When you close your eyes and think about your upcoming wedding (or even when you’re daydreaming), you’re probably imagining yourself walking down the aisle, flowers all around, candles lit along the walkway and a nicely decorated mandap or altar. You smell the air full of flowers and happiness. You’ve waited a long time for this day….
But what if those candles along the aisle fell over, or what if someone got hurt? I’m not trying to scare you but as brides, we’re not always thinking about: What if something goes wrong at my wedding?
As brides, we’re preoccupied with planning and excited about every part of the wedding – the clothes, the cake, the decor, the flowers… and excited about everything else EXCEPT the wedding vendor contracts!
It’s easy to overlook the small details that could help protect you in case something happens. Contracts can be annoying to understand. It’s easy to brush contracts off like they’re no big deal and have your fiancee read through them or even pass them to your parents to read and sign.
That’s what I did. I went into my wedding planning full force – thinking about everything under the sun. I didn’t pay much attention to the vendor contracts. We read through the contracts, but it wasn’t with a super keen eye. Looking back, I should’ve paid way more attention to them even though we got lucky and our vendors followed through with their services as promised (and we had no issues). Don’t count on luck though – you need that safety net or else you’ll be kicking yourself if you didn’t set it up and something goes wrong
It’s about more than simply reading the contracts. It’s about arming yourself with the knowledge to ask your vendors the right questions, so you can set up the right type of contracts for your wedding events.
What Is A Contract?
[I’m not a lawyer, nor am I providing you with any legal advice.] To add some context, the non-technical definition of a contract simply means that both parties are in agreement for the doing (or not doing) of something specified. In this case, an offer is made (by the vendor) and you (the wedding couple) is obligated to pay them for that service. It could be in the form of money or it could be something else in return (like a service – for example, if your fiancee is a business consultant, he could provide X hours of consulting service to your photographer in exchange for wedding photography services).
It gets tricky if you’re talking about a gift. “Consideration” is required by both parties, which basically means that the vendor is required to do (or not do) something under the contract. With Indian weddings this is really tricky – especially when you could get your dad’s uncle friend to take on a vendor’s role at the wedding and isn’t charging for it (like providing the wedding vehicle or the DJ services). For your information, this is considered a gift, so it’s not considered a contract. Talk to a lawyer for more technical details!
Read Your Contracts
So here you are: you met with multiple vendors, you’ve seen their contracts and now you have to make some decisions. Before signing with any vendor, read your contracts. Highlight anything and everything. It’s easy to skim over the contracts because you want to move forward with them quickly, but read your contracts through in detail.
Some contracts include everything your vendor will provide and information about payment, but only sometimes will they include what they won’t cover. Do your homework on the front end so you don’t have to worry on the back end.
Check if there are any contingency plans included. Like, what’ll happen if you have an outdoor wedding ceremony (or cocktail hour) and there’s bad weather? Or, what if the ovens stop working and food can’t be heated properly? Understand what’s in your contracts. Don’t ignore it if you don’t understand it. ASK!
What To Look For In A Contract
You’ll be spending a lot of money on your wedding so including details in the contract is something you can’t afford to miss.
Vendors sometimes have a tendency to verbally say they can do certain things but don’t necessarily include those “things” in the contract. Ask vendors to include those “things” in the contract. For example, if your photographer agrees to visit the venue with you to check it out beforehand, write that out in the contract – don’t just take their word for it.
For Indian weddings, it’s especially important that the vendor outlines services for each specific event that they’re being hired for. For example – what is the exact location of the events – pre-wedding event, ceremony and reception (and any other events like breakfasts, a late-night snack room or a hangout area) and what is their role?
Red line the contract if you want something specific. You have the right to negotiate. And I’m not just talking about price. We all know you (and/or your parents) will be negotiating price. We’re Indian after all!
TIP: Vendors might be more likely to include more in your package (at the price they quoted) versus reducing the price of a package. Ask them to add in any of these “bonuses” (they mention verbally) into the contract.
When Do You Negotiate?
This is a great question because Indians often go straight to vendors and say “give me a good price” even before vendors offer their services and their package prices. Once the vendor gives you their package prices, negotiate up front. Especially for services like the venue. That said, some vendors (like your photographer) might not have as much leeway.
If you’re planning your wedding during peak Indian wedding season, don’t expect too much negotiation. “Peak” season obviously differs on the west coast and east coast but generally speaking, you probably know when it is. If you’re planning a January wedding in Michigan, then the vendors might be able to negotiate a lot more than if it’s in July.
Get Everything Down On Paper
Don’t take anyone’s word for it when they tell you something verbally. Get everything down on paper! This is one place you can’t do the Indian word thing (or at least try really hard not to do it!). Chances are, at least one of your vendors might be a family friend or a friend’s family friend or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Try to write down their services on paper (even if that person says “don’t worry beta” multiple times).
A planning tool I found extremely helpful during my planning was to track conversations. During each vendor meeting, I took copious notes and then immediately after, quickly typed up the takeaways into a word doc and sent them to the vendor. I would ask them to confirm via email that we were on the same page regarding what was just discussed. Now you have an email chain with that discussion (in case you need to refer to it later).
TIP: Keep track of when your payments are due. Be clear about when payments are due, and in what form.
Vendor Details To Consider
Horse Carriage: Timing is important since the vendor is most likely charging by the hour. Look out for what happens if there are any injuries.
Hair/Makeup: Many hair/makeup stylists don’t have contracts. The ones I’ve worked with use text and email. If that’s the case with your stylists, it’s OK as long as you agree to the terms via email and it’s clear that you accept the services. Make it clear about when the stylists will arrive for your events, and what specifically they’ll do. Or, if you don’t want to rely on email, make up a simple contract in Word to make it “official.”
Priest: Let’s face it, your local temple probably won’t have a contract per se, so this one is a little tricky. Many larger temples have a manager on site who coordinates the priests’ booked events. They might make you or your parents sign some kind of “paper” with the date and time of your events. If you’re having a church wedding, it should be a similar document that locks in your time and date.
Mehndi: There’s mehndi for the bride and there’s mehndi for the guests. It’s very likely that this agreement will happen over the phone or over casual conversation with your vendor. It’s hard to make a contract, but you could come up with a simple document outlining cost per hand or cost per hour.
TIP: Be Savvy. Don’t let vendors tell you they can’t negotiate terms or change the contract because it’s in a standard format or template.
Insurance – Do I Need It?
Liability insurance would cover something like if your elderly Aunty falls and breaks her leg and she wants medical insurance to cover it. The liability insurance would cover that. I know, you don’t even want that to happen, but it could happen!
What about your bling bling? You want your bling covered by jewelry insurance if it’s not already. God forbid anything happens to it! Home insurance can cover this via a rider. Ask your groom in case he’s already done it.
If your wedding is up to two years from now, it might be a good idea to consider insurance. Today, there’s even insurance companies that provide cancellation insurance specific to weddings.
You’re probably not even thinking about this, but if you do have a bad experience and want to vent on the big wedding network websites like TheKnot or WeddingWire (or even Yelp), think twice. In some states, if you write a negative review, it could be considered defamatory and therefore against the law. State your opinion as an opinion (not a fact!) and avoid bad language if you’re providing a “constructive” review.
How Your Credit Card Can Help
If you can, avoid paying in cash. Many vendors like cash but if you want to cover yourself, you want a paper trail just in case anything happens. Use PayPal or credit card for payments. Another reason to use credit card is that if something goes wrong, you can file a claim directly through your credit card company.
What If Something Goes Sour?
If you have a conflict with your vendor, contact them first before doing anything else. See if you can work something out. Vendors don’t like contracts as much as you do but they use them because it means everyone is protected. It’s not just for their benefit, it’s for your benefit too.
The vendor contracts are an important part of the wedding planning process – don’t overlook it like it’s no big deal.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended for guidance purposes only. This information does not replace legal advice.
Additional resources related to contracts can be found in our Resources Toolbox.
Have you encountered any “snafoos” with your wedding contracts? Any lessons to share with your fellow brides? Tell us in the comments below.
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