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With many couples getting engaged around the holidays, January is prime time for wedding shows and the first stages of wedding planning. While most wedding vendors care about customer service and honest mistakes do happen, couples shouldn’t have to worry about whether the vendors they’ve chosen can be trusted to come through for them.

Better Business Bureau received more than 5,000 complaints in 2019 about wedding-related businesses of all kinds, including supplies and services, cakes, venues, caterers, limo service, consultants, and photographers and videographers. Many complaints about wedding services involve the timing of the delivery of the products or services. Complainants tell BBB they ordered products like wedding dresses and wedding favors with the expectation that the products would arrive in time for the wedding but found there were delays in delivery, without an acceptable refund or other recourse.

Similarly, many complaints regarding photographers and videographers are about timelines for receiving the final photos or videos. Consumers say that they expected to get photos or videos within a certain amount of time, but the business delayed sending them without providing adequate explanation. Others complain about “no show” limos or DJs. Consumers also report it was often hard to communicate with the business.

BBB has seen some wedding vendors close their businesses with little notice to their customers. When the company is out of business, it can be very hard for consumers to get their money back, even though they will not receive purchased products and services. One national wedding dress retailer abruptly closed all stores in 2017 with little notice to its customers, leaving many brides and bridesmaids scrambling to get orders fulfilled or even obtain already-delivered dresses that were waiting inside the closed stores.

The following tips can help avert common problems couples encounter to help ensure you have the wedding you’ve been dreaming about.

• Research businesses before hiring them. Read reviews. Ask the business ahead of time what their plan is for delivering their product on time. Do they have guarantees? What is covered by the guarantee? Don’t pay the entire fee up front.

• Check how long a business has been operating. Find out how many people are still using their services, in order to avoid paying a business that might close before they can provide their product or service.

• Unexpected fees. Some caterers, hotels or reception venues try to charge extra for “plate splitting,” “cake-cutting” or “corkage” fees, especially if you bring in a cake or liquor purchased from another source. Ask whether any fees apply beyond the cost per person, gratuities or room rental, if applicable.

• Dresses that don’t measure up. Brides have complained to BBB about bridal shops ordering the wrong sizes and colors of gowns as well as dresses that arrive too late for timely alterations. Make sure your order specifies new merchandise, sized to fit you and your bridesmaids. Remind the shop of your schedule in advance.

• Wedding transportation problems. Complaints about limousine service include poor customer service and rigid cancellation policies. Get details in writing. Ask how the company handles problems if you aren’t satisfied and what they will charge if you need the vehicle longer on your wedding night. Don’t pay the entire amount in advance.

• Musician switch. Couples shouldn’t rely on a website, demo tape or phone conversation when hiring a band or other music service. Find out where you can hear the musicians play before you hire them. Ask who will actually perform at the reception and get a written commitment from the band or musician, including the amount of time they will play and any extra costs to extend the time the night of the event.

• Photographer issues. A common complaint is that the photographer doesn’t show up for the wedding or fails to deliver pictures until months after the wedding. Find out when and how pictures will be delivered, whether you will have the option of getting all the images on a DVD or CD, how much time you will have to choose the pictures and whether other members of your family or wedding party will have access to the pictures.

• Floral changes. Fresh flowers are a perishable commodity, and the final bouquet or arrangements may need to change depending on what’s available on the wedding day. Make sure you spell out a minimum size or number of stems in each bouquet or arrangement. Ask how the florist will handle any last-minute substitutions and charges, especially if the value of the flowers actually used is markedly different from what you agreed upon.

• Bridal gown preservation. Some bridal shops or other businesses sell bridal gown preservation packages, including cleaning and a box, for $250 or more. Many of these packages are no more than regular dry-cleaning and a cardboard box, which may not be acid-free. Check with a reputable cleaner on the cost of cleaning your gown after the wedding. The cleaner or another supplier may be able to sell you an acid-free box and tissue at a more reasonable price.

• Wedding memorabilia. Monogrammed napkins, decorations, swizzle sticks, pens or other souvenirs often are marketed as a way to enhance the event or remember the wedding. Resist the temptation to buy items that may be overpriced, of poor quality or that add needlessly to the total bill.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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