Wedding contracts are one of the most important details of your wedding. I always say that if it’s not included in the contract, it “may” not happen. It’s a legal agreement that you’ve signed, so you better be sure that you understand what you just agreed to. We spoke with event planner Danielle Rothweiler of Rothweiler Event Design to share some pro tips on how to handle all of the different types of wedding contracts there are and what to look out for.
Read and understand EVERYTHING
“Be honest. You have signed a contract before that you didn’t read. Or maybe you read most of it, but then figured it was just standard legal stuff to ignore,” Rothweiler says. “Too often contracts are treated like those annoying ‘terms of service’ boxes where you just scroll down, click OK and get on with your life. But the simple reason behind why you want to not only read, but understand the contracts you sign while wedding planning, is because they all affect one another.”
So if you’re getting ready to plan the details of your wedding day, then this is mandatory reading material. “No, you won’t have to sign anything and there won’t be a quiz at the end,” Rothweiler adds. “But you can bet your sweet little white dress that once you realize why reading your contract is so important, you’ll be more likely to actually do just that.”
She’s broken her tips into sections for each vendor, so make sure you read it all in order to be fully prepared to plan your wedding. Here we go!
The Venue Contract
The venue will have the longest contract and is almost always the first item checked off the list when planning a wedding. After all, you can’t really give anyone a date if you aren’t even sure what is available.
“As easy as it would be to assume it’s allowed if it’s not written, make sure to discuss it with your venue,” Rothweiler says. “I’ve worked at and researched thousands of venues both locally and internationally, and regardless of location, many contracts are similar.”
Here are the major details to look for in a venue contract and the reasons why you need to know them:
- The obvious specifics. While this may seem like a given, you’d be surprised by the number of people who sign contracts without having the basics included. These are: date and time of your wedding, the number of guests you’re hosting, a price per person, the menu or package chosen (if they offer packages), the liquor package chosen, the service fee line item (ask if this goes toward gratuities or are they additional), a sales tax line item (on top of food and beverage only), amount and date of deposit due, payment schedule, and any add-ons such as cake, extra stations, dessert bars or upgraded wines that they may be throwing in for free. If it’s not written down, you can’t count on the word of a wedding planner who may not even be working at your venue by the time your wedding rolls around.
- The cancellation policy. While no one thinks they’ll ever have to use this clause, you never know what life may bring by way of medical, family or weather emergencies. And sometimes couples simply change their minds, opting for a small wedding or an elopement. This is why it’s so important to understand and be OK with your venue’s specific cancellation policy. For some, you’ll only lose your deposit. For others, you may owe 75% of the bill after a certain date, whether you’ve paid it yet or not. So if you cancel, you will owe THEM money. Each cancellation policy varies greatly from venue to venue, so be sure to read and understand this important clause.
- How many other events might take place before, during and/or after your wedding? Most brides don’t want another wedding going on while they are having their own, but they almost never think to ask about what happens before that. “If a venue can host an event prior to your own, they are likely to do so unless you purchase a “buyout” of the entire space,” Rothweiler advises. “If an event doesn’t get booked for the earlier time slot the same day, there is still a chance that your venue will not be open until the two-hour mark before your wedding begins. This means that not one vendor, including your florist, will be able to set up until that time. So if you’re going crazy and pinning elaborate floral displays, slow your roll since there might not be enough time to get that done. If a buyout isn’t in the budget, keep reading. Regardless, make sure you know how much time you really have.”
- Speaking of vendors, the rules that a venue has always come first. Sometimes that grand entrance complete with dry ice isn’t going to be allowed. If you have your heart set on anything that will take place at the venue, look and see what the contract says. As easy as it would be to assume it’s allowed if it’s not written, make sure to discuss it with a sales or venue coordinator first. It’s also worth mentioning that the answer from the venue is the final answer. Even if you hear from someone that got married there or a vendor that says it can be done, if the venue said No, then take them at their word. A few things that are “pin-worthy” but not always venue friendly: dry-ice/smoke, hanging anything from the ceiling, candles that aren’t covered, candles that aren’t battery-operated, wish lanterns, fireworks, food trucks, confetti, or catered food from an outside vendor.
- Another issue that tends to come up is the set up for the day. Your florist is responsible for their stuff. But for items like pictures you want to display or any signage, it’s important to discuss if the venue will handle that or not. If the venue will take care of things like placing 250 chair covers, double- and triple-check if a labor fee will be added on with your final bill.
- While it varies in terms of amount needed and which vendors need to provide what, the venue will always ask that insurance is provided. At a minimum, your florist, photographer, cinematographer, all music and your photobooth will have to provide what is called a “Certificate of Insurance.” If you’re bringing in outside food and beverage, they also may be asked to provide coverage. It sounds scarier than it is as every professional vendor already carries this. Just make sure you know what the venue’s requirements are and ask for this document as soon as you book your vendors.
The Photo/Video Contract
- The amount of hours that a photographer and/or cinematographer is on-site can be anywhere from 6 to 14. While it’s not always possible to decide the exact amount of time you will need, you want to factor in for possible overtime costs. “Eight to 10 hours usually is just fine, but if you can land a package of 10 hours, I’d suggest doing just that,” Rothweiler says. “Always confirm if travel time is included and what the actual per hour (or half hour) overtime fee is.”
- While you may have heard to get all raw images and the rights to your photos, this isn’t something that is always provided. In fact, many photographers refuse to deliver raw images to their clients as they don’t want any modifications made including 500 different Instagram filters.
- Pay close attention to how your photographer is your only photographer for the day. There are variations with this clause, but the main point is that there will be no one else taking photos or shooting video. “Couples generally glaze over this because they cannot imagine how this would be an issue,” Rothweiler advises. “Let me tell you why photographers put this into their contract: DJs. You’ve been to the weddings where photographs from earlier in the day are shown on the flat screens, right? Well, sometimes the DJ brings his own photographer for those images. This is a whole different subject to delve into, but just know that this is why the issue exists. Respect it and handle it before you sign a contract with your DJ.”
- Like any other vendor present during your reception (wedding planner, musician, photo booth, event painter, etc.), the photo and video crew will get hungry. “These people are human and the human body requires food and water,” Rothweiler says. “Most contracts will state that a vendor meal must be provided and even if it’s not written it still should happen. Plenty of vendors will bounce from your reception to pick up pizza if you don’t feed them. And it will say so in their contract.”
The Florist Contract
It’s important to know from the florist if they can accomplish your vision. But a common misconception is that the first appointment will include a sample centerpiece, so don’t go into that meeting expecting to see one. Here is what you can expect to see in their contracts though:
- The payments you make will be broken up, but that last payment could end up being a full two to three weeks prior to your wedding date. Flowers get ordered at different times, and many florists need 14 days to make sure the order comes in correctly. Some florists will let the final payment go until the wedding day, whereas others will want the money before they make the order. Either practice is fine, but make sure you know when your payments are due.
- Going back to the venue dilemma and having limited set-up time, make sure your florist knows during the consultation exactly what they are working with. If the venue has a set of rules for florists, make sure to provide that along with any timing restrictions. It’s important to know from the florist if they can accomplish your vision and if they will need extra staff (AKA: more money) to do it.
The DJ, Band or Both Contract(s)
Whether you have a DJ handling all of your music or a band playing at the reception and a string quartet at the ceremony, music contracts are just as important to review. Just like the vendors mentioned above, all of these people will have to provide insurance documents, guaranteed. There are differences between a band and DJ contract, but here are two similarities to look for and talk about:
- A major reason that insurance is required from your music vendors is that they could potentially use a ton of electricity. Once you are under contract and in the music planning stages, there will be a discussion of where the band/DJ is placed and where the closest power source is. Even if you are in a standard banquet hall, it’s really important to look over the contract in regard to how close your music vendor needs to be and what happens if they are too far away. Bands and DJs don’t always have extension cords or generators with them, and adding stuff on like that last minute is going to cost you.
- Pay careful attention to what is actually included and what will cost you more. “As a planner, I know what will be needed and what the right questions are,” Rothweiler says. “Brides, however, do not. A question to ask here (if not outlined in the contract) is: What microphones do you include? It’s a thought that doesn’t cross a couple’s mind until no one can hear the vows or any of the toasts. But by then, it’s too late. Don’t wonder or assume anything about microphones.”
The Transportation Contract
If you need shuttles for guests or a bunch of limos and party buses, you will probably work with one transportation company. “A big ‘however’ here though, is if you are setting up a hotel block and they provide a shuttle service,” Rothweiler adds. “There probably won’t be a contract here, but an invoice and some fine print is typically what you would receive. Whatever you book, read what you are given and look out for the following:”
- Overtime hours and costs associated with any transportation provided outside of the standard 3 to 3.5 hours should be considered. “You might not think that this will be an issue, but when you’re running late or sitting in traffic or take more time with photos than expected or…” she adds. “No one likes paying bills after a wedding because that’s like dealing with student loans. The party is over, the bills should go away, right? Make that happen by putting together a package for the time that you need and be realistic about it. Ask about this before you book as it won’t come up (probably) and then it will be buried deep.”
- Nine times out of 10 you can’t eat or drink in the limos you book. “That’s right, no champagne on that party bus is a total possibility,” Rothweiler says. “No one realizes the reality of this situation until the bride is jumping into the limo with her bridesmaids and a bottle of bubbly, and the limo driver says ‘No drinks allowed.’ Ask about this before you book as it won’t come up (probably) and then it will be buried deep in the invoice…so deep that you won’t see it.”
The contracts Rothweiler spoke about above are ones that pretty much go with every wedding, no matter the guest count, location or style. To read about many other contracts and to learn more about Rothweiler Event Design, go to rothweilereventdesign.com.