Wedding shower etiquette in NYC
May 2, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

We've been invited to a wedding brunch/shower at a restaurant in NYC and I've already RSVP'd that we're attending - should I be expecting that we have to pay for our meal?

My boyfriend and I were invited to a wedding brunch for friends of mine who are getting married next month, thrown by the sister of one of the grooms. (It wasn't specifically identified as a shower, but there was registry information printed on the invitations, so I'm assuming that it is a shower.)

I also assumed that since it was a shower, hosted by my friend's sister, with official invitations that went out in the mail, that the food would be paid for by the hosts, as that's how every shower I've ever been to operated. But I've only ever been to wedding or baby showers in the suburbs, held at people's homes or rental halls - never at a restaurant. And after reading this thread, I'm getting nervous that I'm misunderstanding the invitation and we're going to wind up having to pay for our meals. I'm not cheap, but money is really tight right now and I've already paid hundreds of dollars toward the wedding since it's out of town.

So now I'm tempted to buy a less-expensive shower gift just in case we have to pay for the meals, but I would hate to show up with a meager gift if it turns out we won't have the expense. I just don't know how to politely find out if we have to pay or not. I've met the sister, but only a few times, and I wouldn't be comfortable calling her to ask. I only know one other person who is attending the shower and she doesn't know any more about it than I do. It's a surprise shower for the grooms, so I can't ask them either.

Also, if I do need to get a less expensive gift, how tacky is it to buy something like one serving utensil or one wine glass out of a dozen?

Thanks for any advice!
posted by Neely O'Hara to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could hedge your bets by bringing cash, but I would never assume that an invitation to a shower at a restaurant would require me to pay for my meal, any more than an invitation to an actual wedding would.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:03 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't show up with the gift, it is fine to send it after, indeed it will mean less hassle in moving stuff from party to dwelling. By doing this you can make the decision as to present spend after the cost of attendance is clear.
posted by biffa at 9:04 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's got an official printed invitation I would believe that everything is hosted. It would be very very weird for them to send out printed invitations and expect you to be paying for the meal.

If you're uncomforable calling the sister (btw, I don't think it would be weird at all to ask her directly) how about calling the restaurant? They might know if the host is paying for a pre-set meal or what.

Also, if I do need to get a less expensive gift, how tacky is it to buy something like one serving utensil or one wine glass out of a dozen?
At least get 2 wine glasses. 1 is a bit useless.
posted by like_neon at 9:07 AM on May 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you're confused about whether you pay, the person throwing the party could be just as confused, and not agree with what we say. You really have to get it from the horse's mouth.
posted by cmiller at 9:09 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Unless you get a printed invitation.

I would be very surprised if you are expected to pay.
posted by etc. at 9:10 AM on May 2, 2012

I would also be really surprised if you were expected to pay- but it seems you'd rather not take chances. I like biffa's idea- send gift after the occasion. On the day of, give them a card, including a line how you are sending them their present in the mail so that they can focus on having a great day instead of dragging stuff around.
posted by saraindc at 9:12 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Don't show up with the gift, it is fine to send it after, indeed it will mean less hassle in moving stuff from party to dwelling. By doing this you can make the decision as to present spend after the cost of attendance is clear.

I like this idea, except that every shower I've ever been to was specifically a gift-opening occasion, so I would hate to show up empty-handed when everyone else has something for them to open. But maybe showers work differently here too?

If you're uncomforable calling the sister (btw, I don't think it would be weird at all to ask her directly) how about calling the restaurant?

I might try that - that seems much less uncomfortable than calling her!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 9:22 AM on May 2, 2012

Yes, you do need to bring a gift to a shower. I think that calling the host directly is the way to go. Around here people tend to be happy to chat about what things cost. She might tell you how much it is a head (!!!) but I doubt she will be offended.

If you don't want to ask, yes, buy something cheap and if you want, buy something else pricier and send it later. Two of any individual gift is the minimum unless you're expecting a quick divorce and want them to fight over your gift!
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:27 AM on May 2, 2012

It's not clear to me that it is a shower if the invitation didn't say so up front.

However, you say they also included registry information with the invitation. Is this on top of the wedding registry they presumably already have?

If so, I don't think you can assume anything and if you attend, you'll need to make sure you have enough money on you to pay for your percentage of the meal (in case the bill gets split by average).

It is extremely tacky of them to shove registry information inside the envelope, as that amounts to inviting you out and demanding gifts from you in the same breath. Furthermore, the ambiguity about whether it's a shower is difficult, because it's a faux pas to show up at a shower without a gift, whereas that wouldn't be true of any other kind of party. So, worrying that it's tacky to show up with a gift that they specifically demanded you bring, because that gift might not be big enough - you're too kind, and it's not your problem.

So if you want to cover yourself by bringing along a minimal gift, that would be several orders of magnitude more okay than they have been to you, before you even arrived at the party. Shower gifts are actually supposed to be really small, anyway.
posted by tel3path at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2012

You know, the more I think about this, the more I think I'd just decline. It seems confusing and possibly really expensive.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

And the even more I think about this I see that you've already accepted. Apologies.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2012

After many strange event-participation experiences and reading Etiquette Hell for years, I have quit assuming that event-planners know what they are doing or that I'm able to determine their intentions by the usual cues.

People randomly include registry information, use printed invites inappropriately, and set up "you show, you pay" events without notice all the time. And when it's a person throwing an event in honour of someone else, it gets even more wacky.

To keep from enduring a lot of if/then back-and-forth and eliminating your concerns, this is one of those cases where I'd just call and ask the organizer if it's a shower and how much to bring along to the cover your meal(s) (allowing the out for both of you, depending on the situation).

Good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 10:03 AM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wow, I guess I'd talk to the sister, because the whole event is very confusing -- I would assume that a "wedding brunch" was somehow linked to the wedding (week before or after? for out-of-town guests, or maybe those not invited to the wedding itself?) rather than a separate shower. The fact that the registry list was included sort of supports that -- shower gifts are usually completely separate from wedding gifts (differently themed, or oriented more at the wedding night than the place settings, dependent on the guest list), and showers indeed involve opening presents on-site, while wedding presents can be sent well before or after weddings.

So anyway, I think you could use this kind of general confusion as "cover" for a call -- is this a shower, will presents be opened, are we paying for ourselves, sorry I'm so thick but this looks very unfamiliar, etc. You could even play the Small Town Yokle card for sympathy. But get it figured out what you've been invited to, for your own sanity as well a social niceties!!
posted by acm at 10:05 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call the restaurant first, see if they can enlighten you. If that's no good, you're going to have to ask the host.

It's not unusual for people who live in small apartments in big cities to throw events like this in restaurants, because their apartments are too small to properly host a large gathering.

Also, although it's really tacky, I'm willing to bet that everyone is expected to kick in for the meal. Is it too late to feign some kind of sudden, urgent event that precludes your attending?

Another way of dealing with it is to send a small card, email, voice mail that says: "Gosh, I'm so sorry to have to cancel, but something has come up and we just can't get out of it."

Now you're off the hook.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

During our engagement/wedding period it was realllyyy really frustrating when we got 1 items out a set that we requested (1 beer mug! 1 coaster! 1 wine glass!) because it turned out that no one else bought the other items. We ended up returning the one-offs. I would say to buy one cheaper item that is a stand alone (like a $20 blender)
posted by duddes02 at 11:32 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, just call and ask. Perfectly reasonable thing to do.
posted by Decani at 11:42 AM on May 2, 2012

If the restaurant can't enlighten you, call up your host and say the following:

"Hi, we just had a couple of questions about the wedding brunch on June 16th. We're really looking forward to coming, but we're a little unfamiliar with format, so we just want to confirm a couple of things. It is actually a shower? Okay, and the other question, just so we know ahead of time, will everyone be paying for their own meals? Great, thanks. See you on the 16th!"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:55 AM on May 2, 2012

Take one expensive gift and one inexpensive one, both small enough to fit in your bag, if possible. Decide which one to give at the last minute. Return the other one. But if money is really tight, I'd probably just say something came up and I can't come after all. You're already getting them a wedding gift, no need to get a shower gift too.
posted by Ollie at 4:10 PM on May 2, 2012

[snickerdoodle, there are two grooms in this wedding.]
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:18 PM on May 2, 2012

Response by poster: I should note that the event happened, and I was able to find out through the grapevine that it was a shower (even though there actually was no gift opening at the event), so came prepared with a small but appropriate gift, and the event was paid for. It was a lovely time and I worried for nothing - but thanks for all the tips, it really helped!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2012

Oh, how nice! Glad it all worked out and you had a good time.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:46 PM on June 1, 2012

For future searchers who find this post, I am always in favor of asking the host politely, especially if you're coming from out of state for the wedding. Earlier this year, I went to a huge wedding where there was a rehearsal dinner, a pre-wedding brunch and a post-wedding breakfast buffet at the hotel, and each was hosted by different people with different RSVP numbers (as in, not the bride's family or the groom's but friends of the family).

So, I swallowed my pride and asked the groom how much money I should bring for all of the events, and was grateful when he told me that other people were paying.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:36 AM on December 7, 2012

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