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It's your party. So why are all the guests grumbling?

(Illustration by Maurice Vellekoop)
By Alyssa Giacobbe
February 13, 2011

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The wedding plans came as a shock to my parents (moderately traditional non-practicing Catholics): not in Rhode Island, where I’d grown up, or even Newburyport, where we lived, but on the idyllic isle of Nantucket; not in a church, but in a restaurant; and presided over by a (Jewish) friend who’d earn his one-day-officiant designation after filling out a form online. The ceremony music would come courtesy of our pal Chip, his acoustic guitar, and hair metal legend Poison.

“You realize you’re excluding a lot of people,” my glass-is-half-empty father chided more than once of our decision to marry during hurricane season on what he considered an inconvenient, elitist island. “And what is Chip playing?” Eventually, I asked Dad to stop telling me that my friends wouldn’t be coming to my wedding. After all, I’d spent the last decade going to all of theirs.

Still, there are a host of wedding-related decisions, like ours, that may earn you the ire – or at least a barbed comment, most likely behind your back – of your dearest friends and family. Yes, yes, it’s your party. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

The cash bar An informal poll of wedding experts, regular attendees, and old-school Italian relatives reveals that it’s really hard to pull this one off. “If you invite guests to your house for a dinner party, you don’t charge them for drinks,” says Kerri Bruneau, co-owner with Eleni Granas of Boston Bridal Lounge, a research library for couples planning weddings. If you’re worried about the tab, offer a limited selection. My Nan Giacobbe regularly attended weddings with two gift envelopes: one to use if the bar was open, and the other if it was not.

The getaway Ask yourself, is it your dream to have an island wedding or to be married before everyone you love? You may not get both. “I get the tropical island appeal, but you can’t be mad if your friends can’t make it,” says Newport, Rhode Island, event planner Sarah Fernandez. Reward guests who come with a welcome gift, a cocktail party – and host a reception back home for those who couldn’t. Remember, says Bruneau, “If people are making long, expensive trips to be there, that is your gift.”

Friday at 5 Ideal for tight budgets, Friday and Sunday receptions can interfere with guests’, you know, jobs. “If you’re going to have a Friday wedding, think mid- to late evening,” says Bruneau. “Do not do Friday at 5! If you choose a Sunday, consider one when guests have Monday off.” Of course, the holiday weekend event – much like the New Year’s Eve wedding – is its own mixed bag of opinions. Some think it’s a perfect way to spend their time off; others think it’s vacation usurping. The best advice here: Know your crowd.

Free seating Go ahead and blow off your seating chart – you have lots to do, we know– but realize that few guests appreciate open seating. “Inevitably, you wind up with lots of tables of nine,” says Fernandez. “And there’s nothing worse than seeing your guests circling the room because they can’t find a seat near their date.”

Registry wrongs Some modern guests have no problem with the increasingly popular honeymoon registry, especially for couples who are marrying older or for a second time and already have a blender. But others may feel squeamish – or spiteful – about funding your beach-side deep-tissue couples massage, seeing it as a blatant cash grab. Related, if you register for gifts, don’t go all Christofle if your friends are more Crate & Barrel. One planner remembers the bride who registered at Hermes. “She ended up with three bread plates,” she says.

Ultimately, Bob and I were married on our inconvenient, elitist island during hurricane season. We invited only our closest friends and relatives. Some couldn’t make it, like the Australians and the massively pregnant. But most did. That doesn’t mean no one complained about the haul or the expense. To show we appreciated the effort, we hosted weekend events, helped locate affordable hotels, and made sure the food was worth the trip. People seemed glad they came. And sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.