You’ve watched from afar as your client’s children grew up.
Now, the client’s eldest son is getting married. You’re invited to the wedding—a white-tie affair at a five-star hotel. Here’s how to fête the happy couple without a fret.
Though the invite may have come as a surprise, you should attend, says Todd Peters of IPC Investment Corporation in Winnipeg, Man.
“I’ve made an effort to show up at everything I can for clients,” he says. “I view it as a way of supporting them.” He estimates he’s been to at least 20 client weddings in his 20-year career, including out-of-town celebrations in Kelowna, B.C. and Cuba.
Before the big day
Respond to the invitation within a week. And though you may know your client better than her child, resist the temptation to RSVP to her. Instead, follow the invitation’s instructions, says Julie Blais Comeau, etiquette expert and founder of etiquetteJulie.com.
The invitation will either request your company, or yours and a guest’s. If there’s no mention of a guest on the invite, don’t ask for one and don’t bring one unannounced.
Your first thought on seeing the invite might be on how the marriage will impact your client’s or the newlywed’s financial plans. Blais Comeau says to keep that separate from your RSVP or other wedding inquiries. “It’s perfectly acceptable to arrange [another] appointment in light of the nuptials.”
Peters sees his clients every three to six months, so he usually brings up the wedding at the next meeting. He congratulates clients on their child’s upcoming nuptials and offers to connect the couple with an advisor at his firm who specializes in younger clients. The couples often take him up on the offer, he says.
If you can’t attend the wedding, Louise Fox, founder of The Etiquette Ladies, says to send a card or a gift. If you’re close with the couple, she suggests taking them out for dinner sometime after the wedding.
If you attend, the invitation should help you decide what to wear. If it doesn’t say “white tie” or “beach casual” outright, the venue and time should provide clues. Is the invite to a hotel ballroom for six o’clock? Then dress formal. Does it direct you to a cottage for mid-afternoon? Then wear a linen suit or a polished sundress (see “What to wear”).
If you’re unsure, it’s better to dress formal than casual, says Fox. “If you went with a suit and tie and you saw that people weren’t wearing suits or jackets, you can take your tie off, take your jacket off and roll up your sleeves,” she says. It’s also okay to ask your client about the dress code.
When picking a gift, its size shouldn’t be tied to how fancy you expect the wedding to be, says Blais Comeau. Instead, consider how close you are to the couple and your budget.
Don’t tie how much you spend to how much your host has invested with you either, says Peters. “Don’t say, ‘This is a million-dollar client, so I’d better spend $1,000 on the gift.’ ” You may not be allowed to anyway, he notes. Weddings fall under the same rules as all gift-giving. He recommends asking your firm’s compliance department about the rules before accepting a wedding invitation. Peters usually gets something in the mid-price range of the couple’s registry.
Stores with registries often wrap and deliver a gift to the couple before the wedding. Use this service, or drop it off yourself, so you don’t have to bring it the day of. If you’re reluctant to show up empty-handed after sending the gift ahead, you could always bring a card.
If the registry options are slim, a gift card to the same store is also acceptable, as is cash. In fact, giving cash is becoming a trend, and is even the norm in some cultures. Couples with established households may also appreciate cash. Blais Comeau suggests writing a cheque.
At the ceremony
If you’re invited to both the ceremony and the reception, don’t skip the ceremony. If it’s in an unfamiliar religious or cultural tradition, do a little research, says Blais Comeau. Religious mores may also affect the dress code.
Attending the ceremony “gives you better insight into your client’s background,” notes Peters, who has enjoyed attending Ukrainian Orthodox, Pentecostal, Mennonite and civil ceremonies. You’re not expected to participate in rituals, but try to follow along.
At the reception
The receiving line is a good time to introduce yourself if you don’t know the couple well. Blais Comeau suggests mentioning how you know the couple. For instance, say, “I’ve been your mother’s financial advisor for 30 years. I’ve had the privilege of seeing you grow at a distance.”
Keep small talk positive, she adds (see “Cheat sheet”). Keep judgmental thoughts to yourself, and do not post comments on social media.
When meeting tablemates, walk the perimeter of the table, introduce yourself and shake hands, says Fox. Doing it from across a table can be awkward in a noisy room. As for dinnertime chats, Blais Comeau uses a colleague’s acronym to remember off-limits topics: D.I.N.E. “Don’t talk about anything that would be disgusting, insulting, negative or emotional,” she explains.
And the meal is not for prospecting. As you get to know your fellow guests, one may mention she’s interested in your services. In that case, discreetly exchange cards, says Fox.
While you’re not on the clock, once you’ve introduced yourself as the host’s advisor, everything you do will be viewed through that lens, says Blais Comeau. So treat the evening as you would a networking social, save for handing out business cards.
You may decide to make it an early night, says Blais Comeau. In that case, the soonest it’s polite to leave is after the cake is cut. Once that’s done, wait a few minutes and say thank you to the newlyweds and your clients.
Cheat Sheet: What not to say
Sometimes well-meaning small talk can turn into an etiquette flop. Here’s some comments to avoid when talking to the newlyweds.
Don’t say: When will you two have kids?
Why: It’s presumptuous and rude.
Instead say: “You have so many beautiful moments ahead of you.”
Don’t say: “You must be paying a ton for this party.”
Why: Aside from being petty, this remark could be received as judgmental coming from an advisor.
Instead say: “What a lovely reception. You clearly put so much thought into it.”
Don’t say: “Where is the coat check/bathroom/bar?”
Why: The bride and groom are busy.
Instead: Ask a member of the bridal party, another guest, or a server.
When the wedding’s too lavish
Advisor Todd Peters has attended weddings where it’s clear to him that clients have spent beyond their means. It’s certainly a financial issue that warrants discussion at the next client meeting, but he says it’s not usually him who ends up raising the topic.
“Usually the situation brings itself up,” he says. It will often affect RRSP and TFSA contributions, prompting a conversation about budgeting.
But Peters warns not to assume a client’s lavish wedding is too costly. “That doesn’t always mean there’s a problem,” he says, considering family members may help foot the bill. Conversely, he adds, “I’ve gone to simple weddings and when I meet with [the couple] six months later, they’re scrambling because that simple wedding cost them too much.”