A canceled wedding is like a 50-car pileup on a slick highway: The initial crash sets off a chain reaction that jolts relatives, friends, and complete strangers.
A wedding might be called off for any number of reasons, including illness, death, freak weather, military deployment, financial problems, or cold feet. In addition to the emotional toll of broken dreams can be a significant dollar loss for families and businesses alike.
"It's in the thousands," estimated Nita Randolph of Sylvania Township, whose daughter in January canceled her wedding, which was scheduled to take place this month in Mexico. A reception was to be held in Toledo in June.
"No one would remit any money with the exception of the place where we were going to have the reception," Mrs. Randolph said. "At least they gave part of it back."
Gone were deposits for expenses such as photography, DJ, linens, and flowers. Many guests who were invited to the wedding got stung on tickets they had purchased to fly to Cozumel — although at least one relative decided to go anyway. Airlines allow a ticket to be used for a different trip, "but you have to pay a $150 transfer fee," Mrs. Randolph said.
There's pain on the business side too. The deposits they retain are just a fraction of what they'd earn if the event were held.
Two receptions were canceled last year at the Mansion View Inn, both within two weeks of the weddings, said innkeeper John DuVall. "That did not give us any time to rent it to another event," he said, adding that the poential for future business was lost as well because many bookings come from people who attend a function at the mansion and decide later to have their own event there.
A general rule for all wedding business arrangements is that the earlier you cancel, the more likely you are to recoup some or all of the money you've paid in booking fees, deposits, retainers, or down payments. (Read your contract: You might be required to cancel in writing.)
Even when a contract states that any of that money is nonrefundable, you might get lucky depending on the particular business and the reasons for cancellation.
But if, for example, the custom gown already has been ordered, the cake has been made, the banquet hall is going to sit dark and empty, and it's too late for a DJ or photographer to rebook the date, you probably won't see a dime.
"We try to work with people as best we can because we know that things happen," said Scott McBride, manager of Myrtle Flowers & Gifts.
"We require at least a $50 deposit for every wedding, which is typically nonrefundable, to kind of establish that they are being serious about purchasing their flowers from us," he said. However, when he heard about a month ago from an October bride that the wedding was off, "It was so far in advance that we weren't out any time or investment, so I gave the deposit back to her."
If she would have canceled 30 days before the wedding — and the flowers already had been ordered — "We maintain the right to keep that $50 deposit."
Sharon Pilaske of Birmingham Limousine Service said that depending on how far in advance customers cancel, they'll get a refund or a credit for a future rental (in both cases there's a $20 cancellation fee). If they cancel two weeks or less before the event, they don't get anything back.
"We have had circumstances when we didn't hold totally firm to that," she said, citing a case in which a bride's father died the night before the wedding. The service was postponed, and the company gave them a credit.
"We're a family-owned company. We're not heartless," Mrs. Pilaske said.
A deposit offers some financial protection for a company because it makes people commit. Many people call and say they're going to rent one of the limos and then never call back, she said. "If we never got something concrete, it would look as though all our vehicles were booked when they really weren't."
How many couples break up between their engagement and wedding is anyone's guess, but, anecdotally, it seems to be uncommon once the date is set and arrangements are being made.
"One time in 23 years," recalled Marcia Thrush of Thrush's Pastry Shoppe. The groom bailed out the day before, she said. "They did end up coming in and picking up the cake and we all felt so bad."
She recommends brides come in six to eight months before the wedding to book the date and make a $30 down payment. Later they return to decide on flavor, color, size, and style of the cake. The balance is due two weeks before the wedding.
"We would refund if the cake had not been made," Mrs. Thrush said. "It's kind of a judgement call. It's so rare. You feel bad for people. You don't want to kick them when they're down."
Brooke Lauber-Cobb, a local wedding consultant whose business is called Bee for the Day, estimated she's only had 10 weddings canceled or rescheduled out of more than 500 she has handled in 15 years. One was disrupted by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when all air travel was grounded. A couple of them were cases of cold feet.
"The money [that is lost] is a minimal thing when you think the marriage will fail," she said. "It makes me sad when clients of mine don't stay married. It breaks my heart."
Wedding insurance, an inexpensive but little-used product, can soften the pain of a cancellation, postponement, or calamity (the bridal shop goes out of business, the rings are lost, a guest breaks a leg line-dancing, wedding gifts are stolen, the photographer doesn't show up, the tent collapses, etc.) Policies even cover expenses resulting from "change of heart," under certain circumstances.
"We sell thousands of policies per year, and our competitors do too, but if you put all of us together, I don't think we hit 10 percent of the total market," said Rob Nuccio, president of R.V. Nuccio and Associates of Toluca Lake, Calif.
His single-premium Weddingsurance product, underwritten by Fireman's Fund, "starts at $95 and the sky's the limit," depending on how the coverage is tailored, he said. (Go to rvnuccio.com for more information or an online quote.)
In Toledo, Paul Johnson, vice president of Brooks Insurance Agency, said he hasn't had much demand for wedding insurance.
"It would certainly be something I would talk to somebody about, and probably go to the extent of recommending it, because in today's world you just don't know what's going to happen. For as much as you're spending on the wedding, it could be well-worth including," Mr. Johnson said.
Although the Randolphs of Sylvania Township won't celebrate their daughter's wedding this spring as they had expected, they're hopeful that someday they will.
Mrs. Randolph kept her mother-of-the-bride dress, and her daughter kept the gowns she bought for the wedding and reception.
The former groom might not be Mr. Right, but "I still love these dresses," she told her mom.
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org