How to tactfully ask invitees to a 50th anniversary celebration to pay for their lodging?
September 3, 2007 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How would I tactfully ask people I'm inviting to my parents' 50th anniversary to pay for their lodging?

My sister and I are planning a 50th wedding anniversary event for our parents. We'll be renting a castle in Scotland for a long weekend. The castle has several suites, one for each guest-couple. The castle also has all the usual other rooms: living rooms, sitting rooms, smoking rooms, god knows what else people in castles have. Whatever. The point is, we'll be renting the whole castle, arranging for all the meals to be catered, having a special champaigne meal with a string quartet playing for the Saturday night dinner, all that jazz.

We're inviting our parents' friends, who are all roughly the same age, plus or minus a decade. They all live in the U.S. or western Europe, and are all well established financially. They're not Rockefellers or anything, but certainly none of them would have any problem flying to Scotland and staying at a high-end hotel for a long weekend. So I have no doubt that they could all afford this weekend trip if they'd chosen to take it themselves, and that this is exactly the kind of thing they'd actually want to do.

The first question is, is it appropriate to ask them to pay for just the lodging part? I know that if I threw the party in London and suggested a few hotels, they'd have no problem making a reservation and paying for it. But this is different, where I am choosing where they stay and making the arrangements. Does that make it inappropriate to ask them to pay for lodging? (My sister and I would be hard pressed to pay for the whole thing ourselves. We can pay for a fair bit, but it would sure help to have the help of the guests.)

The second question is, if it is appropriate to ask, how would I do that? We are planning to send out very nicely made invitations with all the details, photographs of the castle and our parents when they were young and glamerous, etc. Is there a nice way to ask in here? Maybe include an RSVP form that lists the price per room? All the rooms are esentially the same, so there won't be any price difference among them.

Any advice, experience, etc. you have would be most appreciated. And any other suggestions on the etiquette of all of this would also be appreciated.
posted by Capri to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe include an RSVP form that lists the price per room?

I take it that you are paying a fixed rental fee for the whole castle, and therefore, the couples who come to the event will be paying their room fee directly to you.

If so, I think it is entirely appropriate to state in the invitation, "Lodging will be $100 per night, per couple. Please make check payable to Capri."
posted by jayder at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2007

I wouldn't force them to stay at the castle, I'd put down something like:

"Rooms in the castle are n$, if you would like one please do x."
posted by anaelith at 7:55 PM on September 3, 2007

I like both ideas. I think I'd put something like this on the RSVP form:

[ ] I/we will attend, and would like to reserve a room in the castle ($400/night).

[ ] I/we will attend, but will arrange for my/our own lodgings.

posted by trip and a half at 8:02 PM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's necessarily wrong to ask, but people should be given a chance to make their own arrangements, if they wish. If you cannot have the party without the financial help of the guests, you should not have the party. It is not polite to hold one's guests responsible for the cost of a party they are invited to.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oops. Hit post too soon. I meant to add that I think most people would choose the first choice, so at most you might have to cover an unoccupied room or two, but at least you've offered an option, and made it clear that they will be footing the bill for their accommodations.
posted by trip and a half at 8:06 PM on September 3, 2007

My wife and I got married at a summer camp (off season). People could stay at the summer camp for $87/person, or they could stay in a local hotel or bed and breakfast. The invitation listed the camp option, with price, and gave the names/numbers of the other options in case they wanted to try those. It was very straightforward and no one was offended. Summer camp money was sent to us, to defer the fixed cost we paid.

What you're doing doesn't strike me as any different from a typical hotel wedding. Guests can stay there, or somewhere else if they want.
posted by alms at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2007

Thanks so much for all these nice suggestions. I can't really offer that they stay somewhere else, though. The castle is smack in the middle of no where, and the whole point is really to have everyone stay there so that there's a critical mass of friends in one place. That's the dilemma, really.

And pinksuperhero hit the nail on the head. I am concerned about the appropriateness of throwing a party I can't afford without the help, but at the same time, if it is as alms says, that this isn't that different from a typical hotel wedding, then is there a problem? Again thanks to all.
posted by Capri at 8:12 PM on September 3, 2007

You could include a note with the invitation being completely honest and saying, "We are asking for $x per night from each attending couple, to offset the cost of the event and lodgings. We realize this is an inconvenience, and are willing to discuss alternatives if the cost is a problem, but we hope you will all be able to attend and to help us make Mom and Pop's anniversary the best, with your presence!" Or something to that effect.

Of course, this would still require a bit of a cushion as far as money goes, to help out those for whom the money is a problem.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:22 PM on September 3, 2007

I think your problem is that by design you are sort of implying that you are paying. However you could sort of try and sell it as a destination wedding type thing, where their gift to your parents is coming and staying in the castle.
posted by whoaali at 8:26 PM on September 3, 2007

I think the problem here is putting it in writing. I don't know why this is, but a phone call that starts as "How're the kids?" and eventually drifts into "Soooooo, we're thinking of renting this castle for their 50th, but here's the deal, basically the only lodging is AT the hotel. Or we're trying to think of a more traditional destination event, but the castle is so great... What do you think?" is fine, but I do kind of find the "You have to stay here because it's in the middle of a cow pasture. So please send me money" on the invitation pretty gauche.

However! I think I'm a higher stickler than other MeFites. (I've noticed this before.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:02 PM on September 3, 2007

They have the choice to come or not to come, if you are being upfront about the cost then I think that's the best you can do. That said, I like thehmsbeagle's idea best.
posted by cali at 11:50 PM on September 3, 2007

I like thehmsbeagle's approach - an informal conversation, before you send out the formal invitations, to explain the situation with more nuance than you could probably manage with a 4x6 card. Or you could write a nice letter and include the photos you mentioned -- in any case, you'd not be mixing the "invitation" and the "group paying" aspects. This will make it seem less like your guests are unable to gracefully decline.

Get the money part taken care of first, delicately, then you can conveniently ignore it when you do the pretty presentational part.
posted by amtho at 6:08 AM on September 4, 2007

It is not polite to hold one's guests responsible for the cost of a party they are invited to.

I can't emphasize this enough.. I know it's a cute idea, but to me (and it may very well be that your parents' friends will feel differently, and it won't be a problem) it's basically misconceived, because you've planned it in such a way that people have no alternative but to shell out for something they had no part in planning and may not want to subsidize. I know someone who was recently invited to the wedding of a good friend and was belatedly informed that he was expected to stay at a very fancy hotel where the couple had paid for rooms in advance—I think it was $500/night. I thought this was completely insane; he eventually decided to stay somewhere else, even though he felt bad about the possibility of the couple getting stuck with the tab for an unused room (fortunately, enough people bit the bullet that this was not a problem). The crucial factor, of course, was that there was somewhere else to stay. You're putting people in a situation where there is no alternative.

My advice would be to either do the planning in conjunction with everyone you think should be there, so that it's not an "invitation" but a joint effort (and therefore everyone has bought into the concept from the beginning), or pick some other venue where people can attend without being forced into inordinate expenditures (and I don't know how you can be quite so sure about "certainly none of them would have any problem flying to Scotland and staying at a high-end hotel"—do you have access to their bank statements?).
posted by languagehat at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've gone to a party like this (it was a big stately home in the middle of Nowhere, Scotland), and wasn't offended at all by the premise of having to stay in the house - as you say, that's sort of the point. The advice to call ahead is spot-on - depending on the size of your guest list, a phone invitation with explanations followed up by a card might be the best way to handle this.
posted by ukdanae at 8:35 AM on September 4, 2007

Thanks for all the advice. I will take the advice about calling or writing these family friends and talking to them about it personally. I can't realistically offer alternative places to stay, and it really is the point of the thing to have them all in one place. I don't feel that I am forcing them to do something they wouldn't want to do because they all do this sort of thing voluntarily, and I know they can pay because, well, I do. I definitely won't belatedly inform anyone about the cost -- that's just too tacky. And I will also make it clear that no gifts are expected, that their presence at this weekend thing is the gift. Certainly my parents don't need gifts at this age! And they really would just love having everyone there at once, pretending to be royalty traipsing around in a big castle.

I appreciate all this help. It's my first time contacting this community, and I really like the vibe. I didn't expect unanimity, and didn't get it, but I did get a nice well rounded set of suggestions. Thanks!
posted by Capri at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2007

I seem to recall a post where someone threw a party for their folks, charged the guests, and when the parents found out, they refunded all the guests' money out of their own pockets, along with a note of apology. It's a really lovely thing you're doing, but please be sure your parents will not be offended, embarrassed or ashamed at the idea that their guests were charged for the party before you proceed.
posted by nax at 4:58 PM on September 4, 2007

Final update from the OP:
We threw the party as planned, and it was a smashing success. We rented a castle on a tiny island within the Orkney Islands, so getting there wasn't easy for anyone. As inconvenient as this sounds, it was one part of the party people there most appreciated because of the long history my parents and many of their friends have with the Orkneys. We packed it to the gills with people in their 70s from all over the world, and everyone had an incredible time. Amazingly, no one spilled the beans, and my parents almost dropped dead from the surprise. I have never seen them so happy, to see so many friends gathered in this remote spot, just for them.

For the pricing, we subsidized the rooms, by maybe 25%, and offered a variety of prices, including two rooms for free. Those rooms were taken by the two widows. The most expensive rooms were actually snapped up first. We covered transportation to the island, the many amazing meals (including two formal dinners and a catered picnic), copious alcohol, live entertainment, and sundries. No one complained about paying for their rooms, and several offered to help with the other costs (which we declined). We also made it clear that their presence was the best gift, and the few gifts that were brought were sentimental. My parents weren't uncomfortable with the arrangement, and I know that they thanked each guest personally for making the tremendous effort to be there.

There were several people who were invited who didn't come, two for financial reasons. The people who didn't come for financial reasons told me that it was the cost of travel, not the cost of the room, that was the barrier. I did ask each one if covering the cost of the room would make a difference, and they each said No, that it was just not possible to come all the way to Scotland.

My parents' friends are, luckily, upper middle class and adventurous. For them, the chance to be part of this event was completely worth it, as they repeatedly told us. It was perhaps the best three days of my life. I never planned a wedding -- my husband and I eloped -- so this was a chance for me to throw a phenomenal party. And the best part is that because it was a gift for two people I love so dearly, and for their incredible friends, it was an act of love and not of the selfishness one often sees in wedding planning. I developed closer friendships with my parents' friends, and several have come out to my house to visit since then, which had never happened before. As overused as this phrase is, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. It really was.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:40 AM on June 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

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