When Melissa Marks and her fiancé Pat first saw their venue for their upcoming September 17, 2022 nuptials, it was love at first sight. But, the one thing they didn’t love? The locale’s steep price point. Instead of continuing their venue search, the couple decided to shoot their shot and negotiate the terms of the event—and it worked.
“We asked them to send us quotes for their on-peak season for 125 to 140 guests, knowing that we were going to have well over 200 people at our wedding,” the bride shares. “There was a bunch of back and forth, but our final proposal to them was if we increase our guest count to 200 people, they would offer us off-peak prices, top shelf liquor open bar, an extra cocktail hour station, and a free bonfire after party on the beach. They accepted the offer! We got our dream venue [and] all of these extra amenities within our budget.”
Admittedly, going into negotiations with your dream venue can be a little wracking. (One false move and you step in very uncomfortable territory.) But, not only is negotiating with your venue totally permissible, it’s also a planner-approved move.
“Everyone wants a great deal and when you are [getting married], it helps to have a few negotiation tactics up your sleeve,” says AJ Williams, founder and creative director of AJ Events. “Sometimes you'll be able to ‘score’ with an amazing deal, and other times (or even in most cases) you will receive the most amazing concessions; ‘perks’ added to your contract that make you feel even more special.”
So, how do you know which terms are negotiable? How do you even broach the conversation? And, what happens if you don’t get everything you ask for? Below, two wedding planners share their expert advice.
Meet the Expert
Understand Your Options
According to Amy Lynn Parmar, lead planner at Poppy + Lynn, wedding venues are currently in high demand. So, you may not be able to negotiate all of your terms. That said, your venue might have some wiggle room on logistics like payment schedule, timeline, and when your vendors can drop off decorations. Another area for negotiations? The menu.
“If your venue has their own catering, you may be able to negotiate the minimum if you opt for a cocktail reception with passed appetizers instead of a sit-down dinner,” Parmar shares. “[Also], you can sometimes swap out liquors, wines, or beers for brands or types you prefer.”
But, while there’s plenty of room for negotiations, Parmar points out that some terms are simply out of you and your venue’s control. “These kinds of clauses are usually in place for safety or for preservation of the venue, and typically, there is nothing you can do about them,” she shares. For example, end times for music may be strict due to local noise ordinances, while certain special effects might be prohibited in historical sites. When in doubt, ask your site coordinator to clear up any confusing terms. That way, you’ll be able to understand what’s up for negotiation and what’s not.
Pick Your Battles
It’s no secret that planning a wedding is a time-consuming—and, yes, stressful—endeavor, so the very last thing you’ll want to do is spend time negotiating something that doesn’t matter. As Williams puts it, only focus on those terms that will truly make or break your wedding day. “I always ask what the restrictions are and what’s included that we have not discussed,” she shares. “I would address what’s important to you and what your deal-breakers are.”
And, when it comes to kicking off the negotiation conversation, Williams recommends approaching wedding venues like you are buying a house. “Don't tell them their venue is the only one you are considering,” she explains. “Do let them know the venue is your number one choice, but budget is a concern. Connect with your contact and get to know them and be communicative with them.”
Keep it Kind
Gone are the days when poker faces and my-way-or-the-highway attitudes reign supreme. For these wedding experts, kindness is key. “I would say the biggest mistake couples make is assuming that they are entitled to anything,” Parmar shares. “Coming in with an entitled, demanding attitude will only make the venue want to work with you less. No one wants to deal with a couple who is rude and inconsiderate.”
When in doubt, focus on communicating your vision in a calm and considerate manner. “Show the venue that you are sincerely excited about their space,” she shares. “Explain kindly why you would like to make a change.” Parmar says that if you are kind in your communication, a venue might be more likely to try to go out on a limb to make things happen.
Find a Middle Ground
Regardless of how kind and communicative you are, a venue may not be willing to budge on a certain term. While getting push-back on your dream wedding can be frustrating, Williams and Parmar both agree that a venue isn’t obligated to change anything in their contracts. But, before that feeling of defeat rears its ugly head, consider a Plan B.
“Thank them for trying, and be kind always; you may not receive a concession up front, but that does not mean they will not provide a concession in the future.” Williams says. “If a venue can't or won't budge on something that feels like a dealbreaker to you, see if there's something else that can be compromised on.”
For example, if your hotel venue cannot secure a larger room block for your guests, ask if they'd be willing to upgrade your newlywed suite as a compromise. Though you may not be getting everything on your terms, a compromise might make you feel better about signing on the dotted line. And, if your venue still isn’t willing to budge? It might be a sign it’s time to walk away.
“Getting angry at the venue team will not help you in getting the results you want," shares Williams. "So, if you have tried to work out a compromise and they still won’t budge, you may need to decide if it’s worth moving forward as is or if you need to look elsewhere.”
Ask for Help
With a wedding boom in full swing, both Williams and Parmar acknowledge that it’s currently a venue’s market. (Translation? If you ultimately pass on a venue, there’s likely several couples ready to lock in a date.) Instead, you might want to ask your wedding planner for some help.
“They know the industry better than anyone, and may be able to work on your behalf to come up with a solution that works for both sides,” Parmar says. “A good wedding planner is your biggest advocate, and will work tirelessly to help where they can. I know I’ve been able to call in favors or pull some strings at venues I have a good relationship with for my clients because they know that I work well with their team and take care of things.”