It just happened again.

A bride and her parents signed a contract in 2009 for their wedding reception expecting 125 guests for their 2010 wedding.  The contract commited them to a food and beverage minimum based on 125 guests.  When their actual guest count fell to 90 (just weeks before the wedding), they were still “on the hook” for the full amount they would have spent on the original 125 guests.  They added time to the cocktail hour, an additional appetizer, vendor meals, and some decor upgrades to come closer to the guarantee. 

In the excitement of wedding planning, many couples overlook this in their contract – they just sign. It’s called an attrition clause and it reads something like this:

By signing this agreement, you are agreeing to a minimum expenditure of $xx,xxx.00 (excluding applicable taxes and gratuities) in catered food and beverage functions at the Xxxx Hotel over Event dates. 
Based on your expected attendance of  xxx.  you are commiting to a minimum expenditure of $xx, xxx.00 for food and beverage and room rental regardless of your actual attendance.  The final guarantee is required …. and is not subject to reduction. 

Because taxes and service charges (service charges are mandatory, a gratuities are not),  often add up to 30 percent or more to the amount spent on food and beverage, the Group’s “catered food and beverage” check to see whether or not those charges are included in the food and beverage minimum or not.  Most of the time, this figure does not include the amount spent on taxes, service, and gratuities.

So, how do you avoid this situation?  First, READ the contract.  Understand your obligation. Ask questions, even asking to reserve your date with a deposit and commiting to guaranteed number at a later date, but be reasonable.  Second, estimate your guest list at the absolute minimum.  The caterer will gladly increase your guest count at no additional cost.  In other words, you can always go up, but not down.  Third, if you find yourself in this situation, seek alternatives.  You might end up having the rehearsal dinner or Sunday brunch as part of your “event,” or as in the situation above, adding or upgrading the menu, extending cocktail hour or the open bar are all options.