by Lisa Edd, Managing Editor
We don’t have to tell you that planning a wedding is never simple. There are so many grey areas to navigate: Ecru or bright white wedding dress? Buttercream or fondant on the cake? DJ or live band for entertainment? We could go on…
That said, there is one aspect of your wedding that should be as clear as black & white: the contracts you sign.
If you learn only one thing from us about booking your location and vendors, it’s this: Get everything in writing. And once you do, make sure you understand and agree to all the terms before you sign on the dotted line. A well-written contract protects you in two critical ways:
Sure, getting a proper contract with each vendor sounds like something everyone would insist on. But because planning a wedding is such an emotional process, couples sometimes neglect this all-important step. We know you wouldn’t dream of buying a new car without a warranty, so why would you purchase wedding services—some of which cost as much or more than a car!—without equivalent protection?
We’re convinced that this advice is a potential lifesaver, because we’ve heard many a sad story from bridal couples. Click on the next pages to view two of them.
This one comes from my colleague Denise, whose friend “Jane” recently had a gorgeous Northern California wedding. A year before her event, Jane fell in love with the portfolio of a photographer she found online. After a long and pleasant phone conversation, she booked him as her wedding photographer. She felt it was fate: she adored his work and he had the date available. Done deal.
Fast forward to three months before the wedding: The photographer calls to announce he has to adjust his package pricing, because he’s switching his business from film photography to digital. During the call, he assures Jane that the quality of her photos will be equal to the quality of the pictures that originally got her attention. She felt uneasy about the price hike, but with only three months until her wedding, there wasn’t time to find another photographer—and she was crazy about his photographic style.
Alas, when Jane finally saw her wedding photos she was heartbroken. She tearfully told Denise that the pictures resembled family snapshots taken with a point-and-shoot camera. When she asked for advice, Denise had to break it to her friend that with no contract and no email correspondence confirming the original price quoted, there was nothing to be done. In the end, this poor bride paid for her mistake—literally!—by shelling out almost $5,000 for second-rate digital photography.
Specify in writing ALL the services, products and pricing you want your contract to include. Would you be shattered if the hotel switched your ballroom on you? Would the absence of singer Jerry Canary from the band you hired ruin your reception? If tulips are unavailable for your bouquet, would you expect to be told in advance (and given the chance to choose from among replacement options)?
The devil is in the details, so make sure your contracts cover everything, from the name of the room(s) you’ve reserved and the hours you’ll have access to them, to the number and flavor of the layers in your cake. Also, be wary of any location representative or event professional that only “corresponds” via the phone. Wedding professionals who don’t put their prices in writing might as well have the word “shady” tattooed on their foreheads.
One bride was floored when she saw an additional $2,856 service charge applied to the final catering estimate a month before her wedding. However, when she took a closer look at her contract, she noticed to her dismay that the service charge information actually had been spelled out, plain as day, at the top of it. If only she had bothered to review the agreement she signed! Since her budget didn’t include enough funds to cover the charge, she had to suffer the embarrassment of asking her parents for help.
Read the fine print carefully and before you sign, make sure that there are no unexpected omissions or additions, that you understand everything, and that you can afford what you’re agreeing to. If you don’t take the time to thoroughly review your contract, you could be kicking yourself (and crying to Mommy and Daddy) when you see the final bill.
Okay, if you’ve read this far you’re clear on what to do: GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING. But what if you don’t know which things to include in a contract? We can help. Since the trick to creating a solid contract is asking the right questions, we’ve compiled lists of detailed questions to ask your location, florist, photographer, DJ and other vendors.
Trust us: Wedding trends may come and go, but well-written contracts in crisp black & white will always be in style.