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When COVID-19 ruins the wedding, couples can pay the price

By Michael Klein, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

PHILADELPHIA - Weddings are supposed to be about love and togetherness. But when too much togetherness could violate the law, couples must decide whether to hold on to their dreams or go a different way.

The wedding website The Knot estimates that there will be 1 million weddings in the United States this year - pandemic or not. From the start of the restrictions in mid-March, many couples rescheduled to 2021 or even 2022. Others agreed to smaller affairs on or near their chosen date, perhaps under tents newly erected outside the catering venues. Some others have thrown caution to the wind, opting for a party they hope will not end up on the news someday.

Also out there are couples who drastically downsized, exchanging vows in a backyard with family, a few masked friends, and a Zoom setup. The dream of a reception had faded into the reality of an uncertain future.

Where there is talk of love, there is also talk of money. The pandemic has a steep price tag.

The market-research company IBISWorld estimates that downsizing, postponements, and cancellations due to COVID-19 will cost wedding and events companies over $670 million - a tiny fraction of an estimated $74 billion U.S. industry, but a loss nonetheless.

Fewer tux rentals. Smaller photo packages. And, in some cases, scuttled receptions, which have left some couples demanding refunds of their down payments with caterers, typically at least $5,000.


Online wedding forums are abuzz with couples who contend that they have been offered new dates that either do not work or are unrealistic because no one knows when life will return to normal. The deposits are nonrefundable, as the contracts state, and the law is generally on the caterers' side, even though neither the couples nor the caterers are responsible for the disruption.

"While we are anxious to do everything we can to get everyone as close to their dreams and plans as we can, the reality of the situation is that we are also suffering in this pandemic and simply do not have the means to make everyone whole," said Jeffrey Miller, whose JAM Catering is one of the region's largest off-premises caterers, with exclusive rights to 17 venues in the Philadelphia area, including the John James Audubon Center, Tyler Arboretum and Waterloo Village. Weddings are all JAM does.


Nicholas Sandercock, a lawyer based in Allentown, filed a writ of summons against JAM on behalf of a client. "When you contract for a wedding, you give them a chunk of money," said Sandercock. "You would assume that the money was being reserved for your wedding, and it seems they're living on that."


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