Not all recommendations are made for the right reasons.

 

For most couples planning a wedding the first thing they book is the venue or a wedding planner. A lot of venues or wedding planners will then offer you a list of ‘recommended suppliers’, ostensibly to help you find the rest of your suppliers more easily. And that’s very helpful of them because it usually means whoever you choose has worked at the venue before and gets on well with other recommended suppliers.

However, in recent years I’ve noticed an increasing number of venues and planners select who they ‘recommend’ by their ability to charge those suppliers a commission – and usually without telling you that’s what they’re doing. Not all of them do this – don’t assume if you’ve been sent a Recommended Suppliers list that they’re all being charged – but if they are it’s often at least 10% of the supplier’s fee, which the supplier may have to cover by raising their fee accordingly. That in turn may cause the supplier to need to register for VAT – which either increases the price you pay even more, or if the supplier chooses to just absorb the VAT themselves they’ll make even less profit per wedding.

This means that a venue charging suppliers a commission could potentially net thousands of pounds in ‘free money’ per wedding, for simply handing over a list of recommended suppliers. And if the suppliers increase their fee to cover it, couples could be indirectly paying the venue a lot more than they thought without even realising it.

When a venue or planner recommends a supplier it should be because they love their work and can trust them to do a great job, and because everyone wins if you book them too. Not because it makes the venue or planner more money behind your back. Fortunately for me (and my couples) the photographs I’ll make have huge potential value to the venue afterwards; if they want to use some on their social media (with the couple’s permission) I leverage that to avoid paying commissions, so I don’t usually have to account for commissions in my pricing.

Here’s a couple of links from other wedding suppliers, describing what they’ve experienced and the impact it can have:

Don’t worry – most venues and planners don’t do this

As a wedding photographer based in London I’ve built up a great relationship with loads of venues and planners and am very grateful to have been included on a few of their ‘Recommended Wedding Suppliers’ lists, including The Andaz Liverpool Street, Oaks Farm, Gaynes Park, and many more. I’ve got a great relationship with all these venues, but I’ve never been asked for a penny in commission.

That’s not to say I’m not grateful! My way of saying thank you and nurturing the relationship is to send all the suppliers I met on the day some photos featuring their work, and I do that for free (assuming my couple is happy with that). So I’ll send the florist great pictures of their bouquets, the band or DJ gets great shots of them filling the dance floor, the venue gets a TON of photos of their rooms all set up, shots of the food, the waiting staff doing their thing, and so on. It’s a great deal for everyone, with no ethically questionable commissions to get in the way.

Aren’t commissions just a cost of doing business, like paying for advertising?

I understand the argument, but I don’t think the comparison works.

Let’s assume your photographer charges a nice round £2000. If they’re charged a 10% commission they’ve spent £200 to get just one booking, and that’s a pretty bad return on investment. And if they have to charge VAT too that’s calculated on the total, not what’s left after commission. Alternatively the photographer might increase their fee for this venue, charging £2220 so they still get around £1998 after commission.

But my biggest objection is that when you click on an ad, the advertiser has to make it clear you’re clicking on an ad. But when a venue or planner you trust recommends other suppliers, they usually don’t disclose that those suppliers are paying to be recommended. And why don’t they tell you that? Because then you’d question why they’re recommending anyone.

So you’ve been handed a Recommended Suppliers list – should you trust it?

As I’ve said, most venues and planners with a Recommended Suppliers list DO NOT DO THIS. But if your venue or planner does have a list then it’s worth politely asking: “Do you charge them to be recommended by you?” And if the answer is yes, ask them “Why?”

But, look: if the answer IS yes, don’t feel guilty, it’s not your fault! Book who you love, and if they’re any good they’ll love you right back, regardless of the venue or planner charging them a shady commission.

It’s impossible to say how many suppliers pass that commission directly by increasing their fees to work at that venue. Having been squeezed hard during the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, some suppliers may feel forced to quote a higher price at venues that secretly charge a commission. That’s one reason some suppliers won’t tell you their prices until they know where you’re getting married and how you found them.

Others may prefer to have more open pricing on their website, and charge everyone the same price. But that means they’ll have needed to put ALL their prices up to cover any referral fees, so everyone ends up paying more to cover the referral fees that only some venues charge.

I’m in the latter camp. I don’t like to punish my couples by charging them a higher fee than others just because their venue has some shady business practices. Instead, I put all my prices up every couple of years to stay ahead of inflation and to cover the referral fees I was charged over the previous couple of years.

Which venues and planners are charging this fee?

Tricky to answer, because some of the venues and planners that charge this commission contractually require the suppliers to not disclose the existence of this fee. Even if they don’t, outing venues and planners I work with like this would probably ruin our relationship even if I’ve avoided paying a commission so far by offering free images.

What I will say is that no planner or venue named in this post has ever tried to charge me a commission.

What about my own ‘recommended wedding suppliers’ list?

I have a list of suppliers I’ve worked with and can highly recommend – such as planners, florists, makeup artists, cake makers, bands, DJs, magicians, videographers, and photo booths. I send that list out to any couple that asks, after booking me. But I don’t charge anyone a fee if they get the job, and I never will. I recommend them because they’re excellent, reliable, and I love working with them.

And that’s the only reason any wedding venue or wedding planner should be recommending any other wedding supplier, in my personal opinion.