Can I plan a celebration of friends' nuptials without footing the bill?
August 8, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Help needed wording an invitation or email to an event where some items will be paid for by me, but preferably not the whole bill.

I am the maid of honor in friends' upcoming nuptials. Many showers were planned in the brides honor, and due to those events and logistics (the bride/groom, myself, the location of the wedding, the groom's family and the bride's family are all in different locations) I will be attending a wedding shower for the bride but not throwing one myself. The bride and groom do not live in my city but did previously and have many friends in the area. In lieu of a traditional MOH hosted shower, I offered to host a gathering of friends, more like a cocktail party, when they're in town in a few months. However, when discussing the details with the bride she stated that they'd really prefer to be at a venue downtown that is more central to other friends while I had anticipated being able to host at home (in the suburbs).

I have no qualms about going out to celebrate at a more convenient location, but wanted to get some tips on the etiquette of inviting people to such an event where I would prefer not to foot 100% of the costs. For instance, I would be comfortable paying for appetizers and maybe the first round of drinks or two, but am concerned that the costs will quickly skyrocket.

How can this be addressed? Rather than putting myself in the role of hostess, could I send casual invites (evites?) informing friends that I'm organizing a gathering and surprise them with the appetizers and first round of drinks when we arrive? Is it enough to say "lets all go out to Some Bar to celebrate the happy couple"? Or would identifying the offered drink specials in the email be enough to indicate that some costs are not covered?

Or do i just need to accept that I have gotten myself into this mess and either need to explain it to the bride or suck it up and pay?
posted by moshimosh to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That's a tough one. I think if it were a more informal thing, it would be okay to have everyone pony up their own part of the bill. If you're sending invitations, you need to either pay up or tell the bride that since you are hosting the party, it needs to be somewhere that you can afford, like your house.

Alternatively, I guess, you could put something like "cash bar" on the invitations, but a lot of people think that's tacky.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2013

"Join us for appetizers and a no-host bar."

posted by The Deej at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it depends on how your friends roll. In my circles, if I sent out an invite saying "we're meeting at X Bar to celebrate Jane and John's impending nuptials," no one would expect me to be buying their drinks all night, and would be pretty thrilled for me to pay for appetizers and a round of drinks. Is this how your friends are? If so, you're fine.

I'm assuming you're not renting out a room in a bar or anything like that. If it's just meeting up at a bar, then it will be pretty natural for folks to pay for their own drinks.

You may want to check with the bride to make sure she knows what you're planning.
posted by lunasol at 11:42 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I think an eVite is sufficient (preferable, even- I think a printed invite suggests you're picking up the tab). I think people assume casual invitations like that, to a gathering at a bar, include having to pay their own way. I think ordering the apps and the first round once you're there is fine, too.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:42 AM on August 8, 2013

What is your budget? How many people will be in attendance? If you know these two things you might be able to talk to the management at your venue and work out a prix fixe on one or two beverages (like champagne or a simple cocktail), some pre-selected appetizer, and pay the venue a fixed sum for those items. You could indicate that on your invitations, e.g., complimentary champagne and appetizers.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

put something like "cash bar" on the invitations, but a lot of people think that'stacky

And a lot of people don't. I just helped my friends plan and execute their 25th anniversary party, and this is exactly what they did: "appetizers will provided with a cash bar". It was fine, nobody had a problem with it.

I also agree that you need to check with the bride, too.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

when discussing the details with the bride she stated that they'd really prefer to be at a venue downtown that is more central to other friends while I had anticipated being able to host at home

Can you not say "I'm so sorry, I can only afford to host at home"? Your etiquette problem here is that the bride is not being very polite to you (she undoubtedly has many things on her mind etc etc)
posted by kmennie at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

You can do "Join us at Venue X to celebrate Jane and John's impending nuptials" and include a drink ticket in every invitation. This makes it clear you're paying for one drink while not being tacky about it. Then spring the appetisers as a gracious surprise. You do have to do this by postal mail, however.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]

And a lot of people don't.

Yeah, that's totally true. I was just pointing out that inviting people somewhere that they have to pay for their own food alienates and isolates people who don't have the money to do that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to work as a party-organizer/bartender for a lot of these events. As said above, put on the invitations "Light appetizers provided, Cash bar. If you want everyone to think you are a rock-star and love you forever, coordinate with the venue to pay for the appetizers and the first round, then when people go up to get a drink and we say, actually your first round is on the hostess, everyone will be super stoked for the free drink!
posted by stormygrey at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding the drink ticket idea. That's a great way to let people know that you're springing for some stuff, but that you're not having a full open bar.
posted by xingcat at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think logistically it may be difficult to coordinate paying for some drinks but not all--you get into drink tickets and so on and that gets complicated quickly.

I think the best options would be:

1) pay for food and but not alcohol (and put "cash bar" on the invitation)

2) coordinate with the venue to have some kind of alcohol you can afford, e.g. beer/wine but not mixed drinks

3) tell the bride that you would prefer to have the party at your house for logistical reasons. This is perfectly OK. You are the host, which means the organization and costs are up to you, although of course it's nice to take the bride's preferences into account.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love the drink ticket idea. Another option is to say "Light appetizers will be provided. Drinks start at about $10."
posted by teragram at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I said something similar when we wanted our friends to join us at the bar after our rehearsal dinner, although we would not be paying for it. I believe our wording was: "Please join the bridal party at XYZ restaurant after the rehearsal dinner. They have a great selection of local beers starting at around $5." Folks understood right away that they would be paying for themselves and felt glad to have their expectations set accordingly.
posted by teragram at 11:54 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

In my world we call this a "No-Host".

Do an Evite along the line of:

Come celebrate the impending nuptuals of X and Y. We're meeting at O'Malley's Bar for a No-Host. Appetizers will be served.

Yay! You don't have to clean up or cook anything!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're planning to have/serve alcoholic beverages at this gathering, you also have to consider the liability of buying/serving drinks to people. IANAL, but you probably have less personal liability for alcohol related post-party problems if you do have it at a public bar or restaurant, where the establishment's servers/bartenders have responsibility for preventing over serving of all customers, and everybody is ordering and buying their own drinks. For this reason alone, cash bar situations at public bars/restaurants are becoming more socially normal all the time. I'd have no qualms about noting "cash bar" on the invitations/eVites, just to make the point clear, too.
posted by paulsc at 11:57 AM on August 8, 2013

I've never heard these called a "no-host". My friends did a similar shower and the bridal party bought the appetizers (and noted "light appetizers" on the invite). We all just went up to the bar to buy drinks, and it was obvious that we would be getting them ourselves.
posted by ldthomps at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with a number of the suggestions above and have seen a lot of invites for professional parties at least with similar wording to "Light appetizers will be provided. Drinks start at about $10."

If you have a budget in mind, you could also scout out local bars and talk to them about costs/menu options. A number of the young professional networking groups around here do happy hours with free nibbles and cheap rail drinks, often in a private room-- your budget might be enough to cover a reduced selection of cocktails or wine and beer.

That said: you're offering to host a party. Is there a reason the other friends can't visit you in the suburbs? I can't drive and I still try to get to parties by bus/cab/other friends. Unless you're very far away from the other friends or public transit is an issue, this seems well-meaning but kind of rude given that, you know, you're offering to host a party.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2013

I think you could put in the invite "The first round's on me!" That clearly establishes that subsequent rounds are not on you.
posted by payoto at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [29 favorites]

Agree with everyone that it is classiest (and the most simple) to just specify how much the drinks cost.

OOOO! Better idea! What if the bar you are going to can come up with a "special" signature drink for the event, and you can put THAT in the invite? That could be a very easy segue to drink costs.

ie. "The bar has created a special drink, just for this event in Bride's honour. It will cost only 8$. All the other normal drinks will be available to, starting at 5$"
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:16 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you could put in the invite "The first round's on me!" = BINGO. Perfection. Don't go into how much drinks cost- these people have presumably been to a bar before, they know how much drinks cost.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Payoto's got it. Mentioning the prices of drinks seems weird and unneccessary, IMHO.
posted by chowflap at 12:21 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Better idea! What if the bar you are going to can come up with a "special" signature drink for the event, and you can put THAT in the invite?

No! Don't risk making anybody feel that they are supposed to buy themselves a drink that they may not wish to drink. I think that's a daft idea for a number of reasons, but it is particularly awful in the context of it not being paid for.
posted by kmennie at 12:25 PM on August 8, 2013

I would not say anything about who pays for what in the invitation. Don't raise anyone's expectations and they will all be happy to get one drink or a small snack.

I would write exactly as DarlingBri suggests: "Join us at Venue X to celebrate Jane and John's impending nuptials" but I would leave out the drink ticket.

Meet with the bar before the event and see what they propose. Some ideas are:

1. You make a toast to the couple. At the time of the toast a server walks around with a tray of drinks that you are paying for. This way you pay for a round in coordination with the host. The tray can have alcohol and non-alcohol drinks.
2. You arrange a able with several bottles of wine and a bucket of beer which you have paid. After it is empty --> off to the bar for everyone.
3. You arrange several platters of food.
4. A bartender comes in and mixes a special drink for the bride and groom. Then you offer this drink (or a non-alcoholic version) to the party.
posted by jazh at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2013

I nth "the first round's on me". Not been to any pre-wedding parties like this but based on related past experiences, I wouldn't be surprised to see
  • a section of the bar cordoned off just for your party
  • a special menu printed up (and helpfully cheapish)
  • drink tickets
The other common thing would be to have a smallish bar tab and let people at it.
posted by katrielalex at 1:33 PM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the responses. I think if this were a non-wedding-related party I would be less squeamish on the details, but everyone seems to think they're Emily Post when it comes to pre-wedding events.

@kmennie: I think this stems from the bride not thinking of it as an event I'm hosting, but just a get-together. Part of why I'm not hosting a shower is that she didn't want another one, so I think I'm making too much of this as my "duty" and she's just saying she thinks people would rather hang out in the city.

Thanks again for suggestions - I will discuss having a bar tab with the coordinator which will help to ensure I stay at a budget I'm comfortable with. Also we'll be out for happy hour, not dinner, and I would expect we'll move on afterward to a mutually agreeable destination (and some will head home) so I don't think people will feel forced to pay for a dinner they didn't agree to, etc.
posted by moshimosh at 1:58 PM on August 8, 2013

Happy Hour normally has lower prices right? So you could put that on your invitation: "Join us for Happy Hour to celebrate John and Jane's upcoming nuptials" then list the happy hour specials (e.g. Beer Pitchers $8 and Cocktails $5 from 5 to 7 pm, or whatever). Then have some money on the bar for your group and use that to order food and possibly drinks for the table when people arrive.

The problem with promising a first round is it will get messy if people arrive at different times, you'll have to keep tabs on all the guests. Whereas working out a set bar tab that is likely to cover at least one drink per guest should be pretty straight forward given Happy Hour pricing. If someone arrives late and is left out you can always shout them a drink separately without opening up a new round for everyone.
posted by shelleycat at 2:18 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

OOOO! Better idea! What if the bar you are going to can come up with a "special" signature drink for the event, and you can put THAT in the invite? That could be a very easy segue to drink costs.

I don't want to pile on, but unless you know that this is something your crowd would like, I've seen the "signature drink" thing tank more than once. Unless it's a corporate event and everyone is drinking for free and the signature drink is hilarious and weird (I'm looking at you, blue gatorade/vodka thing I had a few years ago), no one wants the signature drink.

I'd like to nth the evites+drink price mention+drink tickets for a first round. If you're bringing appetizers, please clear that with the bar. People bringing in their own food can get messy. Doesn't mean it's not possible, but mention it in advance. If the bar has appetizers, call them in advance with a headcount because ordering there might not work and will probably be very slow. Sorry if this is Captain Obvious material, but a lot of people don't do this. Even if it's not a strictly catered event, you will get better food and better service if you coordinate in advance with the bar. And if it's not a busy night - or even if it is, depending on the place - they can rope off a section of the place for your party.

I did something that might be sort of similar to your situation. I helped set up a wrap party for small film, and we provided two drink tickets per crew member and guest, paid in advance. (So in your case, you would pay for the # of guests each getting one drink ticket in advance). We had a section of the bar to ourselves for the whole night, and once people used up their drink tickets, they kept drinking and the bar was happy. We didn't do appetizers, but that was an option. Even though it wasn't a big catered affair, there was a lot of communication with the bar in advance and everything went swimmingly and the costs stayed where they were supposed to stay. I think you run the risk of shit getting crazy if you just show up, or just make a reservation with no other explanation.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:39 PM on August 8, 2013

Just wanted to mention the signature drink thing. The restaurant we had our wedding reception in made Dulce De Leche Pina Coladas. I didn't ask them to, but they offered them to our guests at our OPEN bar as the signature drink. I didn't know about it until after the wedding. People to this DAY (eleven years later) still talk about those damn drinks.

I didn't even get to taste one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:27 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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