25 Jul 2022

The etiquette of hen parties

Preparations for the wedding are underway, the bridal team has been selected, and the bride is contemplating her future.

The hen party is the perfect way to bid goodbye to the bride’s single life and to herald new beginnings. It is traditionally organised by the chief bridesmaid, with the help of the other bridesmaids and close friends. Other permutations are increasingly common – often a group of the bride’s closest friends take charge, or one highly organised individual steps up to the plate and takes on the role of party-planner.

Only wedding guests should be invited to the hen party, and family invitations are a matter of personal choice – the mother (and future mother-in-law) of the bride may choose to attend the more genteel and sedate proceedings that characterise the start of many hen parties, such as an afternoon tea or spa session, leaving her daughter and friends to party into the night. If mixed generations are involved in the hen party, it might be a good idea to divide it into two parts, consigning the rowdier antics to the evening and planning less challenging and more indulgent activities for the daytime.

Whoever organises the hen party must budget carefully, and ensure that all the costs – including the bride’s share – are divided between the attendees (a breakdown of costs should be emailed to guests before the event, and agreed upon). It is important at this point to consider who is coming and to think about everyone’s budget – an expensive weekend abroad may well be beyond the reach of some of the guests, or may stretch some people’s finances to breaking point. Nobody is going to enjoy a hen party if it puts them under severe financial strain, so it might be preferable to think creatively about unusual ways to enjoy a weekend together (eg a glamping trip to the country with long walks and cosy pubs) rather than defaulting to the lazier option of distant destinations, five-star hotels and expensive meals out.

First and foremost, the organisers must remember that a hen party is specifically a celebration of, and for, the bride. It is not an excuse for a group get-together, and it is important that, when planning activities, the bride’s character and tastes are everyone’s prime consideration. If the bride is a sporty, outdoorsy person, for example, she may be much more likely to enjoy an afternoon of white water rafting than a beauty makeover or trip to a spa. It is all too easy for the majority of guests, and their tastes, to carry the day when planning hen party activities, and the event irrevocably drifts away from its prime focus, the bride.

The bride’s personality should also be taken into account. If she is shy or demure, she probably won’t enjoy being forcibly dragged out of her comfort zone. If she is a raucous, extrovert party-goer, then there is much more leeway when it comes to planning evening activities such as clubbing or drinking games. While there may be plans to keep some of the details of the celebrations a surprise (by no means essential), party organisers will definitely have to consult the bride when it comes to deciding whom to invite. They also might want to make gentle enquiries about the bride’s preferences and establish whether there are any definite no-go areas.

Top Etiquette Tips for Hen Party Guests

 • It is perfectly acceptable to turn down an invitation to a hen party. In the first instance, you will need to tell the organiser you won’t be coming (this can be done by text or email), but you will also need to give an honest explanation to the bride herself in person (you have other commitments, you can’t afford it, these sort of events make you uncomfortable). Suggest an alternative, low-key celebration (such as a dinner out) to soften the blow.

• Only consider accepting an invitation to a hen night if you are prepared to fully commit to everything that is on offer and participate in all the celebrations. The last thing a bride needs is a party-pooper who is watching, bored or disapproving, from the sidelines.

• If you’re the party-planner, don’t become over-obsessed with perfection. Minute planning, relentless WhatsApp group chats, bossiness, and over-anxious marshalling of the group are all symptoms of an understandable desire not to disappoint the bride. But if you’re not careful you’ll kill all spontaneity, and everyone will feel over-managed.

• Make sure everyone is having a good time. It is quite likely that some of the guests at a hen party won’t have met before, so ensure that everyone is introduced and that seating arrangements are conducive to everyone getting a chance to meet and chat. There’s always a risk that a large clique of the bride’s old friends will dominate proceedings, leaving a few stragglers feeling left out, so do your best to prevent this happening.

• Pace the intake of alcohol. There will obviously be lots of drinking – it’s a celebration after all – but if you’re not careful the hen party will be memorable only for staggering drunkenness and catastrophic hangovers. Timetable the day so there are activities and breaks from drinking – a session in a sauna, a swim, a walk, horse-riding, afternoon tea.

• Don’t feel oppressed by the clichés. We’ve all seen hen parties staggering around town – brides with crowns, learner plates and sashes, printed t-shirts for the rest of the group. That is one option of course, but there is no necessity to include any of these elements. The best hen parties are uniquely tailored to the people involved and everyone is free to do precisely what they, and the bride, will enjoy most.

• Remember at all times that this event is primarily about the bride – it is your chance to make a fuss of her, relax and have fun. You are there to celebrate your friendship and herald the start of a new era in her life. This party is not primarily about you, so make sure you take the back seat, and don’t get over-excited and over-dominant.

• If the hen party is the work of one or two organisers (as opposed to a communal endeavour), then it is only polite to send them a thank you note shortly after the event, expressing your gratitude for all their efforts. Organising a successful hen party is hard work, and you should all acknowledge their input, both during the celebrations (a formal toast to the organisers is a nice gesture), and after it’s all over.

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