SPECIAL SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
Q. What’s the order for seating divorced parents at the ceremony?
ANNA: In the lucky event that all the parties get along, there’s no reason why divorced parents can’t share the front row, but in most cases divorced parents are seated separately at the ceremony and at separate tables at the reception. In general, the mother of the bride or groom and their respective spouses or escorts, children, parents, and relatives are seated in the first rows, followed by the father of the bride or groom and their respective spouses or escorts, children, parents, and relatives. Here is the standard order of seating when parents are divorced:
SHOWER GIFT ETIQUETTE
Q. My aunt is hosting a bridal shower for me. I think it will be really boring for guests to have to watch me open gift after gift, and I am wondering if it would be okay for me to open the shower gifts at home later. What do you think?
ANNA: It can be hard to be the center of attention, but it really wouldn’t be fun for the other guests if you just collect all the gifts and stash them in your car. The whole point of the shower is for guests to “oooh” and “aaah” over the gifts, and for you to show your appreciation and enthusiasm as you open them. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a marathon opening session.
Encourage your aunt to keep the guest list small. The more guests there are, the longer it will take to open the gifts. (It’s okay for you to do this because the shower hostess should consult the bride-to-be on the guest list, if for no other reason than to be sure that those invited to the shower will also be wedding guests.) You also don’t have to open all the gifts at once; consider splitting the session before and after refreshments.
It’s fun to receive presents—especially when they are for you! So I encourage you to get in the spirit of the event, open your gifts with enthusiasm, and graciously thank the givers.
RECEIVING LINE ALTERNATIVES
Q. My fiancé and I would like to skip the receiving line at our wedding because we think it’s too formal, but I’ve read that we must greet all of our wedding guests. Do you have any suggestions on how we do this?
ANNA: You have done your etiquette homework and are correct: The bridal couple should greet each wedding guest and thank him or her for attending their wedding. This remains one of the biggest “musts” of all wedding etiquette, though you have options as to how you do it. Many couples forgo the formal receiving line and instead opt to visit each table of guests during the reception. It’s certainly a more relaxed and personal way for you to spend time with your guests, allowing for conversation that goes beyond the formulaic greetings exchanged in a receiving line. This approach works best when a sit-down meal, either served or buffet-style, is planned because it guarantees that all your guests will be available and in the same spot.
You will need to do some advance calculations and planning. It will take about five minutes per table to visit and chat. So, for a wedding with one hundred guests (which translates to twelve tables of eight to nine guests each) plan on a full hour. Sprinkle the visits during the different courses—first course, entrée, and dessert. Make sure you have time to enjoy your meal, too! If your wedding has more than about 75-100 guests, table visits may take too much time to accomplish, making a receiving line a good idea after all.
However you do it, in addition to speaking with each guest, take a moment to publicly welcome and acknowledge your guests and thank them for being with you on your wedding day. You can do this after you make your entrance to the reception or during the toasts. It’s a small gesture, but it does so much to show your appreciation for your family and friends.
INCLUDING FLOWER GIRL AND RING BEARER
Q. My six-year old niece and my fiancé’s five-year old nephew are going to be our flower girl and ring bearer. Should they be included in any pre-wedding parties?
ANNA: The flower girl and ring bearer are not usually invited to showers and obviously, because of their ages, not to bachelor or bachelorette parties, as these are generally adult affairs. The children might be invited to a pre-wedding luncheon hosted by or for the bridesmaids or groomsmen. This is certainly a judgment call on the part of the hosts, taking into consideration the nature of the event and the maturity of the children.
It is a traditional courtesy to invite the flower girl, the ring bearer, and their respective parents to the rehearsal dinner, but it is not mandatory for them to attend. If it is going to be a late night, parents may choose to decline the invitation, or let the children attend for a short while and then depart for an early bedtime. Either way, the goal is to have the children well rested for the wedding. If the children do attend, this is a good time to present them with their thank-you gifts from the two of you.
MENU PLANNING FOR SPECIAL DIETARY NEEDS
Q. We are in a panic over planning our menu. We have a number of friends who are vegetarian or vegan, and are also concerned about guests who may have allergies. We would prefer to offer traditional choices of beef or fish, and want to have a meal that is memorable for us, as well. Do you have any suggestions?
ANNA: It is thoughtful of you to take your guest’s preferences and needs into account when planning your reception menu, but you don’t have to go to the extreme of calling each one and asking what they can or cannot eat. There is a balance between being sure that every guest can eat everything and knowing that all guests can find enough to enjoy. Since you already know that you will have a number of vegans and vegetarians at the table, work with your caterer to make sure that there is at least one vegan entrée, as this is the most restrictive. Chances are there will be a number of items on your more traditional menu that are vegetarian friendly—salads, fruit dishes, and vegetable side dishes. If they are prepared vegan-style, (say without butter or using vegetable instead of chicken broth) they will be acceptable to all your guests. Then, be sure that your menu also features the entrée that you, as the guests of honor, would most enjoy at your wedding feast. When it comes to allergies, it is the guest’s duty to inform the host when there is something that might prevent him or her from partaking in the meal. Sometimes it is something simple—if raw tomatoes are the problem, they can be omitted from the salad. Other conditions, such as nut and or shellfish allergies, are more pervasive, so ask your allergic guests about a solution that will keep them safe at your table. Again, keep your caterer informed; they’re pros at accommodating all kinds of scenarios and will help you plan the best meal possible.
TO INVITE OR NOT INVITE
Q. Do I have to invite my good friend’s husband to my wedding? He is somewhat loud, and neither my fiancé nor I like him. My friend doesn’t know how we feel about her husband. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but we’re concerned that her spouse will get rowdy at the reception.
ANNA: Married couples, engaged couples, and any other couple in a committed relationship are always invited together to a wedding. It doesn’t matter if you only know one of the pair or if you don’t like one of them—they are a package deal. Think how hurt your friend would be if she received an invitation addressed just to her? She’s bound to wonder if it’s a mistake. There’s no way that you would be able to explain your choice tactfully, and if you admit to disliking her husband, you may damage your friendship irreparably.
Invite them both and then have a plan for your reception, just in case. You may be anticipating trouble where there is none. It’s likely that his behavior is more noticeable in a small group than in a large one. Your first strategy is to seat this couple with people who are easy going. Then, so you don’t have to think about it on your wedding day, ask a groomsman to keep an eye on this guest once in a while, and to distract him or engage him in conversation if he seems to be getting loud. I think that after your wedding you’ll be glad you invited them both and that you didn’t risk your friendship.