Not all ‘Recommended Wedding Suppliers’ lists are created equal – here’s what you need to know

As a wedding photographer based in London, over the last decade or so I’ve worked at and impressed enough venues and event managers to be added to quite a few of their ‘Recommended Wedding Suppliers’ lists, which is always a huge honour.

It means that when you visit or book a venue or wedding planner, you’ll receive a list of other suppliers that venue or planner has worked with and can recommend, such as wedding photographers, florists, bands, DJs, caterers, etc.

It’s a service the venue/planner is offering to help make your life easier, and of course having great people working with them regularly will make the venue look good too – “We’re awesome and you can trust us – look at all these other awesome people we work with!”

So at their best, Recommended Wedding Suppliers lists are a community of wedding suppliers who have a great track record and work well together, with enough variety in the list to suit most couples.

Most ‘Recommended Suppliers’ lists are a good thing for everyone

I’m a Recommended Supplier for a bunch of great venues, including The Andaz Liverpool Street, Oaks Farm, Gaynes Park, and many more. I’ve got a great relationship with all these venues, in that after every wedding or event I shoot there I send everyone involved a copy of some photos featuring their work for free.

So I’ll send the florist great pictures of their bouquets, I’ll send the band or DJ great shots of them filling the dance floor, and I’ll send the venue a TON of photos of their ceremony room and dining room all set up, both empty and filled with happy guests, plus shots of the food, the waiters doing their thing, and so on. Sometimes I’ll even do a free venue shoot in the quiet seasons, to freshen up their website imagery or whatever, and to thank them for recommending me.

And I throw in completely free marketing use for them too, so they can use them on social media or their website. It’s a great deal for everyone – I got some extra enquiries from them, and they get tons of free marketing material they can use forever.

That’s the sort of commercial and marketing use which would normally cost a company hundreds of pounds in shoot and licensing fees, and they get it FOR FREE from me, every time.

Well, almost every time. I’ve recently stopped supplying images to certain venues and planners – here’s why.

Some venues use their ‘Recommended Suppliers’ list as a hidden money-making opportunity

Unfortunately, certain venues and planners exploit their power in being the first thing most couples book when they plan a wedding, and use their Recommended Wedding Suppliers list to make themselves a ton of free money on the side, behind your back.

They do this by charging the suppliers on that list at least 10% of what YOU spend with them, and sometimes a lot more, every time one of those “recommended” suppliers works at their venue, whether you were introduced to them by that venue or planner or not.

That’s right, some wedding venues and planners charge suppliers a hefty fee for “recommending” them even if you found that supplier yourselves, perhaps through Google or Instagram.

These venues and planners don’t give you a list of ‘recommended’ suppliers to help you, they do it to help themselves. They can easily make a couple of thousand pounds on top of what you pay them, simply by typing some names into a PDF they update once a year.

Is that a good reason to recommend anyone? I don’t think so.

Will you see the benefit of those extra couple of grand per wedding? I doubt you’re getting a discount, put it that way.

I’ll be blunt: I think this is an incredibly shady business tactic. I think if they’re recommended a supplier to you, it should be because they like that supplier, love their work, want to be associated with them, and because everyone wins if you book them too. Not because it makes them more money behind your back.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a huge amount of choice. Even though I rank number one for wedding photography at a lot of London venues on Google, the venues know that if they give a couple a nicely presented list of suppliers, that’s likely to be who the couple contacts first, before wading through Google search results.

And so, yes, I do pay certain venues and planners a fee. However, they don’t get any free images, and I refuse to pay a fee if the couple tells me they found me independently through Google or Instagram for example.

That’s led to at least one London wedding venue threatening to remove me from next year’s ‘Recommended Supplier’ list, and if that happens I’ll happily share their name in the title of this post next year 😉

Isn’t this just a cost of doing business, like paying for advertising?

Yes, you could look at it like that, but I don’t like the comparison for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, spending £200 to get just one booking is a pretty bad return on investment.

But my biggest objection is that when you click on an ad, you KNOW you’re clicking on an ad. When a venue or planner you trust recommends a bunch of other suppliers to you, they don’t disclose to you that they’re charging the suppliers a fee if they get the job.

And why don’t they tell you that? Because then you’d question why they’re recommending anyone. And that’s why this whole thing feels shady to me.

So what does this mean for you, the couple browsing a venue’s Recommended Wedding Suppliers list?

It’s unlikely you’ll feel the benefit of the commission fee the venue or planner is charging in secret, and it’s possible you may be charged more by those ‘recommended’ suppliers to cover those commission fees, by virtue of the fact that only a few venues operate like this.

So if your venue or planner gives you a ‘Recommended Suppliers’ list, ask them directly: “Do you charge these suppliers a fee to be ‘recommended’ by you?”

And if the answer is yes, ask them “Why? Do you recommend them because they’ve agreed to pay you, or do you recommend them because they’re good?”

The fact is, of course, that most wedding venues and planners that charge this fee won’t ‘recommend’ someone who’s objectively terrible. That would be counter-productive! But by the same token they will have absolutely no problem excluding someone who is excellent if they can’t bill them for their 10% afterwards, potentially leaving you with a ‘choice’ of suppliers who aren’t necessarily the best.

What if you find someone from the list who you really love and want to book? Should you feel guilty, or worry you’re being charged more to cover the fee?

Definitely don’t feel guilty – book who you love, and if they’re any good they’ll love you right back, regardless of the shady business practices of the venue or planner charging them.

In terms of the price you pay, an increasing number of suppliers are already operating on narrow margins having been squeezed hard during the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Some of them may be forced to quote a higher price for couples marrying at venues that secretly charge referral fees.

For example, a supplier that normally charges, say, £1800, may send you a quote for £2000 if you’re getting married at a particular venue. And that’s one reason (of many) why some suppliers won’t tell you their prices until you tell them 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.

Who are the venues and planners that charge this fee?

No prizes for guessing that most of the venues and planners that charge their “recommended” suppliers a fee to be on the list also contractually require them to not disclose the existence of this fee.

But, I will make this promise: if you book in a consultation call with me, and you ask me if I’m charged a referral fee by the venue or planner you’re using, I will tell you either that the venue or planner does not charge a fee, or that I don’t put my prices up per-wedding to cover such fees – and you can draw your own conclusions!

What about my own ‘recommended wedding suppliers’ list?

I have a list myself, of florists, makeup artists, bands, DJs, magicians, videographers, and photo booth companies, that I’ve worked with at tons of weddings over the years and can highly recommend. I send that list out to any couple that asks, after booking me.

These suppliers make the list because they’re excellent, reliable, and I love working with them. I don’t make any referral fees from recommending people, and I never will, because I think that’s a shady reason to recommend someone.

Do I sometimes get referrals back from some of these people? Yes, of course. But do they charge me? No, of course not. We recommend each other because we respect each other, we like working together, and we think we’ll make a strong contribution to your wedding day.

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