If you’ve ever stressed about how much money to give for “presentation” at a wedding, you’re likely to receive this advice, with the certainty of a priest repeating a commandment: “Oh, you have to at least cover the cost of your meal.” And the sermon continues: “Weddings are expensive. The couple needs to pay for the wedding and start their lives together. Be not a financial drain on them, my child.” And so we pray forgiveness, pull out our cheque books and suck up the cost of gifts for the three weddings we’ll inevitably be invited to this spring/summer, spending the “appropriate” $100 to $200 a pop. Jesus.
Well, you disciples of cost covering etiquette… I‘m about to burst your Dollar Store bubbles.
The idea of “covering the cost of your meal”… is a modern myth. On par with “needing a second dress for the reception”, or “chewing celery burns more calories than it contains”. But before you cry “blasphemy!”, consider the logic of this rule.
First, for “covering the cost of the meal” to be true, guests would require knowledge of what the happy couple is spending on the rental space, the dinner, the decorations, as well as the current market price of swordfish to accurately calculate the price of their gift. Next, the rule presumes that all guests have the exact same annual income.
It also presumes that everyone gives money, when many couples still opt for gift registries that mercifully range in price, often well below the suggested $100 - $200.
But forget logic for now. Believers in “covering your meal” feel it would be scandalously rude to give less than the cost of your dinner. In that case. let us consult an etiquette expert, the Priestess of Proper herself, Emily Post. When it comes to wedding gifts, in Emily Post’s Etiquette: 18th Edition, the Posts doth proclaim: “The amount you spend is strictly a matter of your budget, how close you are to the bride or groom, and what you think is an appropriate gift. Even if you’re aware of how much is being spent on the wedding, you are under no obligation to spend more than you can afford.” Praise the Lord.
Technically, guests are not required to bring a gift at all, as the definition of a gift is something that is given voluntarily. Though as kind people, most of us do (and want to) give gifts for happy occasions. Don’t forget, a wedding is still just a party the bride and groom chose to host. If I throw a dinner party, I don’t expect guests to slap down a twenty to cover the cost of the beef tenderloin. However, I’m delighted should guests bring a bottle of wine, flowers, or homemade baking.
I don’t know who started the modern myth of guest cost covering. But I assume it’s the same evil person who invented the chicken dance.
Wedding guests, be as generous as you’re able, and go in peace.
Jane is a writer and performer with the Winnipeg sketch comedy troupe, Hot Thespian Action, an improviser with local improv troupe, Outside Joke, and the host of the CBC Comedy Factory Podcast. Find her on Twitter: @TestarJane
Published in Volume 68, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 4, 2014)