Sorry, but, No-Shows at Your Wedding = The Cost of Doing Business

The headline reads: "Guest gets bill after not showing up to wedding." Well, ain't that sweet.

Recently, the internet was abuzz with the story of a wedding guest who received an invoice for the meals and service they would have received at a wedding they RSVPed to but we unable to attend because of a last-minute cancellation from their babysitter. 

A Major No-No

I'm not entirely certain who sent the invoice-- whether it was the couple, the venue, or a cranky parent perhaps. What I am entirely certain of, however, is that this note which I'm sure the sender thought was a brilliant way to show 'em who's boss, might be one of the worst offenders of etiquette I've seen in a long time. And those who know me know I don't use the word etiquette very often. 

In this instance, the "offending guest" had to miss the wedding because her babysitter cancelled at the last minute, and the invitation stated that the reception was "Adults Only."  Though there is still some debate about whether it's OK to bar children from weddings, in order for this guest to have complied with the instructions from the couple and laws telling you it's not alright to leave your young child alone by themselves (oh, those crazy laws!), she had no choice but to skip the festivities. 

This is a whole separate blog post, but, cocktails and formal events are just sometimes not an appropriate setting for children. It's OK to host an adults-only wedding, as long as the hosts realize that some guests may be left out for that very reason-- it's not always simple as pie to get a sitter. 

explain yourself

What gets me is the part where the note says "explanation for no show, card, call or text would be appreciated." This suggests to me that it's not about the cost of the meal, but more about the fact that the guest didn't contact the couple to let them know what could possibly be more important than them. In other words, their feelings were hurt, and they wanted the guest to know it. Under no circumstances should this ever be a thing that happens.

An RSVP is not a contract. If someone doesn't show up to a wedding, that sucks, but there's usually a good reason for it. And if there's not a good reason, well, then there's not. It's not your place to play hall monitor. 

the real scoop

Some internet commenters have mentioned that it's a bummer when a guest is a no-show; there's an empty seat at a table and you can't get your money back. Well, yes and no. It is a bummer and yes, there will probably be an empty seat (or the seat will be filled by someone who RSVPed 'no' but shows up anyway, OR someone you forgot to seat when making your table assignments).  

You may or may not be able to get your money back. Some caterers allow you to pay for only the number of people who are present at your wedding. Others ask for a final head count 7-10 days before the wedding date. So, even if the guest had notified the couple that day that an emergency arose, they still wouldn't have gotten their money back. 

Couples are usually advised to plan for a 10% overage in their guest count (and we say to expect 10% under the guest-imate, too). Sometimes people respond and their RSVP gets lost in the mail (it happens way more often than you think). Sometimes people don't respond because they think you and they have such a close relationship that it's assumed you know they'll be there (this happens most often with young people who didn't grow up using written correspondence). And sometimes you just got your numbers wrong. Calling folks whose RSVPs you didn't receive helps alleviate number discrepancies.

how could this have been handled differently?

A few different ways, actually. It seems like the biggest problem here was a lack of communication. Here are a few suggestions on ways to communicate an absence:


Call or text the bride/groom/parent/sibling/wedding party member as soon as you know you won't be able to make it. 

PROS- You will be able to let someone know you won't be there and they will probably be able to relay the information to the right person.

CONS- You might not have a good contact number. Also, these people have a lot going on; they may not see your call or text, especially if it's the day of the wedding.


1) Include a contact number on your wedding website (or Info card with your wedding invitations) of someone high ranking (NOT the bride or groom). Better yet, include your wedding coordinator's phone number for urgent situations (check to make sure this is OK with your coordinator. P.S. It's OK with me!)  

2) It's thoughtful, though not mandatory, to send a follow-up note or card congratulating the couple with a registered or monetary GIFT (read: not the remittance of a bill) of anywhere from $50-$200 (or more if you're feeling generous). 

BOTTOM LINE- If you find out the day of the wedding that you can't make it, and you choose not to notify the bride or groom or someone close to them, at least send a note immediately after the wedding apologizing for your absence and a gift from their registry or some money. You don't have to feel obligated to pay for your meal, but it's a nice gesture to put some greenbacks toward the wedding festivities (same goes for guests who attend the wedding). 


DON'T SEND YOUR NO-SHOWS A BILL. I repeat, DON'T SEND YOUR NO-SHOWS A BILL. Can't get more tacky than that. No-shows should be built into the cost of a wedding because that's just how it goes. You can't control what 150 people do.

PROS- You get on with your life and your new marriage.

CONS- You don't get a chance to pout about it publicly. 


1) Don't worry about it and don't take it personally. Your wedding should be about you and your new spouse and your guests are just a great addition to the fun. You never know what someone has going on in their life that actually might be more important than you (sorry, but it's true!)  

2) If it's someone you know well and you are genuinely concerned, call or email them (after your wedding). Say something like, "We were so sorry you couldn't make it to the wedding. We'd love to share some photos of the day when we get them back from the photographer." If they offer an explanation for their absence, great; listen and be understanding. If not, don't press the issue. 

BOTTOM LINE- Again, you're not the wedding guest hall monitor. Build the cost of numbers discrepancies into your wedding budget. Politely follow up with a phone call and offer to share photos from the day. Be understanding if they offer an explanation of their absence and get over it if they don't. Whatever you do, though, DON'T SEND YOUR NO-SHOWS A BILL.

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