There are certain words that we probably all think are being over-used at the moment. We might find ourselves rolling our eyes when, once again, this situation is described as ‘unprecedented’. But my goodness, it’s true. In fact, it almost actually downplays what’s going on. It’s easy to hear the word but begin to miss the meaning – what we’re going through is absolutely unlike anything that’s gone before.
And so, we’re all in a situation that none of us could have foreseen or planned for – probably not even in our most wildest most surreal of dreams. When venues and suppliers took bookings, they couldn’t have envisaged this or planned how they would handle mass postponements in the wake of a global pandemic that has stopped them for doing what they love. And, on the flip side, couples couldn’t have imagined that they would be adjusting their plans in this way either. We’re all in uncharted territory.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing perspectives from couples who’ve had to postpone their weddings. Today, we’re focussing very specifically on wedding venues because right now, the vast vast majority need a boost. They need to be heard and they need to have a big, bold bright light shone on the great work that they’re doing and the tough time they’re having.
Yes, there have been mainstream news headlines out there that have shown some couples aren’t having an easy time of things with their venues – and we sympathise with those couples, we truly do. But, for the tiny amount of negativity that has come to our attention, we’ve heard many more stories from our readers of venues that have behaved selflessly and who are going out of their way to make the situation more bearable for those needing to postpone.
So, we offer this article to contribute perspective, for context and in the spirit of sharing the points of view of others.
We offer it to balance out the negative reporting so far with a fair and honest insight.
In so doing, we’re not in any way excusing poor service, which is unacceptable – but to explain another viewpoint and to highlight the venues that are looking after their clients in a way that they never imagined they would need to.
So go grab a cuppa; we make no apologies for the length of this feature – it’s a subject that needs to be covered.
From The Perspective of Wedding Venues
We’ll start with a little insider intelligence, some context from an experienced wedding venue consultant who really sees this unique situation from both sides, Kelly Chandler, owner of Kelly Chandler Consulting. Kelly is a wedding venue consultant, trainer and expert speaker who has been in the wedding industry for decades, previously as a super successful wedding planner. Here’s what she has to say.
“Since all this started to take effect around 10th March, I’ve spent hours and days speaking to and guiding the venues in my networks – they have been totally side-swiped by this situation. I’ve had venues on the phone to me in tears, particularly on 20th March, crying with the stress of having to speak to angry and upset couples, and say ‘no, we can’t open the doors to your wedding tomorrow as we have to close for safety’.”
“The resounding action of venues I know is that they have tried desperately to deal with what is out of their hands and find a postponed date to offer the couple mainly at no extra cost. Some venues have given couples a complete choice of all available dates, some have set some parameters to protect that within the financial year or to find a date within 12 months of the original.”
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“Most have carried forward dates without any further charge, some have refunded couples a portion if the new date would be cheaper i.e. midweek/winter. Some haven’t been able to do that but have offered some form of ‘value add’ such as extra drinks or extra night’s accommodation to try to help the couple and also keep their business afloat by keeping planned revenue in the business.”
“Bear in mind that some of these dates were agreed 2 years ago, so carrying it forward is a cost in itself. Some of these venues have planning restrictions imposed on them meaning that they are only allowed to host 20 weddings a year, so they can’t just double up next year and happy days. Many have struggled with the realities that by offering summer dates one year on, they are effectively losing a whole year’s wedding revenue. This might seem harsh on the couples and it’s horrible, truly horrible, my heart goes out to those couples, but venues have very real costs in their business, often those costs committed to ahead of time and for the long term such as recruitment and build expansion programmes.”
At The Barns at Lodge Farm, we’ve worked extremely hard to speak to all our couples individually, being as proactive, reassuring and flexible as we can in terms of finding alternative dates and solutions for them. We recognise that this is an incredibly stressful situation for everyone for a thousand different reasons and it’s ok for couples to feel upset so we’ve put a lot of time into allowing them to have those conversations and talk it all through. We genuinely care about our couples and empathise with what they’re going through and we’ve found them all to be similarly understanding of our position too. The Barns at Lodge Farm
“Venues have multiple team members who are employees who stand to lose their jobs if cash flow isn’t kept. They have physical costs such as extremely high utilities, licenses, insurance and more that keeps on being charged no matter if they operate events and host weddings or not. Most of them, by being so generous in postponing, have already crippled their business for some time to come. In my view it’s not greedy to make financial decisions that will ensure your business is still in existence. Couples who want to pull money out of the venue they were otherwise totally invested in and loved for their wedding at this point sadly will be the downfall of a lot of wedding venues who may simply not be there if they are stretched too far.”
“The BBC feature of last week accuses businesses of holding onto to too large a sum of deposits. It seems to view the work that goes into a wedding day as just the day, but the months and years of work that goes into running a wedding day is what makes up a fee for a venue. Sadly, the venues have not opted to cancel here in the same way as couples have not either and it’s not for them to withstand all of the brunt. It is missing the point that when ‘doors open’ to the world again that wedding venues can’t miraculously replace that booking the very next week – that time period is gone – and gone forever.”
“Almost all venues in my community right from the off have been really proactive and encouraged communication with each of their couples and put empathy first. Two venues spring to mind, as their owners (Victoria Burden of The Ferry House, Kent and Celia Gaze of The Wellbeing Farm, Lancashire), rather than team members, are personally phoning every single couple and working through solutions for them. That’s hundreds of couples in those cases and 18 hour working days for those ladies and that’s just 2 of them. All whilst juggling the personal fall out of everything, working out how to keep their young teams out of meltdown and worry for their jobs and much more.”
“As to how those venues are working now, I’m seeing amazing team members who are working their bums off to get their heads around new tech to keep talking to their couples, to give them genuine and useful planning tips and advice, to help them keep the excitement in mind. Many of them are having to learn a huge amount of new things to do online virtual show rounds, trying to become film editors and Facebook Live presenters and much more, often in decimated and very under-resourced teams – and many are home schooling as well!”
We are The Barn on The Bay and, as a working farm venue, moving dates isn’t that easy but we’ve found a new home for our cows, extended our 2021 season and ring-fenced dates, and we have our team available every week for ‘meetings’ with couples via Zoom. We also host 3D tours and we’re planning a party for all our couples at the end of lockdown along with a tree-planting ceremony after their weddings have taken place to celebrate. The Barn on the Bay
Where Do We Go From Here?
So much of the issue around wedding venues comes because of what we all have invested in them when we’re planning our weddings. And this goes beyond the financial investment – you’ve invested your hopes and dreams into the building and the staff. You won’t have booked a venue you don’t love, you won’t have signed a contract you weren’t happy with and you won’t have fallen for a venue where the staff didn’t fill you with confidence. So, when those foundations shake, it shakes us too. And when we’re shaken, we naturally get angry and emotional.
No one wants to be in this situation and sometimes, we want to blame someone or something and because venues are top of everyone’s postponement list, they get the kicking.
We know that some venues have upset couples, but it’s important to remember that everyone is working in the dark and that every venue and every couple is going through something unique. So how do couples and venues come through this crazy time together?
“Whether you are a couple due to get married this summer or whether you’re a venue or supplier, there’s no magic wand and no crystal ball,” says internationally acclaimed wedding planner Sarah Haywood.
“The most sensible course of action is for all parties to take a collaborative approach and find imaginative solutions to this unprecedented and open-ended situation. In each instance, all parties need to agree what moving forward together looks like and not allow the pandemic to paralyse the planning.”
“Whatever the small print states, the contract between a wedding venue, or supplier, and a consumer needs to be fair. In most cases, existing contracts were not designed to be called upon when implementing government measures imposed because of a global pandemic, so the ultimate test is one of fairness – it might be deemed unenforceable if the small print is relied upon and it is unreasonable and/or results in a significant imbalance of fairness.”
“But, when planning a wedding, no-one – not the consumer or the suppliers – wants to fall back on the courts to decide what’s fair. When we fall back on terms and conditions, we’ve all lost.”
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That leap to grasp what we might see as the lifeboat of a ‘contract’, is totally understandable. We all feel that ‘the law’ protects us but, as Sarah so rightly points out, nothing was ever written with this in mind and it’s easy for either side to use the contract to put forward their point of view. This is far from an ideal way forward in a situation where things are heated because instantly, everyone is on the attack and that’s not a position that’s a good starting point.
At Hayne House, we’ve not waited for couples to postpone – when the gravity and complexity of the situation began to unfold we contacted our couples and began working with them on a case by case basis to find a new date that worked for them. We produced a Q&A, which we placed in the couples’ private area of our website and we’ve sent personal letters and some naughty chocolate brownies to everyone affected by postponements so that they can curl up and plan for their new date – it’s not their love on hold, just the date! Hayne House
Instead, if you’re reached an impasse, negotiation is the way forward.
It is, as Sarah says, fair, and it allows everyone’s voices to be heard in a more constructive fashion. Wedding coordinator and venue consultant, Nina Beer of Occasion Queens, has been working with venues and couples since the this crisis began. She’s passionate about the benefits that negotiation can bring to both parties:
“Unfortunately, no one in this situation is going to get exactly what they want because no one wants to be re-arranging weddings, whether you’re a venue or a couple. Compromise really is the key so everyone needs to be open to different options will make the process a lot stressful.”
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“Everyone needs to keep the lines of communication open and clear and be as factual as possible. Think carefully before throwing in legal terminology and threats – this puts everyone on the defensive and therefore, less willing to be accommodating. Leave any legal stuff to the solicitors but this really is the last resort.”
“It’s hard to have patience right now but it really is essential – venues have to base postponements on fact, not speculation and hearsay. Many will be waiting for the government’s next update or answers from their insurance company and that can be stressful for couples but everyone’s hands are tied.”
‘Don’t be afraid to get expert help if you need mediation because there are mutual understandings that can be achieved when you have someone to support you, particularly when that person isn’t emotionally or financially tied to the situation.”
“And, most importantly, everyone needs to think about ‘the after’; how are you (couples and venues) all going to work together going forward? So, keeping the relationship positive and as amenable as possible is crucial. Venues are taking on the emotions of their couples right now so if you can build rapport, stop the situation becoming an ‘us vs them’ battle, you really can work together to find the best solution.”
We’ve worked with couples and suppliers to find replacement dates that cause minimum disruption and we’ve offered any couple who has wanted to move their Twyning Park wedding from 2020 to 2021 an alternative or backup date for no extra cost or annual increase in fee. I’ve made myself available to couples whenever they’ve needed me and have reassured them that whatever they need, we’ll be there to support them. Twyning Park
What Happens When All This Is Over?
Well, there’s no doubting that things are going to change. Yes, contracts will change and yes, we’ll all be reading them a lot more closely but there will also be other changes in the world of wedding venues, as venue expert Olivia Riddiford-Mills from Host Venue Consultancy explains:
“Couples’ priorities are going to change – as long as they’re able to get married in the presence of their loved ones, I really don’t think they’ll give two hoots whether it’s on a prime weekend date or a midweek slot. This also applies to the ‘out of wedding season’ months like November and January.”
“Venues that were authentic, understanding and sensible are definitely going to be recognised. Those that put their clients’ needs first, spent time talking to them, understood their concerns and acted quickly and appropriately will gain a great reputation. Guest experience will also be even more personalised and technology will also be key so venues will need to up their game on the technology front.”
At RSA House, we’ve always tried to put ourselves in our couples’ shoes. We’ve listened to and guided couples, we’ve let our couples wait to make a decision and hold a couple of back up dates as a precaution and they don’t have to make a decision whether they would like to postpone until a month before so there’s flexibility there too. We’ve not charged any cancellation or postponement fees in any case and we’ve offered to take on any supplier communication to help couples. Weddings are built around love and we would never want to jeopardise our relationships with couples, which we treasure dearly. RSA House
“I also think that venues will reach out to local competitors and this shouldn’t be taboo – building relationships with other venues can make a big difference and I’m positive that great wedding venues will return, better than ever before.”
Olivia is absolutely right when she says priorities are going to change. The venues that are fair and operate with care and compassion are going to have the edge on those that operate in a more formulaic fashion, and, I need to say, on a less fair basis.
We’ve all had a bit of shock and we’ve learned what really matters – who hasn’t supported a local business over the last few months or really appreciated a kind message or a thoughtful deed? Perhaps the venues that have relied on their ‘name’ or their historic reputation are going to have to up their game to compete with those doing great and heartfelt things now, when it really matters.
And so perhaps we’ll end with a call for us all to learn the lessons that we’re being taught right now, in our lockdown enforced detention.
Weddings are an eco-system.
Couples need venues and suppliers as much as venues and suppliers need couples.
Everyone gets the best from each other when everyone understands each other’s position.
And, crucially, there are more good people and wonderful wedding venues doing great things for their couples and others than you might have imagined.
We have a growing number or venues listed in our Little Book Wedding Directory, and we highly recommend any one of these exemplary and wonderfully managed venues, each of which are working through postponements with grace and fairness. If you are a venue owner who would like to join our team of highly recommended suppliers, we’d love to hear from you – please complete this simple form.
Little Book is more than just a listing – we’re a team who care deeply about our supplier community and are doing everything we can to support them at this difficult time.