Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Q & A: Pay-Your-Own-Way Wedding Etiquette

Reader's Question: I have an etiquette question that I can use your advice on. My partner and I are, like so many other people, trying to plan a September wedding on a tight budget. We'll have a good number of family and friends coming in from out of town. We'd like to spend as much time with our out-of-town guests as possible and want to make more of a wedding weekend than just the one night event. My question is: If we plan to have a morning-after brunch, is it considered tacky to not host/pay for and it and just, well, invite people to come out to brunch (and pay their own way)? Thanks in advance!

I'm totally biased about this question! I'm the kind of person who loves to coordinate events with my nearest and dearest, and yet I'm also extremely frugal and don't like to spend too much money hosting things. I often find myself planning events and then asking folks to pay their own way. (I don't even want to know what official etiquette books have to say about my "egregious" behavior!)

From my perspective, there are a couple things to keep in mind when attempting to pull this off without offending people (too much):
  1. Be Clear about the Expectations from the Beginning: For my 30th birthday party, for example, I rented out a camp cabin and hosted a big slumber party for a dozen of my friends. I sent out an agenda well in advance that clearly laid out each component and what I was paying for versus what they would need to pay for. If you're clear with people from the get-go, then they can make choices about what they think is reasonable. The wedding website is a good place to clarify these kinds of details.
  2. Cover as Much as Your Budget Allows: Matt and I wanted to honor the fact that our guests had to fork over a lot of cash to join us for our celebration of love and commitment by paying for as much as we could. For us, that included the Welcome Picnic (make-your-own-sandwiches, chips, watermelon, and chocolate cherry dessert with vanilla ice-cream) and the Wedding Reception dinner. Whenever possible, I would recommend spending less money on things that benefit the fewest number of people (the dress, shoes, hair, makeup, centerpieces, etc.) and spend more on the things that affect the greatest number of people (food, drinks, etc.).
  3. Keep the Costs as Low as Possible: People often expend large amount of money to attend weddings, especially out-of-town guests. Once you add up the airline tickets, rental car, present, accommodations, meals, and incidentals, you're looking at a serious tab. The host can really help by providing low-cost options for guests. For example, in your case, I would intentionally pick an inexpensive place for brunch to respect your guests' pocketbooks. Matt and I tried to be as kind to our guests as possible by booking accommodations that cost $25-$35/person/night.
  4. Remember that "Those Who Matter Don't Mind and Those Who Mind Don't Matter": It's an adage that can really help take the stress out of wedding planning (even though it's not entirely true and there are certainly some gray--rather than all black-and-white--cases. In general, though, the more you limit your guest list to people you are truly friends with, the less you have to worry about being judged. For the most part, people will be ecstatic to have more opportunities to celebrate with you during your wedding weekend.
I'm definitely expecting to hear divergent opinions on this topic, but those are my quick thoughts!

2000dollarwedding kindred spirits: Please take it from here!

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E. said...

My favorite suggestion I have seen is put up a section on the website of "non-hosted activities" and then have different activities and how much guests should budget for the activity. For us, we will suggest going to the local aquarium on Friday night ("We would love to show you around our aquarium. Fridays are a discount night to enter the aquarium, so the price is $8.")
and on Saturday, we will possibly do a harbor cruise ("the best way to see Baltimore is from the water - cruise tickets cost $20 and should be purchased in advance"). We will probably have some other suggestions on there too. We'll be hosting our brunch, but if we didn't, I think we would say, "Please join us for brunch at our favorite brunch spot, Helga's Cafe. Helga's serves great locally grown organic cuisine. Guests should budget between $8-$15 per person to dine at Helga's."

The thing we are doing though, is we booked a hotel that has a complimentary breakfast - so we might suggest a time that we will be eating breakfast at the hotel, and guests can join us for that, and then nobody has to pay. Another idea is to find a flat-rate buffet or something, so everybody knows what they are paying going in.

If guests are local, you could also do a potluck-style brunch - but asking your guests to buy donuts, bagels, pastries, and yogurt for however many people does seem a little rude. The other thing I would stay away from is buying the food at Costco and then asking guests to chip in X amount per person. That never works out unless you do it like a college beer party and have them pay for their plate at the door, and that just seems...tacky...to me.

Over the Rainbow said...

Oooooh. Ellie is smart. I think her suggested wording is perfect.

Also, I think you need to be clear that paid events are completely optional. While it's fine to expect people to pay for an optional event, you also have to be okay with them not attending if they can't afford it or don't want to spend the money. As long as expectations are clear and no one feels pressured to do anything they don't want to do, everything should be fine.

Carrie said...

What JM and MJ said. It's fine to have a no-host morning-after brunch, if you make it clear that it's optional. Accept that some people may choose not to come because they don't want to spend the money. If you keep it inexpensive, this will be much less of an issue -- how about IHOP? (IHOP would be a super fun post-wedding brunch! Maybe I'll do this.)

(Also -- if people don't come, don't assume it was necessarily because of the money. They may just be partied out. I didn't attend a complimentary breakfast after one wedding, because I was exhausted and all I wanted was a nice quiet peaceful cup of coffee and a newspaper. They were great people, but I was just tired.)

Anonymous said...

I'm very much on the other side. I absolutely hate it when people have celebratory events and then require me to fork over money if I want to join them. Yes, I love you and want to celebrate with you, but that doesn't mean I want to/am able to spend $X at the restaurant of your choice. My complete distaste for this means of celebration is made worse because in my area it's all anyone does and they most certainly DON'T take anyone's budgets into consideration...but I've always disliked it.

That said...I do think there's something very different about having the one and only event (actual wedding, birthdays, baby/wedding showers, etc) be something that you have to pay for vs. having "extras" be something you ask people to pay their way for. They still get to go and celebrate with you for the main event for no fee...so it's not the same issue of pay up or don't get to celebrate. As long as it's clear in advance, I think in that situation it's ok. Though I would still if at all possible prefer to host or attend something simpler/cheaper that guests didn't have to pay for.

Roxanne said...

I think Sara's outline is pretty spot on! I know the feeling of not being able to pay for everything you want to do for your wedding, but the people who want to spend time with you will pay some money for a brunch.

2 nights before my wedding I had some out of town family in, and we all went to dinner at Two Row's in Houston, with the expectation that it was every man for himself. Two of my family members ended up paying for everyone's food!

A-L, said...

This is some fabulous advice. Thanks Sara and Ellie! I'm hoping to do a wedding weekend too, and am not really sure if we'll be able to pay for anything beyond the rehearsal dinner (to which pretty much everyone will be invited) and the reception. Your ideas will not go unheeded!

Anonymous said...

Rather than a brunch, we're just telling all our guests (informally - emails, texts, o mentioning it when we see them etc) that we are heading to our local park for a picnic/afternoon hang out the next day. The basic info is "bring a picnic/your kids/dog/friends and come hang out if you want to, or not if you don't". For us it gets around both our limited budget and some complicated family dynamics that mean we don't want a shindig hosted by one side or another so much as neutral territory to spend a bit more time with people who would like to!

Lauren said...

I got married in downtown Boston on a Sunday, and had appetizers for people on Saturday night, but wanted my family to be able to have dinner together on Friday if they wanted (but I didn't want to pay for it). My solution was to organize a walk over to a giant touristy food court in an old historic building on Friday night at dinner time. My mom went over early and claimed a huge table (we put paper table cloths and cheesy party store decorations down to claim it) and since it was a food court, everyone just bought what they wanted and brought it over to eat. It was hugely fun, and there was never a question about who was paying because it was a food court (also not expensive.) Similarly, I didn't have a brunch the day after my wedding, but there was a Panera down the street, and by chance, about 60 people from both of our families ended up going there for breakfast. Again, obviously buying their own food. So for me, counter service worked really well since it saved the awkward "everyone look at see how much they need to chip in for the bill" at the end.

Jessica said...

I totally agree with Lauren on the counter service. I hate going to big group functions where one bill shows up at the end of a meal. I would recommend going to a place that has counter service, no service - like a park or other public place (maybe suggest some of your favorite bakeries or delis in the area) or arranging in advance for separate checks for everyone. Another idea is to have breakfast gift bags delivered to the hotels in the morning - homemade jam and scones for your out-of-town guests to bring with them to meet you in the park that morning. Just provide a few blankets and some coffee!

Anonymous said...

need help, found perfect wedding venue, with chapel in nj, very cheap. problem is park do not allow alcohol, any ideas, i really love the venue. there is not permits available for alcohol drinking on park.

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