Wedding woes: guests paying for food

Last updated 12:27 26/04/2012

Here's today's wedding woe from reader Linda, who asks:

"Hi Greer Restaurant

I am getting married probably early January. The question I have for yourself and other brides out there is - is it acceptable to ask your guests to pay for their food at the reception if you are having a reception in a restaurant? 

Thanks very much and thanks for the blog, which I have just discovered. I'm going to go through and read all of the titles and comments."


Hey Linda.

First up - exxxccceelllent question.

Whenever I come across a question about whether or not something is "acceptable", I put myself in a guest position rather than that of a bride.

So in this instance, if I was a guest to someone's wedding, and an invite arrived saying that a reception was at a restaurant and in lieu of gifts I had to pay for my meal, I'd be more than happy to do so. Beware though - some people see this very differently to me.

If you look at it from a monetary perspective, it's no different really. The price of a nice meal at a restaurant is pretty much even with the cost of gift anyway so claiming it's expensive for guests isn't really the best reason not to do it.

But there are a few logistical things to contemplate.

For example, when do guests pay for their meals? Do you really want to (potentially) panic and leave it up to each guest to pay for their own before the leave for the night? 

Or does the restaurant want pre-orders in the sense of a set menu for a certain price? You could always set up a bank account so when people RSVP they do so by placing the agreed amount per person into that account.

I think there are another couple of things to consider as well: 

- Ensure all guests are aware of this setup. Nothing worse than springing a cost on people who a) may have already spent a bit of money to attend the wedding and/or b) are in a large-ish family group (e.g. parents and kids) where a night out is actually a rather large expense.

- Timing. Make sure people have enough time to plan for it. A week's notice may mean some literally can't scrape enough to attend.

- Do not, whatever you do, expect gifts on top of them paying for the meal. Sure, some may do both, but don't expect any.

- How are you going to word this to guests? Make sure if you are going to put it on the invite, to make it sound, er... anything but tacky! You are well within your "rights" to inform guests that this is the way things are going (it is, after all, your wedding), but there are still nicer ways of putting things. Also you could consider calling each guest to explain the setup - rather than having it in words. 

- Expect people, especially the frugal among us, to say they'd like to come but not have dinner. How will you deal with these situations? Food

- As a supplementary issue: what do you do with people who attend, drink and don't eat (as above). Is that responsible hosting? How will you deal with any issues that arise from this?

- Is subsidising an option? You could always consider subsidising the meals to make it seem like less of an expense on guests. I know of one wedding where guests were asked to pay $35 each to attend. 

- Consider having a catered reception within your budget? If the cost of food is stressing you out, why not re-look at your wedding budget and instead opt to have a relaxed BBQ or picnic reception that won't cost as much? Also what about a lunch time or afternoon tea wedding where only finger-food is provided? It's totally the rage at the moment.

- Ensure you tell guests what *is* provided. Are they to pay for booze as well? What happens after dinner - is there entertainment? Does everyone just leave after pudding? Some guests may be confused by the whole "pay your own way" thing so I think it's important to explain to them the running of events that day.

One thing's for certain, it would certainly prevent any guests from coming along just for some free booze and a feed (and yes, those guests do exist!).

Did you or will you be asking your guests to may for their meals? How do you feel as a guest if this was the case? Any helpful advice for Linda?

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Post a comment
Panda   #1   12:43 pm Apr 26 2012

I wouldn't at all. I think if you can't afford to feed your guests then you should plan a different type of wedding. Home catered BBQ with BYO perhaps? Afterall a reception is an after party to celebrate the fact tyou've just been married. Expecting others to pay for that seems a bit off to me.

Greg the Great   #2   12:47 pm Apr 26 2012

I recently went to a wedding where we all paid $100 to attend, in lieu of gifts. Most couples nowadays already have household stuff so it made perfect sense.

Traditionalist   #3   12:49 pm Apr 26 2012

I personally don't like the idea... Weddings are seen as a celebration with close friends and family and traditionally food is provided. Certainly cut costs where possible, but having to pay for your meal... no thanks! If you need to cut costs there are other ways to do it - have a cash bar, reduce your numbers, make it an afternoon tea or delay getting married till you can afford it - sorry, but paying for your own meal in my opinion, looks a little cheap.

JJ   #4   12:51 pm Apr 26 2012

I think you also need to consider allergies. At the most recent wedding I attended I couldn't eat 95% of the food there - including the nibbles, main and desserts. If there was no pre-ordering I wouldn't be happy paying for a meal I couldn't eat. But so long as you asked and catered for allergies, I wouldn't mind paying for the meal in leiu of a gift.

Poppy   #5   12:52 pm Apr 26 2012

I disagree with Greer's advice here. The reception is effectively the 'thank you' to the guests for attending and witnessing your marriage. It is the opportunity to show them hospitality for their support. I think you do have an obligation to provide them something, even if it is only cake and punch. Paying for your own meal is not the same as buying a gift which is far more sentimental.

eszter   #6   12:52 pm Apr 26 2012

I personally HATE this idea. If a person is in such monetary hardship and cant afford to provide the food - the whole reason for the reception why are they even holding a wedding now.

Instead Im thinking questions like (alot that Greer has mentioned above): 1. Why not delay it - and save up more money 2. Get a venue where you can get cheaper catering 3. have a morning wedding and have a lunch reception or finger food only 4. Save money in other areas - i would rather have the dinner taken care of (in my opinion one of the fundamental elements of a wedding) than spending it on unnecessary things. 5. reduce the guest list to have it covered.

There is always ways around this and I really dont understand people who would rather have their guests paying for food than take measures to ensure that doesnt need to happen. It just really cheapens the entire wedding (and experience) in my opinion.

Yes it probably costs the same as a wedding present but its just so...awkward!

no   #7   12:54 pm Apr 26 2012

So my view is an invite is to share the occasion and as the host, you need to front up with something. Otherwise invite fewer people so that you can afford it, or don't have a reception.

Lauren   #8   12:55 pm Apr 26 2012

I think it depends on the type of wedding you are having. If it's very obviously an on the cheap wedding and at a reasonably priced restaurant, then I think that's ok. If everything else is fancy and you want to go to a fancy restaurant then that's not ok. If it is the latter then you need to rethink your plans, in my opinion.

Meme   #9   12:55 pm Apr 26 2012

I completly agree with Panda. If you can't afford to feed your guests be it a full on sit down meal or just a few canapes for an afternoon tea then you shouldn't have guests. If money is really tight why not have a ceromony as planned and invite guests then make sure you interact with them for an hour or so then just have a meal with your bridal party and family...of coarse paid by you.

Chris   #10   12:55 pm Apr 26 2012

The thought of planning a wedding and expecting people to pay for their food makes me cringe. Why not have the wedding later and save more money? Or make the guest list smaller so you can afford to pay for the meals? I just think if people have to pay for anything at a wedding, it should be the drinks.... and even then, not all of the drinks, maybe any after the first 4 or so. Weddings should not be about expecting anything, so to say to people 'don't buy us a present, just buy your meal' well that is a monetary contribution and therefore much the same as a gift in itself...

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