Wedding Reception Protocol

What is the proper etiquette for a reception?

Wedding reception protocol is important to know, whether you are the bride or a guest. Proper manners makes life easier for everyone involved and will be well appreciated by your hosts.

Wedding Reception Etiquette as a Guest

If you are about to attend a wedding as a guest, there are a few unspoken ground rules worth knowing. These can be especially helpful if you haven't attended a formal event before, notably another wedding. Weddings tend to be an occasion like none other, and even if the bride and groom choose to keep it casual there are still plenty of rules that can accidentally be broken.

Greeting the Couple

Most weddings will have round or square tables for guests at their reception, with a head table for the bride, groom, and sometimes their parents or the bridal party. The bride and groom customarily enter the reception hall after guests have arrived, and will go to this table first thing. Though it is tempting to want to jump up and congratulate the newlyweds right away, it is in your best interest to show some restraint. Remember, there are plenty of others also waiting to offer wedding wishes to the happy couple, and the guest count can seem overwhelming to the new husband and wife. Also, food is usually served shortly after the bridal party arrives, and the bride and groom are usually starved after a full day of preparation and picture taking. Give the husband and wife time to eat and relax - they will almost always either have a receiving line or come around to each table to say hello to their friends and loved ones.

Be courteous at the buffet.

Eating and Drinking

The reception, if it includes a full meal, will either be served by a wait staff or via a buffet line. Know that if it is a buffet, tables will be dismissed according to the couple's instructions. When at the line, try to not be too picky, as there are others waiting behind you. Take only what you can and will eat, and wait until your table is dismissed again to get a second helping. Also, someone will usually come around and take a drink order. If you can, find out ahead of time what is included with the meal. Some weddings will charge the guest for alcohol outside of the champagne toast. It is important to know this information before ordering, so you aren't surprised with a bill at the end of the meal!

Gift Giving

While many wedding receptions will include a gift table, it is proper wedding gift etiquette to mail your gift or give it prior to the wedding day. Think about the person who has to lug all the presents off the table, into a car, and later to be transported to the bride and groom's home. It is a lot of work, and you can save the person on duty some trouble by mailing via a gift registry.

Wedding Reception Protocol for the Couple

The bride and groom also have protocol to follow as they coordinate their big day, and there are several things they need to keep in mind while planning a wedding reception.


If you do not wish to have children at your wedding, you must make this known on your invitations. People may automatically assume their youngsters are invited if it is not made clear. Simply put "adult reception will follow" on your invitations, or write in the number of members from the household invited to the reception portion of your big day. Do not worry about being rude - as long as it is done tactfully and early on, there is nothing wrong with having a no children clause.

Cash Bars

Cash bars - where guests are expected to pay for their own alcohol - are tacky. If you must have alcohol at your reception, then minimize it to a champagne toast to keep costs down. Still not good enough? Cut down on your invite list so you can afford alcohol for all your guests, or let them all know as soon as possible that a cash bar will be involved so they don't get a surprise tab to pay at the end of the evening.

Cultural Traditions

If your reception will include any sort of tradition or style unfamiliar to your guests, then try to make them aware of it ahead of time. This can be done through themed invitations, a wedding website, on the wedding program, or by word of mouth. You can also make this the responsibility of your maid of honor or best man. Sharing your reception style with people ahead of time ensures everyone attends feeling comfortable and appropriate in both attitude and dress.

Understanding the proper wedding reception protocol, whether for the invited guests or the happy couple, is essential for an elegant and enjoyable event.

Wedding Reception Protocol