How to cancel or postpone a wedding, according to experts

  • Many engaged couples are considering postponing or canceling their weddings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Starting the process of canceling a wedding can be difficult, particularly because of the confusing jargon in many contracts with vendors.
  • Insider spoke to Leah Weinberg, the owner and creative director of Color Pop Events; Josh Speigel, the creative director of Birch Event Design; and Anne Chertoff, a wedding specialist and chief operating officer at Beaumont Etiquette about the best practices for couples canceling a wedding to follow. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, it's becoming more common for weddings to be canceled or postponed. 

On Sunday, the CDC recommended Americans cancel all events with 50 people or more in attendance for the next eight weeks, making couples with March, April, and May wedding dates realize it's time for them to re-evaluate their plans. 

But canceling a wedding is complicated, particularly if you worked with separate vendors.

A wedding planner can make the process easier

"If couples have a wedding planner, that should be the first person they call when they decide to cancel their wedding," Leah Weinberg, the owner and creative director of Color Pop Events, told Insider.

"The planner will be able to review their contracts with them — though, consulting an attorney in this situation is always recommended — and can handle contacting everyone to move forward with the cancellation," she said.

"That being said, it can still be necessary for couples to send official cancellation notices to their venue and vendors per the terms of those contracts," even if the planner makes the initial calls, Weinberg said.

A wedding planner can make cancellation calls on a couple's behalf.

If you don't have a planner and will be making cancellation calls yourself, Weinberg noted that it's important to look over your contracts in detail before calling your vendors.

"Before calling any vendors to cancel a wedding, the couple should first review all of their contracts in order to understand what everyone's cancellation policies are — that includes how to give notice of cancellation and what money the couple can expect to get back (or have to pay)," she said.

The contract will essentially act as a guide for how the venue will expect engaged couples to notify them of a cancellation, as well as a template for what will happen if they cancel.

Weinberg also said that the contracts will likely indicate the best way to contact a vendor, as some might require notification via the phone or in person.

"If there is a notice provision, then give notice of cancellation in accordance with the contract terms, but also send an email stating the cancellation to (a) get the conversation started, and (b) have a paper trail of the communications."

But she said if you have a vendor or planner you've built a strong relationship with throughout your engagement, it's best practice to contact them through the phone — as you likely have been throughout your engagement.

If you booked vendors through your venue, you might have to make fewer calls

Sometimes couples tend to book at all-in-one venues, where the catering or other services are part of their package. 

Those types of venues might make canceling easier later on.

"If you have a contract with the venue and that contract includes catering or floral services, then canceling the one contract through the venue is sufficient," Weinberg told Insider.

"But if you have separate contracts for catering or florals, even if they are handled in-house by the venue, then you need to also contact the vendor that is party to those contracts to give them notice."

It's important to check your contracts to confirm your dealings, as the couple will be responsible for all cancellations. 

And if you haven't booked other services through your venue, the order in which you cancel services doesn't matter. Your venue was likely the most expensive purchase, so it might make sense to contact them first. 

Some vendors are more likely to give you money back than others

Day-of vendors are more likely to give back some money.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Cancellation policies will vary from vendor to vendor, but Josh Spiegel, the creative director of Birch Event Design, said that some vendors are more likely to give you money back than others.

"It will, of course, depend on how far in advance the couple cancels, but on top of the list would be music, photography, and florist," Spiegel said.

"Contracts with vendors generally say that all deposits are non-refundable, however, reputable vendors should show good faith and work to return any recoverable amounts to the client," he added.

But even in those cases, couples will lose some money.

"In most cases, couples are going to lose any kind of non-refundable deposit," Weinberg said.

"But where they might save money is with vendors whose final payments aren't due until the day of or closer to the wedding — and whose performance of services doesn't happen until the wedding day, like photographers, DJs, hair and makeup, etc.," she added.

The way you inform guests about the cancellation depends on how far away you are from the wedding

"If the wedding is months away and the save-the-date card and invitation have not been mailed, and a date has not been announced, you may choose to let word of mouth carry it around to everyone," Anne Chertoff, a wedding specialist and chief operating officer at Beaumont Etiquette told Insider.

But if you've set a date and sent invitations, a written notice of some kind is important.

Chertoff said that speed is of the utmost importance when informing guests, as you want to let your guests know as quickly as possible that the event isn't happening on the scheduled date so they can change any travel or accommodation plans they may have had.

"Getting them the information as soon as possible is best to avoid them incurring any travel expenses as well as attire and gift expenditures," she said.

"Couples do not have to share with their guests why the wedding is being canceled if they don't want to," Chertoff added.

Couples don't have to share their reasoning for canceling a wedding if they don't want to.
Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

"The fastest way to spread the news is to email blast it or start a phone chain, assigning different members of the wedding party and parents a list of guests."

"Pull up the guest list and make sure there is an email address or phone number next to each person. Once the list is organized, divide and conquer," Chertoff added.

But if invitations have been sent out, it might be better to send a formal note explaining that the event has been canceled, though it isn't necessary to explain why.

"Send an email or print a card and mail it with the information," Chertoff said. According to the wedding specialist, it can be formally worded as follows:

However, that wording would be different if the wedding had been postponed rather than canceled:

In either case, Spiegel pointed out that it's important to confirm your guests got the notice, as you need to ensure they know the wedding won't be taking place.

Gifts should be returned if the wedding will not take place

If a couple breaks up, the wedding gifts should definitely be returned, as they were intended for the bride and groom to use together.

However, if a couple is postponing, it is acceptable to keep the gifts, though the couple shouldn't expect additional presents when they finally do have their ceremonies.

Chertoff also noted that couples shouldn't return gifts they have already used.

Postponing can save couples money as compared to canceling

Postponing a wedding can save a couple money as compared to canceling.

Many couples are choosing to postpone rather than cancel their weddings as a result of the coronavirus, as they still want to celebrate their nuptials at some point.

And couples can generally reschedule with vendors in that case, which means they won't lose money — but Weinberg cautioned couples to again defer to their contracts before making any decisions.

"What can be postponed without losing money is going to vary from vendor to vendor depending on their contract terms," Weinberg said.

"For example, my contract allows me to collect my final payment if the wedding is canceled or postponed, for any reason, and I'm not obligated to perform on the rescheduled date. These contract terms give me a lot of protection as the default position, but then I have the discretion to either enforce that provision or not depending on the circumstances of the postponement or cancellation."

She noted that in some cases she wouldn't feel right taking a couple's money, but it just depends.

Be patient with yourself, because canceling a wedding is an emotional thing to do

"Weddings are such a complicated mix of emotions, stress, anxiety, and joy already, so imagine what feelings will arise if the wedding ends up not happening," Weinberg said.

"If a wedding is canceled due to change of heart, that's an excruciating decision for both partners. And if a wedding is canceled due to force majeure, that's going to be devastating to the couple who has potentially been planning this event for over a year."

"Couples have every right to feel the disappointment and sadness if their wedding gets canceled," she added.

"Those around them should let them grieve essentially and allow the couple to sit in their feelings for a little while."

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