He got down on one knee, you said yes – and now it’s time to celebrate! Cue an awesome engagement party. And the best part, this party is all about you two, right? Well, kind of. For many couples, the engagement party also marks the first time (pre-weddding) that you mix all of your friends and family from both sides in one room. Eek! Read on for our top etiquette tips for pulling off an amazing engagement party, minus any awkward moments that may threaten to dampen your just-engaged high.
Olivia and Kane were ready to combat rogue relatives at their engagement party.
Image: Images By Lou O’Brien
1) The guest list
It’s customary not to invite anyone to the engagement party who’s not invited to the wedding. However if your engagement party with friends is casual drinks at a pub or bar, then it might be appropriate to include friends (like work mates, or friends’ partners) who you want to celebrate with, but couldn’t invite to the wedding for budget reasons. By the same token, there’s no need to include everyone who’s invited to your wedding, either. For example, don’t feel guilty about not inviting your mum’s friends. You could even consider making the engagement party a close-family-only affair; or doing two parties – one with family and one with friends – to maximise your time with each group.
2) Who pays?
If you’re hosting your own formal party at a restaurant, traditionally it’s your responsibility to foot the bill. If dinner is too expensive, consider a tea party or cocktail party instead. However, these days it’s more common to hold informal engagement drinks at a bar or pub – and in this case, it’s OK to have guests purchase their own drinks (however putting up an initial bar tab or shouting some nibbles to go round is a nice idea).
3) Gift giving
Gifts are optional at an engagement party, but it’s smart to start a bridal registry for a few items in case people ask family or friends what they can get you (don’t tell people where you are registered or what you want). If you feel awkward about the gift issue, just write on the invites, “Your presence is your present!” People will feel let off the hook, but are still free to get you a present if they want to.
Olivia secretly hoped Kane wouldn’t want to invite his great uncle Eugene. Image: Images By Lou O’Brien
4) Bridging cultures
Do your families hail from opposite ends of the earth? Keep in mind that what’s considered a polite greeting and gesture in one country may mean quite the opposite in another. Do your homework — and spread the word among your guests — as to the cultural customs of your fiancé’s family.
5) Receiving gifts
When people bring gifts, thank them profusely and ask whether they would mind if you opened them after the party. If someone insists you open their gift on the spot, do so away from other guests so that you don’t guilt-trip partygoers who did not come bearing gifts. Also, send a short thank you note that mentions the gift as soon as possible after the party.
6) Acknowledge everyone
There will be people you’re not crazy about at your party (like your fiancé’s batty great uncle Eugene who keeps calling you by his ex’s name). Just remember, they made the effort to be there, so be sure to greet them, even if only by shaking their hand and saying, “Thank you for coming.” Look them in the eye, smile, and then move on.
7) Making introductions
Follow these meet-and-greet tips when you’re bringing the troops together:
- Old-school etiquette says that when making introductions, you should introduce the woman or the oldest person first.
- Don’t avoid it: a botched introduction is better than no introduction, which may make a person feel unimportant and unwelcome.
- If you forget someone’s name or are unsure of how to pronounce it, simply say something like, “Would you mind telling me your name again — I’m having a mental block.”
- Add a bit of background information about each person after introducing them, to give both parties something to chat about.
8) Dealing with cringe-worthy moments
Is Dad getting sentimental about the great fishing trips he and your ex shared? Does your Grandma keep telling your fiance’s family that you can’t cook your way out of a bag? Change the subject by retelling the proposal story (everyone wants to hear this) – or simply signal your loudest, chattiest friend to come over and take over the convo asap.
If guests propose a toast to you, it’s traditional to remain seated. Also, don’t raise your glass or drink (the guests are toasting you, not the other way around). It’s customary that you, your fiancé or both of you respond to the toast with a few words of your own. Clueless about what to to say? Just thank people for coming and express your excitement about the joining of two families. It’s also nice to single out each set of parents and toast their support and love (or whatever you deem most meaningful).
by Lori Seto & Rebecca Hanley