Many brides have stories to tell about how their hired professionals—caterer, photographer, florist, etc.—failed to deliver the products or services promised. But what most of us later confess is that it may have been partly our fault: We didn't ask enough questions, check out references, read or require a contract, or we were afraid to tell the hired help exactly what we wanted.
• Never put down a deposit without a signed contract in hand,and never sign a contract until you're confident it covers all relevant points.
• Wedding pros in one area can be great sources for recommendations in other areas (i.e., your caterer may know the perfect florist), but they may have a financial incentive to suggest one vendor over another. Always do your homework and check references thoroughly, regardless of who made the recommendation.
• You can't foresee every possible problem, but think about what could go wrong with each professional and ask what they'll do to prevent or respond to problems. For example, if the fuses blow at your backyard wedding, will the DJ have a back-up generator? If a hurricane prevents the tropical flowers from arriving, what will the florist use instead? Don't scare yourself with disaster dreams, but do troubleshoot as much as possible.
Planning experts say that many common wedding snafus can be averted if the pending nuptials are looked at less as the most special day of your life and more as a business deal. Although you're quite naturally feeling emotional, you have to be dispassionate about such things as contracts and negotiations with vendors. You're in love with your wedding-day dream; they're doing business as usual. "The contract is the only source of recourse you have should something go wrong," says Deborah McCoy, wedding consultant in Boca Raton, Florida, and author of Weddings From A to Z (Hay House, Inc., 2000).
Besides demanding comprehensive and binding contracts (read Contract Savvy for more details), always ask to speak with former clients. But beware: Professionals will obviously give you the names of their most satisfied clients, so when you call them, go beyond the standard "were you happy" questions. "Ask them things like, ‘Is there one thing that could have been better or that you would have liked done differently?'" says Kathleen Kennedy, a former caterer and author of Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 (Clarkson Potter, 2000).
If you really want to go the extra mile to insure that all the professionals you are considering hiring (or have already booked) are reliable, contact the Better Business Bureau. Its web site, BBB.org, will hook you up with your local BBB branch—there are 50—and allow you to check online reliability reports that state whether a complaint was filed against a business and, if so, how it was resolved. You can also query the Chamber of Commerce in the area where the reception will take place to ask if your hired professionals are members in good standing of the local business community.