I have seen a lot of social media posts written by 2020 couples who are really upset and confused about why their wedding vendors won’t fully refund their non-refundable retainer right now, as we all navigate through the coronavirus crisis. While I completely understand the frustration on the clients’ end, as a small business owner myself, I also understand why wedding vendors are keeping the non-refundable retainers. So I wanted to write a blog post to help everyone understand the logic behind this business practice. It’s important to note that COVID-19 is not forcing anyone to cancel their wedding. It is forcing couples to postpone their wedding. If someone decides to cancel their wedding all together because of this pandemic, that is a CHOICE that they are making. Every single wedding vendor is stuck in a really hard spot right now because we are trying to balance two different mindsets. As wedding planner Jove Meyer put it in a recent article for the NY Times, “being a human with a heart and compassion but also a business that has to stay afloat.” I think it’s so important to remember that everyone is being impacted by this pandemic and we are all doing the best that we can. We are all human. This crisis is no one’s fault.
First of all, it’s important to know that there is no “right” or “wrong” in this situation. This is something no one was prepared for and every wedding vendor is trying to do what is best for their clients and their business. We all have different policies and procedures within our businesses, so every wedding vendor may have a different way of handling things during this unprecedented time. No one is “right” and no one is “wrong”. The most important thing to remember is that treating others with kindness and grace during a difficult time is really important. At the end of the day, we are all just human and trying to figure things out day by day.
Wedding vendors have contracts and non-refundable retainers in place for a reason. For those of us who can only work one wedding per day, the non-refundable retainer is paid in exchange for us saving that date for our client. We turn away all other business because the date is reserved for you and you alone! When we sign a contract with our clients, we are entering into a good-faith agreement that both parties will fulfill their end of the deal. We both make promises to each other – we are promising to work your wedding and turn away all other business for that date and you are promising to allow us to do work your wedding and earn the balance of the contract.
Weddings, by nature, are able to be rescheduled. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a disruption to the wedding industry – but it’s not a permanent disruption. You can still get married and celebrate with your family + friends once everything calms down. If you choose to cancel completely, instead of postpone, you should expect to lose your non-refundable retainer. Why? Because when you signed that contract and promised to allow us to work your wedding, we reserved that date for you and we turned away other couples – couples who may not have ultimately cancelled on us. Cancelling is a choice you are making despite the fact that you have the opportunity to postpone and reschedule to a later date. Non-refundable retainers are there for precisely this situation. If clients could cancel and get all of their money back from their wedding vendors, why would we even bother with a contract?
I know coronavirus pandemic is beyond your control and you probably feel frustrated, anxious, angry, helpless… but try to remember, it is also beyond the wedding vendors’ control as well. This is no one’s fault. At the end of the day, we are all losing out. When you start looking at postponement/reschedule dates, it is important to work with your wedding vendors to try and find a solution that works for all of you – because your wedding vendors want to work and fulfill their end of the contract! The unfortunate thing for wedding vendors is that we have absolutely no control over what our clients decide to do. We can give you our availability, and hope that our clients will choose a date that we are available, but ultimately our clients have the power to choose the new date. We are completely at the mercy of your date change decision.
If a client reschedules without consulting their original wedding vendors and/or chooses to reschedule for a date that their wedding vendors are unavailable, most vendors will have to fall back onto their contract verbiage and keep the non-refundable retainer. The non-refundable retainer serves as compensation for holding that original date for you and as reparation for the choices you make when it comes to rescheduling. Trust me, your wedding vendors want to work – but their availability is truly limited and we are at your mercy to reschedule for a date that we can be there. Working together to find a mutually agreeable reschedule date is the ideal situation, but in cases where the clients don’t consult their wedding vendors before rescheduling or willingly choose to reschedule on a date when the vendor isn’t available, keeping the non-refundable retainer is absolutely fair and definitely a standard practice during the coronavirus crisis.
Look at it this way. You are splitting the loss with your wedding vendors with the non-refundable retainer. Yes, you are losing your non-refundable retainer which can be anywhere from 20-50% of the total contract. But your vendors are losing out on the balance of the contract, which can be anywhere from 50-80% of the total contract. Your vendors are splitting that loss with you and, more often than not, taking an even bigger financial hit depending on the amount of their retainer fee.
Wedding vendors are not keeping the non-refundable retainers because they want to be an a**hole. They are standing by their contracts because the future of their business literally depends on it. Would I prefer to be in the financial position to gift my clients’ non-refundable retainers back to them? Of course! I am sure that my friends + colleagues in the wedding industry would agree as well. But most small business owners are just not in the financial position to do so, especially those of us who do this full-time with no other income to fall back on. Our busiest and most profitable season of the year has been wiped out by this pandemic and there is simply no income coming in for vendors in the wedding industry for the foreseeable future. We may be rescheduling an entire year’s worth of weddings and, with all of those rescheduled weddings, we won’t have the availability to book any new clients in 2021. We are absolutely feeling the financial pinch, both this year and probably most of next year too. Wedding vendors are having to make business decisions that will keep us afloat and allow us to continue to serve our clients once this crisis is over. We are definitely in survival mode.
If you are lucky enough to have a wedding vendor who is in a position to offer you some relief during this unprecedented time, that’s amazing! But remember that every wedding vendor is in a different position and we are all making decisions in order to survive. Please don’t blast someone on social media or get nasty if your vendor falls back on their contract. It’s not personal, I promise. Like I said before, there is no “right” or “wrong” in this situation and most vendors are working so hard to be flexible and understanding with their clients’ needs. Remember that your wedding vendors are human and they are doing the best that they can. It’s important to do your best to meet them half way and be flexible as well. There are 365 days in a year, so it is definitely possible to find a reschedule date that works for both of you – as long as you both remain flexible.
And if you find yourself in the position where you have to lose one (or more) of your wedding vendors due to reschedule date availability issues, just know that you are not alone. Everyone is dealing with the same challenges of rescheduling. Luckily, Charleston has some of the absolute best wedding vendors in the industry – so just get back into wedding planning mode and find yourself a new vendor to fill their empty spot! If you need recommendations, ask your vendors. Or consider a non-Saturday reschedule date because that is going to be the norm for a little while – and it’s your best chance for keeping your original wedding vendor team intact. Even though this is an extremely frustrating time, please know that you are making a huge difference in the lives of your wedding vendors by supporting this industry and rescheduling your wedding instead of cancelling during such a crazy time. We are so thankful for our patient and kind clients – this situation is stressful, but having amazing clients makes it easier to navigate. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for bearing with us as we navigate this and just know that we will get through this together. At the end of the day, you WILL get married and it WILL be amazing!!
**As venues start opening up and weddings begin to take place again, here’s a glimpse at what you can expect from your wedding vendors**