Wedding couples have been left out of pocket and scrambling for venues by the failure of a string of Auckland restaurant businesses.

Two Auckland couples who spoke to the Weekend Herald lost $6000 and almost $7000 respectively and had to find new venues at the last minute.

They are among at least 18 brides and grooms affected by the insolvency of five high-profile Auckland restaurants, used for weddings and other up-market functions.

The businesses were Pontoon restaurant, Opium bar, Pinot function centre, Restaurant at Pier 21 and Scoozi in Herne Bay. They were owned by restaurateur David Williams and his wife Harbans.

According to liquidator reports, the Williams owed an aggregate sum of nearly $4 million to creditors - $1.54 million to trade creditors, more than $627,000 to Inland Revenue for unpaid PAYE and GST, $230,000 to unsecured creditors and a large amount in related-party debt.

Emma and Steve Croft discovered their wedding day plans at Pontoon were in chaos last November when they received a letter from liquidators Meltzer Mason Heath.

The couple contacted Mr Williams and were told he would refund their $6000 deposit or arrange a new venue, Mrs Croft said.

"My mum was calling every two or three days and he would say 'I'm writing you a cheque next week' but it never arrived and eventually we had to cut our losses and move on. I mean we only had four months left to do everything again."

Planning the reception in such a short time frame had been stressful, Mrs Croft said.

"It's just gutting. You set your heart on something and in your mind it's ticked off. We had to post [invitations] and find a totally new venue that was available. It felt like starting all over again."

Another affected Auckland couple, Louise Wilson and Dominic Hurley, who are due to be married in March, paid nearly $7000 to secure a date at Pinot restaurant.

They paid an initial instalment of $3270.25 on September 1, 2009 - just three days before Pinot went into liquidation. The venue accepted a second payment instalment after the date of liquidation.

The deposit request had been printed on paper with the Pinot restaurant letterhead, Miss Wilson said.

"We assumed we were paying Pinot, not the parent group of their restaurants. We had no idea the venue was already in liquidation when we paid our money."

Like the Crofts, the couple arranged to meet Mr Williams and were promised he would refund their deposit or provide another venue.

"He promised us cases of champagne to say sorry," Miss Wilson said. "We're still waiting on that champagne, we're waiting on everything."

The hardest part for both couples to accept had been Mr Williams opening other restaurants while he had not repaid their money.

Spago restaurant and the General Store in the Britomart complex were opened by the Williams' parent company, Relish Hospitality, early this year. "I received an email inviting me to their new restaurant," Mrs Croft said. "It was a bit hard to swallow. I deleted it straight away."

Miss Wilson and Mr Hurley said they had sought a legal opinion and been told the signed contract afforded them no legal protection.

"The terms and conditions protected Relish Group if we backed out. Really, there was nothing there to protect us," Miss Wilson said.

Said Mr Hurley: "They are allowed to take money for a service they knew they couldn't offer - but at the end of the day it's an ethical issue, not a legal one."

When contacted by the Weekend Herald, David Williams said he felt badly for the couples but couldn't comment on the various companies in liquidation for legal reasons.

"Obviously I feel dreadfully about the situation.

"I'm working through this to remedy it but I'm no longer a director and I'm no longer able to comment on the companies.

"I'm not running away from it but I can't honour one person and not another."

Mr Williams said the couples could contact the liquidators responsible for each company to register their concerns and requests.

David and Harbans Williams have since been banned from being company directors or managing companies for three years and nine months.

In a report resulting from the collapses, deputy registrar of companies Peter Barker wrote, "Each company was clearly insolvent and the Williamses were the directors responsible for the management of each company."

News of the ban came as a pleasant surprise to Miss Wilson.

"We had resigned ourselves to the fact we weren't getting our money back but it's great news that he's not able to use our money to open another business."