Etiquette Update

How do the formalities and traditions associated with many Southern weddings blend with the Internet generation? Lots of couples these days don’t know which rules to hold sacred and which can be broken.

To help with this conundrum, we got opinions from several wedding and etiquette industry experts. Donna Parks, editor of Southern Bride & Groom bridal resource and wedding planning magazine; Randy Pologruto, owner/coordinator of wedding and event planning company All Oksion Events; and Amanita Thomas, etiquette consultant at Raleigh’s House of Etiquette, shared their opinions.

Is it acceptable to offer RSVP for wedding-related events online?

Donna: When guests and friends are accustomed to regular contact online with the host of a wedding related event or party, such as bridal showers and engagement parties, it is considered acceptable to respond in a similar fashion with an email or Facebook RSVP. The wedding and reception invitation response should really be sent by mail.

Randy: With changing times we must change too. So, yes, but also offer an alternate way, such as mail or telephone. There may be someone who doesn’t have email capabilities.

Amanita: You have couples who are more technical-savvy where they put everything online. They do that for consideration of their guests. When couples send out invites by mail, and they’re using that mode of communication, the guests should respond by that mode. If the couple has clearly stated they want response by a website, that’s perfectly acceptable.Weddings bring together many generations, so if there are senior citizens who aren’t technical savvy, there need to be some considerations.

Is there a limit to the number of acceptable showers and pre-wedding events a couple can have?

Donna: Although there isn’t a number limit, the engaged couple should be sure that their same circle of friends and family are not being over-burdened with too many invitations honoring their upcoming nuptials, and especially not to more than two pre-wedding showers or gift-giving parties.

Randy: You may have a shower for work. Then you may have a family and friend shower. Try to prevent overlapping guest in these cases. It could look like an attempt to receive more gifts. If there is overlapping be sure to let the person know, that you want their presence not their present.

Is there an appropriate way to suggest money in lieu of gifts?

Donna: No, not ever! If an invited guest makes the suggestion, you may certainly reply affirmatively. What is acceptable is to have your own wedding website to share with those on your guest list via a Save-the-Date card or email. Registries can be anything the couple chooses these days, including gift amount contributions towards a chosen honeymoon through a travel agency. The only other polite way to suggest money gifts is to allow one or two of your closest and most connected relatives or friends in on the preference, and they may spread the word subtly.

Randy: To me it is no different than asking for certain gifts in a registry. In the invite package just state in lieu of gifts, cash would be appreciated.

Amanita: My suggestion is that if a couple wants cash, they need to convey that verbally to their attendants. Then if people ask, they can convey that they would prefer cash. It’s one of those things that you don’t write, but you can talk about it. There has to be tact on the couple’s end.

When trying to limit guest list, is it OK to invite a friend or family member without including that person’s significant other?

Donna: The safe approach to this dilemma is that any fiancée, fiancé, partner or exclusive “sweetie” for a reasonable period of time qualifies as a significant other and should be invited. If living together, he or she should be included by name on the invitation. If they have their own residence, you need to get their name and address and send a personal invitation.
The bigger quandary for most couples is whether or not to allow ALL single friends to bring a date. This is purely a matter of your budget, the size of the venues and whether or not you want strangers at your wedding. If you have numerous male and female single friends, the wedding could be a fabulous opportunity for them to enjoy an evening getting to know each other and maybe even click with someone.

Randy: All guest should be given the opportunity to bring a “+1.” Not including a spouse or significant other is a good way to start arguments.

What costs should the couple cover for guests who have to travel to attend the wedding?

Donna: It is considerate to provide host accommodations for the men and women in the wedding party. This may be with friends and relatives who are willing to share their homes for a night or two for out of town bridesmaids or groomsmen. All immediate family and persons in the wedding party are included in the Friday night dinner after rehearsal. It is optional to include other out-of-town guests, and certainly polite if the budget allows.

For destination weddings, attendees are on their own beyond the invited wedding events. Many guests make a destination wedding into their annual vacation.

Randy: It is the decision of the guest to attend or not, therefore they should be responsible for travel expenses. However, it is nice to have a basket of fruit or some kind of thank you sent to their hotel room.

Amanita: The couple is not financially responsible for guests travelling or their accommodations, but they can help by finding a hotel or group rate. Getting that information to them to coordinate so they can make accommodations is our responsibility, but there is no financial obligation.

What is the appropriate way to convey a desire for an adults-only wedding?

Donna: The names of the children would be written out on the inner envelope if they are invited. If you have followed this procedure and still are asked if children may come, you can kindly explain that the wedding is more formal and you and your fiancé are not including children. If you have the ability to do so, you may make arrangements to employ sitters for the few guests who feel they can’t travel without bringing their children.

Randy: It is your day. If you choose to have an adult only wedding, just state so on the invitation. Just be sure that this rule is for everyone not just for a few. So this means no kids, no exceptions at all.

Amanita: Children should only be invited to weddings only if their names are on an invitation. It is inappropriate for guests to naturally assume that a wedding invite automatically includes the entire family. It is rude to ask a couple to make an exception to that rule for a given family with children. For a more modern approach I have seen invitations that say simply, “An Adults Only Affair.”

Are there still expectations regarding who pays for the wedding, honeymoon, rehearsal dinner, etc.?

Donna: The old rules are gradually modernizing, but for the majority of couples, here in N.C. and I suspect throughout the South, the traditional rules of the bride’s family handling most wedding day expenses are still being followed, with the rehearsal expenses taken care of by the groom’s family.

Having said that, there are distinct changes afoot when it comes to the wedding expenses. The average age of the first-time bride and groom has risen, and is now in late 20s. Couples are into their careers and are more often paying for their own weddings, or at the very least, supplementing contributions from both sets of parents to create the wedding they want to reflect their own preferences and lifestyle.

More and more couples of all ages today may be gifted a set amount of money from each parent towards their wedding. At that point the couple decides what style of wedding may work for them, and if they will want to add that with what they can include into the celebration. Couples should never take for granted that a wedding is owed to them. Anything offered is always a gift.

Randy: The lines on this subject have gotten so fuzzy throughout the years but, traditionally the groom’s side normally pays for the rehearsal dinner and the alcohol for the reception. All other expenses are the responsibility of the bride’s side.

Amanita: If you’re going ultra-traditional, yes. The core circle for funding that wedding budget is that couple and the couple’s parents. If you’re a family, the ultra-traditional way is for the bride’s family to pay for everything. Nowadays very few do that. The expectation should be that this is the couple’s wedding, so the core people to fund that should be the couple, if they’re wage earners, along with parents.

What’s the best way to deal with family members who try to take too much control of planning?

Randy: As a planner we deal with this a lot. When this happens, I set the bride and groom down and ask if they need me to step in. If they want my help, I gently remind the controlling member that it is the bride and groom’s wedding. While their opinion is appreciated, all final decisions are the bride and groom’s.

Amanita: At the start of the wedding event planning stages, it will be become important for duties and responsibilities to be clearly outlined and agreed upon. It’s a matter of sitting down and deciding who is responsible for what, and everyone needs to stay in their lane. The bride and the couple need to step up and make sure everyone is staying within bounds. If they’ve delegated responsibility, they need to back that.

Are there boundaries to acceptable items to place on a wedding registry?

Donna: Most experts say that you should include everything that is on your dream wish list and offered from your chosen registries. Whether it a Rothschild tea set from Bailey’s or a John Deere lawnmower from Home Depot, some of your family or friends may choose to make a group purchase. You should definitely have a variety of gifts in lower, moderate and higher price ranges included.

Randy: It is recommended that you cover all price ranges. You want to make your guest comfortable, not intimidated. Register in more than one store. You want the guest to have options. It is OK to have a few expensive items on the list but, don’t be upset if nobody buys them.

Amanita: Guests should know that a registry is a convenience for them to make gift-giving easy. It is not a mandate. Guests are encouraged to take a look at the registry to get a good idea of a couple’s taste and style and make favorable gift selections.

Does a person’s second wedding have any special etiquette considerations?

Donna: For a bride’s second wedding, there are no limits on the style and choices for the nuptials and celebration. The couple is expected to pay for and host the entire wedding themselves without parental involvement. If it is the bride’s first wedding but the groom’s second, the parents may host and help pay for their daughter’s wedding.

Although there are no rules, children from previous marriages are usually involved in the nuptials, sometimes with a family vow. The majority of brides forego the veil because of its traditional significance, easy today with the popular and stylish headpieces and British-influenced hats.

Randy: Absolutely not. This should be treated as any other wedding.

Amanita: They call these a remarriage or encore wedding. The only difference I see with that is that before you tell the world, you have to tell the children involved first. It’s a blending of two families. That’s with the assumption that they have kids.

To reach the experts, visit and and call Randy Pologruto at (919) 426-5616.

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