Wedding Etiquette: Sending a Gift if You Aren’t Attending the Wedding

While we were in Tahoe for Crystal and Joe’s wedding, Mark and I were riding in an elevator and I overheard part of a conversation between two young women. One said, “…she’s just rude anyway… But etiquette says that even if you can’t attend the wedding, you’re still supposed to send a gift…”

We stepped out of the elevator and I said to Mark, “I’ve never heard that in my life.” So today, I decided to give my opinion on the matter. Then Mark told me I better be careful of what I say. (It’s like he knows I’m opinionated or something. Sheesh.)

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I did some research, and the bottom line is, there is no etiquette set in stone for this matter. We’re not sticking to wedding traditions from the 50’s, so why would we stick to etiquette from the 50’s? More and more, we are steering away from wedding “traditions.” Wedding cakes are being replaced by cupcake towers and dessert bars, bridal parties have uneven numbers of bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower bouquets are being replaced by feathers and vintage buttons, brides are wearing feathers in their hair instead of veils… I could go on and on.

I think when it comes to what you should or should not do in regards to attending a wedding has more to do with being polite than following a rule book of etiquette. My Papa and my faith has taught me to do to others as I would want done to me.  Anyone who didn’t attend my wedding wasn’t expected to send us a gift. There were some people who DID give us gifts even though they weren’t able to make it, but that was mostly people who were extended family who lived out of town. That was very generous of them, but not expected.

So, now I’ll give my opinion, driven by years of being in the wedding industry. If you’re invited to a wedding, and you’re not able to attend, you should definitely let the couple know, even if it’s short notice due to illness or something unforeseeable. The couple has to pay per head, and if you say you will attend and do not, there’s a plate of food that they paid for that will end up in a hotel employee’s home refrigerator. (At least they get a bonus.) However, if you’re invited to a wedding and RSVP that you can’t attend, you’re not required to send a gift. That’s an option. If you do send a gift, that’s very generous of you.

ALWAYS ALWAYS send back the RSVP card.  The couple needs a head count so they can give that number to the caterer.  Don’t stick the RSVP card in your junk mail pile, then call the couple the day before the wedding to RSVP.  Don’t neglect the RSVP then show up expecting a plate of food.  I shot one wedding where a family of twenty showed up after not RSVPing, and it was a NIGHTMARE for the bride’s family.  The kitchen was scrambling, it set the entire time frame back an hour, and they had to pay us an additional $200 to stay longer for photos of the reception.

On a side note, my Papa also taught me to never show up to someone’s home empty-handed. So, if you attend a wedding, DO bring a gift. There were people who attended my wedding, which cost $110 per head, who did not bring a gift. They were friends of ours. My feelings were hurt. I had put out a gorgeous spread of food for my guests, and although I don’t feel entitled to anything (also something my Papa taught me), it hurt my feelings that I’d gone to so much trouble to put that reception together and they showed up empty-handed. It made me feel like they didn’t care.

When attending a wedding, your gift doesn’t need to be lavish or expensive. It can be something simple or even hand-made. When you bring a gift, you show that you appreciate the wedding and the couple, and you value your relationship with them.

Well, that’s my two cents on the matter. Hope it was helpful!

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September 20, 2012

I try very hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. To me, them coming to the wedding was a gift in and of itself. It showed me that they cared enough about Casey and I to come spend their Saturday with us. Some gave gifts, some cards and some just their presence. I chose not to spend any energy on it. It made the day more fun.

September 20, 2012

I agree with your point of view, because many people had to travel far to your wedding. So, they spent time, energy and money attending. Definitely a gift in itself!

September 20, 2012

I can't remember the last time I showed up with a gift to a wedding........ buying online and having it delivered makes things so much easier. As a bonus, they don't even have to transport it home. ;)

September 20, 2012

GREAT advice, Erin!

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