So you’ve made it through the bachelor party and the ceremony; now it’s time to party down and not worry, right? Maybe for some wedding guests, but by and large, the reception is the most complex part of the whole shebang. How many people should make speeches, if any? How much should you spend on gifts? Who’s really off limits when it comes to end-of-the-night sloppy hookups? And when is it really acceptable to get the hell out of there?
We asked three people who attend receptions all the time for their take on some commonly wondered (but rarely asked) questions: Wedding planner Kristeen LaBrot, a three-time winner of California Wedding Day Magazine’s “Best Planner” award; Chris Easter, co-founder of The Man Registry and purveyor of wedding advice for grooms and groomsmen since 2008; and Matt Philips, an honest-to-God professional wedding singer. While each sees the reception from a different vantage point, one thing they can all agree on is that you should at least wait until the cake is cut to leave the party.
When is it acceptable to ask for a plus-one?
Easter: Since the bride and groom have likely agonized over the guest list, it’s important to respect the choices they make. So I’d discourage anyone from asking if they can bring an uninvited plus-one, unless it’s a very special circumstance: For example, if you’ve fallen out of touch with the wedding party, they may not know that you’re now engaged or married. In that situation, it would be okay to politely ask for a plus-one.
Philips: I think it’s acceptable to ask for a plus-one as soon as your relationship is serious — people don’t want other people in their wedding photos who may not be around in a few months’ time. Ask as soon as possible in the planning stage, though, as to add to the guests after the meals are ordered and the table plan is done may be more awkward.
If I’ve flown to the wedding location and paid for a hotel room, do I still have to buy a gift?
Philips: ABSOLUTELY. You chose to accept the invitation, so a gift is still necessary.
Easter: I do recommend still doing a gift, unless the couple has specifically declined it from out-of-towners. Scale it back, though; you don’t need to spend as much as you would for a local wedding.
Whatever I give, how much am I obligated to spend?
LaBrot: Spend what you feel is appropriate, based on how close you are to the couple. For example, you’d spend more on your best friend than you would a coworker. For someone you don’t know well, $50-$75 is appropriate. For a relative or a friend who you’re not super close to, $75-$100 is good. For a close friend or family member, I’d go with something in the $100-$200 range.
How many speeches or toasts should there be?
LaBrot: Two is perfect. Three is still good. But no more than four. If you do four, I recommend splitting them into two groups — you don’t want the guests to get restless and start looking at Instagram.
Easter: If toasts are taking place at the reception, I recommend limiting it to a max of four (best man, maid of honor and the fathers if they so choose). An alternative is to have the toasts take place at the rehearsal dinner the night before — this can allow you to squeeze in some more speeches from family or friends without eating into the actual day of the wedding.
Should you go and say hi to the bride and groom? Or should you wait until they come by your table?
Easter: Let them come to you — they’ll be surrounded and overwhelmed and will appreciate your patience.
LaBrot: The bride and groom are being pulled in a million different directions and only have a few minutes to eat. They would appreciate you waiting until they come to your table, or until the dancing has begun.
How do I apologize for being a drunken fool at a wedding?
Philips: I see a lot of drunk people! There’s no need to apologize for having fun — the bride and groom want you to do that. However, if your being drink ruins any part of the reception, it may be more difficult. The best way to apologize is to not avoid it — do it ASAP. Apologize to the bride and groom and any other guests affected. Although you should probably wait until the next day, when things have calmed down.
LaBrot: Never do it that night — you’ve already done enough damage. I would wait until at least the next afternoon, when the couple is more than likely done with their family and/or the day-after brunch. A reminder of how much of a fool you were is the last thing they’ll want, if they’re still doing wedding-related stuff.
Easter: The better idea is to not be a drunken fool at a wedding in the first place! Know your limits and respect the setting that you’re in.
When can I leave?
Philips: I find that most people leave between 11 p.m. and midnight. I think to leave straight after the meal would look wrong, but depending on your circumstances, I’d at least try to stay for the first dance.
LaBrot: Traditionally, it’s after the cake has been cut. If you want to duck out early, at least wait until dinner service has ended: Weddings aren’t cheap, and it’s disrespectful to bail on the meal they’ve paid for.
Easter: If you must leave early, know that it’s considered rude to miss the cake-cutting and first dances. So stick around as long as you can (especially if it’s an open bar).
In terms of wedding hookups, is there anyone off limits? Say, the bride’s sister?
Philips: If the guests are single, I don’t think there should be anyone off limits. Weddings are romantic and a great place to meet people — telling people that you met at a wedding is a great story.
LaBrot: I say anyone is fair game if they’re single!
Easter: Wedding hookups can be tricky. A good rule of thumb is to avoid family members of the bride and groom: Family-member hookups are in bad taste and often create drama, stealing the spotlight away from the couple. The last thing you want is for your friend’s wedding to be remembered for you hooking up with her sister afterwards. People will find out and they will talk. Trust me, you’ll regret it.