Wedding Q&A

Etiquette ::

Q: Most of our guests are flying in from out of town, but I want our rehearsal dinner to just include the wedding party. Do we need to do something for our guests as well?

You don't need to do anything, but it sure would be a nice gesture. Even if you've already managed to completely blow your budget, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to honor-and entertain-the out-of-towners. "Hotels always have special rooms which are great for putting together a more casual gathering for desserts or snacks or cocktails," says Linnea Tangorra, owner of Tangorra Wedding Planning in Newburyport. "You could join them after the rehearsal dinner and that way they won't feel left out". Or, completely take it off your to-do list and have a friend organize a get-together. Offer to officially get the word out, but make sure to "phrase it so that guests know it's not a hosted events," says Fleur Pang, owner of A Warm Reception in Duxbury. "You could say, 'A group is gathering at X restaurant, please feel free to drop by."

Q: My dad passed away a few years ago. I have several wonderful uncles who I know would be pleased to walk me down the aisle, but I'm closest to my mother. Could I ask mom to give me away?

Certainly! Absolutely! Oh yes! (Those are the immediate responses from three different wedding planners.) "That's a no-brainer," says Tasha Bracken, owner of Simple Details in Newton. "You want the person who is closest to you to walk you down the aisle." We don't mean to play the feminism card, but it's 2008 and "it doesn't have to be a man walking you down the aisle," says Fleur Pang, owner of A Warm Reception in Duxbury. (Heck, here in Massachusetts it doesn't even have to be a man waiting for you at the end of the aisle!) "To have your mother do it as something to honor your relationship with her is really wonderful," says Pang.

Q: My mother is very traditional and wants guests to throw rice at our wedding. Isn't that really bad for birds and totally 1950's?

Rice actually isn't dangerous to birds. But it's slippery. So to prevent any misguided PETA activist or litigious, high-heeled relatives from spoiling your getaway, have guests blow bubbles or shower you with rose petals instead. If your mom won't let go, check with your ceremony location-many no longer allow rice to be thrown for insurance reasons and have strict rules about cleanup.

Q: I hate those birdcages for holding the cards at wedding receptions. Isn't there some pretty alternative that has the same function?

"Yes!" says Donna O'Brien, owner of Beautiful Blooms in Philadelphia. Here are her two solutions. Option 1: O'Brien creates tiers of hatboxes, ABOVE, with a slit in the top one for the cards to go in (but not out), wraps them in decor-coordinating fabric and tops them with fresh flowers. Option 2: She fills a gorgeous, huge antique birdcage with a lush flower arrangement, using blooms like tulips that spray out between the rungs of the cage. She leaves room on the side of the arrangement for the cards to fall, and viola'-it's just another stylish part of your decor. Remember, it's a detail of your wedding, and it shouldn't look like it was just tossed together. "After all," says O'Brien, "you want people to gravitate towards it!"

Q: How do you tactfully sidestep inappropriately nosy questions, such as "How many carats is your ring?"

"That is one of those nosy questions lots of brides get," says Mark Kingdorf, owner of Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in Philadelphia. In the interest of being tactful, Kingsdorf suggests steering busybodies towards the actual proposal by saying something line, "Oh, that's not really important to me-what I love is how he did it..." "If you go on and on about how he popped the question, they're not going to go back and repeat their question," he says. You could confront their guffaw by answering very clinically, says Kingsdorf, telling them the carats - then following it up with the rest of the diamond's Cs (cut, clarity, color) and the ring's metal. But this snarkiness probably isn't necessary. "As a friend who's also in the wedding business says, in these situations, it's better to be kind than to be right," says Kingsdorf.

Q: We received a gift that wasn't on our registry, and while it looks expensive, it's hideous. How can I say "Thanks, but no thanks," so I don't have to pretend to like it forever?

There is no way to politely say "No." A gift is a gift, and you must send a note that sincerely thanks them for it. But that doesn't mean you have to keep it. If you can find out where they bought the monstrosity, try to return it or exchange it for something you do like. Otherwise, try to sell it on eBay or Craigslist, or think of it as a nice tax-deductible gift to charity.

Q: We've lived together for years and have accumulated all of the "stuff" that we need. What we'd really like is cash for a down payment on a house. How do we ask for this?

If there were a wedding etiquette fairy, she would be rapping your knuckles with a ruler right now. "Etiquette says that you aren't even supposed to expect gifts," says Linnea Tangorra, owner of Tangorra Wedding Planning in Newburyport. Yeah, right. Anyway the experts say it's as acceptable to desire cash as it is to desire a Cuisinart, and all the rules for letting your guests know that still apply. "All the discussion about registering for gifts and whatnot should be done through bridal parties and families," says Tasha Bracken, owner of Simple Details in Newton. It's certainly OK to say, "In lieu of gifts they'd like money." Or set up a down payment registry, which many mortgage agencies now offer.

Q: Is it still considered bad to ask for money instead of potholders? What if I just register for $100 American Express gift cards?

This is a wedding, not a shakedown, and you simply cannot just ask for money. And you certainly can't specify a minimum amount for guests to spend. What they spend will depend on how close they are to you, as well as their own financial situation. That's why it's important to register for items in a variety of price ranges. The closest acceptable thing to cash is registering for honeymoon activities, like a couple's massage or Jet Ski rental. Of course, some people will still give you money, regardless. Make sure you have a plan to get those extra-thick envelopes home from the reception.

Q: We're having a big hometown reception after our tiny island wedding. Aside from cutting the cake, what are some other ceremony-type things we can do to make everyone feel like they're celebrating with us?

Go ahead and plan your hometown reception just as you would a regular wedding reception, say the experts. "Do all the traditional things that would go on at a normal wedding, even without the legal part," says Linnea Tangorra, owner of Tangorra Wedding Planning in Newburyport. Don't deprive your guests of the delicious staples, such as the heartfelt toasts, the decadent cake and the first dances - bride and groom, mother and son, father and daughter. Consider, too, adding some aspects that these poor souls missed from the ceremony, such as lighting a unity candle. "You could also incorporate a small ceremony, maybe just five or 10 minutes," says Tangorra. "The couple could either recite some vows or renew their vows, which would mean a lot to the guests. They could either have one of their friends stand in as the officiate, or stand with their parents and do a simple speech." Also, be sure to bring something back from your wedding (beside s the sunburn!). "It's a great idea to incorporate a theme from your wedding into this reception," says Danielle Cameron, founder of Details Within Wedding Consulting in Merrimac. "If it was a beach wedding, work in that tropical theme. You don't have to do palm trees, but tie it into a favor or something, like a seashell, so that guests feel like they were there with you."

Q: Is a cash bar genius, or tacky?

Definitely tacky. I'd much rather sacrifice tenderloin for chicken than have a cash bar. Your guests traveled all this distance, and they want to be taken care of. As soon as you limit them to a cash bar, you limit how they react and how much fun they'll have.