Contract Tips

You've done all the research and made all the decisions. Find out what you need to know before you sign on the dotted line.

Contracts can be confusing at best—at worst they're an overwhelming jumble of jargon. But a service contract with a caterer, reception hall, florist or whomever is meant to protect your rights as much as those of the pros. How can you make sure the I's are dotted and the t's crossed before you sign anything? JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions in New York, shares her tips:

First, don't agree to a contract that is too vague. "Lack of specificity leaves room for vendors to make changes or tack on extra costs," says Gregoli. Everything should appear on paper, including:

  • Dates
  • Times (including set-up and clean-up times, if applicable)
  • Locations
  • Prices plus taxes and gratuities
  • Payment plan
  • Delivery schedule
  • Number and names of professionals
  • Expected attire of professionals
  • Refund and cancelation policies
  • Any overtime fees

The contract must also specify any vendor-specific details. For example, a videographer's contract should specify that she'll have back-up equipment on hand in case of malfunctioning; a florist's should name the specific flowers he'll use.

Also make sure that any details or extras discussed during meetings are noted in the contract. If you photographer says he'll throw in an extra portrait for your parents, get it in writing. Don't take anything for granted. Ask questions, and if you feel something has been left out, have the vendor write it in. Both parties should initial the change.

Don't be pressured into signing on the spot. Vendors should let you take a contract home and fine-tooth-comb it. Pinpoint any unfamiliar terms and get them clarified to your satisfaction and, if possible, have a third party give it a glance. A wedding consultant or attorney is ideal, but anyone who has recently planned a wedding can eyeball it. Then be sure to keep in touch with the vendor after you've signed and put down a deposit. Follow up on contract details as the wedding date nears, and call vendors to confirm services one to two weeks before the big day.