Venue double-books wedding reception two weeks out

The couple were looking forward to celebrating their big day with family and friends. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
The couple were looking forward to celebrating their big day with family and friends. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald

An Auckland couple were left devastated after their wedding reception venue took a more lucrative booking two weeks before they are due to wed.

April Shwe, 27, and Bobby Paul, 30, booked in July to have their wedding reception at Tom Tom Bar and Eatery near Auckland's Victoria Park on the Sunday of Auckland Anniversary Weekend.

They paid a $500 deposit, visited the venue multiple times and it was only when they met with the event organiser on Tuesday morning to confirm the menu they were told they could no longer have the reception there.

Shwe, a recruiter, and her fiancee Paul, a gym instructor, were told a big event organiser wanted the venue on the same date for a party which was worth $20,000 so took priority. Shwe's booking had an estimated minimum spend of $3000 not including drinks.

Tom Tom's owner told the Herald the incident was due to "confusion" due to a new events manager.

The couple were left absolutely stunned as they had planned the entire wedding around the venue. They were getting married at St Lukes Church in Remuera and had chosen the venue for its proximity and because it had a large space for dancing and wheelchair access for her partner's mother-in law.

A balloon arch, photo booth and venue stylist were all booked for Tom Tom.

When asked what the venue would do to compensate, the couple was told the venue next door La Zeppa was available at the same price and that Tom Tom could possibly pay for some hot chips to compensate for its smaller meals.

Shwe said it was liking getting a hand me down to the venue they actually wanted. La Zeppa also was not as big as Tom Tom and only had capacity for 80 of their 95 guests.

She also worried that with a bigger party happening at the neighbouring restaurant they may have trouble hearing speeches or their own music if they were in La Zeppa's adjacent outdoor area.

"If I could I would just cancel the reception at this stage, but we've already pre-paid for everything else... I'm still lost for words."

The majority of their guests live in Auckland and some family members are flying over from Australia.

While Shwe didn't have a contract with Tom Tom she did have an invoice and an email confirming the venue had received the deposit and blocked out the dates for them.

"The thing that really concerned me is she [event organiser] said this has happened before. They cancel on people if someone was going to pay more money on the day.

"I was like, 'In the future please don't, I'm begging you, don't take any other wedding bookings if you do this to people because that's horrible. It's traumatic. What's the whole point of the deposit, where's the integrity.'

"It just made me feel so powerless. Just because I didn't have more money than whoever else is going to book this place."

The couple had saved for the wedding themselves and were now worried they would end up spending more than they had budgeted for at another venue.

They are yet to receive their deposit back.

Shwe said she left the meeting in tears thinking they might have to have the reception in their backyard . She had yet to touch base with La Zeppa's owners.

Even if Tom Tom was to back down now, the venue felt tainted for them, she said.

The couple planned to fly overseas for their honeymoon a few weeks after the wedding so could not postpone it.

"It just feels like they have really screwed us over."

The couple have been dating for eight years and got engaged in January 2019. But after Shwe's mother died from cancer two years ago and Paul's mother had a stroke they decided to get married sooner than later to ensure all their loved ones were there to share it with them.

Tom Tom owner Rav Brar told the Herald the incident was due to "confusion" due to a new events manager.

"The understanding was that if we could move them next door and not compromise their plans - only then we would let them move. Because we understand that it's a wedding - we host weddings all the time - it's just unfortunate that our events manager didn't pass on the right message.

"She's experienced but she's new to the job and due to the nature of the business she just didn't know."

He had contacted Shwe and offered both options.

"We will honour her booking because she booked before anyone else did."

Shwe was still thinking about whether to go with Tom Tom or La Zeppa, he said.

Shwe told the Herald she was yet to decide whether to go ahead with the Tom Tom booking or try to find another last minute venue.

She also questioned Brar's explanation for the cancellation.

"How can it be that big of a miscommunication? Clearly they've taken the other booking.

"If it is a mishap, it's not a small mishap. It kind of put us in the shit."

Consumer head of research Jessica Wilson said the couple would be well within their rights to ask for compensation because the restaurant had verbally agreed to give them the venue on that date and they had paid a deposit based on that.

An MBIE spokesperson said the couple's rights depended on what was agreed between them and the wedding venue, even if it was in a conversation.

"If the contract has been breached, or the services were misrepresented to them, the couple may be entitled to seek compensation for any loss that they suffer as a result."

If the venue did not provide compensation, then the couple could make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal.

University of Auckland Associate Professor Alexandra Sims said it was a good example of how bad the current law was.

She said usually the venue would return the deposit, but a contract could contain a clause allowing the wedding venue to keep the deposit which would be classed as an unfair contract term.

"While NZ has a law against unfair contract terms, the law is pretty much useless because only the Commerce Commission has the ability to go to court over the use of unfair contract terms."


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