How to Navigate a Wedding Vendor Contract

A young couple meeting with a wedding vendor.

If you’re at the point of receiving a contract from a wedding vendor, congratulations! However, it’s wise to see this as a step in the process, and not the sealing of a deal: some items in the contract may not match your previous conversations, and you want to know for sure what is going on before you sign on the dotted line. Here are a few considerations that will help you make a wise choice as you plan and book your venue, caterer, florist, and other vendors for your wedding.

Get Pricing and Fee Estimates in Writing

However odd this may seem, a contract isn’t just an explanation of each party’s rights—it’s also about the agreed-upon prices and any potential extra fees. Your vendors should be willing to spell out what kinds of set-up and tear-down fees they charge, who they will hire and for how much, and any other costs that are built in but not part of the overall price. Encourage them to price out everything, including taxes, so that you know what you are truly signing for. Scour the contract for any additional fees that you don’t understand.

Negotiate to Hit Your Budget

A woman sitting at a desk with a laptop and calculator.

When you see the budget, you often will have a bit of sticker shock, especially if you’d been considering the base rate and there were additional fees left to be calculated. Most vendors want your business, so see what you can do to negotiate on the price. Negotiation can involve skimming the actual product (such as having only one side dish rather than two with your catered dinner) or just negotiating the rate down a bit. There are ways that you can push on prices, but just know that if they say they’re firm, you lost nothing in the attempt as long as it wasn’t an outlandishly large ask.

Successful Negotiations Should all Be in Writing

If you do get an agreement for a reduced rate or an exception to a fee, make sure it’s in the revised contract! Too often, a bill will rely on the original contract because the vendor “forgot” the change in price, and if you can’t prove the negotiation took place, you’re stuck. Make sure that this final stage isn’t a place where you lose your hard-won ground.

Understand Time, Guest, and Other Limitations

A gold vintage frame with place cards at a wedding reception.

While prices are important, so are the limits that your contract implies. Will there be a new fee if you go over 150 guests? A new fee if your party isn’t shut down by midnight? A new fee if you need help setting up the chairs? Whatever the limitations, get them clarified so that you and your wedding party can ensure hard limits are respected to keep the prices down. The most frustrating kind of fee is a fee that was spelled out in the contract but you didn’t consider a big deal and thus forgot about.

Cancellation Clauses and Deposits

No one wants to imagine that they would cancel a wedding vendor, but things happen, and you should be clear on when and how you can get refunds. Look for the days before the venue when the full cost will be due, and make a clear choice about what, if anything, could merit needing more time. Similarly, make sure you are clear on what will happen if the vendor cannot complete their end of the bargain: yes, of course, a full refund, but do they have related vendors who can help in a surprise cancellation? Check on these worst-case-scenarios and then feel at ease when nothing bad happens.

Walk Away if it Doesn’t Feel Right

The contract stage can feel like pressure, since the vendor has pulled together a custom quote for you, but don’t let it take you over. If you have concerns that the vendor won’t discuss or budge on, take your business elsewhere. One important caveat to this is to check and see if any other vendors would be willing to comply with your requests; if it turns out that, say, a 60-day cancellation window where the full payment is still due is standard for all local vendors, there’s no point in walking away from an otherwise adequate contract.

Read Carefully, but Sign Quickly

On the other hand, if you have no particular doubts but are nervous about the commitment of a high-cost contract, spend a few dedicated hours reviewing the contract and looking up terms you don’t understand, but then commit. In many cases, the vendor is juggling requests and will accept the first contract that comes back signed, meaning that you have a very finite amount of time to sign. You do have the time to read carefully and understand thoroughly, but you don’t really have time to avoid the contract and the responsibility it implies. Take a deep breath, work with your partner, and sign that paper!

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