I used to work for a banquet hall that hosted weddings of all shapes and sizes.
Back when I worked for a banquet hall, people came up with all kinds of nitpicky questions to ask me when they were booking weddings—who is responsible for restocking the toilet paper in the restrooms? Can I use the chocolate fountain as a ranch-dressing fountain?
But nobody ever asked about the cancellation policy, which is crazy because weddings get canceled and postponed all the time—sometimes at the last minute and sometimes a year before invitations were due to go out.
90% of the time, cancellations occur due to financial or family emergency-type issues—not changes of heart. In this article, I'll go over what you should and should not do when canceling, postponing, or downsizing a wedding.
The Sunk-Cost Problem
The problem with canceling is this: If you've already put down deposits on your banquet hall, dress, catering, etc., you might not get much of your money back. Read your contracts! Almost all of these vendors will have some kind of cancellation policy, and it usually involves you not getting your deposits back.
If your original wedding was slated to cost $26,000, and you've already put down $10,000, you might not be able to get that $10,000 back. However, if you are in dire financial straits, you may not be able to put down another $16,000 to complete your wedding.
Your 3 Options
- Downsize and Simplify
1. Downsize and Simplify
If you haven't sent your invites out yet, you still have an option: downsize the guest list—brutally. Like, cut it in half at least. Your banquet hall and caterer might not let you cancel, but talk with them about cutting your guest list. Fewer guests mean less set-up, less security, less food, less clean-up, and less work for them overall.
If they're not cooperating, be upfront. Tell them that you can no longer pay for a 150-person wedding, but you still want to have a 50-person wedding. They'd likely rather do a smaller job than no job at all or risk that you won't be able to pay off the remaining balance.
You can also downsize in other ways. Talk to the caterer about simplifying the menu, the florist about using fewer flowers, and the DJ about doing a shorter set. If you've ordered something custom, like an aisle runner with your monogram or invitations, or if you had your wedding dress custom made, you probably won't be able to get any kind of refund on that. That $26,000 wedding might turn into a $14,000 wedding, $10,000 of which you've already paid for.
If you still want to have all your peeps at your wedding, another option is postponement. If it's October now, your wedding is scheduled for January, and you don't know when you'll be able to have the wedding, it's better to cancel now for an indefinite postponement then wait until you know the new date.
The more time you give your banquet hall, caterer, etc., the easier it is for them to book somebody else on your date, and the more likely it is that they'll cooperate. They are businesspeople—they just want to work and make money, and there are only 52 Saturdays in a year. What they don't want is a Saturday where they're sitting around at home.
Be flexible about your new date. You may have to take a Friday or Sunday instead of a Saturday, or you may not get your same season. Don't reschedule your wedding for March, realize in January "oh shoot, that won't work either," then have to postpone it again because if you postpone twice, they definitely won't be as cooperative.
Canceling or postponing a wedding can feel heartbreaking, but as someone who used to do hundreds of weddings a year, it really does happen all the time and is nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes, life just happens. Your nearest and dearest will understand. If you end up postponing, it's a good idea to reach out to your guests as soon as possible, even if you don't have a new date set in stone yet. You might be surprised to find out that professional, wedding-style postponement and cancelation notices are available for this purpose.
3. When You Just Have to Cancel
If you're in a situation where you can't spend even one more dime on this wedding, you might just have to cancel. If you've already spent $10,000, and you can't spend another $4,000 or even $40, cancellation might be your only option. At this point, it's all about getting as much money back as you can.
Most of your vendors will have a cancellation policy written into their contracts. Read it. You may be surprised! I've seen some where you could cancel six months out, no questions asked, for a full refund. It just depends on the vendor and what the wedding market is like in your area.
Even if the policy says "no refunds; screw you," try. The banquet hall I worked at had a no cancellations, no postponements, and no refunds policy (to be fair, they only had one banquet space, so a cancellation meant nobody worked that week). However, several times we canceled, postponed, or gave partial refunds to people.
Maybe you just booked the hall a friggin' week ago. Maybe your date is still six months out. Maybe you're cancelling due to military deployment. Even if not, you should be able to get something back, though it might be contingent on somebody else booking your day. You lose nothing by asking.
Sell Your Favors
Obviously, things like favors, decorations, and your dress won't be refunded once they've been made, but as long as they don't have your name on them, you may be able to sell them on e-bay, Craigslist, or Etsy if they're hand-made. Make a listing for every separate thing, and make a listing for a "wedding package," where you have all of your wedding stuff together. Ready-made decor for a 150-person wedding that all matches and goes together? That's worth a lot to a lot of people.
Sell Your Date
If your banquet hall & caterer are being tools and not giving you any deposit back at all or demanding that you still pay the remaining balance, see if you can sell your date. It doesn't have to be to another bride. Check with family members or see if someone's got a big birthday coming up. Your wedding reception could become Grandma's 85th birthday celebration or your Aunt and Uncle's vow renewals.
If your date was in the summer, you could turn it into a family reunion or a graduation party. If your job has a lot of conferences, check with them. If your friends and family can't help you out, you may be able to turn to Craigslist or a local wedding messageboard for this. If your banquet hall and catering are worth $20,000 and you put down $10,000, you might be able to get another bride to pay you $3,000 and the remaining balance of the hall. She saves big, you get at least something back, and you don't owe any more.
Even things like bar service, photography, and DJ service can be re-sold to other people. Facebook can be a good way to reach out to everyone you kinda sorta know to see if anyone wants to buy these services from you.
If you do sell your date, be sure to go in person to all of your vendors and make sure your name is no longer on the contracts. That way, if the new person writes a bad check or makes a big mess, you won't be getting the calls.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Jo Gavilan