Preferred Vendor Lists and Why Couples Should Ignore Them

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If you’re planning a wedding and have booked your venue, odds are you have been presented with a list of suggested vendors like photographers, bands, DJs and florists. This is called a “preferred vendor list” and it’s usually with your contract, menu choices and other paperwork. But unlike all that other stuff, you actually don’t want this list and you certainly do not need it.

On the surface, it appears helpful. I mean, how totes awesome is it to know the best people to hire for your wedding, according to someone actually in the industry, without having to do any of the research yourself? Because you’re probably spending 97 hours a week planning and this list is the pot of gold at the end of the time sucking rainbow.


If you asked the sales manager at the venue how these vendors got on this list, you likely were told that they have worked there before hundreds of thousands of times. This is probably true.

These vendors on the list aren’t the only vendors that have ever worked at your venue, so how did they make the cut? What did “Best Flowers Ever Florist” do to edge out “Sunshine, Rainbows and Roses Florist”?

They cut a check to the venue.

That’s right. Every single vendor on that preferred vendor list is paying to be there. It’s basically pre-screened advertising since it’s unlikely that a venue is going to recommend any vendor not worth booking. But it’s still advertising because each vendor pays the venue a flat fee. Surprise!

But wait, there’s more...

Mary and Roy Photography

In addition to the annual fee these vendors pay to the venue, they also write out commission checks for every booking. A percentage of what you are being charged is given back to the venue.

It’s a little like pick-pocketing because you are blissfully unaware that this is even happening. If you add up the hidden expenses you are being charged by the preferred vendors you hire, you could easily wind up in the thousands.

There are also things like holiday gifts ( in Tiffany boxes usually) that preferred vendors feel compelled to give staff members at each venue that recommends them. Translation: that photographer being recommended at your venue could easily be recommended at a dozen others. At those other venues are 2, 5, 10 different staff members that will all be receiving a little holiday ching.....or...cheer.

That adds up real fast and is considered a business expense/overhead. When you hire a vendor, the price is determined by not just the vendor’s product, service and time, but standard overhead charges including office space, online and print advertising, etc. Vendors gifting iPads and AMEX cards will have a much higher overhead to cover.

Which you will cover.

On top of that are the favors that these vendors feel obligated to do for these venues that are so generously (insert eye roll here) offering to recommended them. For example, a vendor could be asked to provide free services and products for the venue coordinator’s sister’s BFF’s daughter’s sweet 16. What is free for the venue is still going to cost the vendor money.

Justin Tinapay Photography

Add it up: overhead costs that include paying to be on “the list”, luxury gifts to each and every venue, a percentage to the venue for any and all bookings, and free services that the vendor covers the cost for.

I’m guessing you didn’t add any of that to your wedding budget.

At least when Verizon hits you with a $500 bill each month, you can find their hidden fees in really tiny print somewhere on that bill. This is worse than “hidden fees” though, because they are literally hidden, but you still pay for it.

There’s the argument that this is just the cost of doing business, but I’ve never worked with a couple that felt that way. That argument comes from the industry side and usually the venue in order to defend this practice. Going back to how certain vendors are selected, it’s rare that you will see any vendor on a list that hasn’t worked at the venue before and isn’t any good.

So why doesn’t the venue just tell their couples that their preferred vendor list is paid advertising? If there’s nothing wrong with it, where’s the fine print at the bottom letting the couple know about those hidden fees?

I will tell you why: because not in a million years would any couple trust the recommendation of a venue coordinator (or any wedding planner that does this), if they knew that coordinator made money from everyone on that list. It doesn’t matter how good the vendor is, or if the venue honestly believes their vendors are better than the rest. The bottom line is, an engaged couple wants an honest recommendation and nothing associated with money will ever be seen as honest.

A couple will always wonder if the coordinator is making a recommendation because they believe it or if they are only motivated by money. Is the photographer really good? Will the florist really work with a budget? Are these truly the best vendors or would options not on the list be better? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop?

The world may never know.

Sarah Schulte Photography

Now, in the interest of being fair, not every venue operates like this. There are preferred vendor lists out there where no money is exchanging hands. The venues that do engage in this Washington D.C. style behavior ruin it for everyone though. You’ll never know if the vendors a venue prefers are paying to be on their list.

So throw out that list and assemble your own team. Then use the thousands of dollars you would’ve unknowingly spent on hidden fees on anything you want.

The way it should be.

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