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Better Business Bureau offers tips for avoiding common wedding hitches

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It is estimated that more than two million couples will tie the knot in 2017. With the average cost of a wedding now at upwards of $26,000, and all the time that goes into planning and holding a wedding, it is more important than ever that couples take every precaution to ensure their big day goes off without a hitch.

Because of the details involved – everything from choosing the venue, florist, caterer and photographer to the honeymoon location – it is difficult to have everything go perfectly. The Better Business Bureau receives hundreds of complaints every year about wedding-related vendors.

"There are honest mistakes that can be made, and there are also dishonest individuals who can ruin the best laid plans,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “That’s why couples need to be very diligent in determining who they hire for one of the most important days of their lives.”

The Better Business Bureau website is a place to start the search for reputable businesses that receive few complaints and make a good faith effort to resolve any complaints.

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While wedding expos can be a great place to find many of the services needed for a wedding, the BBB advises couples to be cautious when presented with one-day deals or discounts in exchange for payment in advance. The BBB advises wedding planners to ask questions before signing anything and to be skeptical if vendors request a large chunk of their fee in advance.

“It’s also very important to ask about refund policies for deposits or prepayments,” noted Bernas.

The BBB advises couples to ask vendors for references. Don’t rely on brochures or online reviews, which can be faked.

Some common problems that couples encounter and tips for avoiding them include:

&bull; Unexpected fees. Some caterers, hotels and reception venues try to charge extra for plate splitting, or cake cutting and corkage fees in cases where the cake or liquor is purchased off premises. Ask whether any fees apply beyond the cost per person, gratuities or room rental, if applicable.

&bull; Dresses that don’t measure up. Brides have complained to BBB about bridal shops ordering the wrong sizes and colors of gowns as well as dresses that arrive too late for alterations to be made. Make sure your order specifies new merchandise, and that it be sized to fit you and your bridesmaids. Remind the shop of your schedule in advance.

&bull; Wedding transportation problems. Complaints about limousine service include poor customer service and rigid cancellation policies. Get details in writing. Ask in advance how the company handles problems if you aren’t satisfied. And never pay the entire amount in advance.

&bull; Musician switch. Avoid relying on a website, demo tape or phone conversation when hiring a band or other music service. Find out where you can hear the musicians or the DJ play before you hire them. Ask who will actually perform at the reception and get a written commitment from the band or musician, including the amount of time they will play and how much it would cost to extend the time if you so decide.

&bull; Photographer issues. A common complaint is that the photographer hired doesn’t show up or fails to deliver pictures until months after the wedding. Find out when and how pictures will be delivered, whether you will have the option of getting all the images on a DVD or CD, how much time you will have to choose the pictures, and whether other members of your family or wedding party will have access to the pictures.

&bull; Floral changes. Fresh flowers are a perishable commodity, and the final bouquet or arrangements may need to change depending on what is available on the wedding day. Make sure you spell out a minimum size or number of stems in each bouquet or arrangement. Ask how the florist will handle any last-minute substitutions and charges.

&bull; Bridal gown preservation. Some bridal shops and other businesses sell bridal gown preservation packages that include cleaning and a box for fees of $250 or more. Many of these packages are no more than regular dry-cleaning and a cardboard box, which may not be acid-free. Check with a reputable cleaner about the cost of cleaning and storage for your gown.

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