POed with your venue, photographer, florist or any of your other wedding vendors? Read this before you even think about posting a dissatisfied review to warn other brides!
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The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York incited a firestorm of controversy this week when reports surfaced that they were fining newlyweds $500 for every negative review posted online. According to their website archive, the warning (which has since been removed from the hotel's website) also applies to any wedding guests who write unfavorable reviews, as well as anyone who stays there to attend nuptials at another venue. If they remove it on Yelp or elsewhere, then the bride and groom get their money back.
Their management's reasoning is that "your guests may not understand what we offer — therefore we expect you to explain that to them." As an old but restored building, the rooms are designed to look old in an artistic "vintage" way and they contain "hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines" so Marriott or Hilton-frequenting guests should steer clear.
Customers have been venting their frustrations about the policy on Yelp for the past year (rightfully so!), but it wasn't until media outlets like Reddit and The New York Post got involved that things really got heated. The hotel's attempt to suppress criticism ended up backfiring, big time: Over 900 one-star reviews have been posted on Yelp in the past two days, many of which have been deleted.
USGH owner Chris Wagoner responded to the backlash in a Facebook post, stating that "Including the fine for negative reviews as part of our policy was a mistake. That’s not the type of business that we run. It was a case of a joke gone very, very bad."
However, posts like this one argue otherwise:
After being alerted to this issue, we investigated further: Is this an isolated case or are couples unknowingly putting themselves at risk by airing their grievances online? We opened the conversation up to vendors and lawyers, and here are what a few had to say:
Photo Credit: Casey Durgin Photography
Tom Clarke of Thomas Robert Clarke Photography:
"For what it is worth, I was recently voted one of the Top 10 Best in Philly and have effectively been #1 on Yelp in my region for over four years. As a vendor who works harder than anyone else to ensure customer satisfaction, I have a real issue with anyone who builds clauses into their contract prohibiting the couple's freedom of speech. If I screw things up royally, the couple has a right to spread the word. If I've done nothing wrong and they are nitpicking minor grievances, then I have the ability to challenge their claims. Frankly, the online reviewing community has an amazing filter to see such nonsense for what it is."
Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner:
"Any company that uses a clause of this nature appears to have something to fear, and it's most likely because they don't stand behind their service...What wedding vendors should realize is that although unpleasant to read, negative feedback can allow them to learn and improve, moving forward. A good vendor will seek your input throughout the process, starting from the time you first meet with them and continuing even after the wedding has ended. Check your contract to see if they seem more focused on covering their behinds than being fair to both sides. If the verbiage is defensive in nature and indicates an overabundance of escape routes, that could be a red flag of trouble to come. Even if a contract doesn't clearly state that negative reviews are prohibited, you certainly don't want to work with a vendor who doesn't seem like they truly have your best interests at heart. Use your intuition as a guide to how things will go down the road. If they don't want to hear what you have to say, then chances are it will reflect in the quality of their work and yes, you may have something negative to say about it.
Leann Moore of Whimsical Floral Design:
"Take the time to read the entire contract from beginning to end. It's okay to ask the vendor to clarify any areas that don't make sense.Take note of any and all areas that refer to fees, charges and costs. There should be a section outlining fees that might occur after the wedding and the circumstances where these fees will arise. If you see anything related to posting reviews, I would run the other way. Vendors can sue for negative feedback if the review is defamation of character, but that only applies if your review is false in any way or you make claims that can't be proven. So clauses such as this are only there because they most likely know their service is not up to par. It's a disgusting practice and I can assure you that most of us wouldn't dream of doing such a thing."
David Reischer, attorney and the founder of LegalAdvice.com:
"A 'non-disparagement' clause in a contract prohibits a party from leaving a negative review for the performance of services rendered. This inclusion in contracts between wedding planners, photographers, caterers and a whole host of other vendors involved in the wedding event industry is becoming much more frequent. This is due to the proliferation of online review websites that may detrimentally influence the ability to acquire future new customers that may discover these negative comments...Essentially, the clause prohibits a bride from leaving negative reviews, ratings or comments even if they are unhappy with the services rendered. The damages associated with the breach of such a clause may lead to substantial monetary damages against the aggrieved bride. Many courts from multiple jurisdictions have recently allowed for the enforcement of these type of clauses in such service agreements between wedding professionals and brides. It is incumbent on the bride to either read the contract in its entirety herself or even better, to have a licensed legal professional to review the agreement in advance of the wedding and certainly prior to execution of any documents.
Kendra Stephen, attorney at Supra Legal Group:
"I am the lawyer business owners usually call to have their false reviews removed from the Internet. My clients are constantly asking me about adding a clause that prohibits negative online reviews, because they are afraid it will hurt their reputation. I always tell them that they cannot stop a client from telling the truth. However, they can add a penalty for posting false negative reviews (defamation), because that is an actual claim they can file a lawsuit for in court. Another thing to keep in mind is that the provision in their contract only applies to the bride and groom — it doesn't stop their family, friends and wedding guests from posting about the company."
Plus, find out What to Do if You and a Vendor Don't Get Along.
Tell us: Have you encountered a similar situation where a wedding vendor tried to ban you from posting negative feedback online? If so, email us at email@example.com.