Like the rest of the world, the wedding industry has had quite the year due to the pandemic. As a result, many wedding vendors have become more flexible in their policies than ever before to accommodate their clients' unexpected obstacles. Although it has not been an ideal situation for anyone, this industry-wide adaptability has allowed vendors and their clients to continue working together to plan their weddings — even if it's been pushed back to a later date.
Of course, not everything can be overlooked, and certain requests cross the line. While vendors have been flexible in many ways, it's important for couples to remember that they are people who rely on being paid to take care of their families and continue investing in their business. Vendors don't plan weddings for fun; their businesses are their livelihood, and couples cannot take advantage of this year's uncertainties to minimize their event team's value.
We spoke with wedding professionals across the industry about the areas in which they can be flexible, as well as the firm boundaries they’ve set to protect themselves and their businesses.
Yes, this is flexible!
The most significant area that vendors are open to flexibility is in terms of payment deadlines. Wedding professionals are known for their empathy; they recognize that the pandemic has impacted everyone differently. In some cases, this might mean couples need more time to make their payments-especially if the wedding has been postponed to a later date.
“During these uncertain times, wedding vendors should be flexible with payment schedules,” affirms JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli. "They should push back some of the payments closer to the new wedding date if the date has been adjusted. I would advise negotiating the payment terms to help defer the payments a bit. Most vendors are drafting up COVID addendums to their new date contracts."
If you feel like you need some leeway when it comes to payments, don’t be afraid to ask upfront about payment timelines and how your vendor can accommodate your situation.
Jamie Chang, wedding planner and creator of Passport to Joy elaborates: “If you don't have the funds available for a big lump sum payment, you might need additional smaller payments and thus a payment schedule change which is a reasonable request to ask of a vendor. Because the total amount is still the same, it's just how the payments are broken up. Similarly, if you'd rather pay in a lump sum so that you don't have to think about future payments, that is a reasonable request as well.”
Additionally, vendors are generally very flexible when helping couples navigate the potential postponement process with minimal stress and nominal costs. Usually, it's as simple as asking about your options for bridging the gap.
For example, Jordan Kentris, founder and creative director of A Good Day. suggests: “Asking your stationer what options are available for change-the-dates, reprinting fees, or inclusions that can get added to already printed pieces.”
Likewise, venues and vendors that have not already invested funds into production may be flexible when it comes to postponement fees. Remember that the pandemic has impacted everyone, so most vendors will be understanding and ready to help in any way possible.
Sorry, this is not flexible!
While wedding professionals are doing everything possible to accommodate their clients during these tentative times, they are still small business owners that must protect their own interests. Thus, there are certain areas that most vendors will stand their ground and hold firm to their policies. In particular, requesting a refund of a non-refundable deposit is generally going to be a no-go.
“We all understand that this is a hard time for everyone!” assures Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates. “We don’t want you to lose money and are happy to help you in any way possible. However, deposits are non-refundable because this is the money that vendors plan on — that they pay their rent, mortgages, and live off of. Asking them to refund these deposits, especially in a time when new business is so uncertain, is just not reasonable.”
However, that’s not to say a deposit is lost if you decide to cancel a wedding or postpone it indefinitely. Instead, “vendors may suggest transferring funds to a new date or new service,” explains Nora Sheils, founder of Bridal Bliss and co-founder of Rock Paper Coin . “For example, photographers can reassign the retainer to a future family session or florists may fill regular orders throughout the year to utilize the credit.”
Additionally, a vendor’s flexibility will depend on how much work they’ve already produced for a wedding. For example, “As a stationery vendor, if the pieces have already been printed and they decide to move their wedding date, we cannot reprint their wedding invitations or day-of elements free of charge,” says Kentris.
Likewise, if a rental company has already placed custom orders or a florist has paid invoices for exotic flowers from around the world, those expenses will still fall on the client; otherwise, it would come directly out of the vendor’s revenue and leave them at a loss.
Dixie Bagley of The Farm, Rome GA also cautions against asking for any freebies, whether you have a good relationship with the vendor or not. “There have been times when a couple will ask if they can use rentals that are on-site at the venue property for free. What they don’t understand is that using our tables may seem like a quick and easy favor, but at the end of the day, it can cost a lot of money to upkeep furniture. The wear-and-tear alone after an event can be quite pricey to restore in time for the next wedding.”
Last but certainly not least, vendors cannot and will not be flexible when it comes to health and safety measures regarding COVID-19. Do not expect vendors to overlook group restrictions and disregard mask mandates. In addition to protecting event guests, they must also operate in the interest of safeguarding their businesses.
“In order to have the wedding they want during COVID, some couples are pushing the rules when it comes to guest count, location, or things like food and drinks,” shares Chang. “While wedding vendors can be really flexible and are excited to do things in different ways and push the rules normally, ignoring safety precautions during COVID is not something a wedding vendor can be flexible on. Expect a lot of questions and, if you aren’t honest about what your plans are, don’t be surprised if a wedding vendor refuses to service your wedding.”
Be mindful, though, that COVID-19 restrictions are subject to change. If they do, a wedding vendor is not to blame for adhering to new guidelines.
Juls Sharpley, wedding planner and owner of Bubbles & Bowties, adds: "If you are planning to have a wedding during this time, you need to adhere to all local, state, and potentially national regulations and guidelines. You also need to be aware that these guidelines and regulations can change any minute of any day. You may plan to have a certain number of guests with specific restrictions, and those restrictions could tighten the week of your wedding."
At the end of the day, wedding professionals are also human. They must protect their careers and their futures, but they are also empathetic and respectful. All couples should be mindful of the contracts they've signed and understand the policies for postponements and cancellations, especially regarding force majeure. Even so, there's nothing wrong with asking for flexibility in reasonable matters but leave behind any expectations that wedding vendors are there to bend at will for their clients. Ultimately, respect is the name of the game and, if you are considerate of your wedding vendors, they will return the kindness and serve you as best possible.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.