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Ask Mister Manners: I went to a wedding and food wasn't served. Was I right to be upset?

With wedding visions shifting after the long pandemic, some couples have opted to eliminate the meal entirely — for varying reasons, and with varying results.
Feminine wedding, birthday desktop mock-up scene. Porcelain plates, blank paper greeting, menu card, ribbon, golden cutlery, leaves,roses, peony
What would you do if there was nothing on the wedding menu?Alamy Stock Photo

Dear Mister Manners: I was appalled by the recent story of the couple who spent their entire wedding budget hiring Mickey and Minnie Mouse to appear at their reception, leaving no funds to provide a meal for guests. Had I been in attendance, I would have been fuming. Is it just me?

(Mealtime with Mister Manners is a weekly column that delves into a smorgasbord of dining-etiquette dilemmas. Please submit your questions at the bottom of this page.)

In 1954, less than a year before opening his first theme park and long before a family of five would need a second mortgage to afford a visit there, Walt Disney modestly reflected, “It all started with a mouse.”

And yet, for a pair of now-internet-famous lovebirds, no bank loan was needed to start their union with a mouse (or two mice, to be precise). Rather, to afford the apparent $2,750 required for advance photos with Mickey and Minnie and to have the characters subsequently do a turn on the dance floor, the couple alerted their guests there would be no meal provided. The good news? Food would be available for purchase in the area should tummies start rumbling.

Details of this anonymous wedding celebration are sketchy, but that did not prevent the now-removed original Reddit post from garnering 2,400 comments. The incident also attracted massive media attention.

Bereft of the full set of facts, I can’t rightly weigh in on whether this particular couple’s decision was wrong-headed.

Which is not to say the fervor that erupted as news of this wedding spread was for naught. In fact, it opened a valuable topic for debate: Is it appropriate for a happy couple to splurge on the razzle dazzle to the exclusion of the roast beef? And more broadly, are couples always obligated to feed their wedding guests?

Characters and custom experiences

Michael Sarnoff, a booking agent of 12 years at Characters for Hire, said 45% of the company’s business is wedding bookings. With access to a talent database of roughly 5,000 actors and entertainers, Characters for Hire receives requests ranging from Frankenstein and his bride to knights in shining armor. “One of our recent clients was a couple who wanted a dinosaur at their wedding,” recalled Sarnoff. The company came through with a 13-foot, puppeteer-operated creature who followed the couple right down the aisle.

Matthew and Alexandra Fuhrken, married May 2022, at the Sam Noble Museum, in Norman, Oklahoma, with a dinosaur courtesy of Characters for Hire.
Matthew and Alexandra Fuhrken, married May 2022, at the Sam Noble Museum, in Norman, Oklahoma, with a dinosaur courtesy of Characters for Hire.Bethalee Photography

Why in the world, Jurassic or otherwise, would anyone include an extinct animal in their nuptials? “A lot of couples want their guests to say ‘Wow,’ to talk about the wedding for years to come. ‘Did you see that dinosaur?’ They want their wedding to be memorable,” said Sarnoff.

With or without reptiles, “Couples are hosting more personalized and specific weddings than ever,” said Emily Forrest, director of communications for wedding resource website Zola. During these custom-created occasions, “interests and hobbies shine through every aspect, from décor to invites to registry curation to entertainment.”

As for her thoughts on the couple who could not imagine their day sans marquee names from the House of Mouse, Forrest diplomatically offers: “These two clearly had a very specific and thought-out vision for hosting a day that felt like them.”

Making the announcement

Though none of the experts I consulted would go so far as to deride the couple’s cartoony choice, they did emphasize the importance of communicating intentions far in advance.

Tracy Taylor Ward, creative director and owner of the eponymous Tracy Taylor Ward Design, suggests any couple planning a contrarian reception indicate as much on an insert accompanying their wedding invite. For added transparency, the couple’s wedding website should also include this tidbit (and not as a footnote).

Once the information is out there, it’s up to each individual to weigh attendance. “While not all guests will agree with the decision to limit food and beverage — or to forgo them entirely — invitees should respect the couple’s wishes and can RSVP accordingly,” Ward said.

In other words, forewarned is forearmed.

Food matters

As the Disney fans discovered, bringing qualified entertainment to a wedding does not come cheap. By way of comparison, four zombies from Characters for Hire will set newlyweds back $3,500. Prices go up from there, with more lavish productions tacking $75,000 and upwards onto the budget. Their clients span the globe and the range of personalities, too.

Sarnoff recalls one bride who was so intent on affording entertainment that she wondered aloud: "'I guess I’ll have to cut back on food.'" He candidly urged her to reconsider: “When I attend a wedding, I’m expecting to be fed,” he related. “If I came in and spotted just finger food, I wouldn’t be happy.” Ultimately, the client concurred and was able to have her cake and characters, too, thanks to family assistance.

Given Zola’s research indicating food is among the top-five reasons guests look forward to attending a wedding, Forrest urges anyone pondering a food-free celebration to be forthcoming so guests don’t attend the occasion on an empty stomach.

Thoughtfully breaking with tradition

One real-life bride and groom who also gained internet notoriety this year — though of a far more positive variety — was Kiara and Joel Brokenbrough. Before an assemblage of about 40 guests, the couple planned their wedding so masterfully as to keep the budget under $500. Like the Mickey and Minnie-loving newlyweds, the Brokenbroughs did not provide dinner for the assemblage. Instead, after exchanging vows at View Point, a scenic lookout north of Los Angeles, they traveled to a nearby restaurant and lounge, where close friends and family had the option to order and pay for their own food as desired.

Kiara and Joel Brokenbrough at their $500 wedding.
Kiara and Joel Brokenbrough at their $500 wedding.@KiaraBrk via Instagram

The venue had a live band and good, affordable food, said Brokenbrough, and the party secured their own section in the lounge, which was available on a first-come, first-served basis. Despite the wedding’s small size, media attention was anything but.

“Our guests were very supportive,” reported the bride, a social media manager and content creator who wore a $47 dress and served a cake provided by family members. Although she admits her dream wedding would have taken place in a private home above the Hollywood Hills, she has zero regrets about her choice of setting or budget.

Challenging the accepted practice of spending a princely sum to marry one’s prince, the newlywed points out that receptions — no matter how grandiose — are but “one day for a few hours.” By contrast, the invoices those few hours generate can also leave the couple with debt and interest payments for years to come.

Staring down rising costs

In this busiest year for weddings since 1984, “supply-chain issues, staffing shortages and more have resulted in prices skyrocketing industry-wide,” explained Ward. All of which means “money is no object” may prove a dangerous proclamation for all but the most well-heeled of lovebirds.

“Guests should be understanding and focus on the reason they are attending a wedding in the first place,” Ward advised. It should not be for the bells and whistles but “to celebrate and kick-off their loved ones’ journey toward a happy and healthy marriage.”

Food for thought

I loathe the thought that the time-honored tradition of serving food and drink at a wedding would ever go by the wayside — let alone become a casualty of the couple’s desire to have Pikachu, Baby Shark and Dora the Explorer lead the conga line.

At the same time, I also believe that a couple should have the celebration they want — and that they can rightly afford. Which in turns means that for any guest eagerly envisioning a top-shelf open bar, lobster rolls and a Viennese hour, it may be time to adjust expectations.

Just as the pandemic has caused many of us to rethink the way we were doing things prior to 2020, perhaps weddings should be no different.

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