COVID & Weddings & Contracts & Rescheduling

So, I wrote a long comment in response to a bride who was struggling to understand why her venue was only offering weekdays, Fridays, and Sundays for postponing her upcoming wedding due to COVID. And then it was literally too long for Facebook’s comment rules, so I thought I’d share it here to help anyone who is wondering the same thing. Here’s what I said to her:

First, I completely understand and agree with your safety concerns. Personally, I am not accepting any new weddings with more than 30 guests until at least next summer and I think you are wise to postpone until a safer time.

The venue and vendor perspective on rescheduling and cancellation, in general

I want to help you understand why it’s not as simple as just offering you any open date to reschedule. When you book us for a wedding, you are not just booking the products or services we provide; you are booking them on a specific date. Products/services are not our inventory; dates are our inventory. So when you reserve one (with a retainer and a contract), that’s the one which is yours. All of the other dates are not yours, they are products still available to sell to other people.

And, because there are only 52 weekends in a year and most people don’t want weekday weddings, our inventories are very limited. We cannot manufacture new dates if we sell out and once they’re gone, they’re gone, whether they were purchased or not. We’re a hand-stamped, limited edition, artisan batch, if you will. Try to think of not just your wedding, but your wedding on a specific, reserved date as the product you are purchasing.

When you reschedule (for any reason), you are effectively buying a second product. If we don’t charge you for that, we are effectively giving you two products for the price of one. That’s why you’ll find that most venues and vendors charge fees for date changes. And even though a reschedule represents, for many vendors, a total loss of the original “product”, reschedule fees are typically significantly less than the full cost of the services. i.e. as a “repeat customer”, you get a discount on your second purchase.

It’s for this same reason that most vendors do not offer refunds when you cancel and why there may even be a cancellation fee or your full balance due, depending on how close it is to your wedding date when you cancel. The closer it is, the less likely we can book another client for the date (i.e. resell the returned product.)

Most of the time, rescheduling and cancellation are rare occurrences, so this relatively small pay cut for us is a manageable sacrifice in order to keep our customers happy.

Now, Let’s throw COVID into the mix.

Suddenly, we have not just one or two, but all of our weddings in the spring postponed or cancelled due to a force outside of our control. For most vendors, this means delayed or completely lost final payments for every single event during some of the busiest months of the year. For many, March-May is 50% of our income for the entire year. This isn’t fun money for us (though we love our jobs) – it’s the same shit you do with your regular paychecks: pay your rent/mortgage, buy groceries, keep your utilities on, etc. Some of us are paying those x2 if we have an office. Others have entire staffs of employees who depend on their jobs to pay their own bills. In short, it’s a fucking disaster.

The majority of vendors, in my experience, are being extremely flexible on rescheduling because of this (since, again, we LOVE what we do, and of course, it’s better to get paid late than never), with some charging minimal/reduced administrative or rescheduling fees and many transferring dates without any fees at all. These businesses are going to be barely scraping by for the next year, at least, and likely more, in order to give YOU the wedding you want without significantly increasing your wedding budget. Some vendors are, in order to AVOID charging you fees, offering you Friday/Sunday or weekday wedding dates – that’s our way of manufacturing new replacement products to sell you, when the original is gone. (We need to get our full fees for new clients on prime Saturday dates *because* we’re giving you these 2-for-1 deals. Next year, many of us are going to work double the weddings for essentially the same pay.)

As the bride in the original post did, many weddings got moved from spring to summer or fall 2020, in the hope that we’d be back to normal by then. Obviously, we aren’t. As this goes on, we are seeing that our entire 2020 wedding seasons are effectively cancelled. (For example, I did ONE wedding in February this year, and that plus a wedding that downsized to an elopement will most likely be my only 2020 weddings. I lost $1k of expected income on that one downsize alone.)

What about the legal contract stuff?

Important disclaimer: I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. If you have a legal question, you should consult a real lawyer.

So that was spring, when COVID was an unexpected and unpredictable event and there were suddenly lots of legal orders and health department guidelines that meant weddings, in any form could not happen. For most contracts, that would fall under the Force Majeure or “acts of God” clause. Individual contracts vary, but generally these clauses are about performance – meaning that if something unpredictable happens that makes is impossible for someone to perform the responsibilities under the contract, they are not in breach of contract. Unless your contract specifically says so, Force Majeure events, like pandemics, do not mean the contract can be cancelled or refunds must be given. What they mean is that whoever is affected (couples AND vendors, in this case) have to resume their obligations once the adverse event no longer prevents them from doing so. In plain language, what this means is that couples have to hold their weddings (albeit on another date) and vendors have to perform their services (again, on another date.)

But now we’re in summer, COVID is no longer an unpredictable complication, and even if it was, in most places, weddings are allowed to happen. Unless your contract specified a certain guest count, your wedding being allowed to (legally) happen on the (current or rescheduled) date *is* the venue/vendor performing their responsibilities. And so (legally), you also need to perform by hosting your wedding.

I’m just going to say again that I am not a lawyer, but this is my understanding from having watched quite a few webinars by lawyers who specialize in wedding contracts on this topic in the past few months.

What about us, the people actually getting married during COVID??

Of course, there is your perspective, as the people who’ve been planning your weddings, most likely since long before COVID was a word you’d ever heard.

You set a wedding budget. You reserved a bunch of services within that budget on a date you liked (probably a Saturday) and you expected to get them at the price you agreed to. All of these things were completely reasonable expectations to have!

It seems totally unfair that you should have to pay more money or switch to a weekday just to have the wedding you were already planning. And it *is* unfair.

Which brings me to…

COVID & Weddings & Contracts & Rescheduling

What happens when we put all of these things together?

A complete and total shitstorm, where everyone loses.

To be completely honest, most vendors would love to just swap in another Saturday for you and charge you nothing for it! But if we give our entire 2021 season away — for free — to 2020 couples, not only are we losing most of this year’s income, we will bring in zero dollars over the next year and may be out of business by the time your new wedding date arrives. And then you will be out all of the money you’ve paid us AND won’t get your wedding, because a bankrupt, closed business is not going to show up and perform nor is it going to give your money back.

This fucking sucks for everyone. There is no way around that.

What COVID is asking from all of us is compromise and cooperation during an unfathomably tragic situation.

We need to cooperate on finding new dates that work for everyone and (in my opinion, which – legally speaking – contradicts most contracts, including my own) allow anyone who feels it’s unsafe to gather their loved ones or simply doesn’t want to have a socially distanced, masked, 25% capacity guest list, no dancing wedding to postpone.

That’s where the compromise comes in: What wedding vendors are giving up is a devastating amount of income and a lot of our 2021 days off in order to move your wedding; What you are giving up is either keeping your wedding at the same budget or keeping it on a Saturday or keeping a high guest count or possibly more than one of the above.

I realize I just wrote an essay more than a comment, but in closing I would just like to say that no one is in this business to make a bunch of money and fleece you out of it – mostly because it’s frankly not all that profitable and also we have to work on so many weekends!

We’re in this industry because we absolutely love making wedding magic happen. Period.

Please try to have empathy for the devastation we and our industry are currently facing. Please work with us to reschedule on a date that works for everyone. And please understand that if you want to reserve a second prime Saturday from our inventory, we need to charge you something for it in order to keep our bills paid.

And in return, we will work our asses off to bring you the amazing wedding you’ve imagined and planned so hard for!!

p.s. Is rescheduling your wedding due to COVID a massive pain in the ass that you’d rather not DIY? I’ve got you covered.

Cindy Savage | Aisle Less Traveled

Cindy Savage | Aisle Less Traveled

Cindy Savage is the queer, feminist wedding planner behind Aisle Less Traveled and the co-creator/co-host of the Super Gay Wedding podcast. When she's not busy planning unique and creative weddings for the absolute best couples around, she can usually be found wearing stretchy pants with her nose in a book and a glass of wine in hand. She currently lives in Seattle with her partner and an assortment of small houseplants.

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