Photo Credit: Paul Von Rieter
We don’t need to say it again, wedding planning is rouugghhh stuff. And the hardest part of it all is the vendor selection. Can’t say ‘I Do’ without your dream team behind you. That said, putting together the perfect day is no small feat, and the overwhelming majority of couples are doing it themselves rather than hiring a wedding planner, so having a good jumping off point (in a preferred vendor list) is kind of clutch. #somethingborrowed, right?
I actually didn’t use anyone on my venue’s preferred list for my wedding in 2014, but my sister used quite a few of hers, and my cousin was actually required, via her venue, to go with a couple of her vendors. Sure, it sounds great, takes some pressure off the bride and groom when they’re already feeling like they’re way in over their heads. But, it’s also a little bit icky. At least when you consider how those preferred vendors landed on that lofty list…
Pay for play all dayyyy
Yes, it’d be a great thing for wedding venues to play the game with integrity, only giving their seal of approval to the vendors they’ve worked with on the reg, who they know and trust not only to do good work on their property, but to really show up and turn out for the couple. But LBH, earning that 👏 solely on merit like isn’t a thing anymore. Sad, but true. For a lot of vendors, who want the clout and veneration associated with being on a preferred list, they have to pay for it. And that often involves kickbacks to the venue or even the wedding planner who is assembling the couple’s vendor VIPs.
What is a kickback?
You’ve probably heard the word used before, but in the context of weddings, it refers to a commission or fee ‘kicked back’ to a party (usually a venue or wedding planner) who has recommended or endorsed a vendor as one of their ‘approved’ 👍 people. For example, if your venue has a list of ‘ride or die’ vendors who they refer or champion all the time, there’s a chance that any time those vendors get booked, a percentage of their earnings go back to the venue or planner - essentially as a ‘thanks bruh’ for the solid shout out/referral. And average kickbacks can be as little as 10% up to 35%. WOW.
Kickbacks are a very real thing in this industry, and as much as they are a big + sometimes necessary part of the business for wedding vendors (who you know and who you can be associated with is kind of everything, especially if you’re part of the IT crowd in local wedding talent), they can be a pretty s****y thing for the couple getting married.
Well, imagine that you’re about to book your florist. You have a particular budget that you want to stick to, and for what you’re willing to pay/can afford, you assume that you’ll get quality arrangements, bouquets, flower installations, etc. However, if the venue is charging their preferred pros 10-35% of their usual fees, then to make up for that deficit, they’ll need to overcharge you or do work that’s subpar ((yah, what every bride and groom wants to hear about the services they’re depleting their bank accounts for)).
Here are some pros/cons to consider with that PVL
Now, right off the bat, we want you to know that NOT ALL VENDORS/VENUES do this - but it’s something to consider once you’ve locked in a planner or the place that you and your S.O. will say ‘I Do.’
Here’s your cheat sheet / quick ref on the preferred vendor list situation.
Pro: If you use the PVs you can save yourself a ton of time in research, Instagram stalking, etc. Trusting in your planner or venue’s word-of-mouth is easy enough to do, and you’ll feel good about onboarding them, because they either work closely with your coordinators/stylists/event designers all the time or know your venue extremely well (which makes communication, setup, deliveries, shot list strategizing - for photographers - a piece of cake).
Pro: Sometimes deciding to book preferred vendors can incentivize venues and planners to offer discounts to the couple getting married. The thought there is that if they know they’ll be working with people they know / feel comfortable with / won’t have to worry about any surprises with, then they’ll extend the couple a courtesy by shaving some $$$ off their fees.
Con: Couples usually aren’t privy to the private underpinnings of the vendor<>venue planner<>vendor relationships, so there’s truly no way to understand if you’re getting taken for a ride - spending more money than you should be just to offset the kickbacks - unless you ask for transparency and even above that, try as much as possible to deal directly with the vendors themselves. Getting billed by the vendor themselves can eliminate any hidden costs and figures.
Con: More times than not, going with a preferred vendor can be smart. But in the instances where vendors are paying lots to buy a coveted spot on the preferred list, they might not be rising to the creative occasion. Sure, the venue or planner may say they’re the best, but you never know. Their professionality and echelon of services could be called into question.
Con: No one wants to be required to book a preferred vendor if he or she doesn’t want to. Most venues only have lists of preferred people, so the option to bring in off-list folks is still on the table, but some institute strict ‘you need to use our people’ policies. 1) That sucks, especially if you’ve been eyeing some cool wedding professionals and their work on social media and 2) If they do permit off-list pros, some require a fee for the allowance. It’s like an extra tax on an already-pricey purchase!
Photo Credit: Paul Von Rieter
Flip the switch a little
That’s why Paul Von Rieter, OC-based wedding photographer, and one of such pros who you’ve probably 👀👀👀 on the Gram, recommends all couples ask these important questions of their venue when it comes to their preferred vendor lists:
How long has (vendor in question) been working with you?
What is the process for a vendor becoming an approved vendor?
Do your approved vendors pay any extra fees or kickbacks to be part of the list?
Do you allow outside vendors?
Are there any fees for the use of an outside vendor (charged to the vendor or myself)?
Who will be billing me? Will I be directly billed from the vendor or from the venue? (This is a big one as some venues can hide fees if they handle billing. Transparency is key. Don’t settle for less.)
We’re totally behind Paul’s q’s, and his suggestion to steer clear of vendor lists at least at first. As the bride and groom, you have every right to be the informed consumers - so, do some digging, search some hashtags on Instagram, ask your bestie who just got married who they used, or search your favorite wedding blog 😉 for unbiased vendor recommendations.
**All above photos shot by Paul Von Rieter**
Other reads you might like:
5 Wedding Scams and Tips on How to Avoid Them
How to Communicate Effectively With Your ‘I Do’ Dream Team
How to Choose Your Vendors for Your Wedding Abroad