How to Actually Read Your Wedding Venue Contract

Breaking down the legal jargon.
maddy sims the knot associate editor
Maddy Sims
maddy sims the knot associate editor
Maddy Sims
Former Associate Editor
  • Maddy is a Brand and Social Content Manager at Birdy Grey, and was a former associate editor at The Knot.
  • Maddy has written for several different publications, including HUM Nutrition, Insider, Bustle, Real Simple and Apartment Therapy.
  • Maddy has a Bachelor's degree in magazine journalism and a Master's degree in health, science and environmental reporting (both of which are from Northwestern's Medill School of Journa...
Updated Feb 10, 2020

As much fun as venue tours are, eventually you have to book a spot before you can officially cross it off your wedding checklist. But booking a space means you have to sign a wedding venue contract, which can be full of confusing legal terms. While most of the document may seem straightforward, some jargon that can trip you up. To ensure that you know exactly what you're signing up for, we tapped Jove Meyer, owner and creative director of Jove Meyer Events, to explain what all those terms mean. From "indemnification" to "force majeure" to "governing laws," we have all the wedding venue contract terms you need to know—plus their definitions. So before you officially book your wedding venue and sign the dotted line, brush up on these terms.

"Admin Fee"

Meyer says this newer term should not be confused with gratuity, even if the percentage is as high as or similar to a gratuity percentage (it can range anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the overall costs). "This percentage pays for the administrative work it takes to plan your event via emails, phone calls, meetings and walkthroughs," Meyer says. This fee typically goes to pay the salary of the person (or people) organizing the event—meaning it's definitely not a tip.

"Damage Deposit" / "Damaged Goods"

This term refers to the sum of money paid in relation to a rented item to ensure it's returned in good condition. This amount is held and given back if the goods are not damaged, broken or missing. Meyer encourages to-be-weds to make this section as specific as possible. "The amount for each item should be listed as well as the process to decide and the timing to refund the bull for the item(s)."

"Failure to Perform"

"This clause, also known as 'failure to comply,' lays out what happens if a vendor does not do the job they were hired to do," Meyer says. Details are key when it comes to this term, so make sure both parties are clear about what's expected from the vendor as well as the expected timeline.

"Force Majeure"

"Force majeure" is a French term that means great force, also sometimes known as an 'act of god,'" Meyer says. In short, it stands for an event for which no party can be held accountable, like a hurricane or a tornado. It protects from unforeseeable circumstances created by nature or catastrophe that may prevent the fulfillment of a contract, Meyer says.


Another word for the tip given to the person or people who provided a service for you, "gratuity is sometimes included in contracts, while other times, the vendor wants the client to decide if they've earned a tip," says the wedding pro. Unsure about how or who to tip? Consult our comprehensive wedding tipping guide.

"Governing Laws"

"This clause allows the parties to agree that a particular state's laws will be used to interpret the agreement should anything go wrong or should an event arise that leads to a legal dispute," Meyer says. The state in this clause is typically the home state of the vendor. If you and your partner don't live in that specific state, you will have to travel back there should a court date be needed.

"Harrassment" / "Be Nice Clause"

You deserve to enjoy your wedding to the fullest, which makes the "be nice clause" an absolute must. "This is a clause that states harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace," Meyer says. "It will not be tolerated by the client or their guests.

"Hold Harmless" and "Indemnification"

"Hold harmless" is a statement that protects one party in the event that the other party gets injured, suffers losses or claims damages during the working relationship. Meyer notes that this protection can be unilateral (one-sided, only protecting the vendor) or reciprocal (two-sided, protecting both the vendor and the client).

Indemnification, on the other hand, is a provision in a contract under which one party (or both parties) commit to compensate the other (or each other) for any harm or loss arising out of the contract. "Many people think 'hold harmless' and 'indemnification' are the same, and some contracts write them that way," Meyer says. "However, they can be technically different state by state."

"Indemnify" protects against any losses, while "hold harmless" protects against liabilities and losses, the planner adds. "Some people think having just 'hold harmless' is enough as it covers both, but others will include both just to be doubly sure."

"Initial Deposit"

The initial deposit is the amount of money you put down to secure the vendor for your wedding date. Meyer says this amount differs from vendor to vendor (sometimes it's 25 percent of the total cost; sometimes it's 50 percent). But he adds that this deposit is often non-refundable, as it takes the vendor off the market for the date of your wedding.

"Scope of Services"

Scope of services is the list of services the vendor is promising to provide for you, as the client. "This is sometimes very broad, and other times very specific based on the services offered and the scope of work," Meyer says.

"Termination Clause" / "Cancellation Clause"

This common clause lays out how parties can end their legal relationship and discontinue the fulfillment of their obligations. "It spells out what happens if the client does not want to or cannot continue work with the vendor and vice versa," Meyer says. It's important that this clause also states how the fees will be paid or reimbursed based on cancellation or termination.

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