Work at the Wedding? I do. Hate it to Hell.
April 10, 2007 12:24 AM   Subscribe

WeddingFilter: Help my girlfriend and I gracefully decline a request to work the reception table. Again. And forevermore.

It is apparently ritualized mating season among my friends - 3 weddings in the past year, and three more coming up. Of the last three, my girlfriend was a bridesmaid for one and worked the reception table for two. Now, she's been asked to woman the table again, for two of the next three weddings. Dammit.

I'm looking for thoughtful suggestions that avoid outright lying or being an insensitive jerk to the already stressed-out bride(s). We acknowledge that the reasons for not wanting to help at a wedding are fairly selfish. But, speaking from experience, the job really kind of sucks. You have to worry about seating (unaccounted-for or even uninvited) guests, tend to get treated like the customer service desk when you really don't know what the hell is going on, worry about the accurate intake of gifts, names and addresses, and sometimes must put up with micromanaging relatives or wedding coordinators who don't thank you for shit and treat you like cheap labor when you have an invitation just like everyone else. She'd much rather be able to enjoy the wedding ceremony and reception with the rest of our "unemployed" friends. We love our soon-to-be-wed friends, but would like to make a definitive declaration of our independence from this task, now and possibly even for all future weddings (we are blessed with many marriageable friends). We've already decided that at our wedding, we're gonna hire someone to do this kind of stuff so that none of our friends or family have to worry about it. But I don't think this is common (at least in this neck of the water).

Some out-of-the-box thinking is what we need. First-hand experience a plus. Suggesting behavior of the asshole variety is right out. Deluge me with wisdom, oh interwebs.
posted by krippledkonscious to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hold a lottery for the rest of the marriageable friends. The winner gets a free table attendant.

The rest get a friend to help them celebrate their union.
posted by gomichild at 1:00 AM on April 10, 2007

Something to the effect of "Oh, I really don't want to do that - it stresses me out in a really bad way - I was hoping to just be a guest and be able to enjoy your wedding."
And then if they continue about trying to get you to do something, hand them a business card of someone who would do it for them. Having a person think you are nice and saying "no" to help them; are pretty much mutually exclusive. Practice saying no more often, hell I know I need to do that too.
posted by bigmusic at 1:02 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, there's no way to bow out of these tasks for good without looking like an asshole. This doesn't mean that you are an asshole - I fucking HATE these sorts of weddings too - it's hellish to make hosts and guests spend so much - but that's the way it is in middle class ville. Think about it - what can you say? "We don't like this job so won't ever do it again for any of you?" The only possible answers I can think of as a permanent get out of tasks free card is if there were a physical or mental impairment that prevented you or your girlfriend from doing these tasks.

The only option for bowing out of this ONCE is by declining to attend the wedding. It's best to have a good excuse and send a nice present in that case.

The best way to lower the frequency of these tasks at weddings in general is to have a simple wedding yourself, using online tools to manage gifts and reservations etc, and to hire staff.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:02 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I see two options. If it's a super-close friend, just be honest. Tell the bride that you've been the reception table-woman at the last however-many weddings and you really need a break. Help her think of someone else who would make a good table-person (this is a job that a man could do just as well, don't forget the groom's friends as potential candidates) and offer to help with some other wedding task, like addressing invitations or tying up the birdseed pouches or whatever. If the bride is more of a friendly acquaintance who seems like she's mining the edges of her circle of friends for free labor in order to allow her close friends the freedom to party down, a little white lie is permissible. Because of an unavoidable work/personal commitment, you might have to leave the reception early, and you don't want to leave everyone hanging.
posted by Wroksie at 1:02 AM on April 10, 2007

Find something that is going to conflict between the wedding and the reception. Say you can't do it because you'll be a little late. Business meeting, family commitment, etc.
posted by jeblis at 1:35 AM on April 10, 2007

There's no way you can get rid of them all at once other than wearing a t-shirt that says "Not your reception table bitch."

But individually just tell the truth:

"I'm thrilled that you want me to be a part of your wedding, however this is a responsibility that I simply can't take on right now. I hope you understand and I look forward to sharing the joyous day with you."

-Signed you.

If they get pissed off by that when skip the wedding. They're jerks.
posted by Ookseer at 1:42 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

You mention that you are part of a circle of friends. Why not talk directly with some of those who are currently 'unemployed' for this wedding and try to get one of them to volunteer? Maybe someone who's not had to do much for the previous events?

You can then go to the bride-to-be and say 'so-an-so is really keen to help out with the reception and asked if they can take my job, I thought this would be OK'
posted by Jakey at 1:48 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

She simply says "Oh, That's strange, I thought the (name of wedding planner, or reception haal or caterer) takes care of that." Then the onus is on the bride or maid of honor to figure it out. At least Miss Manners would be able to read between the lines.
posted by Gungho at 4:08 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's a complex technique advocated by Miss Manners that I've employed before to pretty good effect: "No thanks."

If they persist or ask why not: "I don't think it's going to work out" or "I don't think that will be possible".
posted by DU at 4:26 AM on April 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

I had decided a few years ago I was done with weddings, and would only go as a guest. Well, the wife said "what about it xxx gets married?" and yes, if xxx gets married I would. So I picked 3 friends and "publicly declared" those are the only weddings I would be in.

One got married so far, and I have turned down 2 others. Doesn't seem like there were any hard feelings.
posted by thilmony at 5:00 AM on April 10, 2007

What Wroskie said.

If it helps, here's an anecdote from the other side: we asked a friend to emcee our wedding, but as it turns out he was deathly afraid he'd mess up or drop an f-bomb in front of my grandmother or something. He said no thanks, we said ok, that's cool and that was that. We're all still friends and the wedding still went on.

So, it might not be as big of an issue as it seems.
posted by AV at 5:08 AM on April 10, 2007

if this really is a circle of friends perhaps you can set up a round robin, with groups of friends taking turn each wedding. that way you'd be able to skip at least a few weddings before your turn came up again.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:36 AM on April 10, 2007

If somehow you get stuck with this task anyway, how about delegating big chunks of it to several other people? You could either do it in shifts -- so no one is stuck on duty for the whole reception -- or have different people in charge of different tasks -- gift receiving, communication (I'm sorry, you'll have to talk to X, she's managing) -- or both.

This may not be a fabulous idea, but there you go.
posted by amtho at 5:47 AM on April 10, 2007

Wait, it's standard to ask friends to be gift-monitors? I have never ever heard of such a thing, and I've been to TONS of weddings and been bridesmaid in 4.

I'm so sorry.

You should simply say, "I am sorry I'm not going to be able to help out" and leave it at that.
posted by miss tea at 5:49 AM on April 10, 2007

Anybody who would actually take offense if you said "To be honest, I've done this at the last 2 weddings I went to, and I can't deal with the stress!" is being a bit unreasonable. Have faith in your friends - I sincerely doubt you will be blacklisted.
posted by antifuse at 5:53 AM on April 10, 2007

"We have done this for the last two weddings we attended and found it stressing, to the point where it got in the way of enjoying the wedding. We promised ourselves we wouldn't do it again, though we would love to come as guests and celebrate your special day."

I'm no wedding expert, but I don't remember the people working the reception table being actually acquainted with the people getting married. It certainly wouldn't be my expectation. This seems like it should be a part of the services provided by whoever they hire to handle the catering.
posted by xammerboy at 7:00 AM on April 10, 2007

I'm with miss tea - I've never heard of such a position, much less 'staffing' it with guests. Hello, they're called "guests" for a reason.

Anyway, I suggest your girlfriend simply say, "Oh, I've done a reception table in the past and it has really stressed me out, and I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job at it. I would hate to botch things for your special day; please don't put that kind of pressure on me!"

The beauty of it is that this probably isn't terribly far from the truth, otherwise your girlfriend would have enjoyed doing the job. Also, the bride would have to be a poor friend to keep insisting after that plea. Hopefully, this plea will also make the bride worry about your girlfriend doing a good job, and make her look for someone else less worrisome. Of course, it's possible that your girlfriend's good work in the past in this regard has been praised, which explains why she's being asked to do it at every damn wedding.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:42 AM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Tell them she has Tourette's Syndrome.
posted by staggernation at 7:56 AM on April 10, 2007

"I'm sorry, I got caught liberating a fondue pot at a previous wedding, and the State of California prohibits me from ever manning a gift table again."
posted by Caviar at 8:02 AM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Count me as one more person who has never heard of asking friends to serve as free labor at weddings. You ask friends to be in the wedding party because you want people you love to witness your vows. You may ask family members to prepare toasts for the reception because you want to give them a chance to congratulate you formally. But you don't ask your loved ones to do scut work that you're too cheap to hire someone to do for minimum wage. While I'm sure your friends don't mean to be rude, as it seems like you all think this is expected, I find it utterly bizarre.

I would simply say, "I'm sorry, I don't think I'm up for it," and move on. More than likely, your friends will ask someone else, who will either allow him/herself to be guilted into it or will actually enjoy it. If your friends get angry or upset at your refusal to join the wedding staff, I would say they're probably not such good friends.
posted by decathecting at 8:11 AM on April 10, 2007

I've never seen this task given to anyone other than bridesmaids. And even then, it's not much of a task - put out seating cards that people take and seat themselves; have a table for gifts, with a drop-box for envelopes. As long as it's inside the reception, it's not like people are going to walk off with them.

This doesn't need to be anyone's job; if you can convince the bride of this truth, then you're scott free. (Otherwise, really, you're going to look like a bitch. Sure, the bride's not being so considerate either, but "its her day" blah blah blah.)
posted by Kololo at 8:28 AM on April 10, 2007

If the request is just to your girlfriend, perhaps you could let her use you as her way out....

She can politely say "Oh, I'm sorry, but my SO just hates being left alone at these weddings, so I'm afraid I can't assist."

Of course, if it's expected that you would handle the task as a couple, I'm out of excuses.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 8:30 AM on April 10, 2007

Sounds like a business opportunity to me, if your g/f is so good at the task that she keeps getting asked to do it again (and yeah, add me to the list of people who've never seen this task handled by anyone but hired staff except for the one time I went to a sunset beach wedding where the bride's Australian shephard was the best man.)

Bride: Could you be our reception table attendant?
G/F: You know, it's funny you asked because I'm just working out the details to start a company doing exactly that. What's your budget?
Bride: ::sound of crickets chirping::

Actually, just be honest: the advice given above by so many others to just beg off gracefully is your best bet.
posted by jamaro at 8:54 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think it's kind of ridiculous to ask friends to do this. The only "job" I gave my friends was to get my money's worth out of the open bar. ;-)

That said, I'm not totally sure what a "reception table" is. My wedding reception was at a hotel, and the wedding coordinator there set out all of the place cards with table numbers on one table, and set up another table for gifts. There was a card box on top of the gift table so it was apparent that it was for gifts. We didn't have anyone "manning" the table ... that seems like it would be kind of crude, actually. People who weren't sure what to do would find the groomsmen or bridesmaids or hotel staff to ask them where the placecards were, where the gifts should go, where the bathrooms were, etc.

I'm kind of a pushover, so I'd probably just do it. But because I can be pretty passive aggressive, I would complain about it to any friends who might be getting married, so that they know before asking me that I hate doing that. It's a little underhanded, but you know what? So is asking your friends to spend an entire wedding reception working.
posted by tastybrains at 9:18 AM on April 10, 2007

"Oh, I've done a reception table in the past and it has really stressed me out, and I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job at it. I would hate to botch things for your special day; please don't put that kind of pressure on me!"

The problem with this suggestion is that the bride will reflexively reassure your gf: "Oh no, don't be so hard on yourself. I'm sure you'll do a great job! I have complete confidence in you". And then you're back in the same problem again.

Instead, go for the direct and truthful route that someone else suggested above: "I've worked the gift table at a bunch of previous weddings, and it stressed me out, and I promised myself I wouldn't do that again. Maybe I can help in some other way, before the actual day?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:47 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Count me in with the "I don't this" crowd. I've been to many weddings, including some elaborate high-budget ones, and have never seen anyone "working the reception table". As Kololo said, there's a gift table & drop box in the lobby and placecards on the dining tables. What the hell else needs to be done? Is this a regional thing?

And if there is work that must be done at the reception, beyond ceremonial stuff like standing up or ushering, it seems really crass to expect your friends to do it.
posted by Tubes at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2007

I've never heard of this either, but you could try framing it more positively, "Oh, thanks for the honor, but I'd really rather be able to really enjoy myself as one of your guests at the wedding and reception. It would be really great to dance with krippledkonscious and catch up with our friends, plus I'd hate to be stuck behind the table during Uncle Stan's chicken dance!" It's basically exactly what you said ("She'd much rather be able to enjoy the wedding ceremony and reception with the rest of our friends.") and if someone is going to fault you for wanting to actually enjoy the wedding they are throwing, then maybe you'd want to consider bowing out of that particular shindig.
posted by ml98tu at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2007

Thanks for the answers so far, everyone.

In regards to friends/family working at a wedding, I began to suspect this was only a regional norm after I couldn't find anyone else on the 'net griping about it, or find etiquette advice directed towards the bridal party on who to choose for this task.

Here in Hawaii, I know of none who've done it differently. This could be due to the fact that families in Hawaii are usually very extended, and sometime in the past someone figured out it was a good idea to harness the energy of free labor by posting various family members or family friends at the reception table. I should note that Hawaii weddings are usually big. I've only been to one reception that has had less than 200 guests (and this was because the bride or groom's family are from another state/country), and I've been to at least 3 that have entertained well over 400. Most are around 300 strong - and these are not wealthy families. My girlfriend's (Chinese/Japanese) parents had over 600 guests at their reception, and that was considered normal for their generation. So things have toned down.

Typically, what happens is that there's a long line of people to "check in" between the ceremony and the reception. Guests bring themselves and their offerings to the table and the reception table staff do several things: accept the gift and label it somehow (usually with a number that is matched to the guest list), have the person sign the guestbook (and sometimes other memorabilia), and then direct them to their table (cards are usually given out). Sometimes the reception table posse is also tasked with distributing lei to "honored" guests whenever they happen to arrive - did I mention it's normal to see the boss(es) (not just the bride/groom's, but their mother/father's) at the weddings? There's still a lot of ass-kissing culture out here. Once everyone has checked in and the gifts are collected, someone from the table is entrusted with stashing the gifts somewhere - usually, we've been asked to lock them up in the hotel room with assistance from a family member. And this one time a particularly bitchy wedding coordinator decided to make it our job to guard and protect the cake knife before and after it was used. Wtf.

So that's a typical wedding in Hawaii among 3rd-4th generation Japanese/Chinese families. We're not just trying to weasel out of one particularly cheap-ass friend's plans to sandbag our fun-drunk-time and use us as slaves - this is more of a crappy traditional burden bestowed upon friends and family. I don't think anyone's ever stoked to work the table, though it does connote that the bride/groom think you are responsible... huzzah, responsibility. No one gets laid for that.
posted by krippledkonscious at 2:15 PM on April 10, 2007

krip-kons, that is really something! I never knew this - thanks for elaborating.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:49 PM on April 10, 2007

I didn't read previous comments, so excuse any duplication. I know when I got married I asked folks to do things like this because I felt bad that I couldn't include them in the other wedding things, like bridesmaid and usher, but wanted to make them part of things. In other words, I wouldn't have been offended if they declined, esp if they said something like "I really want to be able to watch the whole ceremony, since you're so important to me!"
posted by purenitrous at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2007

I stand by complaining to your other friends about it so they don't consider you for table duty at their weddings. Just say you hate doing it.
posted by tastybrains at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2007

What a tradition! I'd never heard of that before. Aside from making sure all your friends know you all really, really don't want to be enlisted for helping out, promising not to make them help out with yours in exchange (heh) or letting them know you've seriously put in your time already at all these other weddings... if it's sort of this obligatory thing, then maybe you need to reframe it so if you'll be helping out anyway, make sure you're helping out with something you don't mind doing rather than getting stuck with the job you totally dislike. You can do that before you're even asked or as a response to being asked... at weddings that big surely there is something of equal importance you can recruit yourself to do instead of getting stuck with the reception job, which does sound pretty crummy indeed. Maybe volunteer to address all the wedding invites for the bride or something like that.

You can quietly ask your "unemployed" friends how they get out of getting recruited for this stuff - I'm willing to bet they manage to imply they're not responsible enough or that they're just too busy - but since it's a cultural thing maybe they might know an acceptable way within your culture to turn down or weasel out of this stuff. The thing is, if *you* value being known as a responsible and helpful person, it's just going to keep happening that you get left holding the bag while everyone else is having fun, because you'll feel guilty if you don't assist when asked; changing that pattern requires a step up in assertiveness and a step back in "niceness" that many responsible, helpful people don't like taking - since for a lot of them, it's hard to reconcile the part of them that wants to be reliable and helpful with the part that wants to be "selfish" and in the end, they're more comfortable being known as the steady, reliable (although perhaps resentful, but only on the inside so as not to make waves) person than the selfish, unhelpful (but getting to have fun) person.
posted by Melinika at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2007

What krippledkonscious describes is very common in Chinese wedding receptions in Malaysia, so it may be a cultural thing.

Poor you! I'd also suggest talking to the bride & groom about it. If the family's so large, surely there's someone else that can pick up the slack.
posted by divabat at 2:08 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

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