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Wisdom for the Haggling Bride and Groom

A contract isn’t set in stone until you sign it. Here’s how to make sure you get what you want: First, ask someone with legal knowledge or planning experience to look over the document. Change the wording and add in clauses after discussing them with your vendor. Make copies, as employee turnover sometimes means your special agreements get lost. And whatever happens, don’t forget the power of nice.

VENUE

WHAT TO SAVE WITHOUT DRIVING VENDORS BONKERS
Ask for a lower rate during the slower summer or winter season and on less desirable days (five percent less for Fridays; ten percent less for Sundays). Look for perks: If your reception is in a hotel, ask for a complimentary suite the night before the wedding as well as the night of the reception to avoid worrying about check-in times, which often are as late as 3 p.m. Also, ask them to comp breakfast and lunch for the bridal party. Sometimes it helps to wait until the last minute to book. “Couples planning their weddings only eight weeks in advance snag deeply discounted rates,” says Jung Lee of Fête, as venues consider a date “lost” if they still haven’t booked it two months out.

NECESSARY COSTS
If you’ve booked a museum, library, or a similar institution, be prepared to shell out a donation, plus security fees, some as high as $20,000 (which are neither negotiable nor tax deductible). It’s not unusual for a caterer to ask for an hour of overtime, which can equal about five percent of the overall venue cost per hour.


HIDDEN FEES TO AVOID
Many venues keep a list of preferred vendors, and often they’re pricey. Ask if you can hire a vendor on your own, suggests Lee, and seek out competitive bids. That said, some union regulations, particularly in hotels, restrict the use of outside vendors.

ADD THIS CLAUSE
Protect yourself from a natural disaster, an abrupt venue shutdown, or surprise renovations that would force you to cancel your wedding. Include a clause covering the full deposit, plus guarantees of their best efforts to help find you a new location and to cover the reprinting of invitations.

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP
A few hundred dollars or a bottle of wine for the event coordinator; porters, security staff, and others can be tipped individually (about $50 each) or in a lump sum that can be divided by the manager.



CATERING

WHAT TO SAVE WITHOUT DRIVING VENDORS BONKERS
Reduce per head costs by eliminating entrée options. Offer one choice plus a vegetarian item, or cut back on stations if you’re having buffet service. Arrange to be refunded the cost of all unopened bottles. If you’re pouring wine, serve a simple Sauvignon Blanc. “You could spend more, but most guests won’t notice the difference,” says caterer Olivier Cheng.


NECESSARY COSTS
An open bar is a must; top-shelf liquor is not. Don’t subtract waiters, as good service has a lot of impact on the party’s success. Hire at least one—preferably two—servers per ten guests. However, if you must cut staff, place wine on tables for self-pouring and serve dinner family-style.

HIDDEN FEES TO AVOID
Watch out for the “plus-plus” (service and tax)—it’s essentially an extra 30 percent to whatever per head cost the caterer quotes, says Lee. After the “plus-plus” a $40,000 wedding can cost $52,000, so caveat emptor!

ADD THIS CLAUSE
Ask the caterer to throw in drink mixers and coffee and tea service for free, as well as kid and vendor meals (they should be at least half the regular per head cost). Ask the caterer to provide bathroom and coat check attendants at no extra charge.

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP
In your contract, “service fees” may look like a tip, but it isn’t. Tip the maître d’ $150 to $300, the bridal attendant $100 to $175, and the dining captains $100 each. The waitstaff receives 18 to 20 percent of the cost of food and beverage.

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