Once the initial excitement of getting engaged dies down, you realize you’re now left with the task of putting together about a bazillion parties. First on the docket is the engagement party — but who the heck even knows the proper etiquette for throwing one, anyway?
We’re all more familiar with how to throw showers, bachelor or bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners, but the engagement party leaves a lot of us feeling kind of clueless. Here’s a little clarification on common conundrums, including what’s proper and what’s taboo.
Who throws the party?
Traditionally, the bride’s parents throw the party, but it’s totally normal nowadays for friends of the bride and groom to plan it, too, according to Martha Stewart’s etiquette guidelines.
It’s also an option to have two parties (one for friends and one for family), but it’s polite to let the bride’s parents have the opportunity to celebrate first.
But you can throw your own
Although a couple may be bursting with excitement about celebrating their upcoming nuptials with friends and family, Stacey Halstead of Create the Moment Wedding and Event Planners says that it’s generally more appropriate for the couple to leave the party in someone else’s hands.
That being said, there are a few exceptions to this guideline.
“If the couple is having a destination wedding where many guests will be unable to attend, it is acceptable for them to throw an engagement celebration so they can have the chance to celebrate with their friends,” says Halstead. “Also, if the couple has recently moved into a new home together, they can throw an engagement/housewarming party.”
Who to invite
Whether the engagement party will be big or small, etiquette experts generally agree that individuals should only be invited to the engagement party if they’ll also be invited to the wedding.
According to Katie DeWeese, director of Digital Media for MyWedding.com, the exception, again, is if the couple is planning a destination wedding.
“Also, make sure to try and represent both sides of the couple’s friends and family as equally as possible on the guest list,” she adds.
“Gifts are not necessary and this should be expressed to guests,” says Susan Callender, CEO of Oh My Gauche!, a leader in international etiquette and protocol training.
If the invitation advises guests not to bring gifts, Callender recommends respecting the host’s or couple’s wishes and waiting until future wedding celebrations to give the bride and groom something. If gifts have not been mentioned, and you would like to present the couple with something to congratulate them, Callender suggests going with something small, such as celebratory champagne.
She also says that any gifts the couple receives at the party should be kept out of sight. “They should not be displayed on a gift table, as this may cause discomfort for those guests who followed proper protocol,” she explains.
Prepping the bride and groom
There are a couple things the bride and groom should be prepared to do at the party.
Aside from chatting with guests and thanking them for joining the celebration, the newly engaged should have a few words prepped.
“Generally, the father of the bride leads a toast to the couple. The couple will respond with a toast to their families,” says DeWeese.
Halstead suggests the bride and groom should also prep their parents for meeting their new extended family.
“Often it is the engagement party where the parents of the bride and parents of the groom meet,” she says. “The bride and groom should be sure to inform their parents about anything they need to know about the other. For instance, if one parent is in recovery from alcohol addiction, this needs to be discussed and this person is not to be offered a drink. If one is a stark Republican and the other a strong Democrat, both should be told that politics are not to be discussed.”
Where to hold the party
Ultimately, the right place for the celebration depends on the guest list. According to Syndi Seid, founder of Advanced Etiquette, appropriate venues include a person’s home, a restaurant, or a country club.
“What would be inappropriate, in my mind, is to hold the party someplace where the parents and older relatives would not enjoy [themselves] — a night club,” says Seid.
If a couple feels strongly about holding their party at such a venue, she suggests having two parties, one for friends at the night club and one for parents and older relatives in a setting where they’d feel more comfortable.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.
Originally published February 2011. Updated March 2017.