Tips and Hints When Reviewing Wedding Contracts

Contacts – Image by NobMouse (Flickr)

Let’s face it, if you’re planning a Destination Wedding you’re probably a little stressed about making the day perfect!  If you’re anything like my fiance was, you’ve spent your time doing lots of research on your wedding theme and style, your vendors, and your locations.  Now, it’s time to get all those details ironed out and paid for!   If you’re like most folks, contract negotiation is a nightmare.  Believe me, we were more than stressed about the contracts for our own wedding.

However, from our own nervousness and research, we developed some tips and hints that not only helped guide us through our own contract negotiation, but will most likely help you as well.

Note:  These tips and hints have not been reviewed by any legal counsel.  If you have concerns about any of your contracts, please consult with your own legal counsel.  These tips/hints are based on our own experience, and provided “as-is” in the hopes of providing “food for thought” as you begin negotiating with your wedding vendors.

Resources to Help with DIY Contract Negotiation:
As mentioned above, if you have concerns about contract negotiation, engage a pro.  However, if you’re willing to take the risk and negotiate on your own, we found a few resources that could help with your negotiating skill:

Ceremony and Reception Venue Contract(s):

Here’s a few tips and hints we used when negotiating the contract with our ceremony and reception venues.

NOTE:  Our wedding and reception venues were at the same resort, which made things a little easier for us.  Catering for our reception was also provided by the resort.  This made our contract with the resort a little bit lengthier and more specific, as we preferred to have it cover all of our concerned items.

  • Total cost and a line-item breakdown of what’s included.  We made sure that any “add-ins” were clearly specified in the contract with our venue.  This included items such as:
    • The ceremony archway (type, shape, etc)
    • Table centerpieces (type, shape, etc)
    • Sand ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception tables (number, size, etc)
    • Table Linens (type & color)
    • Wedding and Reception chairs (type, color, arrangement – i.e. “rounds of 8, rounds of 10, etc.)
    • Dance Floor (Is a hard surface dance floor included?)
  • The exact location of the wedding/reception.  In other words, we made sure “Pear Whelk Beach,” “Lace Murex Lawn,” and “Windows-on-the-water” were specified in our contract, so that we couldn’t be “bumped” to a different location if a “higher paying” event decided to book the same day.
  • Exact date and time of our use of each location (including “backup” locations in case of rain).  For example:
    • 6:00PM – 6:30PM: Pear Whelk Beach
    • 6:30PM – 7:30PM: Lace Murex Lawn  (cocktail hour)
    • 7:30PM – 11:30PM:  Windows-on-the-Water Room (reception)
    • 6:00PM – 7:30PM: Covered Pool Deck (inclement weather ceremony/cocktails)
  • The name of the site representative.  We felt it was good to have specified who will be on hand on the wedding day, AND the name of an acceptable substitute should that person be unavailable.
  • A detailed list of catered items and bar liquors.  We spent a LOT of time figuring out how to make the reception menu adaptable to as many folks as possible, since we had a mixture of folks with dietary requirements.  We wanted to be sure that our menu choices would not be changed without our knowledge.  Additionally, we wanted to be sure that the list of liquors in the bar package (aka “tier”) we chose would not be changed to a “lesser quality” liquor.
    • We made sure to include the pricing for “vendor meals” which could be served to the vendors prior to the event if need be.
    • We were picky about our champagne, and ensured our champagne choice was detailed with the rest of the bar package.
Vendor Contract(s):
Here’s a few tips and hints we used when negotiating pricing and contracts with the various vendors helping with our wedding:
  • Photographer:
    • We specified all the studio services which were included (as we’ve heard/read nightmare stories about photographer’s changing the contract terms if they’re not specified)!
      • Copyright release for all photos.
      • CD/DVD’s of all full-size digital images
      • Photo Booklet of proofs.
      • Any albums which have been pre-paid (such as parent albums, coffee table books, etc)
    • We provided a list of all the shots that we wanted (parents, family, scenery, etc).  While this wasn’t added to the contract, it was good to prepare this ahead of time so the photographer could plan the day.
    • We asked that a “backup plan” be specified, should there be an unforeseeable illness/accident.
    • We chose a package that included the services of a second, assistant photographer.  We specified this in our contract as well.
  • Bakery:
    • The cake design – A rough sketch of our cake design was drawn on the contract, including details about coloring, decorative pieces, and flavors.
    • The date and time for delivery of the cake to the reception venue.
    • The name and number of the reception venue contacts, in case the room is not open and/or the bakery needs assistance with set-up.
    • Our bakery also created our wedding favors.  We had the details and cost of the favors (as well as the prep – coloring/bagging/tagging) included on our contract.
  • Florist:
Beach Floral Arrangement by Floral Artistry
One of our floral arrangements
created by Floral Artistry
    • We detailed the design of each bouquet/nosegay/corsage/etc, including flowers, colors, and the wrap around the base of each bouquet.
      • Bride and Bridesmaids
      • Mothers and Grandmothers
      • Groom and Groomsmen
      • Any accessory table arrangements
      • Archway treatments
      • Aisle or chair treatments.
    • A list of all fresh flower petals and colors for the flower girl(s).
    • A list of all accessories being rented:
      • Basket(s) for Flower Girl(s)
      • Vases
      • Centerpieces and candle holders
      • “Sand Box” to hold your name cards
      • Sea Shells and Starfish
    • A list of all accessories being purchased:
      • Candles (size, shape, color)
      • Sea Shells
  • Disk Jockey (DJ):
    • A break-down of his pricing for the ceremony (starting music 30 minutes before the ceremony), cocktail hour, and reception.
    • A break-down of pricing for any accessories:
      • Ceremony lapel microphones
      • Uplighting (although we didn’t use it, it’s good to have it priced out if your DJ can provide it)
      • Music request website – build the “playlist” for your reception.
      • Voicemail service – Our DJ provided an 800 number to guests which were not able to make the trip.  This way, they could record a quick message which could be played at some point during the cocktail hour or reception.
    • The DJ’s attire for the evening.
    • The “backup plan” should the DJ not be able to make the event due to illness, accident, etc.
  • Officiant:
    • The date and time of the wedding, including an early arrival time if required.
    • The cost for the ceremony, as well as any costs for participation in a rehearsal (if desired).
    • The “backup plan” should the officiant be unavailable due to illness, accident, etc.
    • Detail as to any special services the Officiant will perform:
      • Filing of the Marriage License
      • Procurement of any ceremony accessories – sand cermony kits, unity candle kits, etc

Additional Tips: 
Some other tips we followed regarding ALL the contracts:

  • Our Secret Budget.  We preferred not to reveal our “budget” for each vendor’s services up front.  Rather, we preferred to know our options with each vendor and their quoted price for each.  This gave us an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the services provided, and then from there we could start negotiating down if need be.  We weren’t afraid to show comparable quotes to get a reasonable price from our preferred vendors, but it wasn’t necessary as they were competitive from the get-go.
  • The Walk: We met with our top rated vendors face-to-face, as we wanted them to have a vested time interest in completing the sale.  If they threw us some numbers that seemed outrageous and/or didn’t quite fit our budget, the time investment of the meeting seemed to make some of them more willing to grant some additions and concessions.  This was most useful with regards to our venue selection, as one venue was not willing to give us the customizations we wanted at a reasonable price.  We walked, and ended up taking our business to a venue that far more willing to work with us.
  • Time requirements and Limited Time Offers.  If a vendor was attempting to force us into a contract quickly (e.g. “save 10% if booked by the end of the week”), we opted not to feel rushed by the limited time offer.  We preferred to make sure we’d done the research to know that the price was fair and the vendor was willing to provide everything to our liking.
  • Division was our friend.  We started our negotiations on the high side of our headcount (100 people).  Later, as we pared our guest list, we were able to have more opportunities to pare expenses until we were within our budget amounts.
  • The amount of deposit and when it was paid.  We made sure it was noted that we’ve “reserved” the date in question so that it could not be changed by the vendor.
  • The balance outstanding and when it’s due. We made sure to include a payment schedule so that there was no chance of a misunderstanding and loss of our reservation due to the fact we forgot to pay on time.
  • The exact date and time of your wedding.
    • For service vendors (DJ, Photographer, etc), we noted what time they were required to start and end.
    • We included a line item for a “per hour” rate if services needed to be extended past the original timeframe.  We were particularly concerned about ensuring we could have the DJ continue playing if we went later than our planned ending time.
  • Proof of liability insurance and liquor license.  We made sure everyone was bonded and insured, as this was also a requirement in order for our wedding/reception venue to work with any 3rd-Party.
  • Cancellation/refund policy.  Just in case.
    • We made sure to check what the refund/cancellation policy would be if there happened to be some type of hurricane or damage to the venues.
  • Anything else.  Anything else we agreed to orally that we wanted to be set in stone.
Final Thoughts:
Above all, we absolutely didn’t sign *anything* until we were totally satisfied with the terms and verbiage!  Once the signature was on there, we were locked in to the terms.  By ensuring that every detail was included, we ensured our wedding was executed exactly to our design.
What about your own wedding contract negotiations?  Feel free to leave us some comments about your own experience and/or any troubles you’ve run into with your own wedding!  Join us in helping to ensure future destination wedding brides and grooms have everything covered!
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About Rob

A northerner that recently moved South! My newlywed wife and I are long-time vacationers around southwest Florida, and our hearts definitely belong on Sanibel Island!

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