A wedding celebration is probably the most anticipated event in a couple's life. When two people decide to say "I do," they eagerly look forward to a joyous day, which they will remember fondly. Unfortunately, wedding day blues sometimes taint these memories, as things do not always go as planned. Not only are weddings important and romantic occasions, they are also a $72 billion dollar a year industry that caters to approximately 2.4 million couples annually. In order to protect consumers from unscrupulous merchants and avoid last minute headaches, the BBB offers the following report.
Rules to Follow
Plan Ahead: Try to make arrangements with the various vendors at least a year in advance, in order to get the date you want. Since reservations are often booked far in advance, this will assure more flexibility in planning.
Set A Budget: and then stick to it! Do not fall for high pressure sales tactics - if you don't want or can’t afford something, don't buy it. It is your day, and you are in control of the decisions.
Pay With Credit Cards: Credit cards offer consumers added protection in the event of a problem, because you can generally have your card issuer "pull back" the charge and investigate any problems within 60 days of receiving your statement, even if you have already paid the charge. In some cases, they may extend you a longer "dispute" period. Unfortunately, checks or cash offer no such protection.
Get Contracts in Writing: Remember that all written contracts should include specific dates, products, prices, name brands, and be signed by all parties involved. Cancellation policies should also be included in the contracts. This includes any refund policies and returns on deposits. If these are not already included in the contract, insist that they are added before you sign. New York state law allows businesses to set whatever refund or cancellation policy they desire. Do not assume that if you cancel a contract, you will receive a 100% refund. Be sure that you are aware of refund or cancellation policies before you sign a contract and that the terms are completely spelled out in the written contract. Also, try to keep deposits as small as possible as they are often non-refundable. Smaller deposits may mean less money lost if there is a change in plans.
Schedule Extra Delivery Time: Anticipate that you may encounter some problems and allow for delays - do not have everything scheduled to be delivered the day before the wedding.
Don't Be Lured By the Lowest Price: Your wedding is a once in a lifetime event, so you want to do it right. Be careful not to hire unknown companies simply because they advertise the lowest prices. First, research the company’s quality and reliability record.
Research A Company Before Using It: There are three simple ways to find a good company: 1) Ask friends for the names of companies that they have used with good results. 2) Ask for references. Any legitimate company will be pleased to provide previously satisfied clients. However, do not stop there. Follow through and actually call the clients to find out it they were satisfied and if they may have some suggestions about doing business with that particular company. 3) Lastly, check companies with your local Better Business Bureau before doing business with them. In the event you do have a problem, you can also contact the BBB to file a complaint.
The Planning Process
So, where should you actually start? The best place is with the budget: it is important to realize that a wedding can cost as much or as little as you want to spend. Deciding how much you want to spend will make planning a lot easier. You can get a good idea of cost from the guest list. Once the guest list has been made, the following aspects must also receive careful consideration:
Scheduling your wedding and honeymoon at the right time can save money. June is not only the most popular month for weddings, but it is also the most expensive time for a wedding. Winter ceremonies, as well as ceremonies during the week are generally the least expensive. Many vendors, such as catering halls and photographers, will charge more for services performed during peak times. Keep in mind, however, that a winter wedding may make a honeymoon to a warm destination more expensive.
The location for the ceremony usually accounts for a significant portion of the cost of the wedding. When evaluating the site, try to go to a wedding or other special event there to evaluate their services first hand. Choosing a reception site close to the location of the wedding can save time and confusion for the guests. As with other vendors, making reservations as far in advance as possible will allow more choice of dates.
Buying engagement and wedding rings can be a difficult task. Taking the time to compare jewelers and learn about jewelry can save you a lot of hassle and prevent problems in the long run. When dealing with the jeweler, make sure to get a written copy of any refund, repair, and exchange policy, as well a clear statement of the warranty. The key to shopping for jewelry is understanding the terms used to describe and value the jewelry. Gold and silver items should have a quality mark stamped inside the band, describing the amount of gold or silver used in the item. Be sure to find out if the jewelry is pure gold, silver or platinum or is made of some other metal and plated with gold or silver. With diamonds and other gemstones, make sure you get a written statement describing the cut, color, clarity and carat (weight) of the stones. Any reputable jeweler should permit consumers to submit jewelry to an independent appraiser to verify its quality and cost.
If you are buying on credit, make sure all credit terms are spelled out, including the annual percentage rate.
The contract with the printer should indicate the exact date that invitations will be finished. Ask to review proofs before the invitation is printed to avoid typing or designing errors. Also, to protect yourself from unforeseen mistakes: include in the contract the agreement that any mistakes on the part of the printer be redone at the company's expense; however, do not expect the company to pay if the error is your own.
Caterers usually take care of the food, service, linen and liquor. How do you find a caterer willing to work with your taste and within your budget? Your best bet is to get recommendations from friends and relatives who have been satisfied with a caterer they’ve used for a similar event. To make sure you are getting your money's worth, carefully check your contract to make sure that relevant issues are included. The contract should include specific information concerning the preparation and service of meals. The price and type of alcohol to be used should also be included. You may want to include the gratuity payment in the contract as well.
Caterers offer special discounts, such as free meals for the bride and groom as well as half price meals for the band and the photographer. These savings can help reduce the overall price, and should be considered when selecting a caterer.
In New York City, caterers and catering halls are required to be licensed with the Department of Consumer Affairs. The BBB suggests that before signing a contract with a New York City caterer, couples first verify that the caterer has a currently valid license. New York City consumer protection law regulates the cancellation of contracts with caterers. According to these regulations, if a couple cancels a catering contract and the caterer can re-book the date, the caterer’s cancellation fee may not exceed 5% of the total contract price or $100, whichever is less, plus the caterer’s reasonable expenses. The cancellation fee must be conspicuously noted in the written contract. If a couple cancels a contract, and the caterer cannot re-book the date after a reasonable attempt to do so, then the cancellation fee cannot exceed the difference between the total contract price and the actual cost to the caterer to provide the service. A caterer must return any deposit in excess of the legally permissible cancellation fees no more than 30 days after cancellation or re-booking of the date. Also, a caterer may not subcontract the job to another caterer without the consumer’s consent. Caterers must alert consumers if they cannot perform the job themselves.
When signing a contract with a caterer outside New York City, be sure to have any cancellation policies and penalties included in the contract.
The quality of the entertainment can be the determining factor between a good wedding and a great wedding, so it is very important for couples to decide what kind of music they want played. You should view tapes of the performance of the band or DJ, or view their performance at another event. The contract should specify which performers would be playing at your wedding. The contract should also include how many breaks will be taken and when. If you are required to leave a deposit, be sure it is included in the contract as well as any penalties for cancellation. Most bands allow you to choose which songs will be performed during the celebration, so make sure you recheck the music beforehand to ensure that your choices are included.
When choosing a florist, make sure that you find one who is willing to show you various possibilities and work with your taste and within your budget. Be sure to get a sample before you place the order so you can see it. Indicate your desired arrangement, request a sample and make as few changes as possible. This will ensure that you keep the cost at or close to what you want to spend. Get recommendations from friends and relatives who have been satisfied with a given florist. Contracts with the florist should include specific delivery dates, times and locations.
PHOTOGRAPHERS AND VIDEOGRAPHERS
When choosing a photographer, be sure to meet with the individual who will be at your wedding and look at examples of their work. The contract with the photographer should specify how many photos will be taken, the nature of the pictures, the number of proofs and the number of books and photographs in the package. You should be able to buy the proofs if you so choose. If at all possible, do not pay the photographer the total amount up front.
If you are having your wedding videotaped, request to see some of the videographer's past work. As with photographers, it is important to meet with the person who will be actually taping the ceremony. Contracts should specify who will be doing the taping, how much of the wedding will be taped, any additional charges for special effects, and the price of additional copies of the tape.
LIMOUSINE AND CAR SERVICES
Beware of some common problems with limousine service: if you are hiring transportation, it is the company’s responsibility to make sure you get to the ceremony on time. Limousines may arrive late or not at all, they may not pick up all parties, and you may get charged unfairly for overtime. Again, couples can cut down on the chances of this happening by signing a contract. Contracts should specify hourly rates as well as rates for overtime. It should be absolutely clear in the contract who will be picked up (wedding party, bride and groom's parents, etc.), where they will be picked up and what time they will be picked up.
Shop around for the most reasonable rates. If using a New York City limousine service, verify it’s licensing with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. New York City limousine services must be licensed, and this also offers added protection against problems.
Bridal gowns range from simple and elegant to extravagant - prices vary from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Gowns are sold in boutique shops, department stores and sometimes directly through dress manufacturers. Generally, the price of the dress is based upon the brand name, the fabric used and the amount of labor involved. However, brides should be aware that higher prices do not always guarantee a better dress. Pricing is also affected by the prestige or reputation of the boutique or designer. Both the bride and her party should expect several scheduled fittings before the wedding and should allow enough time to shop for and choose the perfect dress. Also, make sure that the shop that will be altering your gown measures you and orders the correct size. Gown sizes run differently than regular dress sizes, so don't automatically order the size you usually wear.
Unless each person in the wedding party owns his own tuxedo, the groom and his attendants should expect to be fitted by the tailor at a rental shop. Be sure to shop around: some rental shops offer free rentals for the groom when all the attendants rent their tuxedos at the same shop. It will be necessary to leave a deposit on the tuxedo rental as well as shoes and any other accessories included. Again, make sure you know what you are ordering. Find out whether you will be entitled to receive a refund on your deposit if any mistakes are the fault of the rental company.
You should get a written guarantee from the boutique or rental shop regarding the dates by which the gowns and tuxes will be ready. Give yourself plenty of extra time before the wedding to allow for garments to be redone in case something goes wrong. Also, arrangements should be made between tailors and dress shops in the event that members of the bridal party are from out of state or out of town during the scheduled fitting to insure that everyone will be fitted properly and on time.
WEDDING CONSULTANTS/PARTY PLANNERS
Most couples prefer to hire a professional wedding consultant or party planner, instead of doing everything themselves. Wedding consultants and party planners have connections that can lessen the aggravation of planning a great celebration. They can also recommend companies with good service and lower prices that will suit the client's needs and taste. Ask around for recommendations if you know someone who has had a wedding done by a professional.
Make sure the method of billing is agreed upon and included in any contract you sign with the wedding consultant. Contracts should specify exactly what the planner will do for you, as well as what you do not want them to do for you. For example, indicate whether or not you want the consultant to sign documents on your behalf. Also, you may want to include fixed directions regarding your specified budget, to insure the planner is not overly extravagant at your expense.
When making travel arrangements for out of town guests, try to have as many people traveling together or staying the same hotel as possible. Volume discounts for group travel may make it more affordable for out of town guests to attend the ceremony. Also, choose hotels in more than one price range so guests can choose how much they want to spend on lodging. When checking hotels, find out what exactly is included in their price for guest rooms and then compare prices of hotels you are interested in. According to both the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association and the American Hotel and Motel Association, there are no state or federal regulations regarding deposits or contracts in the hotel industry for guest rooms. Policies vary depending upon the individual hotel, so it is a good idea to determine whether your choice offers a refund on the deposit in the event the wedding is canceled.
Everyone has a different idea of the perfect honeymoon - fun in the sun at a beach resort, skiing, camping, visiting far away cities - the list is endless. Planning ahead will give you more choices, and save you money. Taking an off-season honeymoon - a warm destination in the summer, European travel during the winter - will save even more on airfare alone. Buying tickets in advance and shopping around will also get you better prices for airfare and hotels. Be sure to verify your itinerary and reservations with the airlines and hotels themselves, and not just through the travel agent.
The BBB advises couples to start planning early and to expect to invest a great deal of time and research into every aspect of the ceremony. Couples can contact their local Better Business Bureau to get valuable information and reliability ratings on prospective companies before making purchasing decisions. Likewise, should an unforeseen or unanticipated problem occur, couples can file a complaint with the BBB. Make sure the vendor or company you choose is working for you...and not the other way around. While they may be able to offer many helpful suggestions, the fact remains that it is your wedding and you should have the celebration you desire. Be prepared and arm yourself with enough information regarding what should and shouldn't be included in contracts so that you may spend less time scrutinizing legalities and spend more time perfecting details. And most important, enjoy your special day...after all this, you deserve it!