Selling your wedding date: How some Toronto couples are trying to recoup thousands of dollars
Written By Andrea Yu Special to the Star
Fri., Feb. 5, 2021
When Celina Aguirre and Alan Cuthbert cancelled their wedding in early 2021,they had already rebooked their May 30, 2020 celebration for Sept. 11 of this year. About 50 of their guests would have been arriving from Mexico, including Aguirre’s mother.
The couple had already paid their venue, an event space in north Toronto, a $7,400 deposit on a $22,000 wedding that included 110 guests. But to cancel, the venue said the couple needed to pay 60 per cent of the total contract amount, or $13,200, in addition to a $2,500 cancellation fee.
The couple was frustrated, but Aguirre came up with a solution — they decided to try to sell their wedding date.
She recalled seeing posts in a local Facebook wedding group where people were offering to have other couples pay them back their venue deposits in exchange for taking over their assigned date.
Aguirre’s venue agreed to transfer the bride and groom’s date to another couple — if they could sell it by Feb. 28 of this year.
Aguirre and Cuthbert are one of many Toronto couples whose wedding plans have been impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns and guest limitations for events. With thousands of dollars in deposits on the line, some couples are resorting to selling their dates, some at a significant discount, to recoup their costs.
“Last year, people were a lot more optimistic about pushing dates to 2021,” explains wedding planner Grace Arhin. “But with everything that’s happening this year, three of my couples have reached out asking if I knew of any newly engaged couples that they could sell their dates to.”
Purchasing a wedding date from another couple could mean saving money on an already costly event. Venue prices rise every year, so a newly engaged couple buying a contract signed in 2019 or 2018 are paying previous years’ prices, amounting to potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars saved. Arhin also says that most people are open to selling deposits at a discount. “One of my couples paid a deposit of $22,000 and they’re willing to sell it for half price,” she said.
Britney Bempong and Deji Faseyi are Arhin’s clients. They had planned a two-day, 500-person wedding for August 2020, which was to include an African ceremony reflecting the couple’s roots in Ghana and Nigeria, plus a western wedding the following day.
Like Aguirre’s and Cuthbert’s, the majority of Bempong’s and Faseyi’s guests would be coming from abroad. They paid about $24,000 in deposits for their two wedding venues. Arhin advised Bempong and Faseyi to wait until after the pandemic resolves to book a new date. “Everyone’s solution is to postpone things, but there’s no certain date that you can say, ‘Yes, it’s safe to go ahead with it,’” Bempong said.
Even though their big wedding plans were up in the air, Faseyi and Bempong still wanted to get married. “Our eighth-year anniversary together was on Dec. 6, 2020, so Deji thought it would be a great idea for us to make it even more symbolic and get married on that day,” Bempong explains. The couple had a “mini-mony” of just 10 guests at a church with their pastor. An African ceremony was held at Bempong’s parents’ house the day before.
After multiple cancellations and reschedulings, Bempong is eager to put her wedding plans behind her. “I would really appreciate it if we were able to get our deposits back and forget the nightmare that we’ve had,” she says. Including the additional deposits for other vendors such as photographers, videographers, DJs, floral arrangements, decor services and their two venues, they’ve paid nearly $40,000.
It was Arhin who suggested that Bempong find a buyer for her dates. “Last year, a few of my cousins got engaged,” Bempong says. “Grace brought up the idea: ‘Why don’t you connect with your cousins and see if they would like to use the venue for next year?’” Bempong approached her cousins and was willing to meet them partway in costs. “But because everything’s so uncertain, nobody wants to invest so much money on something that may not happen.”
Neither Aguirre or Bempong have been able to find buyers for their dates yet. Aguirre has had a few inquiries on her venue from couples hoping to use their deposit for another date. She was offering her $7,400 contract for $6,000. But since Aguirre’s venue says that her Sept. 11, 2021 date is firm, it has restricted the options for potential buyers.
Should Aguirre and Bempong not be able to sell their dates, small claims court might be their only hope for attempting to recoup paid deposits. And that isn’t even a guarantee.
Corporate and commercial lawyer Mark G. Baker says that he’s fielded several calls, mostly from parents of brides, asking how they can recover costs from wedding venues and caterers.
“These contracts were drafted prior to the pandemic,” Baker explains. “They were intended to deal with situations where a bride would back out of the wedding plans or change her mind about the venue. They do not contain clauses that are intended to deal with a pandemic.”
Most contractual language protects the vendor from spent costs, such as purchasing ingredients for a meal, or the missed opportunity to sell their services to another client on an in-demand day. “Nobody thought there would be a situation where even the venue wouldn’t be permitted to have people in their hall,” Baker says. “That’s where a disconnect happens because the provisions in the contract don’t really work.”
Should a couple take their vendors to small claims court, it would then be up to the courts to decide whether deposits are owed to the couple or if the vendor is entitled to keep them. Venues that have offered to postpone or rebook could be demonstrating their goodwill. But couples with large guest lists, such as Bempong’s and Faseyi’s 500-person wedding, could argue that events of this scale won’t be possible to execute in the foreseeable future.
Baker encourages couples to negotiate with their vendors, as does Lucas L. Margulis, a wedding vendor who runs a mobile cannabis bar and an entertainment and audiovisual company. As the pandemic hit, Margulis gave his clients the ability to transfer their contracts to another couple or event. By the end of last December, Margulis started a Facebook group called Take Over My Event Contract.
“I’m helping to connect event planners and venues with people that are looking to transfer their dates,” Margulis explains. He was purposeful in labelling his group as being for events in general, not just weddings. “You don’t have to resell your wedding event to another wedding client,” he says. “It could be bought by a corporate client or someone doing a kid’s party.”
Florists, photographers and A/V vendors like Margulis are often small business owners who are suffering great losses during the pandemic. He encourages both vendors and clients to work together to find a solution. “I think that vendors are willing to negotiate and would be open to transferring their contracts, even if it’s not originally something they had in their contracts,” says Margulis. “I think everyone’s winging it at this point.”
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