Wedding vendors with non-disparagement clauses
April 8, 2016 6:44 AM   Subscribe

In searching for a particular vendor for our wedding, I came across one company with a non-disparagement clause in their contract. I wasn't planning on complaining about anyone online or giving out 1-star reviews willy nilly, but is this a reason not to work with this company?

I understand that Yelp and other review sites are problematic for many businesses, but I'm uncomfortable with what a non-disparagement means about (1) my ability to adequately vet the company and (2) their professionalism. Should this really be a concern?

In searching for more information about non-disparagement clauses and this type of wedding vendor, I did come across a review from someone who did not end up booking the vendor. Someone from the company responded to the review in a non-professional way that discredited the reviewer and denied any wrongdoing.

I would not be so torn about this, except for the fact that this company was my first choice vendor for this service, has quoted a reasonable price, and was recommended by my venue.

Should I book them or move on?
posted by stripesandplaid to Media & Arts (14 answers total)
Ask the vendor for references. The venue is not an adequate reference (that referral was most likely a business arrangement).
posted by telegraph at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would not want to book a vendor who thought such a clause was necessary, who responded to bad reviews unprofessionally, and whose reviews I knew I couldn't trust.
posted by lazuli at 6:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [38 favorites]

Someone from the company responded to the review in a non-professional way

Even if the non-disparagement clause wasn't cause for concern, this would be. There are plenty of businesses that are capable of responding to bad reviews — whether given fairly or unfairly — in a professional and mature manner.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:59 AM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

Based on that unprofessional response, I'd move on. I don't love the idea that they're trying to quash any uncomplimentary reviews and...just no.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Asking for references from the company is still going to be biased, hand-picked. You are better off interviewing them properly yourself to ask what their policies are in certain circumstances, how they've handled things in the past when things go sideways, and what guarantees you will get for service.

Sure companies dealing with weddings will have had their own fair share of experiences with exceedingly high expectations from the stressed-out wedding party, or bouts of unforeseeable disaster. But how they handle themselves in those circumstances is going to be the measure of the service they'll provide you.

Assuming they won't be rude upfront, you can still tell if they're dodgy by noting whether they're dismissive or flippant about your concerns, don't want to answer, or are otherwise dodging the questions.
posted by lizbunny at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a big red flag. Sites like Yelp are filled with "reviews from Internet Idiot," and you should be able to fairly easily identify the ones that are content-free and aren't really relevant. For a vendor, having some "reviews from Idiot" is just a hazard of doing business.

The anti-disparagement clause by itself isn't necessarily a red flag, because sometimes someone (often a lawyer) will have given advice on the issue that makes sense from a certain point of view. It is the unprofessional response to a review that is particularly worrying.

Merely vetting references is not sufficient. You don't think they'll be providing you with a list of their failures, do you? So the references will always be happy customers.

Check with the Better Business Bureau and other traditional avenues of research for any vendor you do decide to go with. Be sure to listen to what other professionals who've worked with that vendor have to say. The people who bake the cake know the good venues from the bad ones. The manager at the venue may have stories about photographers who really screwed up. Etc.
posted by jgreco at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A wedding is stressful enough without this vendor. Move on to someone else. The clause is a red flag. The response is a parade of red flags.
posted by 26.2 at 7:21 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

this company was my first choice vendor for this service, has quoted a reasonable price...

Plenty of vendors will be extra nice when they are trying to win your business. Followthrough matters, and it looks like that might be an issue with this particular vendor. I wouldn't risk it.
posted by mochapickle at 7:25 AM on April 8, 2016

If you really want to give this a chance, here's what I'd do:

1) Contact venues or other entities that this vendor uses, get references from them for clients who have also used this vendor, and then ask those references about your vendor. Essentially, go around the vendor to find people who know about them. You can also ask those other businesses about the professionalism of the vendor. Still not an unbiased list -- nobody is going to bring up the clients who were completely unhappy for whatever reason -- but it's something.

Also, if you're in a place with a few obvious wedding providers (one or two bakeries, one or two or three big churches/hotels, one or two top flight photographers), you could just ask around.

2) Ask the vendor for tips on how to be a good client for them. What would they expect from you as far as change requests (timing, method of communication), flexibility (would they make changes? Could there be cost overruns?), and guidance. Listen to what they say and read/listen between the lines.

3) *** Politely ask if you could strike through the part of the contract you don't want. I do this all the time. Just strike it through, date, and initial it - maybe both parties have to initial changes, I'm not sure. Make sure this change is on both yours and the vendor's contract. (I'm not a lawyer). To reassure the vendor, I'd make a point of letting them know that you understand the difference between things that are your fault, providers' faults, and random acts of fate/the weather, and that you don't take peoples' reputations lightly, but that this bothers you. If they won't agree, you can always take your business elsewhere.
posted by amtho at 7:32 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding amtho. A contract is a negotiated agreement between two parties. Especially in a case like this (where you're about to undertake a reasonably hefty transaction with what I'm guessing is a relatively small business), regard their contract as an opening bid.

The initial contract they're offering you is a wishlist: what they would ask for if they could have everything they wanted. They know (or should know) that they might not get everything they want, and that you probably want some things too.

Maybe some people sign that opening offer with no modifications. Heck, some people probably sign it without reading it. That doesn't mean either one is normal, OK or acceptable.

If they say you have to sign the contract as-is or no deal, run. Run fast and far. Any heading, so long as you maintain it. (And if you do social media, make sure you mention the vendor by name and explain why you won't be hiring them...)
posted by sourcequench at 8:00 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a high end wedding vendor (photography) there is a very good reason why they had this in their contract. I can't speak to anything else but believe me, since the advent of yelp, theknot, weddingwire, etc malicious reviews have become a major problem for vendors. Incidentally, this is exactly why I pulled my ads from all the above sites. You can't trust anyone any more. The wedding industry is cutthroat and the margins of profit for vendors have shrunk to microscopic levels.

Malicious reviews generally fall in three categories: Internet trolls are the majority, competitive vendors fall right behind that, and clients that simply won't be happy no matter what, are in last place ... but then there are ransom clients. The bane of every vendor alive. Ransom clients are clients who hire you but can't really afford you or simply want to do everything as cheap as possible without paying the contract price. What happens is they hire you, use you, then upon delivery of product find some tiny nitpicky thing to use as a springboard to void payment or get a full refund. Such as "The shot you got of my comatose grandmother whom we wheeled in on a gurney to attend wasn't flattering. I'm very close to my grandmother so this has completely ruined my memories of the event. I demand a full refund." Of course, most vendors would say no or offer a partial refund to make the problem go away. However, for the majority who don't, the bride and groom go on an online trash fest.

It's epidemic and it's something every wedding vendor deals with on a regular basis. I've got the same clause in my contract. It states clearly that if there are problems that it must go to legally binding arbitration. 5 years ago, hardly ANY ONE had these clauses. In this era, though, it's a dire necessity.

Ask for references and skip the online sites for reviews. If they won't give you references, pass on them, but online reviews should be taken with an entire mountain of salt. A mountain the size of Everest.
posted by damiano99 at 8:00 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Non-disparagement clause? Nope, you want to shield yourself from bad feedback? Not happening in my world. But maybe open to negotiation.

Unprofessional response to a bad review? I am not hiring you. Period.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:53 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

This would raise a big red flag for me because I would be worried I would not be able to find honest reviews of the vendor. The unprofessional response to the bad review you did find is concerning because it suggests that if YOU run into problems of some sort, you won't get a professional response from the company.

If you do want to still consider the company, I would ask them about it specically: as in, why do you include this clause, what are the negative experiences that led you to include it, what's up with this unprofessional response to the online review. I think their response will tell you everything you need to know -- maybe they say, look, there was a legit reason for including this clause but we're willing to waive it for you, and the person who posted the unprofessional response online has been let go. Or maybe they go on an unprofessional rant about terrible customers. :)

I do agree with those who said every contract is negotiable. Our photographer had a clause in her contract we weren't crazy about, that she could use our wedding photos in other contexts down the road. We weren't super comfortable about that, so we ended up negotiating that we were fine with her using them in promotional materials or contests if she got our permission on a case-by-case basis, but that we weren't giving blanket permission ahead of time. That worked for both of us and has not been an issue.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

One other thing about contract negotiation and reviews: you could promise not to comment on the _subjective_ qualities of the product -- beauty, how much you "liked" it, "fun", etc. -- but reserve the right to comment if something is late, there are unanticipated costs, or otherwise to report facts that are objectively verifiable (this probably won't include "they were rude" or "I felt disappointed" - objectively verifiable could be "cake was salty" or "they showed up 30 minutes late" or "it took 3 months to get my prints").
posted by amtho at 10:06 AM on April 8, 2016

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