There are three facets of your wedding day planning where mistakes occur if proper rules of etiquette and good taste are put aside – the planning and execution of your wedding invitation, gift delivery and how you thank your guests. To help sort out how to handle each issue, we asked experienced wedding planners and those in stationary and gift etiquette to offer advice and guidance.
Let’s start with the wedding invitation. There are a multitude of mistakes made on wedding invitations.
“Think of it this way,” observed Donna Marie Murphy of Le Marche in Norfolk, Va., “an invitation should be an event” and that event should convey the significance of your day to a guest from the moment he or she opens the outer envelope.
“It is a celebration,” said Murphy. “And everything about it should say so. The invitation, property packaged, should have a story to tell.”
Your formal wedding invitation should start traditionally with the bride’s parents, though evolving family relationships and financial constraints sometimes make this one of the hardest lines to get right. Details get missed in the absence of those with the know-how to get your invitation into proper format, but some of those are “forced errors.” Jennifer LaLonde, owner of The Bridal Dish and an industry wedding planner does her best to share etiquette but ultimately the decision is that of the client. As an example, LaLonde had a mother of the bride who did not want to put her husband’s name on her place card in lieu of her own; her point was that no one ever called her Mrs. John Smith and she wanted it to read Mrs. Mary Smith. Since she was happily married to the bride’s father, her etiquette faux pas implied that she and the bride’s father were divorced and that she had never remairred. But this little detail didn’t seem to concern the mother of the bride.
“At some point, you have to accept that ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,'” LaLonde said.
So what’s the correlation between the formal, traditional wedding invitation and that place card? The level of formality you project with the invitation and other papers at your wedding have to set the stage for your guests’ expectations. As Linda Dyer of Finishing Touches, who has taught etiquette courses for all ages for more than 35 years, has noted, the last thing you want is to plan a black-tie affair, use casual or improper wording on your invitation and then have Aunt Judy and Uncle Ben show up in khakis.
“Make certain that you are communicating as clearly as possible so that awkward moment (such as the place card faux pas) don’t get in the way of the perfect day.
“Today’s couples have an idea that the more elaborate an invitation the more formal it portrays the event to be,” said LaLonde. “Traditionally, it is the simple invitation with letter press font, heavily weighted paper stock and calligraphy that determines it.”
Further, time and location of the event can also indicate the attire, dictating appropriate length of dress for female guests to a jacket and tie or tuxedo for the male attendees. LaLonde always tells couples that the invitation is the “first look” into their wedding celebration.
“I compare the wedding invitation to the first scene of a play,” she said. “It is your opening act!”
As part of that opening act, remember the importance of the placement of the RSVP on the lower left corner of your invitation and even more so, what this means to you and the success of your wedding day. RSVP is a request for a response from the invited person(s) only. In simplest terms, it is an acronym derived from the French phrase respondez s’il vous plait, literally “reply if it pleases you” or “reply please.” This little phrase should have an additional separate card included in the invitation package with property printed (with the mother of the bride or bride’s) return address and stamped envelope. Only those to whom the wedding invitation is addressed should be replying back on this card. For example, if the bride invites a friend “plus one” then it should only be at most, two adult guests. The same applies to husband and wife guests with children. If the bride does not indicate the children on the inner envelope of the invitation, the invite is only for the husband and wife and not the children.
Your Present Should Not be Present
There is one rule to remember and it applies whether your wedding is a formal or casual affair; please do not confuse a wedding for a birthday party. The only “gift” going to a wedding is the guest.
“It is actually considered rude to bring a wedding gift to a reception,” said LaLonde. “Sadly, this is probably one of the most commonly broken rules of etiquette committed by wedding guests.”
Unlike bridal and baby showers or birthday parties, the married couple rarely returns directly hoem after the wedding reception. It is inconsiderate and taxing to saddle the newlyweds with wrapped gifts that they have to move from the reception venue. Someone inevitably has to pack up the pretty packages and take them home.
“Multiply that times, perhaps 50 boxes or more, and you’ve got yourself a job worthy of a moving company,” observed Linda Dyer. If you must bring a gift to the reception, a card with cash is a more convenient option. Otherwise, ship the gift to the bride’s home prior to the big day.
Gratitude Sealed With a Kiss
Finally, don’t forget those thank you notes to guests who sent gifts and to vendors who make your day so memorable.
One of the most common misperceptions made by engaged and newlywed couples,” noted LaLonde, “is that they have one year’s time to write a thank you note for gifts received. This is not accurate.”
A proper thank you note should be written no later than three weeks after receipt of a shower gift and within three months of receipt of a wedding gift. When you receive a wedding gift prior to the ceremony, a note must be sent out immediately. If left to the last minute, the task of writing them is daunting, Dyer added.
“Make a plan, be prepared and don’t be generic in how you thank your guest for the gift.”
“Remember,” said Debbie Fisher of Wedding Corner Invitations, “a thank you goes a long way. In this computer generated world we live in I have had brides ask me to design and preprint their generic thank you notes. This is a definite no-no! Instead, Fisher suggests sharing the task.
“A well-crafted thank you note doesn’t have to fall solely on the bride; let the groom add a note of his own to the same card. The gift, after all, is for both of you.”
Thank you notes are not just for the gifts. Notes should be written to those special people who stood by you on your big day. Wedding planner Lindsey Hocker of Simply Perfect Events advises couples to also remember to thank vendors, musicians and the officiate.
“You can always give a tip/thank you to a vendor by designating one person to pass them out in a sealed envelope (use the planner or a family member) so that the bride and groom do not have to worry about it. That is the most traditional way of handling it, but please do not had a vendor a handful of cash,” she cautioned. “Although the gesture is much appreciated, it can be a bit awkward.”
Linda Dyer would tell any bride, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Remember that throughout your planning process. This is your statement; your story. Details count and people will notice.”