We are really hopeful that the Prime Minister’s roadmap, due to be released on the week commencing 22/2, will include some clarity for weddings. Many couples are waiting until that point before making a decision on the viability of their wedding. We can expect any announcement to trigger more postponement or cancellation requests, as well as giving new couples more confidence in choosing a suitable date for their wedding.
The ongoing challenge is finding solutions that enable you to look after your customers as well as your business. If you weren’t able to attend our Zoom session exploring this in detail or would like a reminder of the key points, we’ve recorded a brief video.
How to use this information
As ever, the information is based on our own opinions from the available data. In this case the data was a study we conducted in early January of 6200 couples with weddings due to take place in 2021. Any guest numbers mentioned were our “best guess” at the end of December on what numbers might be and should not be taken as anything more than that.
It is important that venue managers look at all the available data when assessing the likelihood of weddings going ahead in a particular format at different points in the future, in order to make the right decisions for their venue.
For most, the priority is to avoid unnecessary postponements. Where the wedding can’t go ahead as planned, the priority is in protecting the venue by encouraging postponement over cancellation and refund requests.
What did the data from 2021 couples tell us?
Most of the couples planning on a 2021 wedding said they would be prepared to go ahead with their wedding, even if they need to more than halve their guest list.
In May for example, despite originally planning for an average of 109 guests, 48% of couples would still go ahead with 30 guests and 84% would go ahead with 50 guests. This part of the data looks only at minimum numbers and not the other factors that might be classed by couples as being an essential part of the wedding, but both should be looked at together.
The cost of delivering smaller weddings
By comparing the two graphs we can see the original numbers couples had planned to invite. Prices would have been calculated on the basis of this larger numbers. Smaller weddings aren’t always viable for venues or suppliers.
Of these 6200 couples, 72% would expect a pro rata reduction in cost in their venue and catering package price.
Of equal concern, 46% of couples expected a pro rata reduction where their venue contract was for hire only.
If your venue is unlikely to meet their expectations – few venues can offer a wedding for 50 guests at half the price of a wedding for 100 guests – early communication with your couples is crucial so that they can weigh up their options.
It’s not just about the numbers
Many couples ranked “having more than 50 guests” as being the most important element of the wedding to them, however this shows that other elements are more important to some couples. The larger chart below shows the element ranked most important, with 50 guests and walking down the aisle in the normal way both ranking as being key. The second chart shows the second most important element, with music and dancing being the most common choice.
This starts to give an indication of the number of couples that will consider their contract to be frustrated if they are unable to have music and dancing at their wedding, and shows the importance for couples and venues to be able to establish what a “minimum viable wedding” would include.
If the wedding can go ahead, but with restrictions
The CMA’s advice on this appears to support the couple’s position on a pro-rata reduction in cost which we know isn’t an option for some venues, however, their advice also includes a clear option for venues if the contract isn’t deemed to be frustrated:
“It may be, for example, that the wedding can go ahead at the agreed venue, with catering and a reception mainly as agreed, for a substantial majority of the agreed number of guests.
Nevertheless, where the business fails to provide elements of the wedding agreed in the contract (because it is complying with lockdown laws and/or guidance), it would probably be in breach of contract.
That may entitle the consumer to bring a claim for damages. To avoid that scenario, it would be sensible for the business to provide the consumer with a pro-rata price reduction to reflect the services that it would not be providing (or would be providing differently).”
Their advice continues with:
“The CMA expects that businesses would act fairly and constructively where refunds or price reductions are due.
It is also open to them to agree to re-arrange the wedding to another date (as long as the option of a refund is just as clearly and easily available where the contract is frustrated).”
This final point from the CMA is key; if the contract becomes frustrated, the CMA suggests a refund should be offered as an alternative to postponement. Following the Prime Minister’s statement on Peoples’ Prime Minister’s Question Time about having confidence in weddings from early April, it seems hard to consider that a contract from April onwards is currently frustrated.
Encouraging postponements over cancellations
If you feel the wedding won’t go ahead with the numbers planned (and no one has the answers on that yet), offering an alternative date at this stage, if an appropriate reduction can’t be agreed, seems preferable in order to avoid the potential of a refund request IF the contract later becomes frustrated.
Couples planning for 2021 are far happier to accept an off peak date to postpone to than they were last year, however 24% indicated that they won’t accept a postponement if they couldn’t have a date that suits them; they would either cancel to change venue or would cancel their wedding entirely.
When managing a postponement, be aware that your couple will need to find a date that also works for their suppliers in order to minimise their liabilities.
While the picture over the next few months is so uncertain (and especially as couples seem to be planning for the worst) consider whether you can reassure them that an option of their original date will be held for them in case things improve significantly. It’s added admin but could allow for additional weddings to take place on the date originally planned.
Avoid unnecessary cancellations and refund disputes
This seems obvious, but how?
First, change the dialogue so that couples understand that “full refund” is misleading and that the CMA supports you charging reasonable costs that you may have incurred already in relation to their wedding. Most have no idea. Their requests to cancel for a full refund are under the misconception that because the lights and heating haven’t yet been turned on specifically for their wedding day, that no costs will have been incurred.
Once they have asked to cancel, many feel that their relationship with their venue is now irretrievably damaged. Our data shows that 50% of those that will cancel will do so regardless of the costs. The other 50% might think twice if they know that they won’t get the full refund they imagined.
By being transparent with costs already incurred, venues can usually ensure a better outcome for both parties.
How soon should you refund?
The 30th April CMA guidance acknowledged that couples may need to wait longer than usual to receive a refund.
“The CMA accepts that, in the initial stages of the pandemic, it may have taken businesses longer than normal to process refunds.”
Although the reasons a venue may need to delay are different now, we feel they are no less valid. We are doing all we can to encourage couples to understand that venues need to balance the needs of all their couples and flexibility is helpful for the benefit of all.
When will we know more?
We are all hopeful for more clarity during the week commencing 22/2 and anything we can do to ensure that weddings are included in that roadmap is helpful. Couples and businesses are likely to receive the information at the same time. Every venue has different procedures and policies so think about the implications that might have on whether to delay or bring forward any decisions.
About the author
Written by: Alison Hargreaves
Alison founded Guides for Brides in 1995 and has been advising brides and businesses ever since. She has an unrivalled knowledge of the wedding industry and is part of an international network of wedding professionals and entrepreneurs. Alison frequently appears on podcasts and expert panels as well as judging various wedding awards.