Ask Ann: Etiquette

Here are some questions Ann received recently. E-mail your own questions to

We decided we would like to get married outside. What is the best way to do this?

Outdoor weddings can be wonderful, but bad weather can put a damper on the day, thus a tent is a must as a prevention for rain…but during the “lightning and thunderstorm months” of June, July, August and September, a building is an absolute necessity for safety.Often couples have their ceremony outside and then move into the adjacent building for the reception.

Do we do it all at one place, and get married at the same place where we are having our reception?

Yes, if you wish to get the most for your dollar, do it all in one place. Having the ceremony and reception all at the same site will save money on transportation, flowers and music. It also saves time.

Also, cost is an issue for us, and I noticed many places offer lower prices if we get married on a Sunday. Do you think that will affect how many people will attend since we have many invitees from out of town?

Out of town guests may attend a Sunday wedding if they are on the younger side of 50. Older folks who have to come a distance of over 2 hours tend to send regrets. Also, off season rates may be lower at resort sites. Sunday weddings are especially wonderful when the next day is a holiday. Another way to make use of a Sunday rate is to get married as early as noon. This enables your religious guests to attend their church and then go on to your wedding. This way your reception can start immediately, and wind down during the late afternoon-early evening hours allowing guests to drive home before it is terribly late. FYI, Friday night weddings are also a way to save money. However,a Friday night wedding means a Thursday night rehearsal, which can be a problem for some to attend.

We are having a hard time with our guest list. There are many we want to invite, but we know they may be away or may live far away and we don’t want to imply that we are “looking for a gift”. How do we approach this?

It is best to not try to “second guess” your guests’ responses. Send invitations to all that you would like to invite. They will be flattered you included them. Etiquette about gifts remains the same as ever. One is “obligated” to send a gift, only if one accepts the invitation. Those who send regrets usually send a card or note with good wishes. They may send a small token gift if they so choose. Generally, one might expect about 75% of one’s local invitees to accept and about 35 % of the non-locals to accept a wedding invitation.

My fiancé and I do not want to be “announced” or introduced at our wedding ceremony or reception. Yet, our clergyman and our band say it is customarily what they do. Is it necessary?

No. Simply tell your clergy you prefer to not have applause during a worship service, and ask him not to “introduce” you. (Your guests already know who you are!) Some couples have put this in their programmes as well, with such phrasing as “In order to preserve the sanctity of our wedding service, we respectfully request that there be no applause in the sanctuary”. As for the band, simply tell them you do not want introductions and do not fill out the part of the band questionnaire that asks for the names of the members of your bridal party.

As the groom, I would like traditional formal wedding attire for my groomsmen and myself. Would this mean tuxedos?

Yes, if the wedding were to be held after six o’clock in the evening, you would all wear Black Tie. Traditionally the groom dresses like the other men in the wedding party and is distinguished only by his boutonnière which is a flower that is the same as one the bride has in her bouquet. If it were to be an ultra formal evening wedding, the men would all wear white tie and tails. If it were a formal daytime wedding, the wedding party men would all wear morning coats AKA cutaways.

What is the basic cost of a wedding today?

I have always maintained that a wedding, a year of college and a car have all cost about the same amount of money for about the last 40 years. Of course it depends if one wants a formal country-club wedding versus a rented hall wedding, a year at an Ivy League school or a year at a State school, a Mercedes or a Hyundai. There are all kinds of levels in between. Thus the price can range from fifteen thousand dollars to forty thousand dollars, and up from there, and down from there depending on many factors such as size etc.

What are some ways to save costs?

Get married the week after Christmas or the week after Easter if you want to save money on flowers. Get married off-season at a resort area to save money on reception costs. Since it is the financial responsibility of the bride and groom and/or their families to lodge their attendants, ask friends to host them in their homes. That is the way it was done traditionally up until hotels and motels grew in popularity over the last 30 years. Ask a friend or relative with a nice automobile to serve as your limousine driver for the day. Get married at one o’clock (too late for lunch; too early for dinner) and have a light-fare reception. If you don’t want dancing, and wish to save money on a band, hire a classical guitarist or flutist to provide music.

On what side of her father does the bride walk down the aisle?

Keep in mind that traditionally the bride’s family sits on the left side of the ceremonial site. Traditionally she walks down on her father’s, or escort’s right arm. Thus when she reaches the altar, the escort or father of the bride does not have to risk stepping over her veil and train, possibly ripping it, in order to slide into his assigned pew on the left. He’s already on the left!

Is a cash bar acceptable these days?

No, never! It turns your guests into paying customers! Instead treat it like you would a dinner party. Serve only what you want to serve and can comfortably afford. Limit cocktail time to one hour. If you are serving a meal, offer only wine poured by staff (no bottles on the table!). Serve only beer and wine after dinner during the dancing time. (Make sure there is no “tip jar”, as the host, not the guest, is responsible for tipping the bartenders after everyone leaves).

My fiancée and I are talking about wedding plans. What are designer weddings?

Designer weddings are exactly that. One works with a floral designer, not a florist. Floral designers have studios and usually do not maintain shops that do commercial, walk-in floral trade via FTD etc. They strictly do events and will bring in a lighting designer, as well as a draping designer, and other source persons as needed. One can see the results of designers’ efforts in many celebrity weddings. Typically, a designer wedding runs well into the plus side of six figures.

We are planning our reception menu. Should we offer a choice of food for our guests?

Hmmm…..would you invite your guests to dinner at your home and offer them a choice of foods? Not usually I suppose, but then again the answer would be yes, if you want more work for yourselves. This means one must use reply cards imprinted with the food offerings. The results must be tallied and send to your food service provider. Then each guest’s seat must be marked with a place card so the waitstaff will know what the guest ordered, as guests often forget what they checked off. Couples seem to agonize over this; I advise them that while a menu is special, it is not the last meal their guests will ever have! (As an aside, it is wise and will save you money, to arrange for vegetarian dishes for your guests whom you know do not eat meat or fish).

Is it correct to put wedding gift registry information on a Save the Date letter, wedding website or shower or wedding invitations?

No, the information should only be given when a guest specifically asks for it. No guest wants to feel dictated to regarding the gift s/he wishes to purchase. Shower invitations may state colors (“We’re having a kitchen shower for the bride, her kitchen colors are yellow and blue”)

As the Mother of the Bride, what shall I wear?

For a daytime wedding, select a street length dress or suit regardless of the formality of the wedding. Traditionally, only the bride and bridesmaids are in long gowns for a daytime wedding. For a formal evening wedding, a cocktail dress or suit in any length is fine. For an ultra formal wedding, with white tie and tails for the men, the mothers may choose a ball gown, perhaps with above-the- elbow gloves.

Is smashing cake in the face traditional?

No, it started in the late seventies – early eighties and has been viewed to be the result of over-imbibing. It can start things off on a poor note as the elegance of the wedding is demeaned. Gowns and veils meant to become heirlooms are ruined for future generations, stained by the grease that won’t come out with cleaning. The once beautiful bride and handsome groom take on the appearance of clowns and the magic is lost.

How do we cut the cake?

Traditionally, the groom places his right hand over the bride’s right hand and together they slice one piece. She picks it up and gently feeds him. She then hands the piece to him and he gently feeds her.

We want traditional limousines. What do we ask for?

One would ask for traditional black limousines, such as ones used by the President, driven by liveried chauffeurs. This means the chauffeurs don a proper chauffeur’s livery suit and cap. Such service is hard to find today as so many limousine companies have opted for the white limousine and tuxedoed driver. These became more popular in the seventies, but the traditionalists still want black only.

I have seen chauffeurs standing outside of the church at the end of the ceremony with a bottle of champagne, only for the couple. Is this a new trend?

Some limousine companies offer this champagne service with a bucket set up outside the church with the limo driver holding glasses and white napkin. Some couples want it, but traditionalists feel alcohol is not appropriate at a church locale. Most newlywed couples are too busy mixing and mingling with family and friends right after the service and feel it is rude to drink champagne in front of their guests who won’t have anything to drink until they reach the reception.

We went to a wedding and saw a sign that said “This box will hold your donations to XXX Charity”. At another wedding we saw a sign that said, “In lieu of favors, the funds we would have spent, are being donated to XXX charity” Is this a new trend?

I hope not! Is one having a wedding or holding a fundraiser? Donations to charity need not be collected at a wedding, nor do they need to be flaunted or announced. When one donates money to a charity, one need not announce it to the world. Simply do it, as a private matter, and offer no reason for electing to not give out favors. (Favors, while gaining some ground, still are not overly popular in New England, and are more often seen at showers rather than at weddings.)

We are thinking of having a performer at our wedding reception. Is this a good idea?

If you are thinking of having a performer over and above your band, whom your guests will have to sit quietly and listen to, it may not be a good idea. Music at a wedding should be interactive so that the guests can talk or dance while it is being played.

My best friend is being married and I am the Maid of Honor. I am thinking of presenting a slide show at the reception of the couples’ lives. I’d like it to be a surprise, what do you think?

It is wonderful to give your friend a special treat, but wedding receptions are not the place for any surprises! Check out any ideas you may have, with whomever is responsible for the reception, (the bride and groom, parents etc.). Features like multi-media or slide shows of the couple’s life together, long speeches, ought to be held at the rehearsal dinner, if at all, as they can interrupt the flow of the reception.