Five Fine Points of the Fine Print

Recently, there has been quite a bit of chatter going on in the Dallas / Fort Worth wedding market regarding companies that supposedly acted outside of their legal limits.  Several of these issues had to deal with what someone said they’d include in their services, and – more recently – another was a company that simply decided not to show up for several weddings.

Anytime this subject comes up, I always ask “What does the contract say?”  Here are some times on negotiating the turbulent waters of contracts.  Perhaps a little know-how in this area will keep your vendor from trying to “Take the money and run”.  I’ll use an entertainment contract as an example because, well, that’s the contracts I write everyday!

1. What’s in it for you?

At the very least, a contract should list what’s being exchanged.  Typically, it’s a product (a cake, for example) or service (entertainment) in exchange for money, cars, boats, or a vacation home (I’m open to any of these, by the way).  More importantly, the contract should sufficiently list what you are expecting from this company, or reference another document that does that.  Simply stating “DJ Services”, for example, leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  If the company provided a brochure that lists what “DJ Services” entails, then be sure to keep a copy with the contract.  Perhaps the contract references a certain package that they offer.  Make sure you get a copy of what that package includes, and keep that with your contract.    For my company, here’s how that works:

  • During our initial conversation, I’ll provide you with a document that lists (in writing) my packages, options, and pricing
  • Before we sign a contract, I’ll provide you with a proposal that lists the package and options you selected, along with detailed pricing
  • When you choose to book, I’ll create an invoice from the proposal
  • The contract will note the invoice number as well as the total from the invoice
  • Should you add or remove anything along the way, I’ll update the invoice and re-send it.  (In today’s world, that means a trail of emails which sufficiently show agreement)

As you can see, it’s easy to know what you are getting, and how much it’s costing you.  And, if you are expecting certain person to show up – be that a photographer, DJ, etc – make sure their name is on the contract too.

2. What’s in it for them?

On the other side of the exchange, you’ll be required to actually pay for these products and services.  A contract should include a detailed pay schedule, and how to pay them.  Be sure you read this carefully.  Many companies list pricing based on payment by cash or check, and charge a small (3-4%) fee for credit card transactions, which covers their cost of receiving payment by card.  (But just think of all those miles you – I mean, your parents –  are raking up!)  If the company is providing a service, then expect to pay a deposit at the time of booking.  It’s typical for the balance to be due about two weeks before your event.  That may make some people nervous, but a good contract should protect you in the case of any ill-doings.  If you are purchasing a product, then the balance is usually due before the wedding or at the time of delivery.  And, if it’s a company that provides a product after the wedding (such as a photographer or videographer), then the final payment should be due at the time of delivery.  Personally, I think this is fair for both parties.

3. The Legal-eze

Some say it’s not a contract without those “heretofore” and “party of the second part” vernacular.  The fact is that some contracts often do have some elements of “lawyerish” in them.  Admittedly, mine does (it’s a requirement of my liability insurance company to have some verbatim language included).  But, here’s the deal – if you don’t understand it, find someone who does.  Or, ask the company you’re hiring to explain it, preferably via email so you have a paper(less) trail.  Most of the document should be understandable, in my opinion.

4. The What-Ifs

Here’s where it all comes together.  Over the years, I’ve looked at a lot of contracts.  It’s surprising to me (maybe I’m naive) that a lot of contracts are simply not fair to the client. Not to pick on DJs, but I’ve seen contracts that give the company the right to subcontract to another company for no apparent reason.  That really irritates me.  And, I’ve been called by people in the past who’ve said “Hey, I have a wedding booked but can’t do it because I’ve booked a bigger, event,can I pay you to do it?”  Let me say, that infuriates me (and I let them know that).  Your wedding is, after all, a Once-In-A-Lifetime event.  Hopefully, you did a bit of research, met with a few DJs, and picked “The One”.

Life happens – we all know that.  So what does the contract say about that?  Like all things in a contract, there are two sides to the coin.  And, there’s also the time of notice.  At the basis of this conversation should be the notion that you should have mutual commitment – in other words, the client should be just as committed to the company as they expect the company to be to them.  Let’s take a look:

Vendor Emergency

Let’s say that something happens a month or two before your wedding, and your vendor is unable to attend.  It could be an injury, family emergency, or perhaps their bid to ride a SpaceX ship to the moon finally paid off.  Assuming they give you ample notice (meaning, as soon as they realize they can’t attend), then I think you should be refunded all monies less any services or products already provided, and the contract should be terminated.  Hopefully, they will recommend a suitable replacement for you, taking your personalities and vision in mind.  (Again – you did get to know each other quite well, right?)

If it’s a week-of emergency (and they should be able to provide proof of such emergency, if requested), then I believe they should notify you, find a replacement, and let you approve the replacement.  Furthermore, the company is responsible for paying the replacement.

Finally – if it’s a last minute emergency (again with the notification and proof of what’s happened), they must do all that they can to find a replacement and pay any costs in doing so.  In this case, assuming it’s truly unavoidable, it’s important that both parties be understanding and gracious.  “Put yourself in their shoes” and all that.

Client Emergency

I’d say that most companies in the wedding industry tend to be small, probably 10 people or less.  Because of that, there is a limited amount of business that they can handle.  This is a good thing, because weddings are an emotional business, and your provider can give you the attention your day deserves.  Some companies – cakeries, for example – often supply multiple celebrations on the same day.  Photographers, videographers, and entertainers are more limited because of the time commitment involved, and the desire to have a particular personality at your event.

Should you delay your event, then the likelihood that your vendors can fill that date are proportional to the number of events they can supply on a given date, subject to the amount of notice given.  This is also impacted by the uniqueness of their service.  Let me explain…

If your event gets delayed and you provide your vendors with six months notice, then the chances are pretty good that they can fill that slot.  You’ll most always lose your deposit, but can terminate the contract.  Three months out, and your florist or favor company will probably be able to fill that date, but now you’re getting into a zone where the more talent-based companies will not.  Why? Well, for one, they are usually booked further out.  Secondly, there’s often a two-way interview process involved.  You’ll meet to see if the vendor is right for you, and they’ll see if you are right for them.  This is especially true if they are more involved in your wedding day, such as planners, photographers, and entertainers.

But – what’s fair?  Here’s what I do….  If you book with me and cancel your event less than 90 days out, I’m owed the balance.  Simply due to the fact that most couples book me more than 90 days from their wedding.  However, I’ll do all I can to book the date.  If I can (even at a discount), I’ll refund to you an amount proportional to what I re-booked it for.  Sound fair?  I think so.  Youshouldn’t be punished for deciding to hold off on this most important day, but your vendors shouldn’t be punished for committing to being there.  Win, meet win!

5. Do Your Part

I really shouldn’t have to say this, but if a company offers something that sounds too good to be true, there’s a really, really, really good chance of drama.  Ask your vendors about each other.  Choose what’s important to you (of course – entertainment is WAY up there!), and follow due diligence in hiring those vendors.  Your wedding day is far too important to leave in the hands of fly-by-night enterprises or beginners.  Some great questions to ask:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Is this your full-time profession?
  • What professional or trade organizations do you belong to? (check them out)
  • What do you do to better your craft?
  • Are you insured?

Practical Applications

One thing I hear quite often is that a venue will say they are including something, but it doesn’t happen in the end.  Make sure you get everything in writing, even if it’s just via email.  Take the notes from your meeting, and send them saying “Per our conversation, here’s what I understand you are providing.”  Be sure to confirm the cost, if any.  I recently DJ’d a wedding where the venue showed the client some more expensive linens, and the client thought they were included.  Guess what?  They weren’t.  I was hired to provide production services for a charity gala a few years ago.  The year prior, the hote’s A/V company provided everything.  During those meetings, the sales guy would say “Oh, we could do some uplights around the room”.  “How about spandex instead of screens?”  “We’ll light those auction items for you”.  Three weeks after, they got a bill for $23,000 from the A/V company!!  No pricing was ever mentioned.  The hotel had thrown in alot of perks because it was a city-based charity, so the charity assumed that the A/V company was doing the same.  (The A/V company ended up eating that bill, by the way)

As the 2015 President of the Society of Wedding Professionals, I had the opportunity to MC a recent Bridal Panel at one of our luncheons.  I asked the couples “Did you get a contract from all of your vendors?”.  Most vendors provided a contract.  Then I asked “Did you read those contracts?”.  Only one of the six people on the panel answered yes.  It’s no wonder that a few companies are causing such a ruckus.

A few weeks ago, I saw where a DJ was needing some events covered.  I had never heard of him (had anyone), so I checked out his website.  Curiously, it boldly stated “No matter what kind of event you are having or what time it takes place, we only book one event per day“.  Then how is it they needed two events covered? Then I learned that this company had no intention of paying the DJs that stepped in to rescue these weddings.  What??  One week after, I got a call for a client that had fallen victim to this company.  Everything was paid in full, and the owner called them the day before their event to say there was a “family emergency” and he couldn’t be there.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a contract.  Sadly, this scenario has been repeated for more events than I care to mention.  It breaks my heart.

Let me say that 95% of companies run a reputable, reliable, legitimate business – so don’t let this article get you down.  But, do your part – require a contract, read it, and ask yourself those “What if” questions.

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