You’re engaged! And now you’re at the point in your wedding planning process where you’re ready to sign the dotted line and commit to certain wedding vendors who will help create your day. You’re likely to start seeing a lot of contracts in the next few months that you’ll be expected to sign, and this can be an intimidating process if you don’t know what to look for.
Want to know the key things you should be looking for in a wedding vendor contract? We asked the members of our vendor directory to share all the details they find most important in contracts, and here’s what they had to say.
First, READ THE CONTRACT
“ACTUALLY read the contract,” says lawyer Caroline Fox, who provides legal support to wedding pros with her business The Engaged Legal Collective. “Don't just nervously skim it. There is no ‘standard’ for wedding and event contracts, so they are all VERY different.” These contracts are full of details you are going to want to fully understand, so be sure to read in full, and ask the vendor if you have any questions before signing on the dotted line.
Also, if you’re working with a vendor who is based in a different place than you, photographer Rowan Williams of Parrot & Pineapple Photography says, “Be sure you know which country and state the contract law operates under.” This is especially important if you are hiring vendors like photographers who will travel to you, or if you’re planning a destination wedding. Don’t get burned because you didn’t fully understand the laws of the vendor’s home country or state.
Make Sure You’ve Done Your Homework into the Wedding Vendor
While we all want to believe the best in people, there are some people out there who might be looking to scam you. It happens quite a bit in the wedding industry, and that’s why it’s important that you do your homework or work with businesses that have been vetted, like those in our directory.
“Do some research on the company! Don't have a Fyre-Festival-esque situation,” says Caroline. “How long have they been in operation? Are they organized with the State?” The answers to these questions might help you make a more informed decision about whether or not to sign a contract and hand over your money.
Understand the Retainer and Cancellation Policies
Obviously, understanding how much money you have to pay is critical, but also make sure you understand what amount is considered the retainer, when future payments are due, and also what happens in the event you cancel your wedding.
“Look at the deposit and whether it's ‘non-refundable,’ as well as the breakdown of payments,” says Richmond, Virginia wedding planner Jonelle McLeod of Bryck and Lace Weddings, “and the cancellation policies of the contract on both sides.”
No one likes to think about having to cancel their wedding, but it can happen for a LOT of reasons. Cancelled flights, a family emergency, or a health issue can all be reasons why couples choose to cancel or postpone their wedding, and there is really no way to plan for these sort of events.
“Always look for the information on cancellation and retainer,” says photographer La’Quitia Denson of Beyond the Pond Photography in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “Sometimes unexpected things happen and you hear stories about couples trying to cancel only to find out they won't receive a refund like they would expect.”
Understand What Exactly Is Included with Your Package
This should be a given, but make sure you understand what exactly is included in your contract, as often things you would consider “basic” are actually “add-ons.” Make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for.
“When it comes to venues, really make sure you know what you’re getting,” says New York City wedding planner Justine Broughal of Together Events. “Know which rentals are included, and if there is an additional cost for use? Are there restrictions on types of candles or lighting that may be used? Do they have a list of required vendors? How long do you have for setup? All of these details should be explicitly spelled out in the contract.”
This is also important because most vendors really just want to give you and your partner the best possible experience, and they don’t want to leave you disappointed simply because there was a miscommunication over the contract.
“It's a mess when you are expecting something and your vendor is offering something else,” says La’Quitia. “It's best to be on the same page to avoid hiccups. They want your day to go as smoothly as you do! “
Know What The Vendor’s Emergency Plan Is
Just like you might have an emergency that forces you to cancel or postpone your wedding, vendors are real people and might have their own personal emergencies that pop up. This shouldn’t scare you, though, as most wedding vendors have emergency plans in place to ensure you are never left hanging on your wedding day.
“Check on what the contract says about what your photographer's plan is if they are sick or can otherwise not shoot your wedding”, says Maryland photographer Laura Scheidt of Exclamation Imagery. “They should have a good plan in place that involves substituting another photographer or giving you a refund.”
Most vendors we know have solid plans in place that include designated backup vendors or planning to bring extra members of their team to help out, like for example, a second photographer. If you see this on the contract and think it’s an unnecessary expense, you might want to think again before you ask for the extra help to be cut. Wedding vendors are skilled professionals, and they want to do everything they can to ensure you have enough hands on deck at your wedding to keep everything running smoothly even if an emergency pops up.
And emergency plans aren’t just for photographers and wedding planners. Make sure you understand emergency plans for all of your day-of vendors, such as your officiant, DJ, and caterers. In most cases, your vendor will do everything they can to provide you with a replacement that is comparable both in skill and in style.
“For DJs, make sure there's a clause in the contract that state that if the DJ isn't able to perform due to a dire circumstance, they agree to find a professional replacement,” says Louisville wedding DJ Heather Yenawine of HAY DJ. This is also why it can be important to communicate certain details to your DJ ahead of time in order to ensure they can find you a comparable replacement should emergency strike.
Understand Your Wedding Photographer’s Image Policy
This one is important, because a lot of couples have misconceptions about their photographs, who has the rights to them, and how they will be archived.
“I have come across some photographers that DO NOT store photos after a wedding,” says La’Quitia. “Some make this known in their contracts, though this is not a guarantee. It’s better to know when you sign the contract in case anything happens like a flood, fire, or moving mishap.” If your photographer doesn’t store your photos, or only stores them for a brief period of time, make sure you have a plan for how to secure your images and keep them safe once they’ve been delivered.
“When looking at a photography contract, you will want to know what the photographer has rights to do with your wedding photos,” says Laura. “Can they be used for their promotional purposes? Are you okay with that? You will also want to make sure you have ‘full rights’ to your photos as well so that you can print and share as you wish.” But keep in mind, getting “full rights” may come with an extra price tag, as many photographers rely on print and album sales in order to keep their operating costs and package prices lower.
Determine Which Wedding Vendors Require a Meal
We talked about this a few weeks ago, but make sure you know which vendors you’re feeding during the wedding.
”Check the vendor’s policy on meals during receptions. It's best to make sure you make room in your budget for a meal if your vendor is requesting it,” says La’Quitia. “Please...feed the folks that are working hard.”
If the vendor doesn’t mention meals, but they will be present while food is being served, don’t assume they don’t want to eat. Ask them, and be sure to check in with them about any dietary restrictions they might have.
Does the Contract Consider Accessibility?
Accessibility can mean a lot of things, but here are a few specific things to look out for when it comes to vendor contracts. Does the venue have wheelchair accessible entrances and restrooms? Do your caterers have plans for how to handle a wide variety of dietary restrictions? Is your DJ going to use strobe lights or anything that might cause seizures? Ask these questions up front BEFORE you sign the contract to ensure you’ll be able to accommodate the needs of you, your partner, and all of your guests.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography