We like the idea of opening up the mike at our reception for speeches but have heard that there’s a specific order in which they’re supposed to be given. What is it? Who speaks? And, if we want to talk, can we?

You are correct in saying that there’s a traditional order for weddings speeches, which is: bride’s father, groom’s father and then best man. In many cases, though, both parents of the bride and groom choose to speak (the men first, starting with the bride’s father), and often the bridesmaids and the bride also choose to say a few words. These days speeches, except for the bride’s father’s speech, are often made at the rehearsal dinner (beginning with a toast from the groom’s father); that can be the best time to open the mike, as the guest list is often smaller and limited to those closest to the couple.

Though five speeches are usually more than enough to hope that your guests will stay quiet and listen through, for smaller weddings opening up the mike to guests can be quite enjoyable. A few tips: ask someone with a watch who’s also a good speaker to take charge of the mike; try to limit speeches to three minutes or less; and always end on a high note.

We have planned a very intimate wedding, just family and those friends that are like family. A few days later we will be having a big party with a much larger guest list. How do I work the invitations so that no one is offended?

The most basic answer to this is to have all of your invitations, including save-the-dates and response cards, focused on the large party. Do not even mention the ceremony on these items and steer clear of phrases such as “celebrate our wedding” and “marriage celebration.”

For the select few on your ceremony guest list, include another card in their invitation suites that includes something such as “the honor of your presence is requested for our marriage ceremony.” It is, of course, necessary to include the time, date and location of the ceremony, but a response card for this event is not. What is required is that these people know that not everyone is invited so that they don’t gush about it in front of other non-invitees (or on their Facebook walls).  

If anyone asks you why they weren’t invited to the ceremony (New Orleans is one of the largest small towns in the United States, and social media has made it only smaller), explain to them that you can only have a very small number, mostly immediate family, at the ceremony, and that you hope they’ll make it to the party.

Our wedding is in the late afternoon, so our reception is cocktail-style. What kind and how much seating do I need to provide?

With a cocktail reception you want to have fewer seats than guests to encourage mingling. The usual ratio is to have seats for 50 percent of the total number of guests that you expect to attend. But don’t forget about your older guests; you don’t want them to have to leave early because they need to sit down.

In terms of what kind of seating, your options are pretty much limitless. Since you won’t have full place settings, your tables don’t need to be wider than 36 inches across – if they are, the tables will give the reception an unfinished look. You can mix tall and short tables (place the short ones closer to the dance floor so those who don’t choose to dance will feel like they’re included and so that everyone else can see the dancers). You can also create lounge areas with couches, love seats and ottomans. Finally, don’t forget about a table for you and your bridal party; the group of you will need a “base camp” where you can eat (if you find time to), somewhere to place your bouquets and personal items and somewhere to regroup.

My fiancé’s aunt gave me a garter at my bridal shower, and said then and since that she can’t wait to see me throw it. My fiancé and I don’t like that tradition and hadn’t planned on throwing anything at all. How do I tell her that without upsetting her or hurting her feelings?

From tossing the garter, to handing it down to the next generation, to wearing it as an anklet on a cowboy boot, to abstaining from it all together, tossing the garter is the wedding tradition that modern brides love to hate.

The most common historical reasoning for this seems to be as proof of consummation (since women needed garters to hold up their stockings, and often family and some friends were present for the wedding-night consummation). In addition, any piece of a bride’s undergarments was considered to be lucky (men would actually chase the bride and hold her upside-down to get to her garter), so a groom would preemptively toss his bride’s garter to protect her honor.

In our modern age, and to protect your aunt’s feelings, I wouldn’t say anything about your thoughts on the tradition.

Instead, figure out a way to incorporate the garter into something for your day: around your bouquet, or your ankle, or even stitched onto the inside of your wedding dress to preserve the tradition – and your relationship.

One of my closest friends asked me to be her maid of honor and I’m flattered, but I don’t have a lot of money and don’t know what will be required of me. What are a maid of honor’s duties and how much money would I need to be prepared to spend?

The number of responsibilities and how much you’ll end up paying for them varies from wedding to wedding and from bride to bride, but there are some traditional duties that you should assume you would need to fulfill. A maid of honor should:

• Host a shower for the bride (or couple)
• Attend all pre-wedding parties and showers (but aren’t obligated to more than one gift)
• Attend rehearsal and rehearsal dinner
• Help to coordinate bridesmaids and their attire (from ordering through the day of the wedding)
• Help the bride dress and, if possible, be the last one to adjust her dress, veil and bouquet before walking down the aisle
• Hold the bride’s bouquet and the groom’s ring during the ceremony when needed
• Signs the marriage license as an official witness
• Bustle the bride’s dress for the reception (if needed)
• Give a toast to the couple at the rehearsal dinner or reception, depending on the schedule

With those traditional duties, the maid of honor traditionally pays for: Her wedding outfit, travel expenses to the wedding, the shower given by the bridal party and shower and wedding gifts.

In our modern age, I suggest that you schedule a coffee, drink or lunch meeting with your friend to discuss what her expectations are. Bring this list with you and tell her your concerns. Your duties as maid of honor should be sketched out ahead of time, but be prepared to be fluid. Many of them will depend on your (and the bride’s) relationship with the other bridesmaids, her family, the groom’s family and everyone involved in the planning of and execution of the wedding. She asked you to stand with her for a reason – your friendship – so talk to her and find a list with which you both are comfortable.

I am a professor at a university in a city in which many graduates settle down after graduation. As such, I am more than occasionally invited to the weddings of my former students. Though I’m flattered, most often I don’t feel close enough to them to do so. Is there a best way to decline, and am I expected to send a gift?

While the traditional answer to your query is very straightforward, I believe that your situation presents a logical loophole.

The clear-cut answer is that anytime you’re invited to a wedding you should send a gift, whether or not you choose or can attend.

However, sometimes couples get overly excited when planning their guest list, inviting their best friend from elementary school who they haven’t talked to since school or a favorite professor. From their perspective, you played a memorable and influential role in their lives, and they want to acknowledge that. From your perspective, though, a professional relationship has become a personal one, and that might be a line that you don’t want to cross. I would suggest a personal, handwritten note that expresses your pleasure at being included at their union.