25 Mar 2023

Your wedding etiquette questions answered

Wedding season is fast approaching so we thought it was time to take another look at our enquiries inbox, and put some of your wedding-related questions to our etiquette experts:

1. “We haven’t got the largest sum of cash for our wedding in August and have accepted help from both sets of parents with the finances. As my parents are taking care of most of the costs of the reception and have requested to be named hosts of the wedding (I've agreed, but my husband is not so thrilled), they believe it gives them the right to choose who can come to OUR wedding. We have 20 friends who we wouldn’t want to get married without, which our parents kicked up a fuss about for six months before letting it go. My husband has a big family so there are more guests on his side, which has made my parents want to invite their friends to equal the numbers. Are numbers that important? And don’t we get a say in it?”

Firstly, this is your big day, and it is imperative that all your closest friends are invited. Unfortunately, if parents are shelling out large sums for a wedding, they can feel that this entitles them to fill the wedding party with guests of their own choosing. This is where money can complicate issues. There is no absolute obligation for each family to invite equal numbers of guests, and if one side has a big family, it may be inevitable that this distorts the guest lists. But really, your parents should remember that they are doing this for you, not themselves, and should be able to live with it. The basic rule is to compile a guest list in this order: family (from both sides of course); closest friends of the couple who are marrying; others. You should compile the guest list yourselves, and then present it to your parents for negotiation.

The fact is that, if you are accepting parental help with the finances, you may find yourselves forced to make compromises.  If too much ill-feeling is being caused by this arrangement, you may want to consider downsizing your plans, and meeting the majority of the costs yourselves. You would have a smaller, less elaborate wedding, but everything – from the guests to the venue – would be chosen by you and you would remove any sense of obligation towards your parents.

2. “We’ve just got engaged and are planning our wedding next year. We’d like it to be a really special day and know we can be much more ambitious in our plans if our parents help out, but so far they haven’t offered. How do we raise the money question?”

Traditionally, the bride’s family bears the cost of the wedding, but this is by no means expected today. Often the groom’s parents will pay for a certain element of the day - eg the dress, the wine. Alternatively, they may just write a cheque towards the total cost of the wedding.

If you want to raise the awkward question of cost with parents, it is best to be direct, but also to show you have an alternative that does not require subsidy. So, sit down with your parents and say you’ve been thinking about the wedding, and present two options with a breakdown of costs: option 1 (lots of guests, big marquee, evening reception) will cost £xx, which is beyond your budget.  Option 2 (limited guest list, afternoon reception only) will cost £xx which, as a couple, you can just about afford. What do they think? This way, they can jump in and offer to help subsidise option 1. If they can’t afford to help, they have a non-embarrassing exit-strategy – they could even suggest a compromise, with their help, between the two options, or could choose to take care of one aspect of the day, eg wine.

3. “Numbers are very tight for our long-planned wedding this July and – like lots of couples – we’ve been poring over our guest lists and RSVPs, juggling numbers and being forced to make sacrifices. So, I was completely thrown when one of my best friends, who has been single for ages, dropped me a note asking if I’d mind if she brought her new boyfriend. What should I do?”

You really have no obligation to accommodate friends’ new partners at your wedding. These events are planned months in advance, and numbers are set in stone well before the date. If a new boyfriend can’t be squeezed in (perhaps because of a cancellation) you should feel no guilt about saying no. Just be perfectly honest; say you’d have loved to invite the new boyfriend, but unfortunately planning took place months ago, numbers are fixed, and there really isn’t any way he can be included. You could soften the blow by suggesting that you and your fiancé meet up with your friend and new partner for dinner before the wedding for a ‘private celebration’.

4. “I love my mum, but clothes are really not a big priority for her, and she tends to make rather bizarre choices when she’s required to dress up! How do I tactfully avoid a potential fashion embarrassment?”

Of course, you’ll want everyone to look their best on the big day. For close family members, such as your mother, it’s a really good idea to pre-empt the problem by suggesting a pre-wedding shopping trip. You could combine it with buying something for yourself (eg wedding shoes), so she won’t feel over-managed, and you could build the trip around a special mother-daughter lunch so she’ll feel more attracted by the prospect of clothes shopping. If you’re too late, and you find her modelling a hideous outfit, the most tactful way out is to suggest that your mother-in-law is thinking of wearing a similar colour and it might be wise to find something that will really stand out. Alternatively, you could use flattery – and say, what a shame, you’ve spotted an outfit/colour that would look absolutely stunning with her eye/hair colour/figure etc.

5. “One of my closest friends is a talented dressmaker, who makes all her own clothes, and I know she’s going to offer to make the wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses. But I’ve got my heart set on a specific dress designer, and I don’t know how to turn down her offer politely. Can you help?”

If friends are offering to bake the cake/make the dress/do the flower arrangements and you don’t want to use them, the best way out is to say very firmly, at the outset, that arrangements are already under way. If necessary, you can soften the blow by hinting that the decision is out of your hands, and that your mother/mother-in-law/fiancé have insisted on taking control of all these aspects of the wedding. The important thing is to nip these suggestions in the bud at the outset. Don’t prevaricate and say “yes, I suppose that would be helpful, I’ll have to check…”  Any ambiguity may lead to confusion and embarrassment. 

6) “We’re having a 4pm wedding and thinking food will be around 6pm, then hoping for evening guests to arrive at 8pm and food again at 9pm? Do you think this is ok? I don’t think the daytime guests will eat again but presumably evening guests will expect food?”

Pacing the day and managing guest expectations is a very important part of wedding planning. It is vital to ensure that guests are not left for long intervals, drinking and not eating, or the proceedings may get out of hand. The best option is to have a sit-down meal for day guests, and then provide a simple buffet for evening guests. That way you can stick to your timings and ask evening guests for 8pm. If the sit-down meal is no later than 6pm, you will be confident that formal proceedings will be over by the time the evening guests arrive. Daytime guests probably won’t want to eat again in the evening, but you should certainly provide enough food to ensure that late night ‘snacking’ is still a possibility, and a buffet is an ideal solution. Make sure that tea and coffee is available throughout the evening, as you may find some of your day guests are beginning to wilt.


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