What To Do When Your Wedding Venue Cancels

It's the scenario that makes you shudder at the mere mention but this is what happened when lifestyle blogger Jessica Harris' venue called it quits two weeks before the big day.

03 Jul 2018

There was always an element of “what if” when it came to planning our wedding. As pessimistic as that sounds, there was always an element of bad luck that followed my groom and I around. If there was a passport to be lost or house to be outbid on, it happened to us. While I was excited to get married in our dream location, I couldn't shake that little voice of doom and gloom in the back of my mind.

Jess' story

We knew we wanted our big day to be at a certain villa in Tuscany even before my (now) husband, Chris popped the question. The villa was our first holiday as a couple, and we fell in love with the serene surrounding hills, the scent of lavender wherever we walked and the pristine shabby chic interiors throughout. The rules were strict but we didn't mind – so we couldn't eat or drink (except water) in our rooms or have glass around the pool – it wasn't unreasonable and I'm sure our guests could abide. We booked the luxury B&B the day after Chris proposed in April and booked our flights to visit in October.

Although it made me a little nervous that they'd never hosted a wedding before and their fees were expensive but doable, their suppliers were faultless and we left a deposit and a firm plan in place. Over the next few months we heard little from the venue and, as a relaxed bride, even I was starting to get sweaty palms. We flew over in April, a mere two months before the wedding to learn that despite getting emails from what we thought was the owner, he had in fact sadly passed away six weeks before, and the staff had been replying in his name. While offering our condolences I couldn't ignore the alarm bells in my mind.

His wife reassured us and was adamant that the show must go on, organising final florist meetings and menu tastings for us over the course of our weekend stay. Feeling awkward but satisfied that everything was on course, we sat down for a final meeting before our departure.

Stunned, we managed to persuade her that, with flights booked and accommodation at the venue sorted for our guests, we couldn't afford her new fees. Reluctantly she agreed but we had a very different story waiting for us in our email inbox. The offer was receded and a new batch of unreasonable T's & C's awaited us including no evening food on the wedding day and the pool party our guests were expecting was cancelled. After many back and forth negotiations with little response, the venue officially cancelled two weeks before our wedding day leaving our plans (and emotional state) in disarray.

Jess Harris on her wedding day

Tom Biddle

Luckily, that pessimistic voice kicked into action a couple of weeks before and I had enquired about alternative venues, filed under “just in case” so we were able to work fast, flying over to Italy a few days after they broke the news to look at some new options. Coincidentally there was another venue just 20 minutes away that had one weekend still available out of the whole year. Our weekend! We took it as a sign and fell in love with the location and owners immediately. Although we had to re-house 26 guests in local hotels, we saved them a considerable amount in accommodation fees compared to the over-priced venue rooms.

In hindsight, although the trauma of a cancelled venue left us with stressful days and sleepless nights, I believe that everything happens for a reason. What would have been a wedding day spent worrying about the unpredictability of the owners and strict rules for our guests was beautiful, relaxed and stress-free. We may not have had the wedding we dreamt of six years ago, but it was everything we didn't know we wanted.

Hearing that your wedding venue has cancelled is what bridal nightmares are made of. At a time where your heart rules your head, there are a few steps to take to get the situation under control as quickly as possible.

Gather a paper trail

It's always important to put every element of wedding planning on paper. If you've had a meeting with a supplier, follow it up with an email recapping what you spoke about, any prices that were discussed and the confirmation of dates. Creating a paper trail will be your biggest ally especially if things get legal.

Seek advice

When our venue cancelled I not only went into a tailspin, but was also shocked by how little support and information there is if this happens. I didn't know what else to do but call citizens advice who were incredibly helpful. They put me in touch with the right department who outlined the legalities and options to me and followed up with an email complete with the Italian equivalent of their office who could help with compensation after the wedding. But above all, they were kind and supportive at a time when I couldn't see the wood through the trees.

Get all the facts first, then go into damage control

Although my knee-jerk reaction was to call my mum/sister/bridesmaids to cry and curse the venue, I was mindful that I didn't want to spread mass panic amongst the wedding party. Chris and I kept things vague until we had more of a plan in place. When we found an alternative venue we were able to tell them the bad news but quickly hand them good news at the same time. At the time I knew there would be no way I would have been able to prop them up as well as myself in the middle of it all but waiting meant we could reassure them with confidence.

Speak to a wedding planner

We didn't have a wedding planner in the beginning but emailed a 'SOS' shoutout to four or five when the venue cancelled due to the time sensitivity to get their advice on the ground. They were all amazing and put forward some ideas off the top of their heads which gave us a great starting point to find a new venue (as well as warning them about the old one to avoid future heartache to other brides). I would definitely recommend getting a wedding planner on side in the beginning if you can, to take some of the pressure off.

Work fast

As we all know, weddings get booked up fast which means finding a new venue is top priority (obvs). Ask the cancelled venue if they can suggest or arrange an alternative venue to save you from calling around. Inform your suppliers as soon as possible or seek new ones if they came with the venue – people are usually hugely sympathetic when something like this happens and will go above and beyond to help if they can so, don't panic! They may even be able to suggest new venue options that they've worked with before.

Stop the press

If your wedding invitations have already gone to print, phone your printers immediately to stop the process and inform them of the new details when you have them. If it's too late, simply messaging the wedding party will be quicker and cheaper than having re-printed invitations. This is where ushers and bridesmaids come into their own!

Explore the legalities

Although this can usually wait until after the wedding, if you have money tied up in the old venue, it's vital to get it back as soon as possible. If the venue cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund and, most likely, compensation for any additional expenses you incurred as a result. Before seeking legal advice, sit down with the venue manager and find out exactly why they cancelled – if negotiations break down and the venue is lost, outline verbally and in writing what you expect in return. Try to keep it friendly before moving onto a legal team. It could save you a lot of money in solicitor fees.