I work in the food service industry, and a chef acquaintance has generously offered to cook the food for our wedding pro bono as a gift. His offer is extremely generous (and would save us a TON of money), but plans have been a little relaxed and we aren’t very close outside of work. In other words, I want to make sure he doesn’t bail. How do I politely ask him to sign a contract without insulting him and seeming ungrateful?
Q: Dear Amy,
I’m a visual artist, and I often volunteer to design invitations for friends as a wedding gift. It’s genuinely a joy to share my artistic gifts with friends, and I’ve been happy to work with several couples on design ideas and concepts in the past. But this time? The joy is fading and I’m not sure what to do. The bride has come back to me for round, after round, after round of changes, and just when I thought we were done (yay!), she now wants “just some slight changes to the design to fit on the menus, and programs, and the thank you cards, and can you just do the layout on those too?” And, I think I can’t? How do I tell her, “I love you, but my offer was invitations, not an entire paper suite. Here’s a PDF of the image, feel free to use it where ever, but I’m done.”
—Is the Customer Always Right When I’m Not Getting Paid?
A: Dear Friendor and Friends,
Ahhh friendors. Such a charming word. Such a complex situation. It starts off delightfully. Weddings are expensive. If one of your friends happens to be able to contribute significantly to the day, whether that’s by giving you their services outright or by allowing you to spend your money on someone you care about, with a friends and family discount, natch, how great! And I mean that sincerely—it often does work out really great, benefiting both people, and resulting in a meaningful personal touch to the day.
But. There’s a reason advice columnists since the dawn of time have been counseling to keep friends and business separate. Sewing a pillow for the rings is one thing; catering the wedding or taking the photographs is another creature entirely. You’re talking about real sums of money, whether any is actually changing hands or not, and a real commitment of time and energy. Before diving right in, spend some serious time thinking it through and talking it out.
But how do you actually do that? For the chef acquaintance, I think a phone call is in order. (Fine. Fine. Everyone hates the phone. Email if you must.) This is his job. Yes, he’s doing this as a gift, but it shouldn’t come as a total shock to him that you’re going to need to make arrangements a tad more specific than “I’ll show up on the day with some food promise!” Minimum, you should feel comfortable asking for things in writing, like a menu, the time things will be set up, and any ancillary pieces of the puzzle like servers and dishes, etc. You’ll also want to clarify what, exactly, he is offering for free—just his time? All the food? A whole catering kitchen set up on site? I’m not sure the way to accomplish that is necessarily by presenting him with a contract, though. Start with figuring out the specifics of what you are agreeing to. At that point, an email outlining the terms of your agreement and asking him to confirm in writing seems like a natural conclusion, not an out-of-the-blue contact demand.
On the other side, how do you maintain boundaries as the person who volunteered? Start by assuming your friends mean well. Yes, you know that it’s actually a ton of work to resize an image and do layouts for five different paper items, but your friend probably doesn’t, and the only way she is going to figure it out is if you tell her. There’s nothing mean or rude about saying, “Hey it’s been so much fun designing this custom image of your dogs water-skiing for the invitation! I’m sending you a high-quality image of it, and of the invitation we designed. Please feel free to use it wherever and however you want. I can’t design any more items, but I love print shop XYZ for this stuff. See you soon!” Definitely make sure you do what you promise, but saying you are happy to video the ceremony doesn’t mean you need to also do strolling interviews during the reception and cut them together into a heartwarming five-minute wedding trailer. (Also, when did these become a thing?)
If you’re going to work with friendors, you need to get over the awkwardness and get comfortable having the hard conversations. If you can’t imagine talking about pricing and expectations with someone, do both of yourselves a favor and hire a professional—who isn’t also your cousin.
have a wedding question? Email me: amymarch [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.