Why Wedding Vendors Have Non-Refundable Clauses

In California, as we navigate our way through this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a lot of posts on social media written by couples who are very upset and confused about why their wedding vendors won’t fully refund their entire fee immediately.  While we completely understand their frustration, as a small business owner, we also understand why wedding vendors are unable to make full refunds.  So we wrote this article to help you understand the logic and reasons behind this business practice.

You Don’t Have to Cancel

It’s important to note that COVID-19 and the government’s reaction to it is not forcing anyone to cancel their wedding.  The government’s ban on gatherings may be forcing couples to postpone the wedding they had envisioned, but the government isn’t canceling the wedding and the ensuing celebration.  If a couple decides to cancel their wedding all together because of this pandemic, that is a CHOICE that the couple is making.

Government Mandates

Wedding vendors are stuck in an awkward position.  They want to work.  They want to help create the perfect wedding day, and most are fully prepared to do so.  But through Emergency Executive Orders from the Governor, rules have been established where the couple cannot host “gatherings”.  These mandatory orders are affecting your ability to gather your friends and family together to celebrate your love.

Health and Safety

Why is the government mandating no gatherings?  Because they are concerned about the health and safety of your guests and family.  You may be young and able to survive a Covid-19 infection, but what about everyone else you’d like to have in attendance?  And, if a guest or vendor, were a “super spreader”, what about all those people you and your guests go home to after the wedding?  Is it worth risking all those lives?

Selfish Decisions

Some people are proceeding with gatherings and weddings despite the orders.  They are having backyard weddings, graduation parties, and holiday parties with a small group of close friends and family.  Now, as this is being written on July 1st, there are spikes in infection rates from these gatherings so Governor Newsom is shutting some businesses back down.  Those weddings and gatherings that you see on social media are directly affecting when you can have your celebration.

Will a Vendor Violate the Order?

We get the question every day.  Apparently, some are – but they are not doing a service to their couples, guests and the community as a whole.  What we are seeing is that venues and vendors who might not be licensed or insured, in other words, have nothing to risk, are helping with weddings.  Speaking with County officials, outbreaks of COVID- 19, from those gatherings, are being traced.  We foresee that lawsuits may follow, not only for the vendors, but also for the host of the wedding.

Violations are Costly

In Mendocino County, Fiddlehead Restaurant violated the order and received a $10,000 fine.  When that didn’t get his attention, he received a second $10,000 fine and an order to cease operations.  In Sonoma County, Crossing the Jordan, a non-profit thrift store chain that supports a drug rehabilitation program was fined over $21,000 for not closing, and then sued by the County, resulting in the closure of all their stores and it’s residential center.  We don’t know if it also means the closure of their wedding venue, the Mark West Event Center.  Today a new Health Order was released. Near the end, it stated, “The order is enforceable by imprisonment and/or fine…”  This could happen to you and/or your vendors if they were to violate the orders.

…And it may follow the couple

Truly, we don’t know how this could affect the host of the event, and we believe that you don’t want to be the test case.  If you hire vendors who don’t carry workers’ compensation insurance and the vendor gets sick, will you be considered to be the employer?  With Governor Newsom enacting changes to the state’s workers’ compensation policy, your employees who contract Covid-19 are presumed to have a workplace injury covered by worker’s compensation insurance.  It’s no way to start your married life. This is only one of the many reasons we require insured, professional vendors.

We’re All Human

All wedding vendors are 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, “being a human with a heart and compassion but also a business that has to stay afloat.”  We think it’s so important to remember that all your vendors are being impacted by this pandemic and we are all doing the best that we can.  Neither you, nor the vendors, are responsible for the crisis, nor the shelter in place.  Day after day, vendors are sitting at home, with no income, bills piling up, wanting to work for you.  They search the internet for any hint as to when weddings will be allowed so that they can answer your questions – but the resources they see are the same as you see.

There is No Right and No Wrong

No one was prepared for this situation and every wedding vendor is trying to do what is best for their clients and their business.  They are torn between their compassion for the couple and the realities of their business. Each vendor has different policies and procedures, so every wedding vendor may have a different way of handling things during this unprecedented time.  Some vendors have been providing services for their couples since they were booked like we do, Others only provide the full extent of their services at the event.  For those who have provided services, sometimes for over a year, to have a full refund demanded, is unfair.

Contracts

Wedding vendors have Agreements with non-refundable provisions in place for a reason.  Some vendors can only work for one wedding per day.  When a client reserves that day, another business is turned away.  The date has been reserved for you and you alone!  When a vendor signs a contract with their clients, they are entering into a good-faith bargain that both sides will fulfill their end of the agreement.

Rescheduling isn’t Free for the Vendor

The economic impact on wedding vendors is massive.  The vendors have marketing costs to attract their clients, and in some cases, it’s much more than you would think.  Some vendors have trained staff with families to support.  Laying off someone you have emotional ties to isn’t easy, and unemployment doesn’t cover everything.  It takes great staff to have a great event.  Finding and training a team can take years and may mean the best team is no longer together for your wedding.  Caterers have brick and mortar kitchens with continuous expenses involved.  And the vendor with the largest overhead is the wedding venue.  When they reschedule an event from one date to another, they’ve essentially agreed to two days of expenses for one day of income.  Maintenance, insurance, mortgage, and all other expenses don’t stop.

Cancellation Clauses

So why do wedding vendors have these provisions in their Agreements in the first place?  It’s because they’ve reserved the date for you, and they are damaged by cancellations.  Vendor expenses continue even if you decide to cancel your wedding, and as weddings typically book six months to two years in advance, vendors can’t always quickly rebook the date.  They have to have the protection of a non-refundable clause to protect their business.  If couples could choose to simply cancel and get all their money back, why would there even need to be a contract?  But most vendors will offer you their services on other future dates when you choose to reschedule.  Some dates may not be available because they are already booked, other dates may incur a rescheduling fee, but for the most part, the vendor will offer you a number of choices.  Remember, they entered into an agreement with you because they want to make your day special.

Wedding Celebration

Weddings, by their nature, have the ability to be rescheduled.  Yes, the pandemic has caused tremendous disruption to the wedding industry, and perhaps your wedding – but it’s only temporary.  You are still in love, and you can still get married with the celebration you desired in the future, celebrating with your family and friends.   There are options – a tiny wedding or elopement now, and a sequel wedding in the future.

The Couple is in Control

The couple can choose to postpone the wedding or cancel.  The couple can choose a new date when their vendor may or may not be available.  It’s not up to the vendors – they are completely at the mercy of the couple’s decision.  If the couple reschedules to a date the vendor doesn’t have available, the contract may come into play.  But by working together before choosing the date, conflicts can be avoided.  But if the couple chooses a date when the vendor isn’t available, then they likely won’t receive the non-refundable portion of the contract.  These provisions of a contract are absolutely fair and are definitely a standard practice among all types of wedding vendors.

Refunds

Wedding vendors are standing by the agreements that they entered into with their clients. Their intention isn’t to give you a hard time or be difficult. Their livelihood likely depends on any contract or agreement. Most are in a hard place as they wish they could give total refunds to everyone, but most small businesses are simply not in a position to give away that kind of money. Could you survive without an entire year’s worth of income?

What’s Even Worse for Vendors

When a vendor agrees to a postponement, to work at a future wedding date in 2021, they are giving up the ability to book any new clients on that day.  It’s a double whammy – loss of a 2020 date and it’s income, and the inability to sell a date in the future.  So for wedding vendors, they are looking at a loss of income in 2020 and 2021 at a minimum.  Wedding vendors have to make business decisions for this year and for their future.  Wedding vendors are definitely in survival mode.

Please Be Kind and Compassionate

We are all doing the best that we can given the circumstances.  To be blasted on the phone, in an email, or on social media because the vendor falls back on the contract that you agreed to, just isn’t fair.  If it were possible, vendors would give everybody their money back, eradicate the virus and create your weddingVendors are trying to be flexible and understanding with your needs and desires.  They are human and really care about you and your wedding.\

Attorneys

Win or lose, the attorneys always get paid. But neither you nor the wedding vendor will really win –  you both lose in time, stress, and money. And forcing the vendor to defend themselves doesn’t make for a great future relationship if you are to lose. Attorneys always joke amongst themselves about the client that spent big money to only get back small money.

Dates

We know you picked your wedding date for a reason – it was the perfect day for you and you planned around it. Unfortunately, the government said that you can’t have a gathering on that day.  But if you have to delay to a different day in another month, your friends and family will still come, even if it’s a weekday.  Use the opportunity to plan things around your wedding in the area – wine tastings, sightseeing tours, visit the coast or the redwoods, museums, picnics.  Give your guests a destination wedding experience so that it makes your weekday-wedding an even better event than originally planned.

Northern California Wine Country

If you should lose one of your vendors due to a conflict of dates, or their business didn’t survive, don’t worry.  One of the benefits of getting married in wine country is there are a lot of really good vendors.  Talk to your wedding venue and planner, they know who’s who.  Who to use, and who to stay away from – they work with them all the time.

Why are We Wedding Vendors?

Simple, we love working with amazing people.  We consider couples who use our services to be family.  We’re in touch for many years after the wedding.  Some just through social media others are closer relationships.  Babies, new homes, vow renewals, baby pictures, birthday flowers, we watch the marriage grow and flourish.  We are so thankful for our patient and kind clients.  It makes us want to work harder for those couples. This situation is stressful for all of us, but if we all pull in the same direction, you will have an amazing wedding day!

john mountain house estate

About the Author, John Alden

John Alden, owner of Mountain House Estate, a Northern California wine country wedding venue located in Cloverdale, Sonoma County, has helped wedding couples at his wine country wedding venue for the last 5 years.  His goal is to share his wisdom and experience to help you craft the wedding of your dreams.