I thought I would spend this fine morning outlining some of the things that I have learned over the course of the last 12 months when it comes to disputes in the wedding industry due to the Coronavirus and COVID-19.

Here they are:

  1. Suppliers have not experienced a raft of disputes with couples. More often than not, its been one or two experiences with couples and it has shaken a supplier up.
  2. For the most part, suppliers have reached agreement on how to proceed when plans have gone array with each of their couples. It is just that that one experience has caused anxiety about what could possibly happen going forward. It’s a reasonable anxiety, but I truly believe that there is still solid, mutual respect between couples and suppliers at the moment. Don’t let the media fool you into thinking there isn’t.
  3. Booking fees/deposits/retainers have been an area of contention. This has been the result of confusion of couples who assume it is just money used to put a “hold” on the day, and released when they don’t need it any longer. This needs to be dealt with through better wording in your terms and conditions. There is no other way around it. Your booking fee clause needs to be written very carefully.
  4. The hardest hit in terms of financial loss has been those who have perishable items as part of their service (foods, flowers). However, that is also the easiest to explain when retaining money from couples. Because it is tangible loss, couples can wrap their heads around the measurement of loss. However, some of the harder hit suppliers have been venues, where there really is a misunderstanding of the work in the lead up to keep the venue in condition and the struggle to replace a wedding in its place.
  5. By far the riskiest business model to run right now is an event planning business who takes all monies from the couple and then pays the vendors on their behalf. Its risky and I am outright advising people at this stage to not do it. You risk a clash between asking for money back from the various vendors to give back to the couples (in the event of a frustration situation) or you are having to take the hit as the “middle man” because of the heat that is being placed on you from the couple.
  6. Another hot tip….do NOT place “pandemic” into a force majeure clause without legal advice. It is clear that despite there being a pandemic, it is entirely possible for weddings to go ahead. It becomes a mechanism by the couple to use in circumstances where they really have decided to change their mind about their wedding, or certain aspects of it, and then pointing to COVID as being the reason for the cancellation.
  7. Even if you do have a force majeure clause, the result of a force majeure situation should not be a complete termination of the contract and money back. Force majeure is not an easy concept and you should not attempt to amend or draft it yourself. In fact, don’t automatically assume that you need one. A bad force majeure clause is more dangerous than not having one at all.
  8. Its in your favour to keep the communication lines open with various suppliers. Its not a case of bitching behind your client’s back. It’s a case of keeping an ear about any inconsistencies in stories. Again, this is not saying that you cannot trust your couples and it is not the case that all couples are liars. However, I have had the odd occasion (5% of matters) where a couple has told their photographer that they are very unwell and cannot proceed, but will have told the venue that they can no longer afford the venue and then told the stylist that they are pulling out because of COVID. You don’t even need to make a big deal out of it, but its a case of just being aware that that kind of behaviour may result in a dispute.
  9. Be wary of statements like “oh well every other supplier has refunded me my deposit”. Firstly, that may not be true. Secondly, you are not obligated to follow other people’s paths. Different suppliers have different contracts. They have different business models. They have different tolerance to risk.
  10. Of most importance, don’t judge other suppliers about how they treat the return of money. I repeat again from #9. Every business is different. Don’t make comment to the couple about what other suppliers “should” be doing. Reserve your opinion on it because even though you are an “industry” and should all stick together, it is dangerous to set an expectation for the couple that everyone “should” be as “nice” as you are by refunding money. Being “nice” doesn’t pay the bills. Being “nice” won’t stop your business from going insolvent or you going into bankruptcy. If there is room to give money back or bend on your business model, by all means, do it but don’t set any kind of expectation with your couple that everyone should also do so.

Those last two points are pretty hard hitting and I am cautious that I should be “staying in my lane” when it comes to industry behaviour but these are just observations. Issues arising from it are popping up on the odd occasion and so I want to just give assurance to those suppliers who are barely keeping their head about water that it is entirely okay to stick to your guns about keeping money that you are entitled to when everyone around you aren’t taking that same position.