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**
Very well written. As a wedding DJ in Charleston, I’m in the same boat. I’ve taken in upon myself to consult with clients and help them move their dates. So far so good, and you are correct, no one is the bad guy, and no one (no matter how long you’ve worked weddings) has seen anything like this. Thank you.
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Yes! As a wedding photographer myself, I can say that I in no way want to get paid for work I did not do, so yes a postponement, NOT a cancellation, is the answer.
The other thing couples don’t take into account is that all the postponements ALSO mean a cut in pay, for now we have to figure out a way to make up for those balances which would have been paid for work done. So we are all getting a crappy end of the deal no matter how you slice it. It’s not the vendors’ faults, it’s not the clients’ faults. Kindness, deep breaths, rational thinking….that is all it takes to get through it.
What do you think about venues charging an “additional” $3,000-$4,000 booking fee for already contracted brides that are forced to postpone their wedding into the next year? Stated reasons are because they are losing money due to the loss of the initial dates and costs are going up for the next year.
Assuming a vendor or venue typically sells out their season, is not rescheduling into the next season the same thing as refunding the deposit. Our weekends are always sold out, so if we allow a 2020 client to freely move to 2021 then it is the same as a refund.
” Cancelling is a choice you are making despite the fact that you have the opportunity to postpone and reschedule to a later date.”
Nope! I was given no option to postpone until the government prevented all gatherings from happening, and then we could only choose very specific dates the venue allotted. Postponing was considering cancelling, and the full amount would be lost–not just a deposit. $12,000, Now, with COVID resurging and NO option to reschedule or postpone my date at the venue, I am faced with the option – do I ask my loved ones to put themselves at risk for our wedding or do I take a huge financial loss myself while the venue walks away laughing with my hard-earned money, with no services rendered? At least smaller vendors are willing to work with me and put my credit towards later services.
Thank you for this article! Something else that the general public does not understand is what the non-refundable retainer fee AND the additional installment payments are going towards. From day we book a wedding we now start working for the Client – we are similar to a freelance contractor who gets paid for the hours they clock-in. Meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, floor plans, site visits, utilities, business insurance, rent, staff (if you aren’t a solo company) and so much more! All of this takes countless HOURS over a period of weeks, months and basically it can all add up to 1-2 years worth of work on just ONE wedding! So to read couple’s posts stating “I should get all my money back because NO services have been rendered yet!” I disagree. Those payments leading up to the wedding are NOT just to reserve the wedding date. Vendors don’t just collect payments and then disappear until the wedding day. I’m sure NO ONE would be okay working hundreds of hours on a freelance project and if the project was cancelled halfway through…demanding that they return all the monies they were paid for the work they already earned! NO ONE WANTS TO WORK FOR FREE!
Wedding DJ here. I agree with the sentiments posted. We’ve moved several events to later this fall and into next year
Unfortunately, we had to return one (contract had already been paid in full). All of the reception venues had been closed by the state. Couple is still getting married but with only family present and no reception. Maybe a photographer can get away with keeping the retainer, but I don’t know how a DJ or caterer could, considering it is now impossible for the event to be held. The “doctrine of impossibility” comes into play. In most jurisdictions it effectively nullifies the contract.
Wow! That was so well-written and completely on target. Kudos to you for helping the rest of us explain something we completely understand but struggle to express.
Amazing! Written so well!! Great read!!
Excellent explanation of what we are all going through right now!
Well written piece putting a balance to all parties involved in this pandemic. Yes – it’s massively disappointing for couples looking forward to ‘their’ big day, but it’s also repeatedly painful for wedding suppliers not being able to complete their side of the contract in performing their service. No performance simply means no cash / income, which is a massive threat to us in supporting ourselves and families.
I’m certainly going to share this, just incase I have other clients hoping to get a return of their booking fee!
Very impressive piece and so relevant and on point.
I was interested in knowing if you are granting permission to repost your cited work. I would like to share this on my website and platforms. You pull together everything we were all thinking so tightly.
Thank you. I am going to follow you now!
Kat Newman, Officiant
Absolutely! As long as you are crediting me, I’m fine with you sharing!! <3
For vendors who haven’t rendered any time or work such as a DJ or videographer, the deposits/retainers should be fully refundable. Much of this article is making the argument to keep deposit money because you are a small business and in need of the cash. However unless you have rendered some work, the deposit should be fully refundable. The argument to say that another couple would have booked the same date does not really apply because that couple would have also had to reschedule to another date.
For wedding vendors who can only work one event per day, like photographers and DJs, the non-refundable retainer serves as consideration for taking the date off of their calendar and turning away all other business for that contracted date. This is generally clearly outlined in their contracts. It is earned as soon as they block off that date for their clients and turn away all other inquiries. To say that they have not rendered any work prior to the wedding day is simply not true. Every vendor involved in the wedding day invests time in their clients before the actual wedding day :)
This is exactly what we have all been waiting for!!
Very well written and fairly assessed.
First off: people forget what the purpose of a contract is. It’s a contract folks. A legally binding contract.
And YES – by rescheduling – we LOOSE a SECOND date of income. We are loosing money. Another vendor put it succinctly, “well if they all want to reschedule, there may not be a business left to accommodate them”
And I agree 100% with it’s a “choice”. As long as we are able to fulfill our part of the bargain then there should be no reason to reschedule or cancel.
It’s very sad that all your guests cannot attend your wedding, but unfortunately you cannot cancel because your grandmother cannot attend.
It’s just not fair.
We bend over backwards to accommodate our couples. Go WAY beyond the extra mile. But then we are treated like the enemy when they call to cancel.
I agree we should all take a deep breath and be kind.
But brides are never going to understand our perspective on this.
Thanks for an insightful article!
My daughters wedding venue told her that if she had to reschedule her date due to the COVID 19 that she would have to pay for the date already scheduled and the new date that she picks. I feel this is very unfair. If she is rescheduling to a date that is open it there should be no charge. But they are going to make her pay for the original date and the date she moves it to. They kept telling her to get insurance, but the insurance talks about hurricane, but no where mentioned about a pandemic. So that wouldn’t have helped her to begin with. Which she did get and now it does no good. We will be out a lot of money if they make her pay for two dates. Does anyone have a idea or is there something that can be done about this.
Vendors may be legally able to keep deposits but I personally find it morally and ethically wrong. If the vendor has spent severals hours on a project, prorate the deposit and refund the difference. A family member is a wedding vendor and would never dream of keeping a couples money because of a pandemic that is out of everyone’s control. Just my two cents worth.
Wow. No way! I totally get that the first and best option is to postpone but not everyone has that chance. It’s pretty crappy to flat out refuse to give at least a partial refund to those couples who are not able to postpone the wedding. Also if the date the couple chooses isn’t available for the planner then the couple should be able to get refunded. This COVID pandemic is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and to refuse to return a deposit is ludicrous!!! It would be completely different if there were no pandemic and a person canceled their wedding. You’re point of saving that date so no one else can book it is kind of a moot point since NO ONE can book any date right now. Stop being shady and show some compassion.
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Thank you so much for writing this, very well written and very clear. I hope this is seen and heard by lots of couples!
The consumer should not assume the risk for a business. The business cannot perform therefore all deposits should be refunded.
This article is so onesided. If you booked a cruise you would be entitled to a full refund.
Wedding vendors are making this time miserable for their customers. We have a $7000 deposit with a vendor who is refusing to refund. This was our life’s savings. We no longer have the funds for a wedding. Where is the compassion for the customer??? Shame!
I can’t speak on behalf of all vendors, but most of the wedding vendors I know have offered clients very generous rescheduling options where clients haven’t lost a penny. I’m sorry your particular vendor hasn’t been as flexible with their rescheduling terms. That really makes me sad and gives wedding vendors a bad name.
How are couples handling tipping vendors who charged (hefty) rescheduling fees? As a parent of a groom and a bride whose weddings both had to be rescheduled from 2020 to 2021, I have experienced vastly different responses from vendors.
As a photographer, I only receive tips occasionally – and when I do, it’s greatly appreciated! I have had clients tip more during the pandemic because they know we are all working overtime in 2021 – but I think it’s really a personal decision!
As a pandemic affected groom who has rescheduled three times, well in advance, my statement to vendors who cannot meet the rescheduled dates is: Remember you are not the only vendor, and the venue is Master in these cases.
If you cannot accept the reschedule date, and it is far advanced notice, then send a substitute or transfer the contract.
If you can’t you have to refund – if no work was performed. Force Majeure does not apply to a lack of consideration (monetary exchange) when no substantial services other than a reserved date applies.
Accepting multiple reschedules then saying no, is an out for your customer. Handle your business, or we grooms & brides will handle YOU.
Absolutely! Full-time professional wedding vendors should be fully aware that they cannot legally keep anything aside from the original retainer if they are unable to uphold their end of the contract. Force Majeure is no longer relevant. I’m sorry you are dealing with vendors who do not operate in this way.
This is such a frustrating thing to read. I work as a cake decorator for a wedding shop and it fully made sense to refund our brides their deposits. We have not made them their cake, nor have we gotten the ingredients to create it. I myself have been planning an elopement with my partner and with how unpredictable the pandemic has been, it’s been frustrating to even solidify plans. Knowing that if something happens, something completely out of my control can cause plans to go astray, I won’t be able to get refunded. I also think it’s ridiculous to assume rescheduling is a good compromise. Again, we have no idea where things with the pandemic will go, whether or not family will even be able to travel compared to the original date, how restrictions will look like. Even if we ignore the impact of the pandemic, plans can still fall through. At the end of the day, the couple hasn’t received the services they paid for. It’s just plain wrong not refund them.
Unfortuntely, most wedding vendors can only book one event/client per day. We aren’t selling a physical product – we are selling a date. If the client chooses to cancel even though the vendor can legally fulfill their end of the contract, that’s the same as a regular cancellation and should be treated accordingly. Which, most of the time, means forfeiting their non-refundable retainer. Of course, it’s different if vendors can’t legally work and fulfill their end of the contract – like during the lockdown. But in those cases, most wedding vendors were very accommodating to clients, allowing them to reschedule without any other fees. COVID is here to stay and clients need to take on some of the risk involved with planning a wedding in this post-COVID world. Vendors can’t carry all the burden.