A Wedding Guest Is Stunned By B.Y.O.D (Dinner) Wedding Invitation

Steven PetrowQuestion for Steven: We received an invitation to a commitment ceremony and reception recently with a separate card in the envelope reading, “This is a no-host celebration.” When I talked to one of the brides-to-be about it she said, “We couldn’t afford to cover dinner, so this seemed the next best thing.” We’re kind of shocked and are thinking about not going. Isn’t this déclassé?.

Steven Answers: Your question allows me to reiterate one of the basic rules of good manners (gay or otherwise): Inviting guests to a wedding reception, means that you’re hosting them. If a couple can’t afford to do that in the style they’d like, there are many ways to cut costs, all of which are preferable to asking guests to pony up for their dinners.

However, if you’re close friends with this couple, I would still go, celebrate their love, and enjoy the evening, but perhaps compensate for having to buy your own fiddles by being more frugal on the gift. It also may help to think about the situation like this: There are rules of etiquette (like not charging your guests) and then there are rules of etiquette, like not punishing your friends because they messed up. A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Don’t miss it over this.

Now, here are some of my favorite ways to curb the cost of a run-away wedding:

Reduce the guest list. This is the number one way to curb your out-of-pocket costs.

Combine the ceremony and reception sites. If you can find one site that will work for both events, you’ll likely be able to lower this line item. Often, venues have different locations within them, giving you the cost savings but maintaining the feel of two separate spaces.

Find a naturally beautiful spot. If you don’t need to decorate the chapel or the reception hall, you’ll save on flowers and much more. Think about locations that include views and vistas, as well as outdoor spaces like backyards or more formal gardens.

Plan your wedding for a time of the year or a day of the week that is less expensive. For instance, winter weddings usually cost less than spring or summer ones. Similarly, choosing a weekday rather than a weekend date will help your budget.

Don’t make dinner the focus of your reception. Luncheons are generally less expensive, as are teas, cocktail parties, and, naturally, potlucks.

Ask friends or family members to help you with costs. Not with cash, but by providing a location, preparing some of the foods, arranging for the flowers or the music, or other out-of-pocket costs like linen and table/chair rentals. These smaller ticket items can add up and your friends can really help you out.

Decide what you can live without. Sure you need wedding photos, but do you need a video? Of course, you’ll want to dance, but is live music—with a DJ—a vital ingredient?

Limit your bar. Alcohol is a major cost in most receptions. Instead of a full bar, consider serving beer, wine, and soft drinks, plus just enough champagne for everyone to toast you, but not enough to swill throughout the reception.

Elope! The budget is one of the main reasons straight couples do this.


Steven Petrow is the go-to source on contemporary etiquette, as cited by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. His sometimes gentle, sometimes snarky, always insightful advice has made him a nationally recognized expert on modern manners. In addition to his three prize-winning etiquette books, Steven writes the “Civil Behavior” column for The New York Times and is a sought-after speaker on all matters of civilized living in the 21st century.