A couple of weeks ago, I came across the story of The Winery at Elk Manor – a wedding venue in Maryland, United States. In it lies a cautionary tale of a wedding venue who closed suddenly, ruining the wedding plans of more than 50 families, according to Delaware Online. I kept thinking about it – feeling so sorry for these couples and their wedding guests, halfway around the world. What can I do about it? Well I realised I could share the article and hopefully save some readers closer to home from this heartbreak.
While you might be thinking “only in America” – it was not a unique set of circumstances. It could happen here. There is a lot of trust and good faith that goes on between the engaged couple and their wedding venue. Most reputable venues have written agreements, but some wedding venues run off little more than a handshake. What protection does this give you? Sure you might feel apprehensive about committing to a contract and paying a deposit, but this is not just for the venue’s protection, but yours as well.
So what can you do to establish your wedding venue is reliable?
Just because a wedding venue looks legit, doesn’t meant it is
This wedding venue closed without warning. There were a few red flags (lawsuits from caterers chiefly) but less than two weeks before, the venue accepted a deposit for a wedding – it was business as usual. A week before Elk Manor closed, they confirmed a pre-wedding photoshoot:
As recently as July 29, bank records show, Elk Manor accepted a $3,750 payment from the mother of one bride. On Aug. 2 — one week before the winery closed — Gretchen Tusha confirmed a pre-wedding photo shoot with another bride, according to an email obtained by The News Journal.
Multiple Elk Manor brides and grooms interviewed by The News Journal didn’t see the need for a safety net. By all appearances, the 163-acre winery on the Delaware border was a solid bet.
Looks can be deceiving. You need to ask questions and investigate red flags. If you’re not sure what sort of questions to ask, the Wedding Vendor Worksheets covers off questions to ask both wedding ceremony venues and wedding reception venues – including what questions to ask around contracts/legalities.
Venues can close for any number of other reasons as well – in my time as an event coordinator, our plans were disrupted by fire (Taupo), roof collapse due to snow (Invercargill) and earthquakes (Christchurch) – all events completely outside of the venue’s control. Don’t flip out and worry that these things will happen to your wedding venue – instead consider how you can minimise the risk of disruption occurring on wedding day. Reputable venues will have back up/contingency plans in place.
What happens if the wedding venue is operating illegally?
This closure isn’t a one off case either – with another wedding venue shut down as it was operating illegally:
In May, Frederick County shut down the Shade Trees & Evergreens wedding venue after it was discovered that the owner had no building, zoning or septic permits.
Opening a wedding venue isn’t just a case of having a pretty garden and collecting money. The operators may require permission from their local council, depending on the zone that their property is in, the amount of noise that travels to the edge of the property, and the local liquor bylaws. There are wedding venues in New Zealand that are operating without the appropriate consents, licenses and/or permits. Their local councils could shut them down.
So again, asking questions: does their venue require permits or consents to operate, and do they have them? If you’re drinking at your wedding – do they hold a liquor license, or have a bar manager on duty? If they’ve made alterations to their building: are they legal (I know this one from first-hand experience with our reception venue!).
I know legitimate venues who’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure their business is legally run and permitted. They do this because they are responsible business owners – mitigating the risk that they could be shut down for something that’s completely within their control.
If things go bad with the wedding venue, you may not get the deposit back
That’s okay, you’re thinking – if something goes awry, surely we would be due our deposit back? It’s not cut and dry. For the Elk Manor couples, the contract couples signed released them from liability (i.e. saying “it’s not the venues fault so the venue doesn’t have to pay”) and couples can’t sue.
Rogers, an estate lawyer, confessed that she didn’t completely read her daughter’s venue contract, in which the client relinquishes the right to sue and releases Elk Manor from liability “for events beyond their control,” including acts of God and “governmental agencies.”
“Under no circumstances is the deposit/consultation fee or any other payment refundable,” the contract reads.
Read your contract. If you are not sure about anything, ask. And if you’re still not sure, check with a lawyer. Finding the right wedding venue can be really stressful, I know that. And you might skip some due diligence, or ignore red flags because you can’t picture getting married anywhere else – but hoping for the best is not a plan.
How can you know a wedding venue is reliable?
You can use your heart to help whittle down your preferred wedding venues down to a shortlist. But you should use your head to pick the final choice. Ask the tough questions – there’s a ton of things you should be asking, covered off in the Wedding Vendor Worksheets. Obviously don’t be a diva and throw your weight round – be polite – but also, be firm and get the reassurance you’re dealing with a reputable wedding venue. Check out the Southern Bride Verified wedding venue vendors as well.
The short answer is, it is probably going to be fine. But if it isn’t, your whole day could be a shambles – isn’t that a big enough deal to be sure?