The Evil Reception Hierarchy

by admin on July 25, 2012

Yesterday I had the misfortune of attending a wedding of 2 friends of mine from high school. They’re both 20 and it was actually a fairly nice and simple ceremony, with about 90 people in attendance.

What is important to note is the invitations that all the guests received.

(Mr) and (Mrs) (Name) invite you (etc. etc.) … at 2 in the Afternoon, with reception to follow immediately, and included with this invite was a small “ticket” with the exact same wording on it which everyone at the ceremony had tight in hand. In the little room they had the ceremony there were about 4 tables off to the side, which I assumed would be for the meal after. And I wondered, “Wow, how will this many people fit there?”

After the ceremony (in between “you may kiss your bride” and “I present Mr. and Mrs….”), however, the pastor announced that there would be a receiving line to follow immediately with dinner and drinks to follow at 5 PM and “those without the proper invitations can join for dancing at 8 PM”. It took about a minute to take hold and about 3/4 of the congregation realized they’d been duped since not a word was written on the invites about anything at 5. The receiving line moved very quickly and I heard only a few “congrats” as people rushed by the bride and groom embarrassed.

This means every single person there was under the impression they were attending a RECEPTION afterwords, which means their gift table was overflowing since 90 people felt obliged. Turns out only about 20 were actually going to eat. Needless to say there were MANY people very upset, since they were so heavily mislead. I even heard this morning from a guest I knew who was invited to the dinner that several attendants had to escort loud, cursing and fighting (and drunk) people from the reception hall at 5 since they were not actually invited, but were under the impression they were. Two were even arrested!

I’m sure it’s wrong to make an assumption about their intention, but I can’t help but wonder if the language on the invite was specifically to grab some extra gifts. 0722-12

Oh, I’m sure some disreputable wedding site or magazine assured them they could get away with this and none of their guests would mind.  I’ve seen it more and more frequently where the family or couple want a lot of friends to come to the wedding but cannot afford to feed that many people so they have a cake and punch reception immediately after the wedding ceremony for all but retire a few hours later with a much smaller group of guests for a dinner.   It categorizes your friends and family in a hierarchy of relationships with the peons only allowed to imbibe in a slice of cheap cake and tepid punch while the esteemed guests are feted with a nice dinner.

For the pastor to actually make an announcement that includes the words “proper invitations” is ghastly and ungracious.

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint July 25, 2012 at 4:28 am

Ooh, I agree with Admin, and double on the ‘proper invitations’!

People who do this always say things like, “Well, we did that and nobody minded!” No, nobody told you. That’s not the same thing.

Also, people who do this do a LOT of damage to their relationships. Oh, their friends still are their friends, but there’s a distance. People don’t think as well of them as they did. People are hurt, and remember that hurt, and quite a few people will forever distance themselves. In truth, I can’t see myself bothering again with a couple who would treat me like that – life is too short and too full of so many better folk out there.

A couple here had a grasp-tastic wedding last year: the begging-for-money poem, a pay-as-you-go BBQ, invited 350 people begging ALL of them for money and people got 2 hours of dancing as the one free thing, beyond the very few who got a meal after the service. Many of the guests really minded – quite a few are very young and casual, and haven’t attended weddings except as tiny kids, but they knew they’d been ripped off and used. That couple really showed themselves up, and one year on their standing hasn’t recovered. Maybe one day they and the couple in this story will realize that people would far rather not be invited at all than treated so badly.


Stacey Frith-Smith July 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I agree! It seems so cheeky to inflate the guest list and simultaneously diminish the level of hospitality! What really puts the whole “caper” at the “over the top” level, however is the division of guests into “commoners” and “privileged”. It is so repulsive and so utterly antithetical to common decency that one feels certain that for many who make this unwise choice their standing will never recover with their abused friends and associates. I suppose if they had a series of parties where they carefully and cordially invited and entertained each of the guests they so foolishly snubbed while confessing their youthful blunder, it might help. It’s never too late to begin, but the costs of abusing the goodwill of those in one’s circle is high, as indeed it should be. Who among us doesn’t have some moments whose memory makes us rue our own poor choices? That sting lasts!


clairedelune August 4, 2012 at 9:47 am

Ha!–I love “grasp-tastic.” I kind of want to steal that!


Cherry July 25, 2012 at 5:38 am

If this ever happened to me I’d have walked right past the bride and groom, grabbed my gift and marched out. If anyone tried to stop me, I’d have said “I brought you a gift on the assumption that we were close enough friends that I was considered worthy of your time. Now that I have been corrected in my assumption, I feel this gift is no longer appropriate”.

Hierarchies in wedding receptions are guarenteed to lose the happy couple a lot of friends. This looks to me like a total gift grab, and I’d advise cutting all contact immediately.


Just Laura July 25, 2012 at 9:52 am

I’m a little confused. In your hypothetical scenario, you were invited to a friend’s wedding. You chose to attend the wedding, and out of love for the couple, you purchase a gift. If you find that you aren’t going to a reception, you would take your gift back?

I thought the point of giving gifts isn’t to act as an “admission ticket” to a reception, but because the giver truly wants to give to a friend.

I’m not saying the bride and groom didn’t handle this poorly, but I’m a little worried about everyone’s concept of the meaning of gifts.


Vrinda July 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm

In this hypothetical scenario, Cherry is bringing a gift out of affection for the couple, but she is being shown a complete lack of regard from them by not being invited to the reception. She feels that the couple doesn’t deserve the gift, the though behind which was not as an admission’s ticket, but to show her friendship with them, but they showed that they don’t value her friendship as much. As a result, she is taking the gift back.


badkitty July 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The point is that it would be inappropriate to give such a personal gift to someone with whom you are apparently not that close. Further, if you are intending to cut ties with someone, best no to reward with a Cuisinart the behavior that caused you to cut ties. I agree that a gift is not an admission ticket to a reception, nor is it meant to offset the cost of hosting you, but it IS a gesture of both the standing relationship and the evolution in of that relationship in the future, and if you’re not planning on burdening these people with your affections in the future, you are permitted to leave as you arrived – gift and all.


grumpy_otter July 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I don’t think Cherry, or any reader of this site, would ever actually do that. But don’t we all think these thoughts when something like that happens?

Happened to me once–got shafted for the dinner and was supposed to wait around for 3 hours for the dancing and cake. I went home instead, after wishing B & G good luck.


clairedelune August 4, 2012 at 9:55 am

Just to agree with the others…I don’t think she’s considering the gift a literal quid pro in this hypothetical scenario (“your gift buys you one meal!”) only that being insulted so enormously reverses the sentiment that led to her buying the gift in the first place.


June July 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

My thoughts exactly.


Wim July 25, 2012 at 5:46 am

While I agree that in this story the pastor didn’t handle things too well, and the invites may have been ambigous, I would like to point out that wedding receptions etc. are an area where there are great differences in custom between the US (or perhaps the Anglo-Saxon world as a whole?) and other countries.

I don’t know where this story took place, but here in Belgium, nobody invited to a wedding reception will expect to be served a meal. At wedding receptions, drinks and canapés (and sometimes cake or other sweet treats) are served to an extended group of people (including for instance co-workers, neighbours, fellow church members, old family friends, etc.), hence they will usually have a fairly large guest list. Receptions like this usually take place in the (late) afternoon, and last 1.5 to 3 hours.

In addition, many couples also organise a sit-down meal in the evening, but this is usually just for close friends and family, and a separate invitation for it is sent to a more restricted guest list.
Other couples opt for a less formal dance party formula, for which the guest list may be larger, but for which still a separate invitation is sent.

To give you an example: we’ve invited about 210 people to our wedding reception next September (including co-workers, old uni friends, etc.), but only 60 people (i.e. our immediate family and close friends) to the dinner afterwards.

This large reception / small dinner formula is widely accepted in Belgium (I can’t speak for other countries, as I’ve never been to a wedding abroad), and not frowned upon as any sort of etiquette faux pas. It’s simply a way of allowing many people to be part of your wedding day.


Elizabeth July 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

Thanks for describing the Belgium custom. It is important to recognize that customs vary around the globe.

I think the difference between what you’re describing and what the OP experienced is that the dinner occurred in between the ceremony and the larger reception. So, people were asked to leave, presumably have dinner on their own, and then return for some dancing. And, it was made very clear that there is an A-list and a B-list. It sounds like the Belgian way of doing things eliminates this.


bookstoread July 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

This is also the norm for where I live in the US as well. Perfectly acceptable to have cake and punch afterwards and maybe a dinner later on for close family and friends.


The Elf July 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

Where do you live in the US? The only time I know where that’ll fly is if it is the cake and punch reception IS the reception (you don’t always need to serve dinner!) and the dinner later was a hey-it’s-all-done-let’s-get-some-dinner more casual thing.


June July 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

I think your idea is fine and would have been fine in this situation except the entire guest list received the *same* invitation and *tickets*. No seperate invitations were sent. They found out at the ceremony that many were not invited to the meal portion of the reception.

It’s rude to announce to your GUESTS that only a few can eat with the happy couple and everyone else can entertain themselves for three hours but can come back at 8 to dance the night away.


Catrunning July 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Out of curiosity, are all the “no-dinner offered” guests expected to give wedding presents? And if so, are those presents comparable to the presents given by the A-listed guests?


Wim July 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

In our case, none of the guests are expected or required to bring a present, as we decided not to mention anything about it in the invitations. However, some guests have already indicated they intend to buy us a gift, and one couple has already sent us a very generous gift while rsvp-ing, 8 weeks before the actual wedding.

Although I must admit we also have our share of gimme pigs who include gift registry cards, bank account numbers, etc. in their invitations. I don’t know how others handle these, but I’m personally inclined to be more generous towards those not solliciting gifts or money, and a little less so towards those who do. Whether I’m only invited to the reception or also to dinner is not really something I take into account.


The Elf July 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I’ll buy that there are cultural differences regarding wedding customs.

However, it’s pretty clear from the invitations – and the post – that it wasn’t the custom where they were.

If a couple is getting married using traditions from a different part of the world, then I would expect the family to do a lot of legwork to make sure these customs are understood prior to the wedding day.


ellen July 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I’m with posters below – not all US weddings are accompanied by meals, many have small punch & cake, morning tea/brunch, or cocktail receptions. Indeed, for a wedding at 2pm I would not automatically assume the reception would include dinner. If a small meal for the family and bridal party took place after the formal reception, who’s the wiser? No offense there.

The offensive part was the issuance of tickets, the wording of the invitation that stated a reception would immediately follow, general announcement that some of the guests were essentially “uninvited” from the reception following the ceremony, and the expectation that guests would leave and come back later. Very poor form all around.


Emmy July 25, 2012 at 6:19 am

I know it’s bad etiquette, but If I was one of the guests? I’d be hashing it out with people I knew there—be it Mother, friend etc. As is “What are we going to do?” I think it’s terrible to treat friends and family this way. And, what really gets me is, what are the rest of the guests going to do while the guests with “proper invitations” are eating? Do they really expect people to leave, come back three hours later for a three hour drink session, or come back five hours later for dancing? This makes no sense to me. Why would any couple (and their organizers/parents, bridal party) want to make others feel less than?


KarenK July 25, 2012 at 7:17 am

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, a story like this pops up.

I wonder how many came back for the dancing later. I’m betting not very many. Did anyone take their gift back? Probably not. It sounds like if you did not have a “Proper Invitation,” you were unceremoniously ushered out of the building, thus having no chance to retrieve it.


Katy July 25, 2012 at 8:41 am

That sound of the door slamming is all of the couple’s so-called friends walking away and never coming back. If they think this is how to treat your guests at a wedding I bet they’re in for a rude awakening if they ever have a baby shower. I’d never trust an invite for an event for them again.


No Wedding July 25, 2012 at 8:55 am

I was in a wedding party where the bride and groom had a cake/punch reception immediately following the small wedding (probably about the same number in attendance as in the OP’s story). Then, after everything was over (and the wedding party had stayed to help clean up), the wedding party went back to our hotels, changed clothes, and the bride and groom took us out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I didn’t really see anything wrong with that, it was several hours after the wedding, so it was like a separate event.

I was also invited to a wedding where the ceremony was held at a church in X city and the reception was held in Y city (about 30-40 minutes away) about 2 hours later! And it was a full dinner/dance reception, so it wasn’t like we weren’t “on the list…” unless they invited more people to the reception than the wedding??? It was weird to have to go kill some time and then drive to the reception and nibble on appetizers and wait for the bride and groom to show up.


LovleAnjel July 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

There are two reasons I can immediately think of for this. They hewed to the tradition of not taking pictures until after the ceremony, so they spent 2 hours doing that, or (as a friend of mine did this summer) one or both of the couple had elderly relatives too ill to be at the ceremony, so they went to their hospital room/home to visit immediately afterwards, then on to the reception. Perhaps the reception venue was the closest one capable of handling the size of their guestlist. Perhaps they got a really good deal on the site.


Angel July 25, 2012 at 9:36 am

I loathe things like this. It doesn’t matter if it’s culturally acceptable where you live, it’s just rude and appalling. I too would have taken my gift and walked out. That’s disgusting.


Sandi July 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

Several years ago when I was a 21-year-old college student, I was maid-of-honor for a good high school friend who pulled the “reception hierarchy” ploy at her wedding. Immediately following the service, a small reception was held in the back of the church, with finger foods, punch and a small cake that the bride and groom cut in front of the small number of guests who had filtered back there. Then, an hour later, I accompanied the wedding party to a country club, where the “preferred” guests were waiting for a sit-down dinner with dancing, open bar and the “real” cake. I just remember wondering why they bothered to invite people that weren’t good enough for the real reception, and it just seemed incredibly tacky. Their marriage didn’t last, and I honestly wasn’t surprised.

But apparently I have several friends who are etiquette-challenged. I recently received an invitation to a formal ceremony for a couple who have already eloped, only they made sure to (1) schedule this ceremony in a popular destination town during a very popular festival that would make finding an affordable hotel room difficult if not impossible and (2) put on the invitations that they prefer cash for gifts. I intend to RSVP “no.”


Jay July 25, 2012 at 9:55 am

@Wim: If this was in Belgium, then, the submitter wouldn’t have submitted it :). And at least they get the order right.. people expect a non-meal reception after the ceremony, and then close family has a meal after that (in the US, that’s typically a “rehearsal dinner” the night before).

In this case, people had an invitation to “a reception”, except that the reception was dancing at 8, and they had to kill 3-4 hours and find their own food while the top 20 guests had their wedding dinner. Not cool.


Wim July 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm

True, this story was quite weird and the way it was handled was rude, especially because all the guests were already there but were then basically told to get out and come back later, after the Better Guests had had their meal.

However, a large gap between wedding and reception is also not uncommon in my part of the world. In fact, our wedding will take place in the morning, and our reception starts at 4 in the afternoon. The reason is simple: in our city, as in most Belgian cities, you can only get married in the morning, and having a reception at 11am is not ideal, hence our afternoon reception. Usually only close family will attend the actual wedding, and the invited guests, although welcome to attend the wedding if they wish, will usually only attend the reception.

Some couples will bridge the gap between wedding and reception by having an additional church wedding in the afternoon (church weddings in Belgium are not valid in themselves, i.e. they are optional, but you cannot have one unless you are already legally married before), which guests may also choose to attend. As we are not religious, we will in fact have a 5-hour gap, during which we will have a quick sandwich lunch and we will be on tour with our photographer to have our wedding pictures taken on various locations accross town.


The Elf July 26, 2012 at 10:29 am

Around these parts, a large gap between ceremony and reception is not ideal, but it’s not terrible either. It’s also usually in the invitation (i.e. ceremony at 10am, reception at 5pm, it’s not hard to do the math). This is something different.


Kendra August 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

My curiosity is killing me, so I have to ask: Why can you only get married in the morning in Belgium and why aren’t church weddings valid?


Cupcake July 25, 2012 at 10:13 am

My parents are English and when they were married (in the 80s), it was apparently the norm to have a small dinner reception just for family, followed by a big party with drinking and dancing for everybody. I know of other places where it’s customary to do what Wim said, invite a large group to the ceremony and perhaps give them light refreshments before or after, and have a smaller group for a formal reception. I don’t think these practices are necessarily rude, just different.

But if everyone gets an invitation saying “with reception to follow”, and not everyone is actually invited to that reception, that is different and I do think it’s rude. It’s like making a Facebook event for your birthday party and adding everyone you know to it, then sending written invtations to a few people and turning away the rest at the door. i.e. They have told people about an event, through the medium of an invitation, yet not all of those people are officially invited to the event. Wrong wrong wrong. And weird.


Bint July 26, 2012 at 5:03 am

Yeah, it’s normal in the UK to have the ceremony and then sit-down meal, then an evening reception at about 7pm with more guests. However, everyone invited to the ceremony is invited to the sit-down meal! The evening guests come for the dancing, usually have a buffet and some drinks on arrival, and are definitely not expected to bring a present.

Nobody gets sent away and expected to come back later! Yi yi yi! Ruuuuuuude! I’d also have taken my present and gone. That present was for my friends, which this couple clearly are not!


margo July 30, 2012 at 7:59 am

I agree.

In the UK, it’s not uncommon to have an evening ‘reception’ which will have more guests that the actual ceremony or ‘formal’ reception, but the basic rule is that you can add more people, but once someone is invited, they are invited for eveything from that point on.

So if you’re invited to the ceremny, you will also be invited to the reception (and any evening ‘do’)
You can’t invite someone to (say) the ceremony and the evening party, but not the formal reception.

The last wedding I went to was that of a collegue – she invited family and close friends to the ceremny and a formal reception, with sit down meal, speeches , toasts etc, then there was an evening disco for a much bigger crowd. Here, it’s seen as a way of being able to have more people celebrate with you. I think most people would still give a gift, but it would probably be smaller – to reflect the fact that if you are invited only to the evening ‘do’ your relationship with the couple is probably more distant in any event.

I’ve also been invted to reception only when people have been married at a registry office (where the rooms forthe ceremony are often fairly small, so only a limited number of people will fit) ior in a small church or chapel.

Iagree that what happened in the OP’s description was very rude, and the wording of the announcement and invitation were particularly poor.


Katharaina July 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

I don’t really see a problem with having an earlier reception for all invitees and a later one for your closest family and friends. BUT only if it is handled discreetly and the hosts still graciously receive all of their guests at the earlier reception. One of my good friends had an early afternoon wedding followed by a dessert reception at the church. Besides cake and punch, she also served a variety of cheesecakes, pie and coffee. During that reception she and her husband made sure to mingle with each of her guests and thank them for sharing the day with them. I think they were wonderful hosts and provided their guests with a very nice reception. There was absolutely no mention of a second reception. Later that evening they hosted a more intimate dinner for family and a few friends. I was one of the people invited to the dinner so my perception may be a bit skewed but I’ve also been to a wedding where I wasn’t one of the people invited to the “other” reception and I was okay with that. Sometimes all you want to do is attend the wedding, say congratulations to the newlyweds, have a piece of cake and go on with your day.


bookstoread July 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

I hate this sort of thing too, but will take a little umbrage with Admin here.

First, there is nothing wrong with a cake and punch reception after a wedding. And there is doubly nothing wrong with having a small intimate dinner much later on with just close friends or just family if that is what the couple wants. There is NOTHING wrong with that. You don’t have to go to the wedding. The couple doesn’t OWE you anything because you choose to come. You don’t have to bring a gift. The couple can choose to have what they want.

The problem here is that the couple did it in the wrong order and ANNOUNCED their intentions. Very poor taste and does embarrass people; therefore making B & G a bad host/ess.


FunkyMunky July 29, 2012 at 8:33 am

I disagree. As hosts, the couple do owe all of their guests some form of refreshment. If they only want 20 at the dinner, only invite twenty. If they can’t afford to feed everyone steak, feed them something cheaper. The reception should include all of the wedding guests. A separate dinner later if fine, but the reception itself should not be restricted to a ‘higher class’ of guest.

This couple basically said to their guests “we decided it wasn’t worth the expense to feed you. Go get your own food then come back for dancing”.


kellyrnh July 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

Wow, what a slap in the face. Not only do they not make the honored list to get fed, but they have to LEAVE and then come back hours later for dancing? This whole scenario screams complete inconsideration. Sheesh.


hoorahh July 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

Pastors in churches need to know when to counsel young couples against making these sorts of announcements, but guy pastors may not have enough etiquette-sense to know when they should say these sorts of things or not. Either way, a wedding invite should be clear enough to each invitee that he or she should not have to hear something announced after the wedding to know whether they are going to dinner, for drinks, or dancing and when and where they should go, right? Or am I misunderstanding these invitations?

A hierarchy is very common. I was in a group of friends once invited to a wedding. Another close friend of mine was not invited to the wedding, but instead invited to the dinner reception. I couldn’t understand why some of us were invited to one thing, and others invited to the other, but it does make you realize that your friendship is being compartmentalized and categorized.


--Lia July 25, 2012 at 11:10 am

Cherry has it right. Or else plan in the first place on sending the gift to the house afterwards. That way, assuming that everything goes well (and it usually does), you send the gift. If it doesn’t (and I’d say scamming almost 90 people into thinking they’ve been invited to a reception immediately afterwards qualifies), you exit and never see the couple again.

But that said, wow. I’m even wondering if the ticket and invitation had been honest, if the ticket had said wedding at 2, dancing at 8, even then, still wow. I can’t understand why you’d want to start your married life alienating nearly everyone you know.


Cat July 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

This behavior may be repeated in a variety of ways. After searching for my birth family for more than thirty years, I finally located them. There were four children who had been given up for adoption and at least seven more who had remained with the birth mom. For reasons that were no fault of mine, I was never invited to family reunions, weddings, or retirement parties, but my uncle always made sure that I received photos of all events from which I was excluded with the notation that I was ‘absent’.
And then there was the time that one of my former students died. As church parking was limited, I offered to allow another of his teachers to park at my house and I drove us both to the church. There we met a third teacher. When the service ended, the two turned to me, explained that they were going out to lunch, and that the car would be left at my place until they finished eating.
This is similar behavior. There are people who see nothing wrong in insulting others in various ways so long as they can get what they want whether it is just a chance to bestow a simple insult, free safe parking, or a wedding present. Fooled me once but they won’t have a chance to do it again.


Mamabulldog July 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Wowsers! I thought what my friend did was tacky but this is beyond the beyond. I was absolutely horrified when my friend told me that they were inviting everyone and anyone (400+) to the wedding but only 160 to the sit-down reception. I was speechless by her tackiness – I always thought she had more class and etiquette. Then she had the audacity to complain that people had found out about the reception and wanted to know when and where it was. To make it about 100x worse, she decided they would have a quasi-reception picnic the next day that everyone would be invited to EXCEPT (and she thought this was a fantastic idea) the guests would be asked to act as caterers and bring the side dishes. Again – I was horrified. When the invitations came out the RSVP cards (which did not have stamps BTW) actually had a line for you to indicate what you would be bringing. I’m still shaking my head over it.


Snarkastic July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am

Did you write, “Nothing”?


Miss Raven July 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

This is absolutely horrifying. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think there is ANYTHING “ambiguous” about the phrase “Reception to follow immediately.” If the immediate reception is mentioned on the invitation, it’s because you are INVITED to the immediate reception! It’s not just letting you know that, in case you were wondering, there will be a reception but you might be on your own for a few hours because it’s not for you.”

In my opinion, the couple invited 90 people to the reception with those invitations and then turned them away at the door, so to speak. I don’t know who told them it would be okay, I don’t know why the parents didn’t stop them, and I hope the shame of this follows them for many, many years. Even if your whole “reception” is finger sandwiches and iced tea, you’re not allowed to host a reception for a fraction of your guests and send all the rest outside to wait in the meantime.


FaeMao76 July 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

My personal opinion is that if you cannot afford to give all of the guests you invite the same treatment, then you need to either invite fewer guests or have a less expensive reception option. The people you invite to your wedding should be the people you care about the most and the ones you want to share your special day with. If you have a lot of people to invite then you should opt for a simple reception.


Mary July 26, 2012 at 9:09 am

Agree! My mom always said, first you decide who you want to invite. THEN you decide what type of reception you can afford for those guests. Not the other way around.


Lex July 26, 2012 at 6:07 am

It is generally common custom in the UK to have a Wedding, followed by a ‘Wedding Breakfast’ followed by an ‘Evening Reception’. It is considered poor form to invite someone to the ceremony and only the evening reception. Generally anyone invited to the Ceremony is by default invited to the sit-down Wedding Breakfast and to stipulate that a ceremony attendee is not invited to the sit-down is beyond rude! In fact just inviting people to the ceremony only is rude! It is very common for the Bride and Groom in the UK to have 2 guest lists – the day list (which is usually close and moderately close family and special/close friends or colleagues) and the evening reception list where a wider circle of friends and colleagues will be catered for at a buffet with a bar (rarely open these days, usually venue bar – it is not considered impolite to expect guests to buy their own drinks if they want something different to the wine/champagne offered and included with the meal). This gives ‘day guests’ an option to depart gracefully after the day reception if they have a long way to travel or cannot manage the evening reception due to age/illness/childcare reasons etc. Guests invited to an evening reception understand and appreciate that the Bride and Groom could not accomodate their entire office full of colleagues and wider social circle at the much more expensive sit-down meal and I certainly wouldn’t take offense at being invited to an evening reception by a colleague or casual friend (I’d probably feel touched that they thought enough of me to invite me). I WOULD take offense at being invited to the ceremony, NOT invited to the Wedding Breakfast and then expected back in the evening. That is not the way it is done here. If you are close enough to witness the ceremony you go to the ‘day’ event.

It is pretty unspoken, but in the UK guests tend to expect to see registry cards in invites (I know I do and I’ve never met another person that doesn’t although I am sure there will be some) but there seems to be less obligation to buy from them (several of my Sister’s guests chose not to) and generally Evening Guests are not sent registry cards. As an evening Guest at a former colleagues wedding I bought her a gift voucher for a UK department store I knew she shopped in. I wasn’t asked, it wasn’t even mentioned in the invite, but I know she had a registry list at this place.

Generally the Evening reception is a bit of a free-for-all where restrictions on numbers are pretty much non-existant (although obviously the buffet only caters for a certain amount but buffet food always goes further than expected) and the whole affair is slightly less formal. Sometimes there will be a second receiving line for the Evening guests, but most of the time the Bride and Groom will make themselves available near the doors of the venue to greet their evening guests or the MOH/BM will take responsibility to guide evening guests to the function room and the Bride and Groom will await in the function room to welcome their guests and introduce them (perhaps to MOTB/FOTB/MOTG/FOTG etc). In my experience, the ‘Evening reception’ never starts on time and the guests rarely arrive together and will often be later than the ‘start time’ on the invite. This generally means that whilst the Bride and Groom have an obligation to greet their guests, they cannot be expected to abandon all the other guests to await every last evening guest so there is usually a cutoff after which latecomers seek out the bride and groom themselves.


Puzzled July 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

My husband and I had a “friend” who did this. It was the first time we had ever experienced something like this, and we were absolutely flabbergasted. He and his bride did this to all of his friends, and all of her friends were invited, which made it even worse. Very hurtful. We have had no contact with them again. This was 20 years ago.


delislice July 27, 2012 at 7:30 am

Between jobs, I temped for six months at a company that printed wedding invitations. I was dismayed at what appears to be a growing trend. Invitations will show that the wedding itself is at, say, 1 o’clock p.m., and the reception is at 6 or 7 o’clock p.m.

It seems to me that the couple want a big adults-only night-time party, but not the inconvenience(?) of having a late-afternoon wedding. What are out-of-town or out-of-state guests supposed to do for four hours?

But it’s even worse when you codify the gap by making it clear that there’s something going on during those four hours … for a few select guests, but not for everyone.


cta July 27, 2012 at 10:43 am

I went to a wedding with a hierarchy. My husband was a groomsman and thus we were invited to the “formal reception” which took place right after the wedding ceremony. A close friend of the groom – they grew up together and had remained best friends into adulthood – was living outside the country and was telling me one night that he felt terrible because he had a really important meeting he could not move or cancel and that even if everything went perfectly, his plane still wouldn’t touch down until around 5pm and “that is when the reception starts!” I thought he was confused so I said “J, the reception is at noon – you would need to come in the day before!” Now he was confused … “Wait, the invitation says the ceremony is on the beach at 10:30 and the reception is 5pm in the bride’s mom’s backyard.”

There really was no covering, so I fessed up. I told him that I had an invitation to a reception at a hotel starting at noon. J suddenly didn’t feel so badly about missing his “best friend’s” wedding. He would have paid quite a lot of money to fly him and his wife to the US only to be turned away from the actual reception! And he wasn’t the only one left out. The only friends of the groom at the “formal reception” were members of the wedding party and their spouses. It was mostly family and the bride’s friends. Then after the “formal reception” they took pictures before heading to the “backyard bash.” Guests not invited to the formal reception had to occupy themselves in a town they didn’t know for about 6 hours!

The bride, her mothers and sisters were very impressed with themselves – they bragged that all the couches and stuffed chairs scattered around the backyard for guest seating had been garbage picked! They went around and took them out of the trash. Wooden chairs and benches would have been one thing, but old couches and stuffed chairs from the trash?!?! Ew! And at the end of the night, the mother of the bride clapped her hands, shouted “Party’s over! Grab what you are sitting in and put it on the curb!” The wedding guests, all dressed up, were her garbage collectors!


sterling July 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Well In the South where I am from it is pretty common to have a cake and punch reception right after the ceremony and yes people bring gifts. After that reception the couple has to eat dinner at some point so yes they, their families and their wedding party will probably have dinner together. I never saw this as rude.


Library Diva July 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I don’t think that’s rude. I think it’s extremely rude to trick your friends and family into believing that they’ll get dinner, then kicking them out for three hours and expecting them to come back after they were just insulted.

If financial constraints really required the bride and groom to do this, all they needed to do was hold the dinner after the cake and punch reception instead of before. No one would have ever known.


Aspasia Phipps July 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm

There is nothing wrong with a cake-and-punch reception; and frankly, everything wrong with denigrating someone else’s hospitality because you felt entitled to more. If the bride and groom greet all their guests, if the punch is chilled and the tea and coffee is hot, and the cake is sweet and rich and enough to go around, and there is adequate shelter from sun and rain and good conversation, then that IS a reception and to speculate about the cost of the cake or the quantity of gifts is simply vulgar.

Neither do a host and hostess, simply by virtue of having invited you to an afternoon party, automatically take on the obligation of sharing every subsequent meal with you. They are allowed to have dinner, even if they have it with other friends. In fact, anyone with a full social life is going to host many parties and rarely if ever invite every single life acquaintance to any of them. There is give and take in social life.

The real problem is not tea-and-cake receptions. It is that so many people have forgotten what they should have learned in kindergarten: Don’t hand out your birthday-party invitations in class, unless you are inviting everyone. Don’t expect presents. Don’t think that a fancy present can buy your way into a social event. Don’t talk about parties in front of people who aren’t invited. Don’t try to invite people to only half a party. Don’t keep your guests waiting around while you ignore them to do other things. Don’t show off your wealth by giving showy presents in public — gifts should always be valued for something other than their cost. Don’t show-off period by throwing parties in honour of yourself.

In the vignette where “the pastor announced that there would be a receiving line to follow immediately with dinner and drinks to follow at 5 PM and those without the proper invitations can join for dancing at 8 PM”, the pastor openly announced a party in front of people who were not invited. How gauche can a supposedly leader of people actually be! The bride and groom treated the whole charade — ceremony, reception, dinner, dance — as a single event, scheduling it as one continuous event in the same venue. Ceremony-and-dance guests were expected to kick their heels for three hours — rude even when everyone is asked to dinner but a common rudeness because bride and groom need that three hours to immortalize their portraits for posterity, and maybe for a quick stop at the bar with just the wedding party. That table was loaded with gifts brought by people who were more interested in making sure no-one saw them “come to a wedding empty-handed” than in discreet sending their gifts to the bride’s home as would be proper.

The whole thing is as vulgar as the snide comment about tepid punch. Give me a nice afternoon reception any day, with bone china teacups being filled by an old auntie who was honoured to be asked “to pour”; with refined conversation between ladies in silk dresses and pearl necklaces murmuring “isn’t she lovely! I remember when she was a tomboy…” and a tiered white cake dripping icing-sugar roses. With no rush to shoo the guests away, and the happy couple present from the first moment and greeting everyone, and the last guest drifting off a couple hours later with a sliver of cake tucked in her purse as a “favour”, to tuck under her pillow that night and dream of her one true love.

And if the happy couple then go off and have a late dinner with their siblings and grandparents, who is entitled to hold a grudge? College chums and parents’ business contacts really *are* a different level of intimacy than close family and life-long family friends, and should have the decency to recognize that fact.


Kendra July 30, 2012 at 2:09 am

I agree with Aspasia about remembering what we learned in Kindergarten on how to be decent to each other. Personally, I do not see a problem with “A” and “B” guest lists AS LONG AS that fact is not advertised. People do have different levels of intimacy with different people and a happy couple may want most of them to share in their day. The idea that you should only invite the people you would be willing to chew your own right arm off for, without anesthesia or ketchup, but not others who are not that close but are still an important part of your life is a bit much. I see nothing wrong in a nice finger food/cocktail reception or wedding cake and punch reception, or tea and finger sandwiches reception immediately following the ceremony and then a sit down catered or restaurant dinner for close family and friends later on in the evening. Just because a couple has invited you to share an important day with them does not mean they are required to fete all guests with steak and lobster. As long as the hospitality is there; there is enough food and beverages for all the guests, there is plenty of seating, the happy couple circulates and makes the effort to greet all of their guests, the guests are not made to feel that the only reason they were invited was for a gift; then it is rude for the guest to criticize their hosts hospitality. On the happy couple’s side, if you are going to have two receptions, you have to plan it in such a way that takes all of your guests feelings into account. No matter how beautiful your English Tea reception is, no guest wants to find out that they are good enough to come to your wedding but not good enough to rate your full hospitality. It all comes down to scheduling. If you are hosting an intimate dinner or private reception, either make it several hours after the post-ceremony reception or the next day or, even better, after you return from your honeymoon. Your guests will be miffed, and rightly so, if they notice the “real guests” waiting for the other guests to leave so the “real reception” can start. They will also be offended, with reason, if they arrive at the time on the invitation for the “dessert and drinks” reception to see the “real guests” just finishing dinner. Categorizing your guests is not necessarily rude, letting them know you are categorizing them is very rude.
The couple in the post’s mistake wasn’t that they advertised the fact that some guests were more “special” than others, which they did, but that they invited ALL of their guests to a “reception immediately following” the ceremony then had their officiant UN-invite more than two thirds of their guests at the ceremony!!! My flabber is completely gasted that anyone could be either so clueless or so rude that they would do this to their guests. And that part about “proper” invitations. What, did everyone but the select few have IMproper invitations?!? I don’t know how much to blame the officiant for this because I’m assuming the couple told him what to say here. The whole thing is…..just wow!! I don’t have the words.
I do wonder why the couple would invite everyone then uninvite them at the ceremony. The only thing I can think of, is that they meant to invite only a few to the dinner and the rest to the dancing at 8, but realized at the last minute that they sent the invite for the dinner to everyone, didn’t have enough food and maybe this was the best solution they could come up with? So, with all the invites and little tickets (what were the tickets about anyways) all saying the same thing, how did the dinner invitees know they were invited to the dinner? What was the difference between the “proper” invitations and the rest of the invitations?


JeanFromBNA July 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Those of you who are insisting that a wedding reception guest hierarchy is okay, and that nobody will ever find out are only fooling yourselves. People are able to find out pretty quickly these days what their friends think of them. The hospitality category they fit into, if there is more than one, just makes it official. And believe me, that memory sticks!

There is no polite way to thank people for coming to your wedding, and then tell them to get lost while you celebrate with your “real” guests.


Stacey Frith-Smith July 31, 2012 at 3:17 am

I have to agree with the commentators weighing in against tiered guest lists for wedding events. Picture it– the ceremony was lovely, the reception couldn’t have been more convivial. The cake and tea sandwiches were completely sublime. You have shared in the happiness of a young couple taking its first steps into a new future. Your heart is full. You check the pictures of the event that you were able to snap with your smart phone. So many happy moments! What a sweet shot! You upload it to Facebook. Ha! Here are some amusing photos from the event. Isn’t that sweet? The bride is dancing with her father. Hmm. The background is a bit dark. Ah! The sun has gone down. Who are those other people? That table configuration is different. An after-party? No, an evening reception and dinner. Now the event is marred in your mind. You came to celebrate the day and wound up celebrating a portion of it. How…awkward…. And this is going nowhere good. The moral, in my mind, is not whether you can cleverly conceal other events from guests whom you disbar (you can’t) or whether they have a right to expect the courtesy of attending the events that constitute your wedding (they do) but whether your regard for yourself exceeds your regard for the guests in question. If indeed it does to any great extent, perhaps you should rethink your guest list. When you have a list of people whom affection and loyalty would forbid you from offending, you have yout “real” guest list and can design your event accordingly.


Kendra July 31, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Would the event still be marred in your mind if you noticed that the only people in the pictures are the couple, the couple’s parents and the wedding party? Or take it the other way…you are looking at the pictures posted and think “I don’t remember the bride wearing that dress and when did they serve French Toast? oh, wait, that must be the morning after breakfast with family.” Would you still be offended that you were invited to the wedding, but not the breakfast? One of the typical wedding events that not everyone that is invited to the wedding expects to be invited to is the rehersal dinner. That is usually for the wedding party, the parents and, sometimes, family from out of town. It is also not expected that everyone who is invited to the wedding will be invited to the bacheler/bachelerette parties. There is also the morning after breakfast where the couple usually opens their presents, also usually attended only by family, the wedding party and maybe a very close friend or two. I would assume that pictures from these various events would also be uploaded to facebook. Would you be offended to see these pictures knowing you weren’t invited to them, or would you enjoy the pictures of other wedding events?


anonymous August 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

One thing – it’s pretty clearly believed by people with good etiquette that if a cake and punch reception is all you can afford (for ALL your guests), then there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Now, I agree that having a hierarchy or treating guests differently is downright wrong. If it’s on the same day, it’s a part of the wedding and I just don’t think that’s right (at least by American customs). If it’s on a different day, or a totally different country’s tradition, that’s another story. I could see having a wedding and reception for all guests on one day and taking close friends and family out to dinner the next. Or just invite those close people who aren’t in the wedding party to the rehearsal dinner. I should also note that in much of Asia, the actual “wedding” is something people don’t really attend: it’s between family and maybe one or two very best friends. In Taiwan it’s held at home and is just a prayer to ancestors. In Japan you may go to a temple or shrine. People only attend the reception, and there may be more than one depending on what their families have worked out (couples don’t get a lot of say in what their weddings are like, generally).

But…if some bride or groom stumbles across this post and reads “cheap cake and tepid punch”, and they were planning on a cake and punch reception (again, for all guests), well, that’d make them feel guilty, like they’d done something wrong and the best hospitality they could afford wasn’t good enough…when they’d done nothing wrong at all.

So, I respectfully request that that wording be changed. It’s unintentionally slamming cake and punch, and could be misread to imply that cake and punch is never good enough, even if there’s no hierarchy involved.


Enna August 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

That’s not fair. Myself and family were invited to one reception, but that was a bit different I think as we knew were we all stood and there were no nasty surprises.


Sara E. August 8, 2012 at 12:24 am

How trashy! Either feed all the guests, or don’t bother inviting that many people!


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