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Stay Informed

By: Kristen Castillo

Wedding planning is fun and exciting, but it’s also a business. As a bride, you need to be business savvy as you finalize all the details of your day. One of the most crucial things to consider is having a clear and solid contract for every wedding vendor and service.

Sure contracts sound boring, but they’re really important since they protect your personal interests and your financial investments. After all, you want to make sure you’re getting everything you expect to get on your special day.

You want the custom cake you ordered, not a substitute; your guy wants to ride to the ceremony in a Hummer, not a black sedan; and you both want the venue to valet park your guests’ cars, just like you’re paying them to do. You need to get all these details in writing to ensure they’ll happen and if something goes wrong, you have proof of what was supposed to happen.
Bob Hoffman Photography & Video
Contracts 101
“We have a contract because we should have a contract,” says Daniel Peterson of Disco Friend. “That’s the professional thing to do.” Get everything in writing and make sure you’re clear on all the terms. A verbal agreement may seem like a good deal at the time, but without a written agreement, your spoken understanding doesn’t have much merit. It may seem uncomfortable to ask for every detail in writing, but it’s worth it in the long run, especially if you need to reference the written agreement in the future.

“You’ve got to have who, what, where, how much and all those basics,” explains Peggy Jewell, former President of the Association of Bridal Consultants and owner of Jewell Entertainment. “I think vendors should be very clear.”

Ask your vendors to be as specific as possible in the contract about what’s included and what’s not. For example, your wedding gown purchase may or may not include alterations, so ask about the policy and get it in writing. Find out if your venue includes linens and chair covers; either way, you should get the details in the written contract.

“Read the contract all the way through!” says Lauren Finley of Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa. “Make sure the details match up with your requirements. Note the payment schedule and note food & beverage minimums. Also, be sure to understand what the repercussions are if you don’t meet the minimums. Be sure to note what the event sites options are in terms of your event. For example, if your numbers drop dramatically, can your event be moved to an alternate space?” You want all your wedding plans to work out exactly as you envision and your contract can help you pull all the details together. Still make sure your contract outlines what will happen if all the plans don’t go smoothly as you hope they will. Ask your vendors to explain in writing what recourse you’ll have if something goes awry.

For example, if your stationer orders the wrong cardstock and envelopes, how will she make up for the error? Here are some things you can barter for in case a mix-up happens: a discount, an order upgrade or even a complimentary set of thank you notes.

Policies
Every contract should clearly explain what’s expected of you and what you’ll be getting in return. A good contract will cover all the vital information and lots more like payment deadlines, cancellation and refund policies, as well as whether or not substitutions are allowed. Cancellation policies vary from vendor to vendor, but typically if you cancel, you’ll lose your deposit because the vendor is losing your business and needs to recoup some of the price of his service.

Peterson requires one-third of the total entertainment fee as a non-refundable retainer. That fee secures the date for a couple which means he won’t consider other clients for the same day and time. “As soon as I am booked for a date, I’m turning away other people for that date,” he says.

Jewell says she has a similar policy with her entertainment company: she requires half of the total fee upfront as a non-refundable deposit.

If a couple books and cancels within six months of the big day, Jewell gives the couple their deposit back because that’s usually enough time for her to re-book entertainment for that day. Peterson says he has a comparable deposit refund policy if he re-books the cancelled date. A contract should also cover payment timelines. “It is an industry standard to have full payment of estimated food and beverage costs 30 thirty days prior to your event,” says Finley. “In most cases, those deposits are non-refundable.” Check with your vendors about their substitution policies too. A caterer for example, may want to substitute Chilean salmon with Alaskan salmon because of what’s in season or pricing differences. It may not be a big deal for you and your groom, but it’s fair that you should know about the possible changes and get veto power to say yes or no to the decision to substitute menu items.

Contract Timelines
To make sure you’re getting good service, a good product and a good contract, get quotes from other vendors. “I encourage people to meet with two or three different vendors in the same category,” says Peterson. “Shop around and make sure the decision is 100%.” Once you’ve found a vendor you like, make sure you seal the deal in a reasonable amount of time. The timeline for signing a contract can vary, but Jewell says she typically sees contract timelines that are as short as 24 twenty-four hours or as long as two weeks.

Most of the time, a contract is considered final once it’s signed by both parties. Still you may have some flexibility if you need it. “Wiggle-room is going to be determined by each property,” says Finley. “Probably the larger, ‘corporate’ properties are a bit more rigid than the smaller independent properties. Be sure to get all contract changes in writing.” Ask your vendors if they allow changes or modifications to a contract. They may allow it, but they may charge extra for the courtesy.

“I have a standard contract, but you can write stuff into the contract,” says Peterson. Whatever a vendor’s policy, make sure it’s clear and that it’s in writing. Think about Insurance. This is an important day for you and your groom. No doubt about it, you want the event to be perfect. You may want to consider buying wedding insurance to protect your investment.

You can get insurance to cover you for reasons such as canceling due to bad weather, no-show vendors and unexpected military deployment. Some policies will even cover you for lost or damaged wedding attire or jewelry. According to the Insurance Information Institute, prices for wedding insurance can range from $125 to $400. Before buying wedding insurance, check with the California Department of Insurance to make sure the company is registered to sell insurance in California.

Another insurance consideration is whether or not your vendors are insured. Ask them all if they have insurance. If they do, it’s a good sign you’re working with a true professional.

“More and more venues are requiring insurance,” says Jewell. Transportation companies, photographers and entertainers are just some of the wedding vendors who are getting insurance to protect their business interests. For liability reasons, these vendors and others want to make sure they’re covered in case of an accident or wedding day mishap. With all vendors, make sure you have a backup plan in case of an emergency and always try to be calm and fair. Remember having a contract is a good thing. It protects you and your vendors on your special day.