The movies make it look so easy. You fall in love, he buys a ring, pops the question and then in the next scene a beautiful bride is walking down an aisle of chairs in a grassy field at sunset. There’s champagne, cake and a band. They dance, laugh and it’s undoubtedly the best night that has ever happened. Ever. But as all real couples find out, there’s a lot to be done in between the proposal and daddy giving his daughter away.
Once your budget is established you have to do a lot of vendor research. It is all going to come down to getting a contract with the vendor. This is your insurance policy that you will get what you are promised and should be the deciding factor with each vendor. Many vendors will just mail you a contract and expect you to read it and understand their legal jargon. Here are a few tips on what to look for in vendor contracts:
Job description and work completed
This may sound obvious, but many vendors’ contract will only lock in the cost because that’s what is most important for them. Most important for you is explaining the job at hand. How long will they do it? What if your wedding runs late and you need your DJ to stay longer – will they? At what cost? Same for your photographer – will they stay beyond their package’s hours? What if they get sick? Will someone else be there?
Also lock in the services provided. Don’t just assume your DJ will provide lights, that your photographer will give you the rights to your prints or that your caterer won’t charge you extra to rent the china they showed you at the consultation. Get all of this in writing.
Who is doing the service?
Wow, the person you met with for the DJ company was so nice. They were confident but not a diva, and really seemed like they knew what they were doing. But then, the day of your wedding, Joe Schmo shows up with his speakers and a strobe light and he is about as pleasant as Hannibal Lector.
Believe it or not, this happens. With all of your vendors make sure the services you are paying for will be provided by the person you speak with and trust. It’s very typical for larger companies to have a salesman to do their consultations but ship out a contractor to do the work.
Payments and deposits
Know the total amount you are being charged, and understand the vendor’s terms on the deposits (50 percent is typical) and final payments. For example, a DJ may have it in their contract that if you do not pay your balance within two weeks before the wedding the contract is voided, so you don’t want to find this out on the day of your wedding. Know your vendor’s policy on cancellations and postponements, especially if you’re doing an outdoor wedding.
Some vendors may ask you for cash, but push for a check so that you have a record of payment. While it’s acceptable to tip with cash, you should never pay your balance in cash without a receipt because you are one of dozens of clients this vendor is trying to keep up with, so don’t assume they will remember that you paid.
You got a great deal on that cake, but when you got back from the honeymoon there was an invoice for $75 noting a “delivery fee.” Or your reception went 15 minutes long and the photographer or DJ billed you $200 for a full hour. Yep, this happens.
Make sure your contract has a list of all fees and that those fees are locked in. Many bakers will charge you delivery fees, which is understandable considering the amount of effort involved in transporting those massive and beautiful cakes without smudging a single side. Just make sure the rate is reasonable (typically under $50).
While it might sound crazy and unnecessary, you need to get in writing what is acceptable for your vendor, or at least have confidence your expectations are communicated. Don’t be afraid to ask if your DJ drinks at weddings, and to let them know if you would rather they did not. Ask your photographer or DJ if they take smoke breaks because at rates around $400 an hour, a 15 minute smoke break just cost you $100.
In any contract you may see a clause under “Indemnification.” For example, photographers make their living by portfolios of brides, grooms and their guests, and it’s not very practical to set out a stack of model releases next to the guest book to ensure they have everyone’s permission. This is a wedding, not a commercial portrait session. This part of your contract will say that if one of your guest sues them, then you’ll help cover attorney fees (oh, and make sure it says “reasonable” attorney fees). So don’t freak out if you see this section, but be aware of all the details involved.
Have a contract, no matter what, no excuse
No matter who you use for what service, get a contract. Even if this is the church you have gone to all your life, have it in writing that for X amount of hours that sanctuary is yours. Too often brides find out that they have to be run out of the church early because someone scheduled a piano recital or wedding rehearsal right after the biggest day of your life.
The contract is not just for the vendor, it’s for you. No matter what, know what you are getting. Keep a binder with all of your wedding contracts so it’s easy to find when you’re trying to remember the little details.
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