THELMA DOMENICI: How to handle a 'potluck' wedding reception

Dear Thelma: I have a question pertaining to a certain wedding invitation.

The wedding will be in a church and the reception will be at a day camp. This wedding and reception are supposed to be a "casual" setting, and on the invitation it was printed that guests are to bring a plate of cookies or a pasta salad for the reception.

Have you ever heard of anything of this nature? I was dumbfounded when I read that you are supposed to supply food.

Is this tacky or bad etiquette or just plain unheard of?

Answer: I've never been invited to such an event or heard of it really happening.

However, knowing now that it has been done in your situation, I have to assume that only very close family and friends are invited to that particular wedding -- people the bride and groom are very close to and who would fully accept and want to bring the food.

A couple can't send this kind of invitation/request to someone they barely know and not expect them to react negatively. And given the standards followed for the most important events we attend and hold in our lifetimes, even close friends may be caught off-guard.

A casual setting for a wedding and reception is fine, but creating a casual atmosphere doesn't mean the graces of being a good host are left behind. Whether it's a formal gala or a backyard barbecue, being a host means taking care of the needs of those invited.

If a family or a couple is financially unable to care for those needs, then they must rethink the size of the guest list or the cost of the food chosen.

A better option might have been to ask select, close family or friends who've offered their assistance if they would like to help with the food. I feel asking every guest to provide a dish veers to the bad-etiquette-and-just-plain-unheard-of side.

But now the ball is your court. Whether it is the most gracious invitation, it is their invitation. You have to decide whether these relationships are important enough to you to participate in the event. You also must follow the directions given on the invitation, or don't go.

For the relationship's sake, I hope that you can put your shock aside, grab your pasta salad and go.

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