Pre-Wedding Party Q&As

It's your turn to be the guest — but the etiquette guidelines still apply. Here, answers about rehearsal dinners, engagement parties and other festivities.

bride to be sign
Photo Credit: Bloom Designs

1. Who plans the bridal shower?

2. Who pays for the bridal shower?
3. When should the bridal shower take place?
4. Who should be invited?
5. Can I have an office shower if my coworkers are not invited to the wedding?
6. Do guests who can't attend still send gifts?
7. Is it appropriate to have a kid-free bridal shower?
8. What is the groom's role at the shower?
9. Can I have a shower before a vow renewal?
10. Should guests address their own thank-you notes?

1. Who plans the rehearsal dinner?
2. In the case of divorced parents, who hosts the rehearsal dinner?
3. Who should be invited to the rehearsal dinner?
4. Do out-of-town guests need to be invited?
5. Who is supposed to give a toast?
6. Can we serve the groom's cake at the rehearsal dinner?

1. Who hosts the engagement party?
2. Who pays for the bachelorette party? 
3. Can we have a second reception after the honeymoon for faraway guests?

Have an etiquette question? Leave a comment below!

Q: I’m a maid of honor for the first time. I plan the bridal shower, right? I don’t know a thing about giving a shower. What are the rules? 

A: Yes, the maid of honor traditionally plans the bridal shower, often with the help of the bridesmaids. While there are a few guidelines, showers today can be as unique as couples themselves, so you needn’t adhere to any strict formula. The three most important things you need to know:

  • Only guests who are invited to the wedding should be invited to the shower.
  • Don’t plan a shower for a holiday weekend, because many guests probably won’t be able to make it.
  • Try to choose a time that won’t be too hectic for the bride—at least a month before the wedding. Even two months isn’t unreasonable, especially if you want it to be a surprise.

Expect the shower to last three to four hours. Guests generally arrive a half hour or so before the bride, so everyone is there to welcome her or shout ’’surprise!’’ Then the bride makes her round of greetings and the food is served.

After everyone has finished eating, the bride heads for her seat of honor and begins opening her gifts. Bridesmaids should stand by to help with the unwrapping, and an attendant should record from whom each gift came. Cards should be placed in each box to make sure no gift giver goes unidentified.

Afterwards, cake and coffee are served, and the party begins to break up. As maid of honor, you’ll probably also want to see that arrangements are made for the bride to get all of her gifts home.

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Q: Help! I found out that my maid of honor is planning my bridal shower at a restaurant and has invitations printed with the menu and prices listed inside. Are the shower guests required to pay for their food and drink? Isn’t the maid of honor supposed to take care of all these expenses? I don’t know what to do! 

A: The first thing you should do is make sure those invitations do not get mailed! Bridal shower guests should never be expected to pay for their meal. Let your maid of honor know that you are aware of the shower preparations and ask if she and the bridal party can re-think their plans. Bridal-shower guests are coming to celebrate with you and will bring gifts to help you and your fiancé begin your life together as a married couple. Asking anything more of them is unacceptable.

Traditionally, the bridal shower is arranged and paid for by the maid of honor and the bridesmaids, good friends or relatives. In many instances, the bride’s parents offer to contribute to the costs to help alleviate the financial burden for the bridal party (especially if the shower is held in a restaurant). So, if money is a factor, and your bridal party alone is paying for the shower, they might consider having it in someone’s home to keep expenses down. A brunch, pool party or barbecue creates a fun, informal atmosphere that will be enjoyable, relaxing and appreciated by all.

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Q: My sister is planning my bridal shower six months before the wedding date, and my future mother-in-law is annoyed. She claims it’s improper etiquette, and that the shower should be held four to six weeks before the wedding. Who’s right? 

A: There’s really no right or wrong in this case. Even though tradition dictates that a bridal shower should be held two months to two weeks before the wedding, I don’t see any reason why it can’t be planned before the two-month mark.

While having a shower six months before the wedding may not be improper, it does seem a bit early for practical reasons. For one thing, you and your fiancé need to have the guest list determined and your wedding invitations sent out before people receive their bridal shower invitations. And all those invited to the bridal shower should be on your wedding guest list as well.


If you do have an early shower, make sure you and your groom complete your gift registries first. Most bridal-shower invitees want to know where you’re registered, and this list is usually included with the shower invitations. If by some chance you’ve already mailed your wedding invitations and completed your registries, then it’s feasible to have the shower six months before your wedding. If not, perhaps your sister can schedule it closer to the big day.

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Q: My fiancé and I are having a very small wedding - only our immediate families and a few close friends are invited. However, my mother would like to host a bridal shower and ask some of her friends who were not invited to the wedding to attend. Is this proper etiquette? 


A: Not really. Only those people who are invited to the wedding reception should be asked to attend a bridal shower. Otherwise, it may appear as though you are simply asking for more gifts than you might already be receiving. The only exception is a shower hosted by office co-workers, not all of whom may be attending your wedding but who wish to give you a celebratory send-off. A better idea would be for your mother to host a party in your and your new husband’s honor after the wedding and honeymoon. This gathering would be a celebration of your marriage and your mother can invite as many of her friends as she wishes (most of whom will probably choose to bring a gift). Since quite a few couples are choosing to marry in distant locales, such after-the-wedding parties are becoming more popular.

Q: My mother wants to throw me a wedding shower. The problem is that my fiancé and I live in Texas, my mom lives in Arizona, and my friends (and relatives and attendants) live all over the country. My mom said that her friends, all of whom I’ve known since childhood, will be able to come. As nice as that would be, I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel at a shower with just her friends, and I know for a fact that, although they will do it for the wedding, my friends and attendants are not financially able to fly out for one weekend just to attend a shower. Should my mom invite them anyway? 

A: I suggest that you graciously accept her offer and enjoy yourself as best you can. Even though the crowd will be mostly your mom’s friends, you did say that you’ve known them all since childhood so let them make a fuss over you and revel in your role as star of the day. (Perhaps you can have a casual outdoor barbecue to make it more informal and fun.) Also, considering that most of your own friends are scattered throughout the country, it’s really not necessary for your mom to invite them to this shower. Since they can’t afford to fly to Arizona, you wouldn’t want them to feel obligated.

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Q: One of the women I teach with would like to throw a shower for me at our school and invite my kindergarten students and their parents. I know that only those who are invited to the wedding should be asked to a bridal shower. As I’m unable to include these extra people, should I ask her not to plan the shower? 

A: On the one hand, you’re right: Only those invited to a wedding should be asked to attend the bridal shower. But there are exceptions and yours is one of them. Very often co-workers (such as your friend) want to recognize the bride to-be’s special day with a small shower of their own. We’ve had many such mini bridal showers among our own BG staff members, and although not everyone was invited to the wedding, they were more than happy to contribute to a group gift and partake in the festivities. So let your friend plan the shower for you and consider inviting your students and their parents to the church or ceremony,especially if it’s nearby and there’sample room. After you return from the honeymoon, you can bring in your wedding video and photo album to share with your students. They’ll love it!

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Q: I’ve been invited to a friend’s bridal shower but am unable to attend. Do I still need to send a gift? If so, how much should I spend? 

A: Yes, send a gift anyway. Believe it or not, it’s the wedding gift that’s not required, although most people do give presents for both the bridal shower and the wedding. As far as the amount to spend, it really depends on your budget and how close you are to the bride. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what shower gifts should cost, and I’m sure your friend will appreciate whatever you give her. Why don’t you ask if she’s registered and, if so, refer to her gift list? Most brides sign up for a variety of items in all price ranges, so you should be able to find something affordable. If she is not registered, ask her family or bridesmaids if there’s anything in particular she needs for her home. There are a multitude of kitchen and bed and bath products to choose from, as well as decorative gifts like picture frames, serving pieces, vases, candlesticks or photo albums. You also might consider giving her a gift that’s a bit more unusual, such as antique linens or teacups or a decorative vintage mirror.

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Q: My maid of honor is planning my bridal shower, and we both agree that children shouldn’t be included, as they can be quite a handful. Are we wrong? And how do we let people know?

A: No, you’re not wrong. Bridal showers are traditionally for grown-ups, and I’ve rarely attended a shower in which the little ones are part of the mix. Let’s face it—children can easily become bored watching someone else open gifts that aren’t toys and aren’t for them! Even though some of your friends or family members may have had children at their showers, it’s your decision to determine who should attend yours. Have your maid of honor and bridesmaids address the envelopes to the invited guests only, and spread the word that the party will be for adults.

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Q: What does the groom traditionally do at bridal showers? I understand I can make an appearance near the end of the shower for guests who can’t meet me at the wedding. Am I supposed to bring a gift for my bride-to-be, such as flowers?

A: How nice of you to wonder what the groom is supposed to do at the bridal shower! It shows that you’re quite a considerate guy who wants to make sure he does everything right. Well, to ease your mind a bit, you really aren’t required to do anything except show up toward the end of the shower to help your fiancé pack up the car with gifts.

But I do like your idea of bringing flowers for your fiancée (just be prepared to hear a chorus of ’ahhhhhhs’ from all the other women at the shower as they exclaim what a fabulous guy you are and no wonder she’s marrying you!). It is a very thoughtful gesture and your fiancé will love you for it. Also, be sure to greet all the women at the shower and thank them for coming. Don’t just appear, wave hello and then disappear into another room. They’ve bought gifts for the two of you and would appreciate your thanks and spending some time chatting with you, too.

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Q: My husband and I plan to renew our wedding vows on our fifth anniversary. Is it appropriate for me to register for gifts and have a bridal shower? 


A: Not really. If this were your second or even your third marriage, then a gift registry and a bridal shower would be fine. Your guests would be invited to a wedding reception and would want to give you something to help you and your husband set up a new home together. But a renewal of wedding vows is simply an affirmation of the love and commitment you both share and an opportunity to gather again with friends and family to celebrate your marriage. Although some guests may choose to bring a present to honor the occasion, gifts are not required.

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Q: I recently attended a bridal shower where the guests were asked to write their names and addresses on thank-you note envelopes for the bride. Several of the guests thought this was bad etiquette. Do you agree? 

A: I do agree with those guests. Asking people at the bridal shower to fill out their own thank-you note envelopes sends the wrong message. It's not surprising some of the guests assumed that this bride couldn't be bothered with the task. Perhaps she thinks that writing out all those envelopes and thank-you notes is tedious and wanted to speed the process along. It certainly indicates a lack of genuine gratitude on the bride's part. Of course, she simply may have been concerned about not getting the names and addresses correct. In that case, a better strategy would have been to ask her maid of honor or another bridesmaid to record everyone's name, address and gift given in a notebook she could consult after her shower.

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Q: Who traditionally pays for the rehearsal dinner? And if I’m paying for my son and future daughter-in-law’s rehearsal dinner, who decides where it’s held? 

A: Generally, the groom's parents host the rehearsal dinner. And it goes without saying that if you’re picking up the tab, you decide the venue. Naturally, you want to have the dinner at a place that pleases your son and his fiancé, but if their choice is out of your price range, they may want to chip in to cover the cost. If it’s some other issue (location, ambience), share your opinion with the couple to see if there may be a different option that makes everyone happy.

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Q: My fiancé’s parents have been divorced for many years, and neither has remarried. Whom should we expect to host the rehearsal dinner - his mother or his father? 

A: The best scenario would involve his parents hosting it together and splitting the expenses, if their relationship is amicable. After all, they will most likely be sharing in the wedding festivities, and neither should have to accept a diminished role. The two of them can certainly be host and hostess without having to spend every minute at each other’s side.

If this situation isn’t practical, perhaps your fiancé should speak to the parent who has the better financial situation about picking up the tab, and let the other parent know he or she will be an honored guest at the party. In fact, no one need know who’s footing the bill anyway. The two of you could even throw your own rehearsal dinner, or pay for the party and allow his parents to ’’host’’ if that’s the way you feel most comfortable.

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Q: My fiancé's parents are planning the rehearsal dinner and they're not sure whom to invite. I know the wedding party is asked but are there others we should include? 

A: Definitely. If any of your wedding-party members are married or engaged, you should invite their spouses or fiancés. You'll also want to include your immediate family, parents of any children in your wedding (if the children are too young they're not obligated to attend), and the officiant and his/her spouse. You can also invite your grandparents, aunts and uncles and any out-of-town guests arriving for the wedding to give them an opportunity to get acquainted with one another. (If you prefer a more intimate gathering, then consider asking a friend or relative to host a cocktail party or tea for your out-of-town guests).

Your rehearsal dinner can be as formal or as informal as you prefer - from a poolside party to a sit-down dinner. A word of caution, though: Don't overdo the merrymaking! You'll want to be well-rested, looking gorgeous and feeling fresh on the big day. In fact, many smart brides and grooms are opting to have their rehearsal and dinner two days before the wedding so they can relax and get plenty of rest the following day.

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Q: My fiancé and I are planning a large wedding, and many of our guests will be from out-of-state. Is there anything we can do in advance to make the whole thing easier for them? And do we have to invite them to the rehearsal dinner?

A: You're wise to think ahead. Begin by sending guests save-the-date postcards a few months before the wedding—you'll want them to have plenty of time to plan their trips. Look into hotel or inn rates and reserve a block of rooms. (There may be a discount for a large number of guests.) Check flight times and airfare. Notify guests of hotel availability, room rates and airfare costs so that they can book as quickly as possible. And consider holding your wedding on a holiday weekend so guests can turn the event into a mini-vacation.

Other nice ideas: Greet guests with a welcome basket in their rooms (fresh fruit, candy, bottled water, and so on); include useful info like a map of your town and an itinerary of the activities planned. Be sure to list top restaurants in the area, nearby parks, movie theaters, recommendations for spa, hair and nail treatments, and any walking tours, golf games, cocktail parties, brunches or lunches you may have planned. If you can, host a hospitality suite at the hotel so they can relax and meet and greet other guests upon their arrival. And don't forget about providing transportation: If it's a large wedding, you may need a luxury van or bus to take guests to the ceremony and to other activities that may be held some distance from the hotel.

Keep in mind that you should also invite out-of-town guests to the rehearsal. They'll feel more involved, and you'll be able to spend extra time with them. But if you prefer limiting the rehearsal dinner to your immediate family and wedding attendants, arrange a cocktail party at the hotel that same evening for out-of-town guests instead. Another hospitable gesture is to host a farewell brunch the morning after the wedding. It's the perfect finale to all the festivities and an appropriate thank-you to guests who may have traveled a great distance to share in your special day.

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Q: Who is supposed to give the toasts at the rehearsal dinner? 

A: At the rehearsal dinner, the atmosphere is often laid-back and informal. The toasts begin with the host of the evening (usually the groom’s father, but both of his parents may speak), then the best man, followed by the groom to his bride and her family and then the bride to her groom and his family. Other guests who wish to say a few words may also join in the toasting. And, since it’s a more intimate gathering, the toasts can be a little longer and more lighthearted than those given at the wedding. When you and your fiancé take your turns to speak (if you choose to do so), it’s a nice gesture to say some kind words about your future spouse as well as to thank both sets of parents for their love and support. Your fiancé can finish up the speaking portion of the evening with a few last words to the group.

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Q: Does the groom’s cake have to be served at the reception or can it be the main dessert at the rehearsal dinner?

A: Even though the groom’s cake is usually displayed alongside the wedding cake at the reception, I see no reason why you shouldn’t have it at the rehearsal dinner. It can be a wonderful surprise for your fiancé, especially if it reflects an interest or a hobby (if he’s a sports fan, it could be shaped like a football helmet or a baseball or decorated in his favorite team’s colors). It will certainly add even more fun to the occasion.

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Q: My friends are asking if my fiancé and I will be having an engagement party. Who is responsible for planning this event and sending out the invitations?

A: Just about anyone, friend or relative, can plan an engagement party for you and your fiancé, but most often it is the bride’s parents who take the initiative. If your parents are from out of town, however, there’s no reason that your fiancé’s mother and father shouldn’t give the party if they wish to do so. The type of engagement party your hosts choose to have is entirely up to them. It can be a cocktail party, a buffet, or even an outdoor barbecue. As for the invitations, they should be sent out by the hosts. If your announcement is to be a surprise, they needn’t mention the reason for the gathering. If most people have heard the news, though, then the invitation should clearly state the purpose of the occasion. It can either be an informal handwritten note or a formal printed invite with the words ’’In honor of (bride’s name) and (groom’s name) at the top.


Often guests will elect to bring gifts, although this should not be expected. Whatever presents you do receive should be promptly acknowledged with a handwritten thank-you note.

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Q: For my bachelorette party, my bridesmaids and I are thinking of planning a day cruise. Are they expected to pay for their own tickets? Do you have any other suggestions that might be less costly? 


A: Bridesmaids are expected to pick up the tab for a bachelorette party, whether it’s a cruise, a dinner at a restaurant or a night on the town. If it’s an expensive ticket, don’t be surprised if some of them beg off for financial reasons. After all, they’ve had to purchase a dress and accessories, plan and pay for a bridal shower and will give you gifts for both the shower and the wedding. Add it all up and the amount might easily come to several hundred dollars!However, there are some equally fun and less pricey options for you and your friends. Weather permitting, have a pool party and barbecue and ask everyone to contribute a dish. Plan a bowling night or go to an amusement park. You can also stay home and have a spa slumber party, in which you treat yourselves to facials, manicures and pedicures, and watch movies and reminisce. Consider a wine-tasting party and let each attendant bring her favorite bottle of wine. Serve cheese and crackers, fruit and a variety of hors d’oeuvres, and finish with a chocolate fondue. Or take the party outdoors and go horseback riding, camping or hiking. Remember, just being together and having an opportunity to share this special time will make any gathering with your bridesmaids fun and memorable.

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Q: Most of my fiancé’s family live far away and will not be able to make it to our wedding. Is it okay for my future mother-in-law to host an additional reception in my new husband’s hometown after the wedding? 

A: It’s not only okay; it’s a great idea. This way your fiancé’s friends and relatives will get a chance to share in the celebration without the added travel expense, and you two get to have twice the fun.

The second reception can be as elaborate as the two of you and his family would like. While you won’t have to repeat the ceremony, you may still want to wear your wedding gown and participate in many of the same traditions. You can also opt to have a low-key cocktail or dinner party instead. The choice is yours and your hosts’.


As for invitations, you need not send the guests who will be attending the second reception invitations to the first celebration. (Otherwise they may feel obligated to give two gifts.) Instead, have your future mother-in-law issue separate invitations to those people asking them to ’’attend a reception in honor of the marriage of Jane and Steven McCarthy.’’ You should also include an RSVP card or phone number and give guests plenty of advance notice—a minimum of four weeks.

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My son is getting married and his Uncle isn't attending, but his Aunt is, she is requesting to bring her 30 year old daughter who is my sons cousin but they are not close, she also has a 4 year old, there will be other children. Is it proper for his Aunt to ask this of him?. They are traveling by car 1200 miles and making a vacation out of the trip. thanks, Barbara [email protected]

Considering that the original invitation was extended to both your son’s aunt and uncle and that she is traveling 1,200 miles by car to be there, I don’t think she can be faulted for asking if it is OK to have her daughter take the place of her husband or to bring a child (especially since there will be other children there). She’ll feel more comfortable and safer traveling that distance by car if she has a companion (as would I!). Many people who travel far to a wedding do make a vacation out of the trip, and who can blame them? They are spending time and money and no doubt want to enjoy a location they may have never visited before. Your son should let her know that her daughter and child are welcome and that he appreciates the effort she is making to be there. -Diane Forden, Editor in Chief of Bridal Guide

We are the grooms parents and have helped the couple with some of the wedding expenses but the brides parents have offered no financial help at all. Only criticism. We are prepared to pay for the rehearsal dinner as well, and have been informed that a large group of the brides family is from out of town and planning to attend this wedding..are we required to invite all of the out of towners to the rehearsal dinner? I would prefer to not spend a lot of money on the rehearsal if the brides parents are not willing to share in the expense....Kind of feels like we would be paying for their family reunion.

Great question! These days, it's not expected that all out-of-towners will be invited to the rehearsal dinner, It's perfectly acceptable to limit the party to just immediate family and bridal party members. Perhaps you can suggest that the bride's family hosts a cocktail party at the hotel that same evening for out-of-town guests. Another hospitable gesture is to host a farewell brunch the morning after the wedding.

We are having a destination wedding where we are only inviting our immediate family, but we want to have a very casual reception/party at home for all of our other friends and family. Would it be acceptable to have our reception before we leave to our vacation?

wedding or pre wedding photography is always good it is a great way to express and capture feelings you can visit at

I have asked my 6 best friends and my fiancé's 2 sisters to be bridesmaids at our wedding. I couldn't choose any 1 person as my MOH so I don't have one. 1 of my girlfriends took the lead on planning the bachelorette party but no one has stepped up to plan/host my bridal shower. I don't want to make any of them feel obligated to be in charge of that so what would be the move here?