It’s Not An Invitation. It’s A Summons To Do Conscripted Manual Labor

by admin on March 11, 2013

I have a friend that is from a Texas town waaaay out in the desert. There are no big cities around it, but the town is fairly substantial – about 80,000 people.

I didn’t know her at the time of her wedding, but I’ve seen pictures. She comes from a prominent family (her father is a well-known and wealthy doctor) and had a HUGE wedding of close to 1,000 guests.

I have done some wedding planning on the side, so I am always interested in wedding details. I looked at her pictures, asked lots of questions (which she was happy to answer) and was in awe of such a huge event. I was curious how they pulled it off and while asking questions about staff and hired help, she said something that completely shocked me.

She stated that the “tradition” in her town is the belief that a wedding is a community event – therefore all guests should help out. When a wedding invitation is sent to a guest, an insert is included in the invitation that includes a specific job for that family. I asked for an example and she said that you might get an insert that says, “Take out the trash two hours into the reception”, or, “Bus all of the guest tables at the end of the reception”.

I still don’t quite know what to think of this. She has only lived outside of her hometown for less than a year (she relocated with her husband after she got married) and she was surprised to find out that wasn’t a common wedding practice. She has been to dozens of weddings in her lifetime, and she has ALWAYS done a job at each wedding.

What do you think of this? Since the entire town accepts this as a common practice, is it acceptable etiquette? Does the whole town just have bad manners? If I was planning a wedding in this town, I think I would have a really difficult time with this practice, but I’m not sure. I’m stumped. What are your thoughts? 0308-13

How can a wedding be a “community event” when the guest list consists of less than 2% of the entire community population?

I have seen this on a much smaller scale in a local church.   The congregation starts off small and when the rare wedding occurs, everyone leaps to help pull it off.  Over time, the congregation size gets larger, the number of weddings increases and the expectation of the church members helping with wedding labor becomes entrenched as a custom.  And when a custom gets established, there are people who enshrine it as a mandatory obligatory service that is owed and must be rendered.   I personally witnessed this in my own church a decade ago.   There was a belief that the people in each small group in the church could be assigned to bring specific food items for the reception or be assigned wedding tasks thus making it possible to have a 20K wedding on a 5K budget using hundreds of free man hours of labor.    I put my foot down, alerted the pastors who honestly had no idea congregants were doing this and the practice was stopped with a complete overhaul of the church wedding policies.  My thoughts then and now are that no one owes you a big, fancy wedding which is a WANT, not a NEED.   Church members, and by extension community members, may have an ethical duty to meet your NEEDS but they are not under any obligation to cater to your WANTS.

Assigning jobs in the invitation assumes the invited guests are actually coming to the wedding.   So the invitation is more of a summons than a true invitation.    It appears the guests have no choice in whether they will serve and how they will serve.   I am all for people volunteering to help by taking the initiative to do so but inserted job descriptions in the invitations takes that initiative away.   When people presume to be owed the labor of others, they will take the initiative to get it rather than waiting to see if people, out of the goodness of their hearts, would freely volunteer to serve.   Given a choice, an overwhelming number of friends and family would prefer to be treated graciously as guests but that doesn’t achieve the goal of a big wedding, does it?     No, your friend’s wedding invitation was really a summons to appear to do conscripted manual labor so that her wedding dreams were realized.

Finally, the last reason why this method of labor acquisition is so bad is that it assumes all guests are of the same cultural mindset.   What of the guests who were not from this isolated community and had no expectation of being treated like hired help instead of treasured guests?

Please tell me the happy couple did not register for gifts, too.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

No Wedding March 11, 2013 at 10:44 am

I would be angry that I have to get dressed up for this event, and then take out the trash and bus tables in my nice clothes! If I’m to perform labor like that, I’m not wearing my good clothes for it!


Marozia March 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Agreed. Sounds like slave labour to me.


Ashley March 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I’ve been to weddings where wait staff only stayed through dinner because they came with the catering company and family of the bride and groom (myself included) had to stay behind and clear tables and take out trash and stuff. I hate it and I think it’s the rudest thing ever. My wedding is in July and my fiance and I deliberately picked a place that takes care of EVERYTHING except centerpieces and cake. All our guests have to do is show up and enjoy themselves.

If I got an invite that had an insert that assigned me to a task like taking out the trash, I’d throw the whole invite in the trash and not go. Okay, I’d at least be polite enough to send the RSVP back stating I wasn’t coming…


inNM March 12, 2013 at 12:14 am

Where is the “Like” button when I need it?

The place that the fiance and I booked does all the setup and tear down and cleaning for the price of the rental. I could not imagine telling my guests in all their finery “Now everyone, please take two chairs, and we can have this place cleared up in no time!” It’s a little pricey, but still within the budget, and that’s a number of things I do NOT have to worry about.


jen a. March 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

Ashley, I am so with you on this. I was in a wedding awhile ago where myself and the other bridesmaid had to break down tables at the end of the night, put away the silverware, and fold up the tableclothes. I was in heels and my dress, and we didn’t know until the end of the evening that this was expected of us. Guests were actually helping us out, while the groomsmen sat around drinking beer (until I went over and basically ordered them to help out). There were about 200 guests at this wedding, and it took us an hour. The bride actually had the nerve to come up to us and tell us to hurry up as she was still paying on the place.

One day I will submit the whole story to Ehell.


Library Diva March 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

That happened to me. I’ve always meant to submit the story. My fiancé’s friends got married in a lovely hotel in an older mountain resort town. However, between the time they booked the venue and the time of the wedding, the hotel changed hands. On the day of the wedding, the new owners were basically trying to extort more money, claiming that we’d damaged the venue (it sure looked like people had been partying in the banquet room for five hours, but it was nothing that an ordinary cleaning couldn’t have fixed) and that clean-up didn’t come with it, and if we wanted them to do it, it would be hundreds more, payable on the spot. So the entire wedding party and their dates stepped up, some distracting the bride and groom while the rest of us cleaned up. My most vivid memory of the night is scraping plates into a trash bag the maid of honor was holding. They didn’t even want to allow us to throw the things out in their dumpsters at first! That was 8 years ago, and I often wonder if the same people still own this venue.


LovleAnjel March 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I’ve helped with the breakdown of rental equipment for weddings – folding chairs and tables, ect. – but I’ve never been asked, let alone ordered to. Ridiculous.


Ashley March 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I should note that yes, I am going to need people to collect centerpieces (since that’s the one thing our place doesn’t do) and grab our card box but the weddings I’m speaking of that I had to help out at, I was taking out trash and folding up tables and doing all sorts of stuff that a guest should not have to do. Especially since it was sprung on us as the last song of the evening was playing. THAT was especially annoying


Bint March 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

At least the bride here has reciprocated ‘dozens’ of times, so she genuinely is giving and taking in what she believes to be the right way where she is from. From her perspective, you can see why she thought it was fine and to many people, it must be. From the outside it looks horrendous. Take out the rubbish? At a wedding? Are you *serious*?

If everyone in the invited group is happy and reciprocates, fine. The problem is that a lot of them aren’t happy and don’t want to say so. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard brides and grooms claim that everyone was absolutely fine with being asked for money/made to do jobs that saved the couple money/had to cater the wedding etc, when the fact is that actually, quite a lot of people were NOT fine with it, were hurt at being treated as free labour/a piggy bank, and have never looked at the couple in the same way since.


Michelle C. Young March 20, 2013 at 6:24 pm

That’s the thing. IF they are truly happy to do it, they will VOLUNTEER. Don’t ask.

“Oh, I’m so excited and happy for you! I want to help!” followed either by “How about I do X, and maybe help with Y and Z, as well?” or “Tell me what I can do to help!” IMO, the latter is a foolish thing to do, generally the statement made by excited, but inexperienced, friends. True friends who have lived in the world and know abut the camel and the tent tend to go for the former.


NostalgicGal March 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

On one side of my family I have two aunts, one by blood, one by marriage, and they have for decades think it’s their right to take over the planning of family events… delegate chores and expenses, and OVERplan and OVERspend. It’s their right to treat you as a slave and spend your money.

Every ten years or so there is a major family reunion and we are talking a few thousand people; it has always been a ‘come to here on this weekend and have a big potluck in park, get together and hang’ event. And we always got it done. I attended one as a small child and there were a LOT of people there… and we had people I’d never met staying in campers in our backyard, etc…

Next all-family came around and there had been five or six other events with these two stepping in and mostly ticking everyone off (my parents couldn’t make the ‘planning meetings’ and were usually given a huge list of the expensive food items to donate-it usually ended with them being told forget it and we boycotted whatever it was) and. They organized a sit down catered, some other events, a photo session, teeshirts and other memorabilia, in a package. $110 and a seriously in advance RSVP to attend. (good living income for family of four was $150 a week then). As usual, we were not at the organization meetings (drive 3.5 hours one way, on a drop of a hat)… and were assigned to put up the frontage for the teeshirts, mugs, and frisbees to be printed, runs of 1000 btw.

We said no. They got less than a dozen respondents by the date. The city had two parks big enough, everyone did the usual plans and we all went to the OTHER park. The one by blood, her DH farmed and he had to take that on his books and write it in as a loss, it was a major hit. Someone had to cover it and there was a hint those two were going to sue the rest of us for not pitching in and taking some of that loss, they were told where to go.

That doesn’t even scratch the amount of work we were expected to do too, which was also unrealistic. We won’t get into some grandparents’ birthdays, anniversaries, and The Big Wedding of one of them. (I was in college at summer session, I was NOT coming home to spend the summer chained to my sewing machine and sewing beads and sequins for nada–their dream dress they could PAY for)


StephM March 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I can only imagine the chaos that would occur if someone RSVPd yes and didn’t show up. “Who will scrub the toilets noooooow?!” And no doubt close friends and family get the “nice” jobs of flower decorating and setting the tables while second cousin is the one taking the garbage out. Eurgh, imagine taking the trash out in heels and skirt.

I could see this kind of tradition popping up in a family. A whole town is mind-boggling.


ferretrick March 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

That is the strangest “custom” I’ve ever heard, and, I do tend to ascribe to the theory that I don’t judge other culture’s etiquette customs. It may seem rude to me by US standards, but if it works for China, or whoever, then not my place to judge what’s rude or not rude in a culture I know little about.

However, I feel perfectly comfortable saying that etiquette is at least uniform enough across my own country to the degree that this “tradition” is just nuts, and rude, rude, RUDE. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the Bride’s claim that she has done this at other weddings she attended, I’d be inclined to believe she just made the whole “tradition” up as an excuse to make her guests slave labor.


WildIrishRose March 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Amazing. Truly amazing. Who puts up with stuff like this? And who asks GUESTS to do the work at a wedding? I would have RSVP’d No, and then talked about it forever on ehell. 🙂


JD March 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

After my daughter’s wedding, the four parents of the bride and groom planned to pack up the food and decorations (the hall owners would clean), and the bridal party offered to help. By the time we parents had tearily waved good bye to the happy couple and walked back in to the reception site, the entire bridal party AND about 15 or 20 guests had already come back in and were busily taking down decorations, packing away tablecloths, putting the gifts in a sibling’s car, and stacking the leftover food neatly in containers. We had to hustle to keep up! In less than an hour, a wedding for 200 was packed up and on its way. Not a thing was broken or misplaced. The key thing here is, they did it without being asked. There were no assignments, no expectations, they are just great young people. I can’t imagine assigning such a duty to anyone who is my guest! I agree with Bint. Some probably hated that tradition, but didn’t complain out loud.


Michelle C. Young March 20, 2013 at 6:17 pm

JD, do you and I know the same people?


Shoegal March 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Well, I can see this happening. Honestly, people usually want to help in some way. At my own wedding, I had everything planned so that nobody needed to do anything for it – it was all to be done by hired help. My husband’s family told me that I could really save by doing our own flowers – in fact, my sister in law had my other sister in law and a friend go down to an establishment with wholesale fresh flowers and they arranged all of the flowers themselves. They were happy to do it so they wanted to do the same for me. I said no thank you – as my guest I really don’t want anyone doing that. Come to my wedding and enjoy yourself – just share in the day – I didn’t need anyone to work to make it happen.

I tried to made it clear before our reception that nobody needed to clean up the venue afterwards. Regardless, my aunt and my mother started to clear the tables – gather up the centerpeices, etc – my sister went over and said – No – you don’t need to do that – the staff will take care of it. They both felt scolded for trying to be helpful. They were trying to help, I get it – but I was trying to be a good hostess – they weren’t free labor – they were my guests.


Michelle C. Young March 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Ah! The volunteer clean-up brigade. Gotta love them, but once that is ingrained, it’s hard to stop them without hurting their feelings.

Here’s a trick: “Aunt Mary, thanks so much for offering to help. However, the staff told me they have *a system,* and we wouldn’t want to mess that up for them, would we? Wouldn’t it be awful to have to take inventory twice because something was put into the wrong bin? Oh, look! Cousin Elmer looks a bit lost. Won’t you please be a dear and help him out?”



Wren March 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I hardly know what to say in response to this! I might have gone along with this when I was 19, but I am older and wiser and now regard wedding guests as guests, not as the help. It is almost unbelievable that an entire town goes along with this. The mind boggles. Maybe I’m just lucky but I have never been at a wedding reception where guests were expected to do anything other than celebrate (eat cake, drink punch, admire the new couple, listen to toasts, dance, smile a lot, etc.).


chechina March 11, 2013 at 5:52 pm

I thought the Admin’s response was spot-on. I have done tasks for friends with small weddings and even smaller budgets, and that was just fine. I was happy to help a couple who was struggling. And I volunteered to help. I have also had friends who had large, lavish weddings (in one case, her second ceremony in the same month) and I declined servant duties when asked. And, boy, that did not go over well – it was “custom”, you see.


Melanie March 12, 2013 at 3:21 am

What was the ceremony she had before her lavish wedding?


chechina March 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm

She had two weddings. One in one country for his side of the family and one in our country for her side of the family. They were both full weddings, with dresses and vows and receptions, but the second was more more lavish. I had no problem with her having as many weddings as she liked, but it certainly made me less inclined to cook, set up and clean.


Nuit93 March 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I don’t know what to make of this–I’ve attended weddings where guests helped out with aspects of the wedding (as opposed to having all hired help do it). The last wedding I attended had mostly friends of the B&G helping out, and the G at least was priding himself for the money they’d saved. I suspect people were happy to help, but it just seems like any time spent making sure nothing goes wrong is time spent not enjoying the wedding, ya know?

Another wedding I’ve attended cost somewhere in the five figures, but guests didn’t need to do ANYTHING except for show up and have fun.

Maybe it is a regional/family thing, but it just feels wrong to me to put guests to work unless they specifically ask to help out.


Michelle C. Young March 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm

If people WANT to help, then accept it graciously and let them. For some people, that is their wedding gift to you.

However, NEVER mention how much money you saved. That is just beyond tacky.


FunkyMunky March 12, 2013 at 5:50 am

I had a bridesmaid gather gifts and valuable decorations : I was coming back to collect the rest. She actually got everything, and I still don’t think I’ve thanked her enough.

Clearing tables? Rubbish? Oh heck no. Not as a guest. Bridesmaid or very close family member can be asked – anything outside of nuclear family should only be if they offer. I still remember my Dear Sister’s singularly hilarious snit when she realised my boyfriend was turning up at the time on the invitation, not 3 hours earlier I did (bridesmaid). She’d planned to put him to work setting up the reception venue.


Angel March 12, 2013 at 2:31 pm

This story is pretty appalling. Never would I have expected any guest to help clean up at the end of my reception. It all goes back to : have the party you can afford. Invite fewer people, have simpler food, but don’t solicit help from guests who should be there to celebrate and have fun–not do manual labor.


Doris March 14, 2013 at 3:24 am

For our niece’s wedding, family did ALL of the set up – made & put up decorations, her mother made the dress, we all did cooking and serving, her parents made benches for guests at the outdoor ceremony, and more – and the cleanup – taking down tents, taking out garbage, etc. However, we did not ask the other guests to do any work and we were able to do our own tasks when guests were not present, so we wore comfortable clothes suitable for work. My special task before, during, and after the ceremony was to take care of the groom’s young daughter. She was a very active child, so I knew my outfit had to be suitable for chasing her down. It is possible to wear nice clothes that adapt to work. Of course, the better option is to take your nice outfit to change into after prep work or a casual outfit for cleaning up. Perhaps the town did this?


Michelle C. Young March 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I can really picture something similar happening in my church. I’ve been to enough weddings in the cultural hall to see how it goes: The ending is announced, and then people just start clearing up. No announcement is made. It just gets done. I do think it’s usually the same people doing it, though. There are the ones who say, “Party over, time to go,” and the ones who say, “Party over, where’s the sweeper?” They just do it, as it has been ingrained into them that they will never leave the church in a mess.

That said, if one of these people were to get married at my church, I would not be in the least surprised to see the bride toss her bouquet, and then head for the janitor closet to get the vacuum cleaner. No announcement, just start cleaning and set the example. I also think that these people would not make any particular plans about clean-up, because it would be a foregone conclusion in their heads that they would be doing the clean-up, because that is what they do. So, yeah, guests could very well be shocked and surprised to find themselves part of a clean-up crew, in their fancy dress, but not because they were assigned, or even asked. In such cases, clean-up just seems to happen, and either you volunteer to help out, or you get out of the way.

I was raised by such people, and have spent many an evening at the end of an activity, just spontaneously joining the clean-up crew, because that’s just what’s done, and I’m fine with it.

Sometimes it is part of the local culture, and I respect that. Just don’t *force* it on the guests.

That said, if you’re planning an elaborate do, where take-down will take longer than five minutes, HIRE someone, please. Seriously, fancy set-up requires a hefty amount of take-down, and while the “volunteer cleaning brigade” will not bat an eye at a quick take-down, there will be plenty of batting if there is a great big fancy mess left for them.

Also, this only really applies at the church. If you rent a venue, the “volunteer cleaning brigade” from church will be happy to attend, and happy to leave when the event is over, and expect that the rented venue comes with its own cleaning crew, and they wouldn’t want to step on the toes of that crew. What if the hired cleaners are paid by the hour? Although self-bussing of anything disposable is so ingrained, it often happens, anyway, even at a rented hall.

So, know your audience, and venue. If you’re best friends just happen to be *those people*, then I suppose you can safely plan to have no clean-up plan, if your wedding is held on *their* turf. Otherwise, plan ahead and hire someone.


Green123 March 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

The only ‘work’ we expected guests to do at our wedding was to *please* take home as many flowers as they could carry and a bottle of wine with them when they left, as we had too much of both things left over!


MidoriBird April 2, 2013 at 1:09 am

I’ve never been overly happy with one particular family member of mine who, at the wedding of her daughter, invited myself and my mother and upon our showing, used us as waitstaff. Needless to say we both were unhappy with the situation and found it insulting, but didn’t say anything in order to not spoil a very (to me anyways) fancy wedding.


sjhaughty April 29, 2013 at 2:37 am

I’m in a church community that also has a tradition of helping out and making a wedding a community event.
For my wedding, people asked what they could do to help, and we told the truth! Bring a dessert to share! Come the evening before and help decorate. I wouldn’t have dreamed of assigning jobs via the invitation.


Janet Marie August 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I will never forget my uncle’s wedding when I was about 15 or 16. My dad was the best man in the wedding, my mother was not in the wedding party. I remember the hideous outfit and hair style my mother made me wear that made me look about 46 not 16. I cannot recall what my younger sister wore, I am sure it was not much better. I did not mind assisting one of my aunt’s with slicing up the wedding cake and placing slices on napkins for guests then again she asks nicely and politely (and not bossy) – still is that way years later. My mother on the hand was Bossy the Cow (and I am being nice here) – at the end of the reception she had me, her, my dad and my sister participate in the hall cleanup. We were done around 2 am being the cleanup crew. If I dared speak up or whine (or if my sister did), my mother would’ve given us what for among other things. We had to get up around 6 or 7am that Sunday morning to walk to church as it was a few blocks from my grandma’s house where we were for the weekend. It was hard not to be grouchy and stuff after that.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: