How Do We Thoughtfully Ask Guests to Pay for Their Accommodations?

The venue won't allow guests to book directly through them

Q:Dear Sage Wise APW,

Really hoping you can help with this one. I’m a queer bride, trying to plan a sane, laid back, authentic, as well as *gasp* affordable, post-pandemic wedding.

My partner and I are smitten with the possibility of buying out a well-loved hot springs resort not far from our area, but far enough that guests will need overnight accommodations. The resort buy-out will allow for most, if not all, of our guests to stay there, though we imagine that some people might want to stay off site. We will, of course, give people several options, ranging from fancy to roughing it.

That said, many/most of our guests know this resort, have stayed there before and would likely love to stay there for our wedding weekend. Typically, people pay a lot of money to stay there, though the accommodations are simple/basic. This is because the hot springs themselves are amazing, the grounds are extremely beautiful and it’s a very serene place.

We can’t afford to pay for everyone’s accommodations, though we are happy to absorb some of the costs. The venue will not allow guests to book directly through them, though. We need to pay the buyout fee and then find a way to recover costs from there. Before anyone jumps down my throat for being rude, tacky or greedy, please hear me out:

  • We saw a website of another queer couple who had a wedding weekend at the same venue. These folks literally charged guests to RSVP (folks were asked to Venmo the couple a hefty sum as part of the RSVP process,) and further posted their Venmo and PayPal accounts at the ONLY “registry” option on their website. We would never do that. That is so clearly in poor taste and simply not okay.
  • We would need to gather some information from folks, regardless of the cost issue. Since we will be handling room assignments, we need to ask folks who they’d feel comfortable sharing a room/cottage with, and what people’s preferences are in terms of the many accommodations offered (there are rooms, tent sites, yurts, whole cottages with space for multiple people etc.) So, I am thinking of using a web platform such as RegFox, which is used to register people for large events such as conferences/public gatherings, to gather all this information, as well as to collect a nominal fee for on site accommodations. This, while making it clear that folks can also stay off site. The website will use a payment platform that, yes, will reimburse us some of the buyout fees, but it will not be as obvious/awkward as folks paying us directly.
  • We will, of course, host all other aspects of the weekend. People will be fed, boozed, get to soak in the hot springs etc. They could also book massages directly through the venue. We are not seeking to recoup the costs of the wedding! Just to have folks help pay for their rooms, at a cost significantly lower than what these rooms typically go for.

What do people think? Should we not even consider the venue if we can’t pay the upfront cost of hosting all our guests there? Is there a thoughtful way to have guests pay for their rooms without handing us money? Should we hire a wedding coordinator to help us sort through this aspect of the wedding?

When responding in the comments, please be kind to us. Please remember, we are a queer couple with very little experience with/attachment to conventional wedding etiquette. At the same time, we want to approach our guests with integrity and kindness. And, we are trying to realize a fairly simple vision of a weekend with the people we love, to celebrate our love, without completely breaking the bank.

Thank you for any guidance/wisdom you may have to offer,

—Lost In The Woods


First up: the good news. I’ve been in the wedding etiquette game for 13 years, but with the worldwide pandemic, I tend to think that a lot of the old rules are out the window. Which is a fancy way of saying: finally, you get to do you boo. (Or at least kinda.)

Now, those of you who have been following my work for any amount of time know that I actually really do care about etiquette. Not because I think we need to stick to sexist / stodgy / homophobic / xenophobic rules… but because I think that being kind to people is really important. And sometimes being kind to people means finding a way to dance with a rulebook they understand… and other times it just means putting yourselves in their shoes for a minute, and thinking about how what you’re doing will make them feel.

You’re already getting an A+ from me on the etiquette question, because (even in the middle of a global pandemic) you’re spending time thinking about how your guests will feel.

So let’s walk through this.

First of all, you’re right. Guests are always expected to pay for their own accommodations. While having a cash bar is one of the most contentious questions in weddings (for the record, I think it’s totally fine as long as you warn people to bring cash in advance… but there are people that would literally fight me to the death over that opinion) guests paying for their hotel rooms is just how things are done. And sometimes accommodations are not in hotels, but guests still generally expect to pay for them.

Second of all, you’re right. Getting a wedding invite with a note to Venmo the couple a large amount of money would make me feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean, yes, sure… we all know weddings involve a lot of money changing hands, but nobody wants to feel like they have to purchase their spot at the wedding. Love is not for sale… and all that nonsense.

Third of all, you’re right. (You’re right so many times!) Setting this up on a website that will handle the mechanics for you, to give a sense of plausible deniability (they’re not paying you, they’re paying the website!) will probably make everyone feel more comfortable. Of the ideas you’ve come up with, I like this one the most. In fact, I like it so much I kind of wish I’d come up with it myself!

BUT.  (You knew there was a but right? Because why else would I be writing this column if all I had to say was that you are 100% correct?) SO! Here is my warning: I’m not sure you WANT to get into this, at least without someone you’ve paid (like yup, a wedding planner) to help out.

To illustrate, let me walk you down memory lane, a decade back, to my 30th birthday. My husband was still in law school. APW was my side gig, and I was working full-time as an executive assistant in an investment bank to keep us afloat. Suffice to say: we didn’t have a lot of spare cash. We made a decision very similar to this one for my 30th birthday. We booked a downstairs space at a restaurant, that made us pay the whole bill upfront, and then collect what was owed from each of the guests, which we let them know in advance. Similarly, this wasn’t a big etiquette question. Most late 20 somethings expect to buy their own food and drink at a friend’s birthday party. NBD. So it all seemed fine. Nobody was at all bothered. The party was great. David collected the money. I went to sleep happy and well-fed. And then I woke up the next day and asked David to count the cash and make sure we had enough. Reader… We only had half of what we owed. I have literally no idea who shorted us (other than clearly a lot of people). But I ended up in tears the day after my birthday because I honestly had no idea how we were going to cover the rest of the bill… which was not small.

This cautionary tale isn’t to say that my friends cheated me on purpose (though I will admit to having some dark thoughts about some of them the day after). This story isn’t implying that your friends will act like deadbeats. Instead, it is a warning that YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO INVITE THIS INTO YOUR LIFE AND WEDDING. At least not without someone else managing all of the details.

As you know, there is MORE than enough to worry about in wedding planning (not to mention wedding planning during a worldwide crisis). And on your wedding weekend, you want to free yourself up to have the emotional experience of living this moment in your life to the fullest and enjoying the people you love. What you don’t want to have to do is face the fact that your life-long best friend will always try to get out of paying a bill if she can, or your cheapskate uncle will not pay up till the very last moment, or your wild child cousin will just never actually pay, but totally show up. People act weirdly around money, and I don’t want you to have to deal with that on or around your wedding day.

So in short: if you decide to go with this venue, my recommendation is that you put as many layers between you and the money collection as possible. Not because it’s good etiquette (though it probably is). But because you want to protect you and your guests from having to get too up close and personal with each other about money (which is probably why it’s good etiquette).

TL;DR: Can you do it? Yes. Should you do it? Maybe. If you do it? Proceed with caution.

Totally wanting the best for you…


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