How do we negotiate for our wedding?
April 11, 2017 2:39 PM   Subscribe

We're in the early stages of planning for our wedding (18 months ahead), heard that we should negotiate, and don't want to get ripped off! Well, when and how do we do that?

That said, there's a part of me that says negotiating would make me look like an asshole (partially because, I ABSOLUTELY HATE IT when I'm on the other end of it when someone wants to negotiate/lower a price with me. Anytime I've been involved with it in the past, it's been sleezy). My partner is also not a fan of confrontation either. At the same time, we want to get the best bang for our buck without being obnoxiously frugal.

When do I have the most leverage/advantage with vendors? What should I say and at what
part of the process should I negotiate? Should I tell them that it's a non-wedding event (like a family reunion) and and if so, when? (I ask this specifically because I've seen a potential cater list a package for a graduation that are 200%+ less than what I'd assume they will charge us, even taking liquor into account).

What aspects (services) are/aren't negotiable (which prices?)? Specifically interested in the venue, catering (since our top venue choice requires an outside caterer), photography, and DJ? The hotel block is less of a concern because only about 10-20 guests are from out of town.

(FWIW, we're looking at $10,000 for about 100 people)
posted by fizzix to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some people like to say "everything is negotiable!"
There's some truth to that, but I say it's kind of rude to offer repeated low-ball estimates.

If a business has a published rate that says "100 units for weddings" and you offer 50, that's obnoxious in my book.
Businesses that are sole proprietorships (like photog, DJ, even some catering) are often more amenable to working things out. Places that give estimates based on needs are often more flexible than larger places with very fixed pricing. If you can say "I can't hire you unless you will accept 90% of your published rate" (and truly mean it), that can often work, but if you go too low or push too hard, do you want your photographer thinking you were skimpy on your payment while they're at your wedding?

I personally don't care for the wedding-industrial complex, but I'd I'd still strongly recommend against lying to people you're buying services from about the nature of the services expected, especially since in many contexts you'll be expected to sign formal contracts.

If you don't want to pay the wedding premium for expensive services you can do that other ways: you can always try to farm things out to friends, bartering, shrinking expectations, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:51 PM on April 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Don't tell anyone who's going to be at your wedding that it's not a wedding because you will definitely get caught.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:00 PM on April 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

When possible, I tried to get quotes from people before they knew I was looking at stuff for a wedding. Sometimes, it wasn't possible, but legendarily, I got our wedding cake from the crankiest baker in town by walking up and saying, in a brisk business-like tone, "Can you give me a quote for a 12 inch round, an 8 inch round, and another 80 servings in pans? All of it is your vanilla pound cake with raspberry jam between layers, swiss dot white buttercream frosting."

We got a quote that was literally a third from what she charged for weddings for the same cake. Same deal for the bouquet, because I walked into the florist and said I have $__ to spend on a hand-held bouquet. I got it for half.

So yeah, knowing what the fuck you want, and not bringing up that it's a wedding until you have a firm quote were key for us. Be ready for people to give you sad/betrayed faces when they find out it's for a wedding. But I justified it to myself on the grounds that it was the EXACT SAME STUFF and I wasn't making anybody deal with any wedding flip-flopping or handholding or fluff.

(But we still got ripped the eff off for just about everything else, though. Six years later, I'm still steaming about some of the shit the venue pulled.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:01 PM on April 11, 2017 [16 favorites]

Negotiating isn't just you lowballing their rates (especially since, as SaltySalticid notes, many of the people involved are going to be running their own show). You might not need all the services they are going to provide. For example, a photographer whose standard package includes engagement photos and a fancy album might be willing to forgo those. Or maybe not, but there's nothing wrong with asking. Or do like we did, and book the photographer's assistant/associate who was still in school.
posted by quaking fajita at 3:03 PM on April 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

The best budget position you can be in is a pre-set one. Don't get your heart set on a specific vendor, and make your budget in advance. That means that you should already know how much you would like to spend on a certain budget line, and you take that to the vendor in advance. They can figure out how to do it within your budget, if they want your business, or you move on.

Here's how it worked for me. There was a budget, and we budgeted $2000 total for food for 90 people, and another $550 for plate/glass/etc. rental. We took that number, and went to several caterers we liked, and said, "We have $2550 to spend to feed 90 people at our wedding. What can you do for $2550?" And some said, we can't do anything for that amount, and we moved on. And some said, "We can't do a seated dinner, but we could do a buffet, here's the foods you can afford." And we looked at those. And some said, "We can do $2000 for your meal, but the rental will be more, or do you want to try and arrange your own rentals to get it delivered day-of?" And some said, "We have a $5000 minimum, but that can include alcohol, and that's not listed here. Do you have an alcohol budget, and could we work that in?" And so on, and so forth.

Don't negotiate money! Negotiate terms, of which only one is money.
posted by juniperesque at 3:05 PM on April 11, 2017 [46 favorites]

So, the suggestion about telling them it's for a different kind of event is that the wedding prices are higher to reflect the often-higher expectations of weddings.

Like, let's pretend you see this on a venue info: "Cake storage fee: $150."

The secret behind this $150 charge is: The venue used to store cake in the catering kitchen but then there was the time a waiter put his finger into the cake corner by accident and the groom's mom berated the staff for an hour about being clumsy and demanded that we pay for the $800 cake we "ruined," and we're not doing that again. So now we have a special fridge for cake storing for weddings and only 5 venue staff have keys to unlock this fridge, so we have to negotiate with your baker to have the cake there at a time when one of the few keys are available. This new fridge, new keys, and negotiation are a hassle, so we're charging you $150 to fulfill your expectations of a perfect cake.

If you're having a wedding where you really don't care about these kinds of specifics, you can definitely negotiate down. My wedding venue wanted to charge us for using a special large refrigerator for cake storage (the source of the anecdote above). I had cupcakes instead-- you can put 40 cupcakes in a box and stack the boxes 5 high in the existing normal fridge, for $0 extra. They also offered flowers as an add-on. They wanted to charge me $600. However, when I was able to convince the flower person that I was actually OK with any shade of pink flowers-- not demanding only "blush" or "petal pink" or whatever-- the cost went down. (Because she didn't have to buy 300 pink-ish flowers to get 100 perfect blush ones.)

However, this does mean stuff might get messed up, so you gotta be flexible. Yes, some cupcakes got smudged icing-- not a problem for me, but it might be a dealbreaker for you. On preview, I agree with juniperesque-- figure out what is being built into the cost; realize a lot of the costs being added "customarily" are because many people who plan weddings have very strong absolutes on what must happen, when, and how, and they are willing to pay to ensure it happens; and negotiate based on what you really want.
posted by holyrood at 3:33 PM on April 11, 2017 [21 favorites]

Not sure where you are located. We did not try to negotiate anything for our upcoming wedding. We shopped for vendors that had reasonable pricing for what we expected. So, I guess, we negotiated our expectations.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:43 PM on April 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agreed that the best thing is to decide ahead of time how much you're willing to spend on things and then stick to that. Also, the more you can let go of the idea that "it's a wedding, it has to be perfect", the better off you'll likely be. Being able to roll with punches and be flexible in response to "well, we can't guarantee [that no waiter will stick a finger in the frosting; that the valet parking will be perfect; insert other similar things]" will improve your chances of getting decent rates and being happy once it's over.

When we got married we decided we were going to splurge on two aspects, one ephemeral (the food) and one lasting (the photos), and economize on everything else. Wedding ceremony in my college chapel and reception at the alumnae house = massive discount compared to other venues. Bought my dress on consignment, paid a friend of a friend to do the flowers, enlisted friends to perform the ceremony and family to do the music... It was a wonderful experience. None of the things we economized on felt like they detracted from it. We heard from friends afterwards that their take was "That was really nice. And just the sort of event you'd expect those two to throw." (My husband's take, as we got ready to go to the hotel that night, was "That was absolutely amazing. Let's never do it again.")
posted by Lexica at 4:16 PM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, more and more vendors are stipulating in their contracts penalties/fees for customers who are dishonest about the fact that they're having a wedding and not another type of party or event. Seems the word is out, so you may not want to risk going that route for saving money.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

My ex-father-in-law's first wife planned our wedding. (TMI, I know) She was ruthless in a way neither of us could have been. Maybe you want someone else doing this?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:43 PM on April 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If a business has a published rate that says "100 units for weddings" and you offer 50, that's obnoxious in my book.

There is nothing wrong with offering 50 units if you think that is the value of the service/ product. Don't have to be obnoxious about presenting the offer though.

Don't negotiate money! Negotiate terms, of which only one is money.

Exactly, and lot of the services around weddings are like hotel rooms. You can't sell the room that was empty last night at any price today.
posted by zeikka at 5:56 PM on April 11, 2017

Yes definitely don't approach a "wedding" vendor and pretend it's not a wedding. But look for vendors offering the same services who are not marketed as "wedding" vendors. We really wanted good professional photos, but refused to hire a wedding photographer because their prices are predicated on the idea of perfection, noted above, but also on the idea that there will be bride-getting-ready shots, a ceremony needing multiple angles (shot unobtrusively), travel between the ceremony and the reception and our wedding was a no-ceremony, no-wedding-party, cocktail affair. So we interviewed corporate event photographers, telling them upfront it was a cocktail party in celebration of a wedding. We'd have specific guests it was important to get photos of *with us* (our parents, mostly) but that overall, we just needed event photography. Saved us thousands on photography, Of course, that won't work if you want all the services involved in hiring a traditional wedding photographer, but if you don't, it will be easier to negotiate a package without them from a photographer who does not emphasize weddings in her marketing.

Mom did the same with the wedding cake. Told the bakery upfront it was a cocktail party in celebration of a marriage, but that it was not a formal wedding. So the cakes did not need to match (i.e. a bunch of layers served on as tiers) or meet a theme or be anything but delicious and delivered to the venue. Saved her only a little bit of money, but some money.

If you go this route, however, be kind to the vendor and stick to your "not looking for the traditional wedding level of service" promise if you hire a non-wedding vendor to do your job. If you hire a room and say you don't care if the linens are not fancy, then don't complain (or let the kind people helping you deal with your vendor complain!) when they are not fancy. Which sounds easy but weddings bring out weirdness in people sometimes. Like my wedding cakes. We were not going to have them at all (the caterer had a dessert table on our menu) but Mom really wanted them. So we paid the caterer for the dessert table as promised and Mom brought cakes. We had cake for years but oh well.
posted by crush at 6:14 PM on April 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

In a distant past life I did some photography for wedding clients. I was sometimes willing to negotiate, depending on the circumstances. The biggest factor in my willingness to negotiate was whether I thought the gig would be less hassle/stress/work than a normal wedding. So if it's a different setup like crush described above, that might be one scenario. But underlying it all, I was much more willing to negotiate with clients who seemed like they'd be easy and/or fun to work with.

A lot of wedding clients are, frankly, a huge headache (one of the reasons I got out of that business). If you come across as someone who is reasonable and going to be pleasant, I'd want to work with you, so I'd be a lot more willing to make adjustments to fit your budget. If I got any sense that I was being mislead or that information was being withheld, that would be a big strike against the "easy to work with" score. So I'd suggest being honest, open, friendly, and calm with vendors. I don't think there's anything at all wrong with saying "hey, we love your work, we'd love to have you handle our wedding, but our budget for your service is $X. Is there any way you can work with us on that?" IMHO that approach is going to be a lot more effective than coming in with the assumption that the vendor is trying to rip you off.
posted by primethyme at 6:36 PM on April 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

The best thing you can do to save money on your wedding is to have it on a Friday or Sunday, or even a weeknight if possible. It's true that wedding vendors can't make anything on a day they didn't book, but they are also limited on the number of jobs they can take in a day (for many, it's only one wedding per day!). If they think they might book another wedding at their normal rate, they won't negotiate down for you. Offering to have fewer services will work for some vendors but not others. The second best thing you could do would be to be willing to book vendors last minute (for a wedding, I'd say that's 3 months or less). That's because the vendors who are still available at that point may be less likely to book anything your day at all, thus opening up more room to negotiate down. Please remember that while hopefully professionals will always be professional, they are human and if you make the relationship needlessly adversarial, you never know how that may affect the work. I'm not saying don't negotiate, I think there are good suggestions in this thread, just a reminder not to make combatants of people you want to work with.
posted by notheotherone at 7:05 PM on April 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Flexibility on your part can also be helpful--because the vast majority of weddings are on Saturdays between May-Oct, having your wedding at a nontraditional time, day or season can sometimes help you get a better deal, because the vendors will still be free to offer full-price services during the usual "wedding" times. Realistically, most vendors have to maximize their income during the Saturday evening slot because regardless of whether they include getting-ready photos, family pictures, etc., there is only one Saturday evening wedding they can do per week. So if you have a budget-priced Tuesday 3PM wedding that doesn't prevent them from working a no-holds-barred event on Saturday, they may be more willing to be flexible. You may need to balance this against convenience for your friends and family, though.

I certainly wouldn't lie to a prospective vendor about the nature of the event, and even apparent differences in pricing between wedding and non-wedding versions of the same service can often be chalked up to weddings being more complicated, higher stakes, or a bigger hassle in some way for the vendor.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:09 PM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Occasional wedding photographer here:

Kindly inform any vendors that you're getting quotes from more than one of them. You can be totally nice about this. "Just to let you know, we are working with a budget here, and so we're getting a quote from another photographer/DJ/ Whatever."

Then, actually do that. Get a few quotes for everything, and then go to your preferred vendor and say you'd like to work with them, but another vendor is offering a better deal based on cost/terms/etc., and ask them to match. The magic phrase that always worked on me was when they'd say that if I could match price X, they'd sign the contract right then. If I got the sense I was being set up for multiple rounds of back and forth negotiating, I'd dig my heels in, but if it's "come down 10% and I'll send you a deposit today," then that was worth it to agree and get the booking.
posted by thenormshow at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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