Michelle
Rockstar October 2022

What does "cover your plate" mean and why is it a thing?

Michelle, on April 13, 2021 at 9:16 PM Posted in Etiquette and Advice 0 23
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Out of curiosity, I have heard the term used as a "rule" for the value of a gift. How exactly would that work (not planning to implement but just understand) when the couple is not giving guests a bill like at a restaurant, nor sharing details of how much vendors cost? How does the guest know that the couple isn't on a budget or thinking outside the box as part of their personalities? Wouldn't it it just be easier to say "ok I'm willing to spend $x because they are my best friends (or not that close) so what on their registry that they want is in that price range?" Otherwise it sounds like too much math and trying to one up each other?

23 Comments

Latest activity by JM Sunshine, on April 19, 2021 at 8:27 PM
  • mrswinteriscoming
    Rockstar December 2021
    mrswinteriscoming ·
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    I come from a culture of monetary gift giving to cover the cost of attendance and although the gifted amount may vary depending on closeness to the bride and groom, I generally base it on this formula: base cost $100pp (let’s face it, weddings are expensive) + extra depending on venue, dress code (see below) + closeness to couple.

    In my personal experience, more formal and longer weddings tend to cost more so I will gift more for these weddings. For example, for a black tie wedding at a 5 star hotel, I would not gift any less than $250pp unless it is someone who I’m not very close to (in which case I’d probably gift $200pp). If it is a very simple and laid back wedding, I will still not gift any less than $100pp as a matter of principle.

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  • Rosie
    Rockstar February 2022
    Rosie ·
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    I agree with the above - we're both Aussie so maybe it's an Aussie thing? It's extremely common here not to give a gift from a registry because most people have lived together for years and don't need a 7th toaster, so money in a card is the norm.

    The actual amount is usually a case of how close you are to the bride and groom (so, distant work colleague you feel obliged to attend the wedding of would get less than a best friend or family member), and how much a person might reasonably be expected pay for a comparable meal in that restaurant, but I know many people who are wildly out of touch with the actual cost.

    I mean, our venue and formality level is not black tie, and meals and alcohol will be well over $250pp, so $100 as a gift would be significantly less than even a nice 2-course meal there would cost, but that's fine. We're not putting our event on expecting to make anything back - the money is a token gift and we're grateful to receive anything at all which should always be the case.

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  • Megan
    Dedicated February 2023
    Megan ·
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    I agree with all that above have said! Generally, I have an idea based on the formality of the wedding and the venue location, but I also do base it on my relationship with the couple. I went to a wedding for a couple I wasn’t very close with at all, at a very laid back venue, so I gave $100 (I was also very young at the time so I struggled to even give that) but recently went to a formal (not quite black tie) event for a couple I wasn’t close to, and gave $225. If I was going to a black tie event, I’d probably give at least $250, and if I’m very close to the couple I’d try to give $300. This is all per person, and of course just given current financial standing. None of this is a “rule” by any means, but the circle of friends and family in which I grew up in always tried to stay to a general idea of gifting per plate. If it’s any help, normally the wedding website and invitation give you a clue as to the overall formality of the event, as well as the time of it (i.e. a wedding at 3 PM on a Sunday is going to tend to be a little less formal than a 7 PM Saturday evening wedding). Hope this helped!
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  • JM Sunshine
    August 2020
    JM Sunshine ·
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    To me, it's the thought that counts and not the value of the gift.
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  • Michelle
    Rockstar October 2022
    Michelle ·
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    Not that we or anyone we know do this, but curiously how do you figure rates? Is there a how to chart that is used? How does a general person unfamiliar with this idea guess that XYZ venue costs $amount compared to ABC venue without any prior knowledge? So many posts say they are blown away by sticker shock of a per person price that only someone actively planning with a current catering quote specific to one company has any clue what the rate is? The average guest would not know these estimated figures.

    Many couples don't go into planning expecting to make any profit from the cost of their guests' plates. They just want to share their happiness and if a guest can't afford a $50 crockpot, that is ok with them.

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  • Hannah
    Master July 2019
    Hannah ·
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    I'm in the US, but the formula mrswinteriscoming gave is kind of what we use. While you don't know the exact amount, the venue gives you a pretty good sense of how much a plate probably costs. I live in a very high COL area and cash gifts are the norm. Since most couples pay for (at least the majority of) the wedding themselves, guests try to estimate the cost of their plate so that the couple is at least breaking even if not actually walking away with some money to help start their lives.
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  • Megan
    Dedicated February 2023
    Megan ·
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    Honestly, I live in near NYC so I just assume everything here is expensive... very expensive LOL. Most people I know that are relatively unfamiliar with the specifics of prices say a more casual venue they figure $100-150, and a more formal venue $200+, but in all actuality that probably doesn’t *quite* cover the full cost per plate. But I should preface all of this by saying that this is just a general guideline that I follow, and not at all something that I expect others to follow. My wedding is “black tie invited” but if someone brings me a $10 Starbucks gift card I’d be elated just to spend my day with them and thankful that they gave me anything at all! This idea of “price per plate” is just generally what I tend to follow because it can be so crazy trying to figure out what to gift! At the end of the day though whatever you can gift is of course appreciated, and I know I do not at all expect my guests to gift me what I am paying per head!
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  • mrswinteriscoming
    Rockstar December 2021
    mrswinteriscoming ·
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    There is no chart or rule set, it’s all entirely an assumption. For example, if I am going to a wedding at a location completely new to me, I will generally google it and try form some guestimate. I went to a colleague’s wedding and gave $150pp for my fiancé and I and was blown away by how many inclusions they had for the wedding (the bride was very humble and actually talked down the wedding) and after the wedding at work I actually chased her up and gave her another $100 because I felt like I should gave given more (poor FH took the blame, I told her ‘oh I’m so sorry he didn’t take out enough money from the ATM and we had no other cash on us when we wrote the card’).

    Regarding your last comment, this has nothing to do with ‘profiting’ from guests. If you plan on gifting to cover your plate it is about trying to lessen the cost the bride and groom are out of pocket for by covering a reasonable share of the cost of your attendance.

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  • Rosie
    Rockstar February 2022
    Rosie ·
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    Coming from a culture where this is common... it simply isn't as prescribed as that. It's an 'as you feel' thing. And as you say, it's the thought behind the gift, not the amount that is important.

    To illustrate, at one of my best friend's wedding, she didn't have bridesmaids but instead chose to get ready with us. She paid for our accommodation and dinner the night before, lunch day of, plus hair and makeup. That alone would have cost at least $500 a person, to say nothing of the food and drinks at her venue.

    There is no way to make up for that, and giving back exactly what she's spent would almost be like throwing her generosity in her face, so I gave then about $400 in cash, plus two really nice bottles of wine in special boxes - one for their 1st anniversary, and one for their 5th - this way they wouldn't know the exact amount I'd spent, but it was easily $600. I was single so that was just for me.

    Now... our other friend gave $200, for both her and her partner, because she prescribed to the 'cover your plate' dealio and thought that was enough, despite knowing how much our friend had provided for us.

    I'm fortunate I had that money to offer, and wouldn't have dreamed under the circumstances of giving $100 per head - but perhaps my other friend wasn't too well off at that point. Or maybe it's more that the way she views the plate covering idea is different from me.

    But there's no formula - people give what they feel is appropriate, and as the couple you just accept and appreciate what they've seen fit to give.

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  • Ivory
    Dedicated August 2024
    Ivory ·
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    Where I live--and I only attend weddings that are local because I don't have the means to travel--it is not uncommon for a simple dinner with a limited bar to add up to as much as $150 per person. This isn't taking into account venue/administrative fees per person, favors, centerpieces, or anything else. Basically, unless you're having a backyard wedding, odds are the couple is paying a LOT for you to be properly hosted. Some people wish to give the couple an amount of cash similar to what the couple is likely already spending on them, in order to ease the financial burden. This is ENTIRELY optional and a very generous thing for guests to do. It is not expected--and should not be expected-- of guests to do this, but many choose to gift the couple in this manner. When they do, the couple is typically very appreciative!

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  • JM Sunshine
    August 2020
    JM Sunshine ·
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    Hmmm! I guess this explains why I didn't get a thank you card from the past couple of weddings. I must not have "covered my plate"! 🤔 Although, I just attended a wedding reception 3 days ago and it was a pizza buffet, so I may have been good on that one. If you ask me, this is the most ridiculous rule of thumb I've ever heard of!
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  • Rebecca
    Master August 2019
    Rebecca ·
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    This.

    I've noticed in my circle that this is actually considered a horrific rule, and isn't to be applied at all. BUT, I'm in the arts, and expecting your guests to drop MINIMUM $150/each on a gift is just... a wee bit Extra. Not to mention, there are so many things on a registry that don't get to that price range!

    Honestly, for some of our friends, their gifts came in their time and their presence. (And I don't mean that as a sweet, "oh, they are broke" way - I mean, my bridesman did some serious WORK for our wedding, including as the choreographer and an actor in our sword fighting skit, which was worth WAY more than any cash or physical gift he could possibly have given us.)

    I think it really applies to your region, your crowd, and the economic circumstances.

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  • Samantha
    Expert October 2021
    Samantha ·
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    I never understood the idea of covering ones plate. I find it a bit off putting to give a cheaper gift just because the couple couldn't afford a more lavish affair. Gifts in my opinion are given freely based on one's budget and what the recipient would enjoy.


    In my culture all married elders will give envelopes of money, for women sometimes gold jewellery. Often it is completely spontaneous. I'll be having dinner with my Auntie and she'll pull out a gold bracelet or my Uncle will hand me a red envelope. At weddings (and funerals) envelopes are collected and the giver is noted in in a ledger with the amount. It is considered as a 'turning pot', It is a way to give every young couple in the community a boost as they settle into married life (not to pay for the wedding, however, for a funeral it is to help off set the cost). Peers do not give envelopes/cash to each other.
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  • Samantha
    Rockstar October 2022
    Samantha ·
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    When I lived in Turkey I went to a few weddings and loved the gold gifts tradition! I was told ahead of time so knew to get a bracelet and I was so excited to give it to her. At the end of the night she was dripping in necklaces and bracelets!
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  • Courtney
    Expert September 2022
    Courtney ·
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    I'm from the midwest and I don't feel like its such a big thing here, but in my particular area we don't have these all inclusive spaces. I usually gift about $50pp if it's a friend and maybe up to $150 total if it's someone I'm pretty close to. But our average cost per person for a wedding is somewhere around $40-$100 tops. I don't plan based off how much I think they're spending, it's just that a $50 gift is my baseline and it goes up from there based on how close I am to the couple.

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  • Samantha
    Expert October 2021
    Samantha ·
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    It's a similar idea. For us it is usually only family. Turkish weddings are so beautiful and festive.
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  • Michelle
    Rockstar October 2022
    Michelle ·
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    I do agree with you.

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  • Michelle
    Rockstar October 2022
    Michelle ·
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    Agree with this. The majority of folks we know just pick a price range they are comfortable with and gift with that based on what the couple want. Trying to equate costs is not only impossible but not a factor that is considered. Every group is different.

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  • Courtney
    Expert September 2022
    Courtney ·
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    Yes! And while I understand that weddings are momentous occasions, sometimes $50 is all I'm comfortable giving. I try to give more than that when I can, but honestly I just can't see it. I would be blown away to get a $400 or $500 gift from someone, and would probably try to give some back or something because that's just an insane amount of money to me to be given as a gift.

    I'd feel bad if I went to a black tie affair here, because even if I knew the wedding was costing the couple a ton, I wouldn't be comfortable giving more than $200 no matter how close I was to someone.

    Personally I think if a couple wants to go crazy on their wedding that's their choice, it's not my obligation to 'cover my plate' with a gift.

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  • MOB So Cal
    January 2019
    MOB So Cal ·
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    I'm from the West Coast where I was very much used to wedding gifts (usually cash/check in a card or an item from a registry) were whatever the guest was comfortable with. It wasn't until I married my husband and we started attending some of his family's weddings in the Chicago area that I heard of the "cover your plate" mentality -- like, one of his brother's complained that a cousin only gave $25, which didn't come close to "covering their plate!" I was both shocked and confused.... Yeah, $25 (it was more than 25 years ago...) may not have been a lot of money, but I thought the idea that the groom expected guests to cover the cost of their attendance both bizarre and incredibly tacky. Not long after that we moved to NJ (NY metro area) and I was again shocked to have a young woman who worked for me explain that "everyone" kept careful records of EXACTLY how much each guest gave as a wedding gift, as they were "required" to give an equal amount to them when they married.... It was literally like some kind of bizarre financial compact. This young woman was a clerical assistant and made relatively little and she and her husband were really struggling financially, but she insisted that they'd have to give $300 or whatever to a casual friend at their wedding because that's what they'd been given. It seemed so ridiculous and illogical to me. I think wedding gift traditions and expectations vary a lot geographically, socially, culturally, so it's definitely a "know your crowd" type thing. I think we give quite generous cash gifts, but I'd still be appalled to think the receivers are tracking the amount and filing that info away.... Smiley winking

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