Wedding Guest Etiquette

Wedding guests watching the bride and groom get married

Wedding guests have specific etiquette they should follow just as the bridal couple has certain etiquette guiding their nuptial preparations. When you know in advance what is expected of you as a wedding guest, you can relax and enjoy the celebration!

Respond in a Timely Manner

When you receive your invitation, there will be an "RSVP" date imprinted on the bottom. RSVP is French for repondez s'il vous plait, or quite simply "please respond." The reason you're given a deadline is so that the couple can finalize their plans with the caterer and other professionals. This count also tells the couple how many favors to set out and how much liquor to order.

While it's considered very bad manners to respond after the RSVP date, it's even worse to show up at the wedding after having not replied at all. This will be a major inconvenience for the bride and groom who is not prepared to receive you as their guest. There may not be a place for you at the reception dinner or enough food ordered for everyone. This truly puts the couple into a bind, so make sure you respond to their invitation.

Etiquette on Bringing a Date to the Wedding

If, when you receive your invitation, the words "and guest" appear written next to your name on the envelope, you can feel free to invite a date to escort you to the wedding. If there is no such indication on the envelope, do not assume you can invite a date. Because the responsible parties have to pay by the head, they might not be able to afford to invite extra people. The only time it is assumed a significant other is invited is if one is married, engaged, or living with another party. If the words "and guest" don't appear on your envelope, expect to attend this event alone.

It's also considered poor wedding guest etiquette to call the bride or groom to ask if you can bring a guest.

Attire Etiquette

If the wedding is held in a church, formality is important. Wear hose with dresses and suits for men. Morning weddings may require gloves and a hat. Noon weddings are often semi-formal. Evening ceremonies can be formal or casual. Always ask if you are unsure about what to wear.

When in doubt, consult the wedding invitation. Your loved ones may opt for a beach wedding or themed wedding. You'll want to dress accordingly. When in doubt, ask. Do avoid wearing all white. This color is reserved for the groom and bride. In some cultures, wearing black is a sign of your disapproval so be sensitive. You may need to leave the little black dress at home. Wedding guest attire etiquette is important and should be understood well in advance of the event.

Be Considerate During the Ceremony

Don't carry on a conversation with the person next to you while you are seated in church or crack jokes with the person across the pew. Be considerate of the couple and all others in attendance. Other ceremony etiquette tips include:

  • Arrive promptly: Arriving late is disrespectful to the wedding organizers and steals the spotlight from the bride. Come to the wedding on time.
  • No photographs, please: You'll want photos of the couple afterwards, but you cannot take them during the ceremony. It is polite to ask the bride, after the honeymoon, about how to get copies of the pictures by the professional photographer.
  • Turn off cells: Turn off your cell phone or better still, leave it in the car. Ringing cell phones during a wedding ceremony will not only hurt the couple's feelings but bring you loads of embarrassment. No talking on the phone or texting once you enter the venue.
  • Remove hats and sunglasses: Generally, when entering a building, people remove their hats and sunglasses. Unless a top hat or other formal head piece is part of your attire, it should be removed. Sunglasses should also be removed so the happy couple can see your joyful eyes at their wedding.

Gift Etiquette

While it's not necessary to bring gifts to the wedding, a wedding present for the bride is courteous. Whether it's a monetary gift or something purchased from a registry, you have up to a year from the wedding date to see the bride and groom receive it. Many wedding guests choose to give monetary gifts to the couple on the day of the wedding; others choose to send gifts ahead of time or very soon after the wedding. If you won't be attending the wedding, it's still customary to send a gift.

Reception Etiquette Rules

Once the reception starts, don't let your good manners stop. While the reception is more relaxed than the ceremony, you still need to remember your manners.

  • Dinner: Allow the head table to begin eating before you start, unless you are given specific instructions from a reception hostess to begin when served. At wedding buffets, hostesses typically dismiss tables individually for the buffet to keep things organized. Wait until your table is dismissed before you join the food line. If you have a physical need to eat earlier, take a hostess aside and explain your situation.
  • Dance: You may be in the mood to party, but remember the first dance is for the bride and groom. Check your program to see if any other special dances are scheduled. Sometimes the bride and her father dance together, too.
  • Alcohol: You don't want to lose your head at a loved one's wedding. Know when to say when.
  • Special activities: Don't take any special activities too seriously. There's no need to elbow other guests if you want to catch the garter or the bouquet. If the bride and groom plan karaoke, applaud politely for those participating, even if they weren't a star singer. And if there are wedding reception games, be a good sport even if you don't win.

Have a Respectfully Good Time

A wedding should be enjoyable for all involved. By behaving with good manners, you'll give the new couple fond memories and show the appropriate respect for their union.

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