Wedding Wednesday Discussions – Should wedding suppliers take commission payments?

Wedding Wednesday Discussions – Should wedding suppliers take commission payments?

3 weeks ago I wrote a post about Wedding Planners and the value of our service! It got a huge response and to date 63 comments, so it was obviously a topic that a lot of you felt strongly about.
In that post I touched on the issue of wedding planners tacking commissions, it was too big a topic for that post, so I have decided to cover it in full today.
I really want to know what you lot think, both the wedding suppliers and the brides and grooms, so please do feel free to add your comments and join in the discussion.

When I first started out as a wedding planner I started with the very strong opinion that there was no way I would ever take a commission from any supplier, I always said (and still do) that any commission that was offered to me would be passed onto my couple in the form of a discount…….But why??
Well when I was getting married I hired a planner to cover the basic Ibiza part of the planning, she found me my venue, caterer and minister, she was also my rock and I must have bombarded her with emails every day for 18 months! She was there on the day, I really couldn’t have been without her. BUT one thing that made me uncomfortable was the fact that I knew she was tacking commissions from the suppliers she found me. Now on reflection this was no biggy. Some Ibiza planners don’t charge a huge amount, I did often question how my planner was actually making any money as her initial fee wasn’t huge…..well the commissions she was getting from the other suppliers were making up for it! €50 here, €400 there all adds up to quite a tidy package! It turns out everyone in Ibiza takes a commission; it’s just what they do over there. Now I’m planning weddings out there, they all seem to think it’s very odd that I don’t.

wedding planner

When I first started going to meet with suppliers in the business, one of the questions I got asked a lot was how do you work? The first few times I was asked this I admit I was a bit puzzled, but they meant would I expect a commission payment if I referred a bride to them. It seemed when I was doing my research that there was quite a stigma attached to taking commissions, and it really was quite frowned upon. So I knew I had made the right decision in going for the no commission rule.

Now 18 months down the line, I’m questioning that, the more people I meet that have ‘made it’ and are making ‘proper money’ all seem to take commissions, or offer commissions to planners and other suppliers that recommend them.

So why should I and why shouldn’t I?

The main reason I wouldn’t is that I still feel it’s unethical, I would never want any of my couples to think I was making money on them behind there back by recommending them a certain supplier just because they offer me some sort of payment for referring them. I made a pledge last year that I would get out and meet as many suppliers and venues as I could so I could always have a good choice of suppliers to be able to recommended to people. Every bride and groom is different and they all have different requirements. My job is to offer them the right choice for their taste, location and budget, and I can’t do that if I am only working with a handful of suppliers who offer me payment for recommendations.

So why would I change my mind? Well I guess it’s a question of economics, and as discussed in my past post. What we charge very rarely stretches for the amount of hours we work and how much time and effort goes into each wedding. In an ideal world I would be charging double what I do, but when the market value doesn’t allow this…what do you do? Do we then make up our salary with the odd bit of commission here and there?? Is it really that wrong?

wedding planner

But how do the bride and groom feel? Would they rather the fee they pay was a bit lower, but know that any discount I could get them I would pocket….or would they rather pay a slightly higher fee and know that any savings I could make would get passed onto them?
Now not every supplier I meet does offer me a commission, some ask, some don’t , some offer some don’t while others insist and think I’m mad if I don’t!!

My Husband has told me time and time again to take commissions payments, and to start asking for them, insisting on them in fact, but I have always told him no. It’s not the way the wedding world works, we all work on a series of referrals we meet a supplier we like they refer us, and we refer them…simple! Referrals make the wedding world go round.

So at this point I’m sticking to my ethics and not tacking on commissions, I feel it’s the right thing to do and better for my brides and grooms.
What do you think? I really want to hear your thoughts, especially from the brides and grooms, how do you feel? Do you care? Feel free to leave your comments.

Thanks Kelly xxxx

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    The answer to that is NO, NO and NO.

    Recommendations to brides and Grooms should always be made on specific need , not that we have been paid to recommend them.

    I never take commision as believe unethical.

    If I am planning a Wedding/ Event , recommendation made on what is suited to couple, not what I prefer.

    On my Blog I have Blog sponsors so people that I recommend on a daily basis on Twitter but that is a general thing and not specific to my actual clients, who will always get a service unique to them.


    Don’t agree in paying or accepting commissions. Firstly it’s not fair on the bride and groom as their best interest is not being put first. And from my point of view as a start up supplier, my margins just isn’t enough to pay out to an established supplier who is passing on my telephone number/contact details. A referral should be based on my work and my work only. But its sad that due to the current state of the economy this may never be possible.


      Hi, I find as a wedding cake baker and decorator the wedding venues don’t allow you NEAR a bride. they write down the budget for a cake and you never see or hear from the bride. You get a quick brief and told this little bride has a very tight budget. I have a feeling that because of this m.o. there is a massive mark-up on MY cake which I have worked planned for months and worked on through day and night. Anyone notice the US$600 for a cake in the US is considered just enough to cover an extremely plane little 3-tier? I order couverture and vanilla and use butter only more and more am being asked to do huge dummy with a little real cake (just about enough for the couple) at the very top. I find dummy cakes depressing, since I take such pride in my proper cake which has been tested for a year to ensure that it’s perfect. Am I totally off my rocker to do this job.

    Nikki Ward

    I have to say I agree with Alison. I’ve been asked a few times since I started my wedding stationery business whether I would offer a ‘discount’ to their clients if they referred them to me. I have to say I honestly thought this discount would be passed on to clients. I had no idea that some planners would pocket this for themselves.
    I would like to think that my work is good enough for it to be referred anyway but I can completley understand why wedding planners would do this … as you said in your post before, it is so difficult for you to make a decent living on just the payments you receive from couples.
    I have to say I now feel that I have nothing against a planner who does this however I would rather they were upfront with me that the ‘discount’ is going to them and not the client, and then I can make a decision as to whether I will get enough referrals from them for it to be worth my while.

    Really interesting topic Kelly .. I have to say its really made me think!

    Leeanne - Sienna Grace Design

    If i had to start paying commission for recommendations i would have to raise my prices across the board. As a supplier i price my products very fairly and i don’t make a huge amount, considering the time that goes into my services. There are some in the same area as myself charging nearly double what i do and there isn’t as much involved preperation wise in what they do. I suppose they can afford to pay commissions but in order for me to feel comfortable about what i am charging i keep my prices low and what i see as fair. So yes i am probably loosing out on lots of business as i refuse to offer commissions but like yourself it doesn’t feel right.
    Staying true to yourself is so important i feel, otherwise i wouldn’t feel happy doing my job.


    Leeanne, I totally agree with you. As I too have priced my products below market so that I can be given a fair chance at entering the market. The decorations and time I put into each and every one of my cupcakes is phenomenal (on top of caring for 3 young children). To think I then have to give away more than half my profit (which is very small) is very discouraging and makes me question why I am in the industry. I totally enjoy what I do but at the end of the day there needs to be some sort of financial reward.


    Good to hear it from the point of view of people paying the commissions, and a very fair point that you can’t afford to do that being smaller businesses.
    To be honest the offfer of payments normally comse from the bigger companies, who normally wack a bit on top of the bill to cover the payment itslef……swings and round abouts I guess!
    So far my mind hasn’t been changed, I still feel it is unfair to everyone invlved to take a commission payment.

    Paul - Spirits High Entertainments

    Great post Kelly,

    And well timed, just this very morning I’ve had a company on the phone saying they’ll recommend me to their clients…….in return for a 15% referal fee for each booking!

    I don’t take commision and as you know I’ll always give yours (or other) clients the very best deal I can.

    If you start getting into the world of Backhanders & “commisions” you lose the reason why people want to book you. They book you for your service, If you’re good enough they’ll book.

    Isabel Smith Wedding Design

    This is always such a fascinating debate!

    Before I launched as a wedding planner, I was a venue based co-ordinator so was of course used to paying out commissions. At that time, I always just accepted this as ‘this is the way business is done in every sector-why on earth should the wedding industry be different just because there is more emotion involved’.

    However, as a business owner, I took the decision not to take commission for EXACTLY that reason. I deal with the public, the end user as it were, who are going through a very emotional process, and paying for it with personal money (be it their own, or their family’s). If I were going through the expensive and emotional process of getting married myself, I would be horrified to think that the recommendations I was receiving were not based on who best meets my needs, but rather who offered my advisor the best kickback!

    I think that in a corporate environment, where the money changing hands is answerable only to a big bucks company, commission could arguably be acceptable at certain times, but in the wedding industry, couples take a big leap of faith with every supplier they book as it is such an emotional-once-in-a-lifetime occasion, so really, there can
    be no business without trust. A commission system would undermine the trust I share with my clients, so remains a no no for me!

    Lorraine - Rainy Rock Events

    OOh no. I pick my suppliers based on the fact that I know they will provide a good service and suit my client.At the end of the day they are also representing you at the event so I’d choose them because they are great rather than because they offered me commission. It wouldn’t feel right to me taking commission from a supplier, like you say it would feel like you are doing something behind the clients back. I’d rather pass on the saving to the client too. GREAT BLOG by the way :)

    Mark Skeet

    Certainly an interesting subject.

    I currently don’t pay a commission to anyone, but would always consider it on its merits. Acquiring customers can be expensive (ads, fairs etc). If by paying a commission to a fellow supplier/venue lowers that acquisition cost I’m better off, so I win. One would hope that the end client is better off as well as they’ve been saved hassle and time in vetting potential suppliers.

    This obviously all comes down to trust though. Trust between the recommender and the recommendee (regardless of the fact that cash may have changed hands) and of course trust between the client and the recommender.

    I recently gave a gift to a fellow supplier who had recommended me. Had they asked for it? No. Did they protest when I handed it over? Yes. However it was a sizeable piece of business and I wanted to show my appreciation.

    With a venue the payment in kind might be free service time, it depends.

    Having said all the above, I’d much rather recommend and be recommended by people I know, trust and not expect or be expected to hand over cash, even if the cost of acquisition is lowered.

    I believe mutual mini referral networks are key to sustainable business for all parties involved and an occasional thank you is nice but neither expected nor required.

    Looking at it from a planner’s perspective, I’d suggest maybe looking at the tourism market where hotels, apartments and meeting room providers all regularly expect to pay a % commission to directories for the business referral of bookings. It’s pretty common place.

    I think if you’re up front with your clients and have a business model that works one way or another there’s no real issue. Assuming of course that the commission payment never affects the recommendations you make.

    Nic - Lady Penelope Cars

    A provocative blog there Kelly, well done. I’m glad you’re sticking to your guns. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with commissions, it’s an age old practice and none of us are doing this solely for amusement, however the power of being independant and impartial is a bonus for your clients and a sales pitch for you! It means you are offering a very bespoke service rather than matching them up with the suppliers offering you the biggest brown envelopes. That must be a relief to prospective clients. But you shouldn’t lose out as a result, so price your service to reflect that integrity.

    There’s a similar theme running through this blog to the one you wrote about how you price services…Sounds to me like you don’t value yourself enough. Be like a pint of Stella, reassuringly expensive.

    The same message to Leanne and Joan who commented earlier, base your prices on the true value of what you offer. People really don’t just buy on price. I learned that so fast when I set up and I realised I was working for about 5p an hour. I put my prices up by 70% less than 3 months after I set up and my bookings shot up. Far from putting clients off I gained more! I charge more than the majority of my competitors but I sleep well knowing that my brides will get the perfect service from me. I’m good at what I do, so I’m worth paying.

    Kelly you live and breathe weddings, you’re passionate and well informed about what you do. You should charge twice as much! The customers you deserve wouldn’t flinch and your suppliers would curry favour with you by being superb, and not paying for it.

    That’s my 2 penneth :)


    Nic and Mark, thank you for your .02! I completely agree. As long as all parties are aware and the recommendations are not SOLELY dependent on the receiving of a commission. If a supplier is offering a great value of service they will most likely get recommended regardless. I feel as long as the supplier is able to book the service AND the bride is getting a great price/value then it is a win-win for all.

    Wedding Sparrow

    As a bride-to-be who has contemplated hiring a wedding planner whilst planning my wedding, this is an interesting topic. Like others above, I don’t think I would mind the principle of the commission going to the planner but as long as they were honest about it. However, if I knew I was hiring the services of a planner who received commission, I would honestly think twice about hiring them purely on the basis of the fact I would be concerned their mindset would be (understandably) hovering towards the money rather than the best option for me as a client.

    It would be interesting to see a planner who takes commission purely from hotels and nothing else as I think hotels are a more standard item to source and the location is key. The bride and groom will know from the location whether they will want to see the venue or not. This narrows it down somewhat leaving a handful of options as final viewings. If the planner then takes them to see all, say 5, venues all offering commission to the planner then I think this is acceptable and doesn’t necessarily affect the outcome? I think though for other services (flowers, bands, marquee hire) are services that all offer very similar products if not the same and so can be affected by the commission in terms of the planner recommending a supplier in my opinion. Hope that makes sense?

    I am clear that the service I would purchase from a planner is what I am paying for and discount passed on or not, that service can be invaluable.

    Wedding Sparrow.

    Nicky Chadwick

    As a recent bride (February this year) and also a wedding photographer I have thoughts similar to those of Wedding Sparrow.

    For me, the whole point of hiring a wedding planner would be so they could understand me perfectly and organise my wedding day exactly as I would want it. I only had a small wedding and didn’t use a wedding planner but I did get help from lots of fabulous contacts in the wedding industry who understood me and wanted me to have ‘my wedding’. Equally, if a wedding planner recommended me as a photographer to one of their clients I would want that to be because they thought I was the right person to fit with their plans, not because I paid the most commission.

    I suppose the debate will go on and on and there will be many people who don’t mind how you work it – however, I do agree that if commission is involved then the clients should know.


    PS: Your blog is really great and offers lots of inspiration to so many brides x


    Thank you to everyone for getting invlved in teh debate, thank you also Nic for your kind words and also Nicky and Lorraine for yours.
    It seems that honesty is the best policy, maybe if the couple know you are tacking a commssion then it’s OK? BUT it should never be the reason why you recomned a certain supplier to a couple, if they insist on offering a payment to you then it’s just an added bonus NOT the reason for chossing them in the first place.

    Holly Truchan

    Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for such a thought provoking post. As a wedding photographer I prefer to share my services with wedding planners and vendors that I refer work to and get work from rather than paying a commission. For example, I share my photographs with vendors so that they can build up their own portfolio so that they can promote themselves. I’ve also started to offer guest posts for other vendors and creating brochures for them using my work. I feel that this way it is still beneficial for everyone without the sleazy feel of commissions.


    An interesting debate (and a great blog post) – I’m with you, there’s just something a little uncomfortable about commissions. Funny one for you though, with half of your business in Ibiza where it’s the norm!

    Eliza Claire

    I am morally opposed to paying planners a commission. I’m a wedding photographer and I’ve been asked twice in the last few weeks, by planners, if I’d pay them 10% of my price for referrals. Both times I’ve said no, I would only ever want them to refer work to me if they’re sure that I’m the best fit for their client.

    My firm belief is that when a client books you, (s)he’s entrusting you to act in her best interests, to work as she would if she were doing the planning herself. Accepting commissions creates a conflict of interest that-in my mind-is unacceptable.

    However, I know that I’ve lost work because of this stance. I’m fortunate that I don’t need to worry, I’ll book those dates regardless, and business is good. However, if I were struggling to get work, would I compromise these ideals? I don’t know… I’d hope not.

    Helen, Bespoken Dreams

    Very stimulating post! Completely agree here with the consensus; as a fairly recent bride I had faith in my suppliers who recommended fellow suppliers on talent and good work ethic alone, exactly how I recommend. As planners, couples put their faith in us to source the best suppliers for them based on their unique criteria, not commission. I would not like to cloud a clients judgement in wondering whether a working relationship was based on recommendation or commission. Yes, it seems to be the way of the world in other business, but not the wedding world. I adhere to a code of ethics where commission is not accepted and passed directly onto my couples and intend to continue to do so!
    Thanks Kelly x


    As a photographer, I refuse to hand over a commission. I want you to refer clients to me because you like my work, not because you’ll make a decent cut. I have found that the pr groups and planners that charge stop thinking about what is best for their client and start thinking about how they can make the most money. It falls to near the line of kickbacks, and I still think the wedding society is trying to figure this out.

    On the same line, how do you feel about venues that have exclusive catering or charge a cake cutting fee if you go with any baker but their “preferred vendor”?

    Marie Haverly

    Great thought provoking topic!

    I also morally won’t take commission as I would be fearful of it’s potential to recommend on that rather than the suitability of the supplier for the client who is paying me to match them to their ideal supplier. I prefer to charge an up front transparent fee to the client that suits their budget and if the supplier I recommend decides to offer some ‘added values’ then that is a great benefit to the couple.

    I was interested to read the comment regarding hotels and venues however and wonder if this would be sensible given the amount of work involved in the booking of some venues entails. Hmmm.

    Well done Kelly, I am in full agreement with you here.

    Kristen Sherman

    I do not take commissions. If a vendor offers me a commission or a discount, I pass that on to my couple. I just don’t like the perception that I’m working for the vendor and not the couple. My job is to make sure I execute the couple’s vision for their perfect day and help provide them with the best vendors their budget can afford. If I take money from the vendor, I feel that it would come across to my clients or potential clients that I don’t have their best interest as a priority, but that of my own wallet.

    Great post!

    Sara Porter

    There’s a lot of aspects of people’s posts to be agreed with. There are a lot of aggressive suppliers that really push to be the sole supplier for an organiser/vendor but for me that would be a logistical nightmare and limit the work that I do. One of the things I love about my job is the ability to get out and about and shoot at different venues, it also keeps my portfolio fresh.
    Like Mark I have a hotel that really loves my work, recommends me and they have listed me as their main recommended photographer but I am not part of any package that they have. As a thank you I provided their events team with a thank you present, they didn’t ask for it, they don’t ask for commission and I just genuinely wanted to thank them.
    A number of clients I come across want choice with their photographer and often have veered away from the recommended, it is such a personal choice and quite rightly they want to make it themselves.
    With commission there is always the feeling of a service having a hard sell and it’s that bit that just doesn’t sit easy with me for weddings.

    Good post.

    David Millington

    What a great discussion, I’m so pleased to read that most people are singing from the same song sheet as myself. As a Wedding Photographer I rely on recommendations from Brides & Groom’s and also from Wedding Venues. The best form of advertising is a personal recommendation and I’m pleased to say that I have never taken a bung for being recommended.

    Almost without exception every Wedding Venue I shoot at recommends my Wedding Photography to couples. I know I am not the only Wedding Photographer on their lists and I wouldn’t expect to be as it is important to have choice, all couples are unique!

    If I have an enquiry for a date where I am already booked I always recommend a Wedding Photographer that I know but is also a competitor and they return the compliment.

    One advertising practice that I am totally against is paying to appear in Wedding Venues brochure’s. I get bombarded by companies asking me to pay to advertise in Hotel’s Wedding brochure’s. The Hotel’s pay nothing effectively receiving free advertising. The brochure company often advertise Wedding Suppliers that aren’t known to the Wedding Venue and have certainly never worked there!

    Keep recommendations FREE!


    Well written Kelly, as a planner myself i totally agree that any recommendations should be made based upon how the company would fit with the client and their wedding.

    Like you i found this very puzzling when i first started as i couldnt understand why a supplier would give me a ‘kick back’ for referring a client. I even met with one car company where the lady got out a laminated piece of paper and consulted a chart! i was mortified.

    I vowed to never take commission and any discounts which are passed on to me from a supplier are passed directly on to the client and this saving can always be seen on a booking form. This way i am saving the client money, finding them the best suppliers and not doing anything i dont want too.

    Unfortunately there are some companies who do operate on this basis which i feel is detrimental to wedding planners as a whole.

    Matt Tordoff

    Great article Kelly.

    You have to put these things in context, there is nothing unethical in paying or accepting commissions in certain circumstances – a significant proportion of our economy relies on it. If anyone has in recent years bought a car, bought a financial product through an IFA, bought or sold a house, booked a holiday through a travel agent or a price comparison site etc… guess what, you have paid a commission to someone.

    On the continent, particularly in the Mediterranean areas there is a well established culture of payments for referrals and ensuring the people who send you business are ‘thanked’ appropriately. If you asked them whether they considered the practice unethical they would probably look at you as if you had grown a extra head. It’s no more unethical to them than paying taxes, in fact in many cases they would consider it unethical NOT to pay someone for a referral as that is how you build trust and support each other in some local economies.

    I guess there in lies the difference though, in many cultures a commission is expected and everyone know’s it gets paid therefore everyone is comfortable with the idea. In the UK commission payments are sort of hidden away like a dirty little secret and yet they go on all the time. It’s little like bemoaning the rise in alcohol culture while uncorking your third bottle of Shiraz.

    I’m a photographer and unlike some others who have commented I would certainly consider paying a commission to a planner who referred me to a couple who subsequently booked me. It is after all the couples choice and lets face it the planner would only refer someone who they knew would provide a good service or they wouldn’t be in business as a planner very long. As long as it’s open, and clear then there should be no problem.

    Gloria & Lorella - Boutique Events

    In Italy, it’s standard practice to pay/get commissions. We chose to pass all the commissions on to our clients as discounts. We have to say that some planners who accept commissions are free of charge for the bride and groom. We still preferred not to get in the intermediation business (which is strictly regulated) and chose to be free to find the best vendor for each individual event no matter if they were willing to pay commissions or not.

    Keith Sheriff

    Hi all,
    I am a photographer. One local venue asked me if I would give couples a discount if they recommended me as they loved my work so much. I absolutely agreed (10% or more depending on the package booked) as I love working at the venue and with their whole team.

    Another local venue demanded to see my contract/invoice with a couple so that they could have 6% of the total billed. I have refused to pay this. The 6% is not for the couple, which I may have agreed to if asked nicely, but for the organiser.

    Another thing to think about is I put about 5 man days into every wedding (2 photographers = 2 lots of processing to do – so that’s 4 days already if your wondering). Other photographers work on their own and pull the card out at the end of the day and write a disk that they then hand over to the couple. Shoddy work and it shows, but that’s the way they choose to work. Do both of us deserve to be charged 6% ?

    I’m all for giving a couple a discount to meet their budget or to work at a venue that is local and I personally enjoy, but I’m not here to prop up someone else’s turnover !

    All the best,



    Hum…I am a wedding photographer and I have to say I am on the fence about this hence my googling and coming across this ad.

    Here are my thoughts as a photographer: There are tons and tons of amazing photographers out there so even if the planner is getting a kickback it doesn’t mean they don’t have the bride and grooms interest in mind. They could still have tons of photographers in their rolodex…in fact I would hope they only matched clients with me that fit my style too. I also am not a giant fan of the marketing side of business and would be happy to give a percentage to a planner as long as they knew what clientel was good for me. I personally like Offbeat quirky and natural weddings not the I have to make everybody look fake ones. I am not that photographer but there are amazing photographers who do beautiful photoshop work and there are brides that like this style. If it was common practice to give a percentage I would in a heart beat. It doesn’t even mean I would have to raise my rates….advertising is already built in so I’d just cut my marketing in other places. BUT from what I’ve read it is border line sleazy and I am anything but that so…I guess I’ll keep thinking on it. But really what is so bad about it? Is it just the perception of sleazyness? I think those that are a bit scammy already are and those planners who aren’t will still be honest.


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