Here's Our Take on the "Cover Your Plate" Wedding Gift Rule

Is this hot-button etiquette topic still a thing? Here's what you need to know.
The Knot
Updated Apr 27, 2018

Ever heard of the "cover your plate" rule? Basically, in some regions, it used to be considered good etiquette for guests to choose a wedding gift with a similar price tag as the cost per plate at the reception—therefore, their wedding gift spend would "cover their plate." It's a reasonable idea in theory, but here's the thing: this would naturally require guests to know how much the couple is paying per plate, a financial detail not everyone's comfortable sharing with a crowd. It also suggests a guest is only willing to pay as much as you're shelling out to host them. Or on the flip side, it suggests they're obligated to pay as much, even if they can't afford it, making you look inadvertantly greedy. Complicated, right? Here's our take on the whole thing.

First of all, how much should guests spend on wedding gifts?

To set the record straight, there's really no such thing as the "cover your plate" rule. It's a never a good idea to use the price per plate as a measure for how much guests should spend on the wedding gift—you wouldn't give your best friend a less expensive gift because they were having a more casual affair. Wedding gifts technically aren't mandatory, because they're gifts. Your guests should give a present in the price range that makes sense to them. If they know you well and have the means, an expensive gift might suit them better and be an expression of their love for you and excitement for your new marriage. If they've just graduated school, and simply traveling to the wedding is going to set them back as it is, they can get together with friends and find something in a price range that works for them.

If your guests like rules, here are some appropriate gift giving guidelines to follow:

Guests should spend what they think is appropriate to their relationship to the couple, as well as what's reasonable in their city. Generally, guests spend at least $50. Here's a breakdown based on the relationship to the couple.

Coworker and/or a distant family friend or relative: $50–$75

Relative or friend: $75–$100

Close relative or close friend: $100–$150+

Hopefully the to-be-weds will have provided a nice range of gift options on their wedding registry, making it easy for guests to find something appropriate for their wallet and relationship to the couple.

Give them a subtle hint and change the subject.

Are some of your guests are inquiring into your wedding cost per plate? While it may rub you the wrong way (and we don't blame you), they're likely asking in order to gift you something in the same price range. (It may not rub you the wrong way at all, but actually make you feel like you're helping guests choose the right gift.) If it gets to point where guests are taking the rule to the extreme (aka they're getting too pushy, nosey or literal), here's how to respond politely.

Looking to avoid confrontation? Try to change the subject or deflect the conversation after fielding intrusive questions from guests. Hopefully the person you're talking to gets it. For example, say something like, "Oh, it doesn't matter. Looking forward to seeing your dancing skills at the reception, though!" If they don't understand your desire to end the price point conversation, it might be time for a stronger deflection. Say something like, "Why do you ask? Are you planning a wedding?" Making them face the fact that they're asking an extremely personal question might be a good wake-up call.

What if they still don't take the hint?

If they continue asking the question and still don't back down, just answer them truthfully. You can say something like, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable answering that question." If they insist, and bring up the fact that they want to purchase a gift in the same price point as your cost per plate, you can just say something like, "I don't want to give you a number because I think you should just give whatever you're comfortable with." Tell them what matters isn't their gift (or what it costs), but that they come and celebrate your marriage.

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