Wedding Vendor Retainers/Deposits Explained

Why do wedding vendors insist on a non-refundable retainer or deposit? After all, if you don’t use them, they didn’t incur any expenses. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. Each time a vendor meets with a potential client, they are investing time and possibly money in an attempt to get a new client. Sometimes, the client walks away and other times they book the vendor.

Let me digress for a moment. While you might like to think your wedding is the event of the year, in reality, not all weddings are created equal. Not all clients will provide the same profit potential for all of the vendors. True a band will get the same fees regardless of the size of the wedding. Even then, some wedding will book the band for 4 hours and others for 6.

It is important to remember the contract you sign with your vendors is a two way street. In return for giving the vendor money today, your vendor is promising to show up at your wedding to provide the services you requested. Now it does not matter if the vendor is a one person operation or a large corporation. All vendors have a capacity limit. It could be one event a weekend or a hundred, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter that at some point, your vendor will reach capacity and have to turn potential customers away.

In some respects weddings are very much like airplanes. Each plane has a set number of seats and you can’t put extra people on the plane. On the other hand, when the plane leaves the gate with an empty seat, there is no way to ever fill that seat. The revenue potential from the empty seat is gone forever. When a wedding vendor has an open day, they’ve lost the chance to earn income on that day.

Finally, putting this all together. When you book a vendor, they are promising to be at your wedding and turn away other potential business for the same date. Should you change your mind the vendor may have lost the opportunity to earn a living on that particular day. In addition, most vendors cannot afford to have clients cancel for no reason. If this were to happen, clients would book a vendor and then shop for a better deal.

In the end, all vendors have differing policies for canceling a contract. Some are outright forfeiture and others will provide a refund should they rebook the date. Some will even give a refund for extenuating circumstances (ie. military deployment, family illness). Should you need, wish or desire to cancel your contract with your wedding vendor, you should carefully read your contract to determine the official policy. It never hurts to asks for a refund, but don’t be surprised if the vendor says “No.”

Milena and Ron’s Rockleigh Country Club Wedding

Milena and Ron were recently married at the Rockleigh Country Club. This was one of the few traveling assignments I’ve had which has taken me out of state. It was quite an experience being at this wedding. The Rockleigh Country Club is a wonderful location for a wedding. My only regret is that it is not in my local area. Perhaps I’ll get lucky to have another client book me for an event at that venue.

Milena's wedding portrait taken at the Rockleigh in New York
If you can look past our lovely bride, Milena, you can see the spacious well kept grounds.

Photograph of Milena and Ron's wedding katubah signing
Here’s the Rabbi filling out the Ketuba, a Jewish wedding contract.

Photo of Milena and Ron's wedding katubah signing at the Rockleigh Country Club
A close up of the document. I’m glad the groom reads Hebrew and knows what he’s signing!

Photograph of the room decor at a Rockleigh Country Club wedding
I really liked this floral arrangement.

The Rockleigh in New York was the site for this photo from Milena and Ron's wedding.
The chuppa, Jewish Wedding Canopy, was all decked out with white roses.

Here are some from the wedding ceremony:
Ron and Milena's wedding photo at the Rockleigh
A unique wedding photo from a Rockleigh New York Wedding
A photo of the happy couple leaving their Rockleigh wedding ceremony.
This is one of my favorite photos from this wedding!

The rest of these photos are from the reception. The Rockleigh has installed an LED uplighting system which can display any color lights. They really add to the elegance of the event. As a photographer I like them because they provide an interesting background to the photos.
The Rockleigh's banquet room was the site for this photo from Ron and Milena's wedding
Ron and Milena's wedding photo at the Rockleigh
The Hora Photo during a Jewish wedding reception at the Rockleigh Country Club in New York
Another Wedding Photo taken during Milena and Ron's wedding at the Rockleigh

In these next two photos, you can see how the lighting has changed to provide a different look to the room.
Photograph of the room decor at a Rockleigh Country Club wedding
Photograph of Ron and Milena's guests dancing during their reception at the Rockleigh

When it was time to cut the cake, the lights were turned back to purple.
Ron and Milena's wedding photograph at the Rockleigh
Another Wedding Photo from Milena and Ron's wedding taken at the Rockleigh Country Club, NY.
The Rockleigh Country Club was the site for this couple's first dance photograph

Scheduling Your Wedding Day — Part 2

The ceremony is over, you’re married, the photos have been taken and now you are on your way to the reception. The time line planning is not over yet! There are still several events to schedule. More so than anything else, a wedding is judged based on the reception. The timing of your evening plays a large part on the flow of the wedding. The basic rule is “You don’t want to move (herd) people too much. The flow should be from cocktail hour to dinner seating to dancing. In addition, you don’t want to interrupt their dinner.

The major events at a reception are: Cocktail Hour, Introductions, Toasts, Dinner, Cutting the Cake, Serving Desert, 1st Dances(B/G, B/Dad, G/Mom, Bridal Party), Garter/Bouquet toss and the Get Away. You may decide to forgo somethings like the garter toss and add other events like a dollar dance. To determine your schedule for the evening, you will need to consult with your Master of Ceremonies (DJ/Band Leader) and the reception hall. If you are planning to serve your wedding cake as desert, your reception hall will need time to cut the cake. Therefore, I recommend cutting the cake right after you are introduced. I’ve seen couples cut the cake between the soup/salad or main course. Personally, I don’t like leaving the cake out too long as you never know who might accidentally bump into it.

Most couples schedule their first dance as desert is being served. As soon as the first dances have been completed, the dance floor is opened to all the guests and the party really begins. If you do decide on a dollar dance or garter/bouquet toss, you’ll want to plan on those a bit later in the evening. Finally, you should be mindful of when your photographer is scheduled to leave. As I typically book for the event and not by the hour, I’m there until all the events have been completed. However, there are those photographers who do book by the hour. They will leave at the scheduled time. If you want something photographed, you should make sure your photographer has not left yet. With proper planning, speaking to you venue and master of ceremonies, you will have a fun filled evening to remember for years to come.

Wedding Day Time Line

I’m often asked about a wedding day time line. A cramped schedule can leave the bride, groom, bridal party and guests feeling rushed and stressed. Some of the stress can be caused by the unexpected occurring. On a wedding day, even the simplest of tasks can take longer than anticipated! There are many factors which determine your time line. They are driving times/distances, photographer, length of wedding ceremony and preparation time.

The two biggest mistakes brides make when planning their wedding day are not providing enough time for hair and makeup and not allowing their photographer enough time to capture all the family group photos they want. These mistakes are easy to avoid. First, about a month before your wedding, have a hair and make-up practice session. Not only will you know how much time it takes, but you will also assure yourself you’ll like the hairstyle you selected (I’ve seen brides run behind schedule because they redid their hair several times).

Once you know how much time your hair and makeup will take, the best advice I can give any bride, is to speak with your photographer. Your photographer will know how much time they’ll need for all of the photos you’ve planned to take. Some photographers spend an hour taking fashion photos of the bride and then take all the family photos. Other photographers take a more hands-off approach.

As you plan your special day, please understand you have two fixed times for the ceremony and the reception. Many times ceremony sites have several weddings scheduled in a single day. Reception sites have planned your dinner for a specific time. If you are late, then your dinner will be cold. Furthermore, some multi-room venues have a couple of room waiters and then share dinner servers between the rooms. If you are late, you and your guest will have to wait until the shared servers are free to serve your room. When I work with my clients to build a schedule, I start with the two fixed times and build around them.

9:30 Hair/Make-up
11:30 Photographer arrives for getting ready photos
12:30 Bride Ready for photos
12:30 Bride/Bridesmaids/Bride Family photos.
1:30 Photographer Leave Bride’s Getting Ready location for the Ceremony Venue (assumes 15 minute drive)
2:00 Photos of Groom/Groomsmen/Grooms family at venue
2:45 Photographer prepares for wedding ceremony
3:00 Ceremony
3:30 Ceremony Ends
3:45 Formal Photos in Church (assumes Bride and Groom do not have a private first look)
4:30 Formal Photos End
5:00 Park/Outdoor Photos of Bridal Party and Couple(Park is on the way to the Reception Venue)
6:00 Cocktail Hour Starts
6:45 Dinner is seated
7:00 Introductions/Toasts
7:30 Dinner is served

This timeline is meant to provide you with a general idea of how your special day might be scheduled. Your timeline will need to be adjusted based on your particular circumstances. Please remember that everything takes longer than you think on your wedding day. With a properly scheduled wedding day, you’ll have a wedding day you can enjoy and look back upon with fond memories.

If you could ask a prospective photographer just one question…..

If you could ask only one question when interviewing a photographer what should it be?

“What mode do you usually use when photographing a wedding?”

The incorrect answer to this question is “P” or “Program” mode. If you hear this, run away as fast as you can. For this is telling you the photographer is trusting the camera to make all the decisions. In the other modes(Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority), the photographer is making a thoughtful (I hope), artistic choice on how the camera should perform. Depending on the camera, you might also hear “Portrait,” “Sunlight,” “Scenic,” or some other term to indicate the photographer is using some sort of program mode. Photographers who use the “P” mode most likely are not skilled enough to understand lighting and how to use their camera. Hence the reason you should continue your search for another photographer.