean that when a wedding vendor tells a couple some bad news, it is hurting them nearly as much as it is hurting the couple. Just think how you feel when you have to tell a boss you like something you know they don’t want to hear. Do you enjoy doing it? I didn’t think so.
So, lead with empathy. Follow my very best wedding planning advice: Be nice. If you approach any conversation about wedding vendor contracts from a place of curiosity and caring, you’ll be amazed at how much better it all goes.