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What to do about wedding invitees who have their own ideas for planning the event

Wednesday, Mar 27 2002
Dear Social Grace,

My fiancé and I are planning a very small wedding. We're well into our thirties, and we're paying for the reception ourselves, on a limited budget. My parents are divorced and do not get along, to say the least. The problem is that we are planning to have the wedding at my mother's house. A relative on my father's side of the family has been in touch with me and told me that I am being very inconsiderate to hold the wedding there and that I should have it somewhere more neutral, for my father's family's sake. My father hasn't said anything about it, but I wonder if that would be the best thing to do, even though my mother would be hurt if I backed out now. I don't want to hurt either of their feelings. What do you think?

Via the Internet

Dear Considerate Madam,

You might have said, "Why, Uncle Claude, that's such a lovely idea, and thank you for offering. But renting a cruise ship and floating the wedding reception into international waters? I couldn't possibly accept such an extravagant gift."

Or, no -- that sort of thing is better left unsaid, though I wouldn't blame you for thinking it. Having dealt with inappropriate brides and grooms last week, we can now turn our attention to inappropriate wedding guests -- namely, those who call us up to express displeasure with our planned festivities. Why, it almost seems as though your relative doesn't appreciate the unique opportunity such a celebration gives a family: to put aside differences and squabbles, and to honor what they have in common (in this case, that would be warm feelings for the marrying couple, in case anyone's wondering).

Your father's silence may mean that he recognizes this opportunity. I trust that family members who don't -- those who would use your wedding as an occasion to air familial grievances -- will send their love and regrets. Don't give Uncle Claude's comments another moment of worry. If he brings it up again, tell him you know that no one's going to be thinking about any past unpleasantness on your wedding day, and that you look forward to dancing with him on what promises to be one of the happiest days of your life. And I hope it is.

Dear Social Grace,

We occasionally use caterers at my company to provide food and beverages for customer classes and meetings, and once in a great while for larger special functions such as the occasional party.

Is it customary to tip? And if so, how much? For the large special occasion, should the overall tip be 15 percent to be shared among the staff? I've pored over various etiquette sites, and I've gotten little guidance.

I'll note that we'll tip the occasional pizza delivery guy, but haven't tipped the guy from the corner coffee shop that provides the coffee and cookies for our meetings.

We recently had a special evening event for about 80 people, with 2 servers, a bartender, and 2 chefs. It went well, and after the function, we sent the caterer a thank-you e-card and followed up with a thank you letter with a personal check that amounted to a $20 tip for each of the 5 people who helped out at our function. Was that adequate? I'll also note that we're having the same caterer back in another week for another function. I'm concerned that a tip of too little is almost worse than not giving one at all. Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

Rhonda Gray

Dear Ms. Gray,

First, I think I speak for most food-service professionals when I say that a small tip is preferable to no tip -- even tiny amounts of cash spend more easily than nothing at all. For a large, heavily catered party, the gratuity should be discussed during the planning process; it's not impolite to ask a caterer if a gratuity is included, and if it isn't, what the best way to deliver tips is. Giving a 15 or 20 percent tip to the person in charge to share among the staff is customary, but sending a tip with a thank-you letter sounds nice, too.

But what about the poor chap who brings the muffins? There may be a subtle distinction between him and the pizza deliverer. If the former has a long-term contract with your company, a deal may be in place with him or his employer. He might be, in effect, contracting with your firm. Though it's a fine (and frustratingly vague) distinction, we don't tip people who work for us or for our company in the same way that we tip others who serve us.

It's not wrong to tip the pastry and coffee fellow every week if you are moved to do so, but you might choose a holiday tip or gift instead -- a common way to express appreciation for consistent, year-round service.

Dear Social Grace,

Last night my partner and I went to a party where the (well-meaning but oblivious) host essentially took our coats, kissed us hello, and abandoned us. I know the man didn't mean to be rude, but as we loitered in his living room, thirsty and feeling shy, we felt a bit uncomfy. Could you please give everyone a quick run-down of party-hosting etiquette? I was given to understand it was something like this:

1) When guests arrive, welcome them effusively and take their wraps.

2) Offer them a beverage of some sort, and show them the food.

3) March them up to one guest or another and form a sort of conversational bridge for them: "Bob, you might want to meet Sue. You both have interests in batik and Romanian cuisine."

4) Repeat as necessary.

5) Meanwhile, swoop about the room making sure empty glasses are filled, gaps in the buffet table are remedied, and all guests are chatting with each other.

Which reminds me to ask: As the host wasn't going to introduce people around, I took it upon myself to chat with some of the guests who were sitting solo, uncomfortably sipping drinks. I'd sidle up, start chatting with the solo person, bring one or two others into the conversation, and then duck out to go rescue another poor lost soul. Was I, in fact, performing part of the host's duties? Or would he have been too busy refilling glasses and the buffet to do this, and this is in fact one of a good guest's duties?


Dear Partying Madam or Sir,

You've done a nice job of elucidating a few points of cocktail-party host etiquette, though I don't advocate hostly "swooping" -- unobtrusive sidling or nonchalant sauntering is less likely to spill drinks or frighten guests. (And Mother Grace would be disappointed in me if I forgot to remind you that one never answers the door with a drink in one's hand.) But with that, we can get right to your central question: Yes, a good party guest makes every effort to socialize with other guests, introducing herself if the host cannot introduce her. She'll even have some topical subjects at the ready. But her activities in that area shouldn't usurp the host's role. It is possible to overdo it, and if you find yourself standing atop a coffee table and exhorting people to reveal their most-embarrassing moments, you may have gone too far.

About The Author

Social Grace


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