A Complete Guide to Vendor Contracts

While each vendor's contract may look a little different, here are our five top takeaways for what they should all include.
by Heidi Tandy and Ivy Jacobson
Mr. and Mrs. chair signs at outdoor wedding reception
Julina Marie

Let's get something straight: Every time you hire a photographer, caterer, videographer, musician, florist or hairdresser; book a chapel, park or hotel ballroom; or order something from a dress shop, dressmaker or formalwear store, you must get your agreement in writing. Until you sign a contract and put down a deposit, you have no guarantees that vendors will hold the date of your wedding. Read everything in your contracts and receipts, and be sure to document every single wedding arrangement you make.

1. Flexibility

You might not want to think about an April snowstorm's effect on your lovely garden ceremony, but if you want to ensure that the catering hall's ballroom will be available, write that into the contract. Don't be afraid to alter the stock contract that the vendor or manager offers. If your request is reasonable -- for example, you want the supplier to be liable for potential negligence or willful misconduct -- and the vendor won't agree, look elsewhere.

2. Details Forthcoming

What should you do if you've made some decisions but haven't finalized details? (For example, you know you want lots of roses, but you don't know the exact cost of the centerpieces). You can make a contract when you book the service and include a general amount or maximum cost for services, but add a sentence that says details will be confirmed in writing by a certain date. But even with that, it's good to be clear with your visions and ideas from the beginning to ensure that your vendor is the best match.

"For example, if you're at the point where you're ready to book your florist, you should make sure that you and the florist are on the same page with expectations," says attorney and wedding lawyer Christie M. Asselin, Esq. "If you put down a deposit, but haven't figured out what the centerpieces will look like, there may be some problems down the line. It's important to communicate your expectations before agreeing to hire a vendor."

3. What Goes Into It

On every contract, write:

  • Dates and times of all services (including the time the vendor should arrive)
  • Date of the wedding
  • Names of all parties involved in the agreement
  • The deposit and final payment amounts (plus the payment schedule)
  • Contingency plans and substitutions (if white peonies aren't available, white garden roses will be used instead)
  • Detailed description of services
  • Some venues might also require a wedding insurance clause for liability insurance

Note: When dealing with vendors that are providing a service on the wedding day itself, make sure the contract includes the name and number of the person the vendor should call if anything goes wrong or gets delayed.

4. Refunds

Along with the basics, every contract should include a cancellation and refund policy on both ends that discusses what refund you will receive if you cancel and what penalty the vendor will pay if they cancel. With a refund clause, you should be able to get back a certain percentage of any deposits you made if the party is canceled by a certain date. But the closer it is to the actual wedding date, the less likely you are to get your money back — establishments and other wedding professionals are simply protecting their own business.

That said, your contracts are legally binding documents, so if your vendors fail to provide what your contract states, you could take them to court -- but if you don't hold up your end of the deal, they could take you to court as well.

"Usually a refund policy will be for failing to perform entirely, or for a major issue," says Asselin. "Make absolutely sure that you completely understand the refund policy. Sometimes these clauses are so complex that it takes time to read through them and fully understand them."

5. Receipts

When you order something, such as a dress, a tuxedo, invitations or favors, the contract can be as brief as a store receipt. That said, it should still include:

  • Wedding date
  • Style (a number, a detailed description, or the full invitation text, for example)
  • Date item will be picked up
  • Price and payment schedule
  • Outline of what the price includes (such as alterations, accessories, delivery, and envelopes)

And remember -- don't sign the contract unless you're 100 percent comfortable with it, and both you and the vendor should sign and date two copies so you can each have one.

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