Receptions – Having a Bar

Dear Miss SOS:

We’re having a luncheon reception. Can we serve alcoholic drinks that early?

Liquor can be served anytime, from mimosas at brunch to a full-scale open bar at a nighttime reception. For a luncheon reception, a full stocked bar is unnecessary. Miss SOS would suggest mimosas, champagne, bloody marys, or other light drinks as being more appropriate.

Dear Miss SOS:

Based on today’s economy and our wedding budget, is it appropriate to have a full or partial cash bar at our wedding reception so that guests can pay for their drinks?

Miss SOS is going to take to drinking herself if she has to keep listening to the same-old argument. The answer is no. It is considered the height of impropriety to charge your guests for their refreshment. If you can’t afford alcohol, serve punch or tea. If you can’t afford punch or tea, serve water – but serve it graciously.

Dear Miss SOS:

I recently attended a wedding reception that had an open bar. On the counter was a large vase that guests put tips in. Who is the money for? The bartender or the bride to help her set up her new home? There’s a bet riding on who’s correct on this.

Miss SOS suggests that all monies wagered on the bet be donated to a worthy charity. Everybody is wrong. A vase on a counter, bar or otherwise, should hold flowers, not money. Bartenders are not tipped at a private function as the gratuity has already been added in the cost of service. Miss SOS has no idea what services you would be tipping the Bride for, and prefers not to know, but should you wish to give a cash gift, you are to place it in an envelope that is given discreetly to the Groom during the reception.


Receptions – Behavior During

Dear Miss SOS:

During our wedding reception, one of our friends was passing out her business cards attached to flyers for her new business. I didn’t know what to do so I didn’t say or do anything. I know her actions weren’t proper but how should it have been handled?

Miss SOS sympathizes with your paralysis at the idea of reprimanding a wedding guest. It would have been acceptable to have stopped this outrage when it occurred by sending an usher to collect the flyers and hand them back to the offender with the simple explanation, “This is a social occasion and the bride and groom prefer that business not be conducted during their event.”

Dear Miss SOS:

I got drunk at a wedding reception. Should I call and apologize?

Yes, and the sooner the better if your behavior was rude or insulting. If, on the other hand, you felt yourself getting drunk and left the reception early without embarrassing yourself or others in your wake, then the only thing you have to apologize for is departing early. If that’s the case, then you would mention it when you call the hostess thanking her for a wonderful party. Your phrasing would be along the lines of, “It was a fabulous reception. I’m sorry to have left a little early, but I had a little too much to drink and thought it best to go.”


Receptions – Budgeting for

Dear Miss SOS:

I’m planning my wedding by myself and have an established budget that I can spend in pulling it all together. I am already starting to feel overwhelmed by how much I should allocate for each category. Can you help?

Congratulations on already determining how much you are going to spend on your wedding. Regardless what your budget is, use these percentages to determine how much you can spend in each major category. You can play with the numbers according to your priorities – just make sure that they add up to 100%.

Reception (Location Food, Bar, Cake and Rentals)  50%
Gown (And other attire for the Bride)  10%
Music (Ceremony and Reception)  10%
Photography (Photographer, Videographer, Albums & Prints)  10%
Flowers (Centerpieces, Bouquets, Floral Decorations)  10%
Miscellaneous (Invitations, Favors, Guest Book, etc.)  10%
Total  100%


Receptions – Cakes

Dear Miss SOS:

When should we cut the cake?

At a sit-down reception, the cake is cut right before the dessert (if any) is served. If the reception is a buffet, the Bride and Groom cut the cake later in the reception, usually about an hour before they leave on their honeymoon.

Dear Miss SOS:

I wish to have a wedding cake with chocolate icing for my wedding cake. My mother has told me that etiquette would not permit it as it had to be white icing. Is she right?

Sigh. Miss SOS wishes people would stop beginning sentences “etiquette requires…” when the matter involves personal choices. In the Middle Ages, white icing was a sign of wealth, since refined sugar was so scarce. But, in answer to your question, there is no rule of etiquette that states wedding cakes must be iced in all white.

Dear Miss SOS:

Our caterer is telling us that we should not serve champagne with our wedding cake. Why?

Though many people serve champagne with a wedding cake, it is not considered an ideal match because champagne is dry and wedding cake is sweet. As champagne is a “high acid” wine, it does not go well with foods that are sweet and rich. Your caterer is correct to suggest a dessert wine, such as a sauterne, however Miss SOS is aware that tradition is strong and most Brides opt for champagne anyway.

Dear Miss SOS:

What is a Groom’s Cake?

In the past, the Groom’s Cake was a single-layer dark fruitcake that accompanied the Bride’s Cake, which was white. A slice from the Groom’s Cake was placed in a festively decorated box and given to all single ladies attending the reception. When she went home, the lady was to place the box under her bed pillow so that she could dream of her true love waiting for her.

Groom’s Cakes today are often baked in the Groom’s favorite flavor, such as chocolate, and may be in a shape symbolic of his favorite interest or hobby, such as a fish, football or vintage car. It may be served at the reception along with the wedding cake or boxed and given to all guests to take home as favors. Fortunately, it’s no longer necessary for them to sleep with it.

Dear Miss SOS:

How did the tradition of smearing wedding cake on each other’s faces at the reception start?

Tradition: an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or social custom). Custom: a long-established practice considered as unwritten law. – Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

Smearing cake on another’s face is neither a tradition nor a custom. It is a vile practice that has somehow wormed its way into the wedding reception. Though you would correct and discipline the manners of a two year old attempting such an action, for some misguided reason brides and grooms think that they are exempt from displaying proper manners on their wedding day. Miss SOS prefers not to imagine why.

Dear Miss SOS:

I recently attended a wedding reception where, after the cutting of the cake, the Bride and Groom smashed the cake in each other faces. The Groom got carried away and frosting was smeared all over the Bride’s face and into her hair, making her cry. I felt extremely uncomfortable witnessing this. Is this now proper at weddings?

Oh, pul-eeze. You already know the answer to this one. Miss SOS has no idea where such a vulgar custom originated but it must stop immediately. It is neither cute nor funny and is considered a direct insult. The cutting of the cake and serving it to your new spouse symbolizes that “whatever I have, I gladly share with you all the days of our lives”. Smearing cake all over the face, and at such an important moment, is one of the worst of all actions, showing mega-disrespect to your partner.


Receptions – Children

Dear Miss SOS:

There will be a number of small children attending our wedding reception. Would it be appropriate to arrange for a babysitter for them and if so, what rule of thumb should I go by, and how do I let guests know?

What a generous and thoughtful Bride you are. Many times weddings serve as an opportunity for family and friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time to become re-acquainted. It is not uncommon for these conversational reunions to become interrupted or abruptly terminated when small ones become tired or overwhelmed by the festivities.

If possible, arrange for a small room or area for the youngest children. Have healthy snacks and juices available for refreshment. If a DVD or video player is available, pop in a favorite tape to play for their enjoyment. You might also want to have a bin stuffed with inexpensive toys or games that they could play (a 99¢ or dollar store is the perfect place in finding lots of little things children like).

One babysitter trained in CPR per five children is considered acceptable. An enclosure card stating “Babysitting services will be provided at the hotel (reception site) for all children under the age of 5” would be a gracious way to inform your guests of your arrangements.

Dear Miss SOS:

I don’t want any children at my wedding. How do I write an invitation saying that I do not want children at the wedding or do I have to do it verbally? Write soon. Thank you.

Etiquette has not, nor ever will, evolve into issuing reverse or negative invitations. Miss SOS is dismayed when she sees invitations stating “no children allowed” or”adults only”. She can only wonder if people would feel equally comfortable issuing or receiving wedding invitations that say “no handicapped allowed” or “Caucasians only”. Hopefully, Miss SOS has made her point.

Address the invitations to the individuals invited. If they respond that they are bringing additional guests, i.e. their children, Miss SOS suggests rather than saying that you don’t want children at this joyous family event, that you phrase your comments along the lines of “We’re not having children at our wedding. I’m sure your little one would behave adorably but not every child is as wonderful as yours.”

Though Miss SOS will refrain on commenting on your belief that children should be excluded at the union of two families, it has been her experience that it is the older guests that are more likely to behave inappropriately.


Receptions – Dancing

Dear Miss SOS:

I’m close to both my father and stepfather. With whom should I dance the father-daughter dance?

This depends entirely upon your relationships with your biological father and your stepfather. If your biological father is walking you down the aisle, he might not mind if you dance with your stepfather. Another option is to dance with your biological father and, after a few minutes, have your stepfather cut in.

Dear Miss SOS:

What is proper protocol when there is to be dancing at a wedding reception?

No one should be on the dance floor until the Receiving Line has ended and the Bride and Groom have had their first dance. The Bride and Groom may dance solo for the entire length of the song they have chosen or, after a minute of being on the floor by themselves, they may invite the Bride’s father and mother to join them. This enables the Bride’s father to cut in and dance with his daughter and the Groom to dance with his new mother-in-law while the music is playing. Or, if preferred, the Bride may select to dance with her Groom for the first song, and then dance separately with her father for the second. Following that, everyone is encouraged to get out on the dance floor and enjoy themselves.


Receptions – Departing from

Dear Miss SOS:

When is it considered appropriate to leave a wedding reception? It used to be after the bridal couple had left for their honeymoon however these days the bride and groom stay until the party is over. I’m an older person and get tired easily. I don’t want to offend anybody but I can’t keep up with this younger generation. Can you advise me?

After the wedding cake has been cut and served (it’s considered bad luck not to taste the cake), you have Miss SOS permission to leave, providing of course that you have extended your best wishes to the Bride and Groom and have thanked the host and hostess for the lovely reception.


Enclosure Cards

Miss SOS,
We have a very large family, a lot of friends, a very large church family and co-workers that want to attend our son’s wedding. We had to limit it to 250 people. To try not to offend anyone, we said that we would invite everyone to the wedding, but only 250 to the reception.
I would like to know “Is it appropriate to put on the reception card that admission is only allowed upon receipt of this card”? If it is, how should it be worded?

When the guest list for the church and office is larger than that for the reception, it is perfectly appropriate to enclose a separate card with the wedding invitation for those who are being invited to the reception. The most commonly used form is:

immediately following the ceremony
Prescott Meadows Country Club
The favour of a reply is requested
(or you may enclose an RSVP card with stamped, addressed envelope)

As only your guests invited to both the ceremony and reception would be receiving this card inserted in the invitation, it is not necessary to include any additional language.


Receptions — Gifts

Dear Miss SOS:

Is it permissible to open our wedding gifts at our reception? I know that a lot of people will be bringing gifts and would probably like to see our faces when we open their gift.

No, it is not permissible. You are confusing a wedding reception with a bridal shower or even a birthday party.

As gifts are not to be brought to a wedding reception (having been mailed or hand-delivered in the days/weeks/months before or after the wedding), it therefore stands to reason that any gifts received are not to be opened at the celebration.

If you don’t accept etiquette’s reasoning, then please accept the fact that the majority of your guests would either be unbelievably bored watching you open presents or they would display signs of anxiety wondering if their gift would favorably compare to others. The remainder of your guests would be questioning their good manners by sending their gift early and wondering if they had made a mistake. (No.)

However, Miss SOS recognizes that there are special instances where the gift giver would enjoy being present when their gift is opened – perhaps because they labored over a hand-stitched quilt or they’re passing on a family heirloom. If so, you have Miss SOS permission to host a small gathering in your hotel suite immediately following your wedding reception.


Receptions – Guests

Dear Miss SOS:

Our wedding reception won’t start until two hours after the ceremony has concluded. Am I responsible for my guests in the interim?

Absolutely you are responsible for your guests. If a lengthy delay is inevitable (Miss SOS only hopes it is not from post-ceremony pictures being taken), guests should be graciously entertained. You may set up a hospitality suite at a nearby hotel, or ask a close friend to have cocktails or hors d’oeuvres at his or her home.


Reception Menu

Dear Miss SOS:

Our reception will begin at 1:00 PM and will be over by 5:00 PM. Do we need to serve a sit-down meal, or can we just serve hors d’oeuvres?

There’s no rule that says you must serve a five-course meal at your reception. As long as your reception doesn’t occur during a typical mealtime, finger sandwiches or hors d’oeuvres would be absolutely appropriate. But, if your reception was taking place from 5:00 PM through 9:00 PM, you must serve a full meal, since your guests will be expecting it.


Receptions Post-Wedding

Dear Miss SOS:

I was married on June 17th, 2005 but we are having our reception this June 2007. How do I go about sending out invites seeing it will be two years later? I was pregnant during the time therefore we did not want to do a reception the same day or year for that matter. We wanted to wait until our daughter was a little older … walking, talking, etc. Please advise me on how to go about the invitations and reply cards. Thank you.

Belated wedding receptions may occur when a couple have married privately (i.e. an elopement), or a newly-wedded partner has returned after being actively deployed in the United States military, or even when there has been an illness or death in the family necessitating a small ceremony, to be followed by a larger reception at a time deemed more appropriate.

Belated wedding receptions are not held for couples who have been married for a few years, established a household, and have started a family. To be candid, such an event would give the appearance that you are only interested in hitting people up for gifts.

What you are celebrating is your second anniversary and while most anniversary parties commemorate more significant milestones, such as a 10th, 25th, or 50th anniversary, there is nothing that precludes you from hosting a party marking your second year together as husband and wife. Early anniversary parties are always given by the couple themselves. The form of the invitation depends entirely on the degree of formality of the party. You may invite people informally by telephone, or by a handwritten note, or an engraved card.

If your invitation is handwritten, a sample wording would be:

Dear Linda, Will you and John join us for a light dinner at the Yavapai Country Club on Saturday, June 16, at 4:00 PM to help us celebrate our second wedding anniversary? Hoping to see you then, Tracy Johnson.

For a more formal occasion:

2005 – 2007
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Johnson
request the pleasure of your company
at a reception
in honor of
their second wedding anniversary
on Saturday, the sixteenth of June
at four o’clock in the afternoon
Yavapai Country Club

800 Pinecrest Land
Prescott, Arizona 86301

Dear Miss SOS:

This may be a silly question but we are having a post-wedding celebration one month after our wedding date of October 10, 2003. On the wedding celebration favors, do we put our wedding date of October 10 or the date of the wedding celebration?

Celebration favors are to reflect the joyous occasion of the date that you two were wed. The day you were married, October 10, 2003, would be correct.

Dear Miss SOS:

For a post-wedding celebration (reception), would it be inconsiderate to let my guests know on the invitation that we are to be married in a private ceremony at an earlier date, which is only one month prior? I’m having a problem with the wording of the invitations for I want to let them know we will be married at a different date. I really need help on this matter ASAP. Thank you.

Invitations may be mailed no less than one month prior to the reception. As the host and hostess (generally the Bride’s parents) issue the invitations, their names appear first. Although the party is held to celebrate the wedding, the wording on the invitation must be changed slightly.

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Allaire
request the pleasure (or honor) of your company
at a reception
in honor of
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Newton
on Saturday, August the sixteenth
Two thousand and three
at four o’clock
Hassayampa Inn
122 East Gurley Street

If the Bride and Groom are hosting the event themselves, then the wording would be

The pleasure (or honor) of your company is requested
at a reception
in honor of
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Newton

Guests are smarter than most people seem to think. Should your invited guests not have learned or figured it out for themselves by the day of the reception, it will be a happy surprise for them to learn of this important change in your life.


Wedding and Reception Seating Arrangements

Dear Miss SOS:

I’m planning the seating arrangements for my reception and realized that I don’t know where I’m supposed to sit. Is it to the left or the right of the Groom?

Miss SOS is assuming that you are the Bride. If so, you are to be seated on the left of your Groom.

Dear Miss SOS:
I will be inviting my minister (who’s officiating my wedding) and his wife to the reception immediately following our ceremony. Where should he be seated?

At a sitdown dinner, a parents’ table is set up for both sets of parents. The clergyperson and his or her spouse, who must be invited to the reception but often decline to attend unless they know the bride and/or groom well, also sit there. The Bride’s father sits at the head of the table, with the Groom’s mother to his right. The Bride’s mother sits at the foot of the table with the Groom’s father to her right.

Though Miss SOS is aware of the custom of arranging separate tables for each of the families, for this one day, as two people start their new life, their families can intermingle and share in each other’s happiness.

Dear Miss SOS:

My parents are divorced and each has remarried. During the ceremony, after my father walks me down the aisle, where is he supposed to sit? With my mom and her husband in the left pew? And does my dad’s wife sit with him or is she to sit in the back?

If your parents have maintained a civil relationship or can fake it for a short time, your father and his wife would sit in the first pew on the left, along with your mother and her husband. Unfortunately, it has been Miss SOS’ experience that not all parents are able to act like adults.

If your parents and their spouses are unable to sit together companionably, then your mother and stepfather are to sit in the first pew. Brothers, sisters, half-siblings and stepsiblings, if not in the wedding party, are seated in the second pew. Both sets of your grandparents, and your aunts and uncles on your mother’s side are to be seated behind them. Your father, after escorting you up the aisle, is to sit with his wife and their family in the fourth pew.

If, in the event, you are closer to your father than your mother, then the reverse order would be appropriate – your father and his family seated in pews ahead of the your mother and her family. The Groom’s parents and stepparents follow the same order but on the right side of the aisle.

Dear Miss SOS:

Why do brides treat guests like they’re four-year olds by assigning tables that they are to sit at during the reception? I was seated at an event where I didn’t know anyone and would have preferred sitting at a table of my choosing.

The reason Brides treat guests like children is because guests become very childlike at wedding receptions. Miss SOS has actually seen guests rush into a ballroom, tip chairs onto table edges to save seats, argue over who is to sit where while feeling no responsibility towards any wallflowers at the party, rearrange place settings so there’s 11 at the table rather than 10, and so on.

Seating arrangements are tricky at best. Family dynamics must be taken into account in addition to any work colleagues and friends that may be attending. The Bride paid you a high compliment knowing that she could trust seating you at a table of strangers, allowing you to make the acquaintance of family or friends you had not yet had the pleasure to meet.

Dear Miss SOS:

My mom and dad split up almost eight years ago. My future husband has never really gotten to know her and does not like her too much. He insists that she will not be on the top table at our wedding as she has not really been a mother to me over the last 8 years. Is there any way around the sitting arrangements so that everyone is happy?

Your dilemma is easily resolved. The Bridal Table (not “top” table) should consist of the Bride and Groom, Best Man, Maid of Honor, and members of the Wedding Party (with the exception being children attendants who are to be seated with their parents). The Bride sits at the Groom’s right. The Maid of Honor sits at the Groom’s left. The Best Man sits at the Bride’s right. The Wedding Party is then seated alternately (boy, girl, boy, girl). Sometimes a husband or wife of an attendant is also invited to sit at this table although it is not obligatory to invite them.

You can designate other tables for the parents of the Bride or Groom. These tables are reserved for honored or distinguished guests (grandparents, siblings not active in the wedding party, the minister, aunts, uncles, or even long-time family friends) being seated with the parents. As your parents are divorced, consider setting aside two tables – one for your father to host and the other for your mother.

Dear Miss SOS:

Any chance you can supply me with the correct seating arrangements for the top table at a wedding reception? Also, the correct form of address for place cards at the reception? Please reply ASAP.

The Bride’s Table – not “top” table – should consist of the Bride and Groom, Best Man, Maid of Honor, and members of the Wedding Party (with the exception being children attendants who are to be seated with their parents). The Bride sits at the Groom’s right. The Maid of Honor sits at the Groom’s left. The Best Man sits at the Bride’s right. The Wedding Party is then seated alternately (boy, girl, boy, girl). Sometimes the spouse of an attendant is also invited to sit at this table although it is not obligatory to invite them.

Place cards are always used at the Bride’s Table, optional for other tables dependent on the formality of the reception. Place cards should include the first and last name of each guest, preferably written on both sides of the place card so other guests at the table can be reminded of each other’s names.


Receptions for Second Marriages

Dear Miss SOS:

I was divorced years ago and have now met the man of my dreams. As I was married before, I am having a small wedding consisting of just immediate family and a few close friends. However, I am so thrilled with my new change in life that I want to shout it from the rooftops. I would love to have a huge reception and invite everyone I know. Would that be OK?

There is no rule that says because you were married before that your wedding reception must be small. A reception, after all, is simply a party to celebrate the marriage of two people. It may be big or small, and as elaborate or as simple as you would like it to be. Just know however that at a large reception you are to have a receiving line to greet your guests, while at a smaller party the line is not required.


Second Receptions

Dear Miss SOS,

I live here in Arizona with my fiancé. We’re having our wedding and reception here in Arizona. However, I am from Pennsylvania and we are flying back there 2 weeks after the wedding for another reception. What is etiquette on attire for the second reception? Would it be inappropriate to wear my dress again?

Absolutely you should wear your wedding gown again, should you desire. Miss SOS cannot think of anything more appropriate. Family and friends, who were unable to be in attendance on your wedding day, will enjoy seeing your attire on the day you got married.


Receptions – Table Etiquette

Dear Miss SOS:

I have been invited to a formal wedding that includes a black-tie dinner reception. I’ve not attended anything so fancy before and am petrified that I’ll make a fool of myself at the table, not knowing what utensil to use. Can you help me?

It is not uncommon for an individual to feel overwhelmed when seated at a table with a vast bewildering array of eating utensils in a military line. It can be easy to make a mistake, especially if the waiter has set the table improperly. To mitigate any faux pas, always follow the lead of your hostess. Should she pick up a soupspoon, then you do so too. Never commence eating before the hostess. It is considered rude to begin without her. If you are seated where you are unable to see the hostess, here’s Miss SOS’ simple rule of thumb to ease your panic. Tables are properly set so that you eat from the outside in. Take the outside utensil for the first course, and then proceed, course by course, selecting the next utensil closest to the plate, until all the utensils have been used.

Dear Miss SOS:

I am having an extremely formal wedding followed by an elegant dinner reception. I want to make sure I do everything right.

I was taught that the choice of bowls and spoons soup is determined by the type of soup one is serving: round spoons and bowls or two-handled cups for cream soup, and soup plates and oval spoons for clear soup. Am I correct?

You are correct to a point. Bowls and cups are appropriate for a luncheon, but only soup plates should be used at formal dinners. This makes it difficult to serve cream soup in the evening, which is a shame as Miss SOS is partial to cream soups.