Recently our friend, who is 55 and marrying this spring (her third marriage), has told her friends that she intends to host a potluck wedding. She is inviting 100 people to an estate property lent to them for the weekend. She and her husband-to-be will ask guests to bring an assigned dish. They are both employed, own two homes (they intend to consolidate into a single household) and are planning a post-wedding vacation. Many of her friends (myself included) are somewhat distressed that she made this decision, indicating that she did not want to pay for caterers. Several friends have suggested economical alternatives. But she is now more committed than ever to require her guests to contribute all the food, beverages, paper products and alcohol. Very specific wedding gifts have also been requested.
We will dutifully bring whatever we are assigned (fingers crossed that we are not assigned filet mignon), but we are still holding out hope we can change her thinking.
Any suggestions about how we should approach her? Or should we just grin and bring the food?
It’s hard to propose a solution that doesn’t risk your friendship other than to advise you to grin and bear it, be your most gracious self and bring whatever is assigned to you. Normally I would suggest that, as good friends, it would be kind to speak to this oblivious and insensitive bride-to-be and try to steer her in a better direction. But it sounds as if attempts by others to do so have her further committed to this over-the-top potluck idea.
Don’t misunderstand me. Potluck wedding receptions are fine in communities where the potluck tradition is entrenched, or when it is a family or community gift to the couple. Usually the community or family that proposes the idea to the couple, not the other way around. Often, it’s not what you do but how you go about doing it that can either gain enthusiastic support or raise hackles.
If you do want to brave the conversation, try to help her see that her plan is a turnoff to her friends. Why should her guests be hosting her wedding? The plan might fly if the couple rents the glass and tableware, provides the drinks and main course and asks (not obligates) guests to bring a dessert or hors d’oeuvre of their choosing. Among good friends at a small wedding, that could be fun. At a third-time’s-the-charm (one hopes) wedding, it’s also a nice way to participate without feeling awkward about bringing or not bringing a gift.
Which brings us to comment on another of this bride’s misconceptions. Guests who gave a gift the first time around aren’t obligated to give gifts for subsequent marriages. Close friends and family may wish to, but it is entirely their choice. And while a registry may be useful and specific (yes, a couple might prefer a particular toaster), the choice of gift is always up to the giver.
You can explain that her potluck plan may backfire, and that invited guests may be so annoyed by her demands to cater her wedding and purchase a gift that the regrets may outnumber the acceptances. Gift or not, the fact that the venue is an “estate” conjures images of luxury and wealth; this isn’t helping her cause.
As you can see, as nicely as you might do it, pointing out any of these faux pas might risk your friendship with the bride, especially if she’s entrenched in her position. So, having gone full circle, we’re back to my original advice: smile, bring what you’re told to bring, and pray it’s not filet.
Is a Reception?
I am planning my June wedding. I want to have a ceremony, but I do not want a reception because I cannot afford it. The catering and venue costs in New Jersey are ridiculous. I’d rather spend $20,000 on a house.
Can you please tell me if it is poor taste to have just a ceremony? I want just a cake cutting, photos and hors d’oeuvres for family only. I want to send an explanation letter with my invitations so guests understand the importance of the union, not the reception.
I’m getting a lot of negative feelings from family and friends — none of whom are contributing to the wedding budget.
What is the point of a wedding reception, and is one necessary? Good questions, especially as reception costs can eat up 40 to 50 percent of a typical wedding budget. A reception allows guests to congratulate the newly married couple personally. In turn, the couple and their families offer hospitality, in the form of warm greetings and food or drink. Therefore, while receptions — whether simple or grand — are not required, they usually add to the magic of the wedding day.
Your wish for a low-key celebration with cake, photos and nibbles is sensible, traditional, “in good taste” and could be perfect for you. A simple reception following a ceremony is actually the way many weddings have traditionally been celebrated, and it continues to be a popular choice today. In fact, the norm for wedding receptions in some locales is still to serve cake and nonalcoholic beverages immediately after the ceremony, giving the newlyweds an opportunity to greet their guests. If your ceremony site has a reception room, you won’t have to incur the cost of another venue. Or you could keep costs down by having your reception at home, at a relative’s house or even at a local park.
Perhaps the negativity stems from the way you are delivering the message. For example, saying, “We think a big reception isn’t worth the money” implies your guests aren’t worth your time or money, either. While you do have good reasons to want to plan a small reception (saving for a house and keeping the focus on the ceremony itself), frame your reasoning positively. Emphasize how important it is to you to have your family and close friends with you as you say your vows. And you don’t need to send an explanation, especially one intended to instruct guests on where their priorities should be. That, too, could be perceived negatively.
Another potential issue comes to mind. If you want to have only your family at the reception, that’s fine, but I caution you that it could be problematic to exclude from the reception the friends who were invited to the ceremony. Think about the hurt feelings if you conveyed the message: “You can come to watch me get married, but you’re not invited to the reception.” Instead, why not keep the ceremony guest list small and invite everyone to the reception as well? Best wishes.
Peggy Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute and the great-granddaughter-in-law of its namesake. The institute, in Burlington, Vt., maintains and updates the etiquette advice of Emily Post, publishes books by the founders’ heirs and presents seminars.
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