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Negative Online WeddingAn upscale inn in upstate New York received a barrage of criticism recently for a policy that addressed online negative reviews posted by dissatisfied brides, grooms and their guests. In Hudson, New York, the Union Street Guest House (USGH) published a warning, now removed from its website, that stated wedding couples would be fined $500 for all negative reviews posted on Yelp by either the couple themselves or by their guests. The couple would be able to recoup the fine once the comments were taken off the media site. Management attempted to explain the policy by stating that the facility was an historic building furnished with "hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines." The implication is that it is the couple's responsibility to apprise people expecting the creature comforts of a corporate hotel that the USGH is not that kind of hotel.

The Backlash

The controversy grew on social media until it peaked, with more than 900 posts with one-star reviews found on Yelp in the course of two days. Chris Wagoner, the owner of the hotel, admitted to making a mistake with her post on Facebook: "That's not the type of business that we run. It was a case of a joke gone very, very bad." Many other vendors were quick to chime in on the kerfuffle. Several respondents praised social media outlets for providing space to get feedback that could improve service. Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner said, "What wedding vendors should realize is that although unpleasant to read, negative feedback can allow them to learn and improve, moving forward." Others condemned any business that includes a warning, such as the one USGH used, as it can imply that they are trying to hide something. A diverse group weighed in by saying clients should read the contract and spot the red flag that suggests a business is going out of its way to protect itself. Types of vendors include:

  • Hotel and event sites
  • Florists
  • Caterers
  • Planners
  • Photographers

A Growing Practice

Despite the general outcry, however, some lawyers are acknowledging that contract inclusions that prohibit negative reviews are becoming increasingly popular. Kendra Stephen at Supra Legal Group helps vendors remove negative reviews from websites. She says her clients are concerned about the financial impact of bad reviews online; they ask about preventative clauses all the time. Stephen advises, "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." She adds that the clause may only apply to the couple themselves, and not to other people in the party or guests.

Look Before You Leap

The major take-away from the USGH controversy seems to be to go into a relationship with a vendor with your eyes open. Planning a big event successfully requires good communication. If a vendor appears to be more interested in protecting his or her business than providing good service, it might indicate a problem down the road. It is also perfectly reasonable to take one's time when reading a service contract; better yet, have a lawyer look it over. Your intuition may tell you whether or not a vendor is the one for you. Even so, it is a good idea to proceed with caution before services are rendered, rather than react with anger after.

Another point to consider is that while many people protested that the USGH management was out of line with their policy, they do have a point regarding responsibility. If your dream event involves a boutique hotel filled with antiques and period furniture, with no spa, television or ice machines, your guests should be aware. It is courteous to allow them time to either adjust their expectations or to find alternate accommodations.

Category: Get Ordained

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