what would emily do?

I get asked etiquette questions a lot! Probably because I have the Emily Post Etiquette book bible in my office. So this week’s Wedding Wednesday is all about what Emily (and her family) says and what I think. I know not everyone will agree, but my rule of thumb is you HOST a wedding and INVITE guests so think of your wedding day like a party at your home – how do you treat your guests? And if you are a guest… Act like one. Dress for the occasion and RSVP! Here are the five most asked etiquette questions I get:

#1. The big debate – A Cash Bar: 

Meg: When you come to my home I do not charge $5 for a drink so why should I when I invite you to my wedding? I know it is expensive to offer an open bar but I think it’s something you should budget for, even if it’s just offering white and red wine and beer. Spend less on your decor and treat your guests like guests. If an open bar is not an option then at least give your wedding party, helpers and family free drinks – they worked hard to make your day look good. Finally, if you do plan to have a cash bar, be sure to let your guests know so they can bring cash and don’t be surprised or upset if your guests are tailgating in the parking lot. I’ve been to more cash bar weddings then open bar weddings so I think I am loosing this debate.

Emily: “Just imagine being invited to a dinner party at which the host or hostess handed guests a bill. You’d be shocked. A wedding is no different; the couple and their families are hosts, not restaurateurs. You might cut costs by serving simple hors d’oeuvres, wedding cake, and nonalcoholic punch at an afternoon reception; planning a home reception to eliminate the expense of a rented hall or hotel; or limiting the number of guests you invite. You don’t have to have a bar; if you want champagne, you could limit it to one or two glasses per guest for toasting. There are many ways to stage a beautiful wedding on a tight budget, but charging guests isn’t one of them.”

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#2. The invite:

Meg: If you are inviting someone to your wedding, they’re allowed to bring a guest so account for that. If you are inviting a family with children and the children are over the age of sixteen, they can bring a guest. If you are inviting a couple but don’t want to invite their children, don’t put the children’s names on the invite. That being said, if you receive a wedding invitation and it does not say ” To Mr. and Mrs. Smith and family” or “To Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Johnny” then assume Johnny is not invited. Don’t ask if Johnny can come. If you are inviting people to your wedding, make them feel like it is a special occasion – avoid Facebook invites or a mass emails. Your wedding day is a special day and by making your guests feel special, they’ll be excited to attend. I think the invite is the book cover or wine label of the event and personally, I judge books by their covers and wine by their labels. 

Emily: When your guests receive an invitation to your wedding, they receive an impression of your preparation. The invitations convey the style, tone, formality and details of your upcoming the event. They also reflect your personal sense of style. As always, it is important to remember when formatting them that consideration for your guests is a primary concern.

Wedding E-vitations are practical, thrifty, and green. And if those were the only criteria for sending electronic wedding invitations, they’d be used by more couples.  Consider these points:

  • Do all your guests use email and check it regularly? This may be the case for your younger guests, but not for your Great-Aunt. Some services also require Internet access to view and respond to the invitation.
  • Will it get delivered? While posted snail mail has been known to go astray, emails can fall victim to misspelled addresses and spam blockers.
  • Is it personal and special enough? A wedding invitation is one of the most personal invitations issued, and an electronic version may not convey that sentiment.
  • Will it make responding easier or more timely? Not necessarily. The good guest will respond right away, but for the rest of the world, once the email notice falls below the screen, it may be out of sight, out of mind.

On the plus side, their fun factor makes them great for a wedding shower or attendant’s party.

Guests, respect your invitation. Do not ask your host or hostess if you can bring a date or your children. The invitation will be addressed to the people invited. If you may bring a guest, your invitation will read “Mr. John Phelps and guest.” If your children are invited, they will either receive their own personal invitations or their names will be listed under yours on the envelope. This is not the time to question your host’s decision, to argue or to beg for an exception. And, please, do not add their names to a reply card or show up with them anyway! 

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#3. RSVP: 

Meg: If you want people to RSVP then give them an RSVP to respond to. Don’t set high expectations that people will RSVP online or by email. When I get an invite in the mail with a RSVP, I am 80% more excited about the wedding. It’s a fact. As a guest, reply as soon as you can even if they give you a few months.

Emily: “Response or reply cards are just for the reception to give you an accurate head count. They are not used for ceremony-only invitations. The card and envelope are engraved or printed in the same style and paper stock as the invitation, but in a smaller size. Often they are included as part of an invitation set. It’s a good idea to pre-address and stamp the reply envelope to make it as easy as possible for guests to RSVP via mail. If you would like to receive replies via email or telephone, that’s fine — just include the necessary information on the response card and skip the envelope. It’s also a good idea to include a “reply by” date, usually two to three weeks before the wedding. This gives hosts time to follow up with guests who have yet to reply and to give accurate head counts to wedding vendors, such as caterers.

RSVP is French for “please respond” (répondez s’il vous plaît). Your most important obligation as a guest is to respond to the invitation immediately, especially if you are unable to attend. At the very least, it allows your host and hostess enough time to give an accurate count to the caterer. There is usually a card to return with your reply. If not, you may write a formal reply or a note indicating your intention.” Details_MG_5133

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#4. Gifts – registries and favours:

Meg: You can register to wherever you want… just don’t tell your guests on the invite. It is the responsibility of the guests to ask your wedding party or family member if you’ve registered. If you’d prefer cash over gifts, cross your fingers. Favours are less common these days and honestly, I am all for a couple making a donation on the guests behalf to a charity or offering an open bar instead. Regardless of what you get or don’t get from a guest, you must send a thank you card to all of your guest for attending.

As a guest, if you accept an invitation to a wedding, you should give a gift to the couple (and have one year to do so). You should not feel obliged to stick to their registry. I actually dislike registries and prefer coming up with my own idea. The general rule is your gift should be at least the value of your seat at the wedding. Meaning, if they’re paying $50/plate, A couple should spend $100 on a gift. I know this is a regional debate as I almost fell off my chair when someone at work in Montreal told me they generally spend $200-300 on a wedding gift.

Emily: Don’t include registry or gift information with your invitation. It is in poor taste to insert a list of places where the bride and groom are registered or a checklist of the things they want and don’t want. Contrary to popular myth, the happy couple does not have a year’s grace period. All thank you notes should be written within three months of the receipt of the gift. Ideally, a response should be written on the day you receive a wedding gift. If that’s not possible, set a daily goal. It’s a lot easier to write three or four notes a day than to have to write a hundred notes in a month after the wedding! 

Ten Dos and Don’ts of Thank-You Notes

  1. Do personalize your notes and make reference to the person as well as the gift.
  2. Do remember that a gift should be acknowledged with the same courtesy and generous spirit in which it was given. 
  3. Do be enthusiastic, but don’t gush. Avoid saying a gift is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen unless you really mean it. 
  4. Don’t send form letters or cards with printed messages and just your signature; don’t use email or post a generic thank you on your wedding web site in lieu of a personal note. 
  5. Do promptly acknowledge the receipt of shipped gifts by sending a note right away or calling and following up with a written note in a day or two. 
  6. Don’t mention that you plan to return a gift or that you are dissatisfied in any way. 
  7. Don’t tailor your note to the perceived value of the gift; no one should receive a perfunctory note. 
  8. Do refer to the way you will use a gift of money. Mentioning the amount is optional. 
  9. Don’t include wedding photos or use photo cards if it will delay sending the note. 
  10. Don’t use being late as an excuse not to write. Even if you are still sending notes after your first anniversary, keep writing!

If you are invited to the ceremony and/or reception, you should send a gift, whether you are attending or not. Generally, gifts are sent to the bride in advance of the wedding. In some localities, gifts are brought to the reception and placed on a special table. If you hear from family that the couple would prefer a charitable donation—as in the case of an older couple or an encore wedding—please respect their wishes. If you receive an announcement after the wedding has taken place, you may send a gift if you wish, but you have no obligation to do so. It is nice to acknowledge the announcement with a card or a note expressing your best wishes.

“Wedding favors are a charming custom but are in no way required or expected. Don’t let a retailer pressure you into an unnecessary expense. If giving favors is meaningful to your family heritage and if it is not adding a financial burden to what the bride’s family is already providing, by all means go ahead. After all, its your wedding!” Details_MG_5253

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#5. What not to wear:

Meg: Is it a Nova Scotia thing to not give a damn? I often think so. I dream about going to a British wedding just so I can wear a fancy hat! A fault to being Canada’s Ocean Playground is people treat summer weddings like a day at a playground. Shorts, tees, flip flops and hoodies are a guarantee. Obviously, if the invite says ‘dress casual’ or ‘bring a sweater, it may get chilly’, then by all means, do so. But if there is no mention of attire, then put a little effort into your wardrobe or at least iron your cargo shorts.

Emily: “People see weddings as an opportunity to dress up and look their very best.  Guests’ clothing should be appropriate to an occasion that is, at its heart, a serious ceremony and also often one that takes place in a house of worship. The wedding invitation and the time of the wedding will be your best guide to its formality.  Other factors will influence your dress choice:

  • The nature of the service: Is it secular or religious?  Does the religion or the culture of the bridal couple require head coverings?  Would bare shoulders and arms or open-toed shoes be offensive?
  • Local custom: some parts of the country are more conservative than others.

Guest Fashion Faux Pas

  • Clothing that’s too skimpy or overtly provocative.
  • Costumes, except when you’ve been expressly asked to dress to the wedding theme.
  • Blue jeans and T-shirts.
  • Any jewelry that calls attention to your own faith when attending a service of another faith.
  • Baseball or sports caps; large fashion hats that block other guests’ view of the ceremony.
  • Casual shoes or boots with formal or semiformal outfits.
  • Sunglasses worn indoors (except for a legitimate medical reason).
  • Boutonnieres or corsages unless supplied by the hosts.

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Some of this may be obvious but I’ve been to weddings where guests who RSVP’d No have shown up. I’ve been to weddings without my wallet and surprise… a cash bar. I’ve seen jeans and tailgating (okay, I’ve tailgated) but I have also enjoyed super classy events and great parties. I don’t think you need to follow all of these rules but they are certainly great to think about before you make decisions on budgets and planning.

Please let me know if you agree or disagree and I’d love to hear more etiquette stories and questions!

psst. If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe and share. xomeg

Photo 2 and 3 by Shannon George Photography

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