By Becky Raspe
Whether you are the celebrant or a guest at a wedding or b’nai mitzvah, it’s likely at least one burning question will come to mind in regard to etiquette. After all, while some things largely stay the same, others change over time and at some point, you’ll probably be in a situation you’ve never faced before.
If you don’t know who to ask or even where to start in searching for the answer to best fit your situation, Celebrations can help. We sought questions from our readers and friends about what they’d most like to know as another busy wedding season approaches. We then asked local professionals in the planning industry for their takes on how to best approach a few tough situations that inevitably arise during the planning and execution of the big event.
Gina Jokilehto-Schigel, owner and principal of Shi Shi Events, and Kim Singerman, founder of Noteworthy Events, both in Cleveland, share their opinions on common etiquette questions and what they as seasoned planners – both with about 20 years of experience in the industry – would advise clients to do. Their responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is an appropriate wedding gift? Does it depend upon how well I know the couple and how far I need to travel for the event?
Jokilehto-Schigel: Traditional etiquette is that your gift, generally speaking, should be based on the estimated cost of what the couple is spending to host you at the event. If they’re spending, say $150 to $300 per person, etiquette says that amount is appropriate. The problem is, that is just for one person. If you’re going with a guest, you might average that out and say we’ll spend $150 or $200 each.
There is also the caveat of how much you’re spending to attend the event. Is it local? Do you have to travel far? If you’re traveling far, that might make the gift you give less expensive. You should also take into consideration your relationship and closeness to the couple.
Singerman: It’s generally based on two things – relationship with the couple and what you can comfortably afford. If it’s a relative or close friend, that is going to be different than a coworker or old classmate.
As a member of the wedding party, do I have to give a gift to the couple? I’ve already spent so much money.
Jokilehto-Schigel: It is an honor to be part of someone’s bridal party, and yes, there are a lot of expenses that come with that. But, yes, you should still give a gift. You should consider how much you’ve already spent and your closeness, though that is assumed since you’re in their wedding party. Maybe give them a lovely card and write a note that when they return from their honeymoon that you want to take them out, or cook them a meal and host them at your home. That way, you give yourself time to replenish your funds. Something that is still thoughtful and lovely.
Singerman: In my opinion, they are still expected to give a gift. You spent a lot more, but that does come with the territory. When you accept to be a member of the wedding party, you’re also accepting bigger expenses. You’re expected to purchase appropriate attire, attend a wedding shower in some cases, pay for trips and even give a gift. It definitely comes with more financial responsibility.
How should I handle someone being upset they weren’t invited to my family’s event?
Jokilehto-Schigel: I am a big proponent of editing guest lists. It is something that allows you to be more lavish with the guests who are attending. I always encourage editing guest lists down as far as you can. Generally, we advise our couples to talk with those who might bring it up and say they understand their disappointment. In editing that list down, you have to assume there will be people who feel hurt. But, don’t wait for those people to come to you. Make that call and be honest about it.
Singerman: It is important to explain there are limitations with the invite list. Certainly, if the bride’s family is giving the wedding and this is someone on the groom’s side, you’re going to be limited with the number. It is important to explain that and be upfront. I had a client with an out-of-town wedding, so there were limited invites for Clevelanders. So, they held a separate party for their Cleveland friends. It can get sticky, but I think preemptively approaching that is key instead of ignoring it.
Is there ever a situation where you should invite an ex to your wedding? And if you are the ex, should you go?
Jokilehto-Schigel: The spectrum is broad here in terms of relationships with exes. If this is a second marriage and you have an ex you have children with and you’re on friendly terms with and they’re part of your day-to day-life, I think that situation is where it would be appropriate to include that person. Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends – that feels like a big stretch to me unless there is a situation where that person has become completely platonic. It would have to be such a rare circumstance.
Singerman: Let’s say a couple has a blood relative that is an uncle and he gets a divorce to their aunt, but they still have a close relationship with the couple – that aunt should still be invited. But if it is an ex of the couple, that could be a very uncomfortable situation. If it isn’t an ex that is already married or in a serious relationship, that could be weird for your future spouse.
If a guest tells me they’re bringing a different plus one than originally invited, what should I do?
Jokilehto-Schigel: If you invited someone with a plus-one designation and that couple breaks up or that plus one is unable to attend for some reason and they decide to bring someone they’re not dating to the wedding, you can’t say they can’t bring them. There is an exception where if their adult plus one got sick and they decide to bring a child, but the event isn’t hosting children. If the new guest is another adult, you can’t back pedal on the invite – even if the person they bring isn’t your first choice. These circumstances tend to happen very close to the wedding date, but it’s not the end of the world and people can be accommodated.
Singerman: If they were invited without a guest, I would politely remind them that the invitation was just for them. My rule of thumb with plus ones is they either need to be engaged, living together or in a long-term relationship. It is not someone you’d casually ask that you barely know to attend this event. I do think it goes back to your relationship with the couple.
Publisher’s note: Kim Singerman is married to Paul J. Singerman, board chair of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, publisher of Celebrations.