With times changing as they are, you might be wondering what the current etiquette expectations are for attending a wedding. Past formalities are now often thrown out the window, for convenience sake, and you may be tempted to apply every day conveniences to the idea of wedding guest’s expectations as well. Well this is one area where little has changed! Etiquette rules of the past are as alive and well today as they ever were.
Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of couples’ (and their moms and dads) plan their weddings and we see some specific recurring areas of frustrations from our clients, regarding the behavior of their wedding guests. They’re so common, in fact, that we decided to share them with you, so you can avoid adding to the overall anxiety and sticky social situations that simply come with planning a delightful wedding. We hope this allows you the be the most awesome wedding guest you can be and have a great time at their wedding!
Responding to RSVP’s
Once you receive an invitation to a wedding, it’s customary to respond by the date requested on the RSVP card. I would recommend that you respond immediately, if you know for sure one way or the other. If you’re unsure, you can take your time to respond, so long as you have sent your response in time to arrive by the RSVP date listed on the card.
You should return the RSVP card by mail since it was probably sent to you already stamped, so there really is no excuse for not responding. It is not acceptable to “call in” your RSVP. If you were sent a card, then you send a card back! Even if you are still unsure if you will be able to attend. Return the card anyway, with an explanation as to why you are unable to give a confirmation of attendance at that time.
There is now a possibility that you could receive an electronic invitation to a wedding (like Paperless Post) or receive an invitation through email. In those cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to respond in the manner in which you were invited – if by email, RSVP by email. If by Paperless Post, then respond on Paperless Post.
If you have a situation that arises, once you have sent a confirmed RSVP, that makes you unable to attend the wedding, you need to notify the couple, or their parents, immediately. It is acceptable to give them a call, in this scenario. Final guest count numbers are given to the caterer, cake baker, rental company, florist, and more, so the faster you notify the couple of your inability to attend, the more likely they will be able to adjust these numbers with their vendors, and reduce their losses for a no-show guest.
I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is to see empty seats at weddings, due to guests RSVPing and then not attending. It’s embarrassing to the host (the couple and their parents), it’s disrespectful on the part of the invitee, it’s wasteful as the couple have now paid for a guest that did not attend, and it takes up a seat that might have been open to someone else. Just don’t do it. I can think of no acceptable reason to RSVP for a wedding and not attend, other than a legitimate emergency or sudden hardship.
In case you’re wondering, couples typically have to give their RSVP’s and final head counts (and payments) to their wedding vendors 2 – 3 weeks before a wedding and those numbers cannot be reduced or a refund given after the final count is given.
Arriving at the Appropriate Time
When you should arrive for an event can be tricky. With weddings, it’s important to note that the ceremony time listed on the invitation is the time that the event BEGINS, not the time you should arrive. The expectation is that you will arrive no sooner than 30 minutes before the ceremony time listed on the invitation. Any earlier and you will most likely be in the middle of the pre-wedding activities that the wedding couple are involved in and/or making it difficult for wedding vendors that are preparing the day’s events.
Upon arrival, make your way quietly to the ceremony site and choose a seat. Do not go into the reception site, unless you are advised to do so. Again, this space may be very busy with wedding vendors preparing the reception space for the guests. If a wedding guest “makes themselves at home” inside a reception hall while vendors are setting up tables, chairs, dinnerware, etc, it delays the work that they are doing and makes it very difficult to complete necessary tasks. If you find that you have arrived at a ceremony site well ahead of the 30 minutes before window, might I suggest that you take a drive around the area and enjoy some time of reflection before the day begins? Or find a local hot spot and order an appetizer while you pass the time. Truly, anything but showing up early! Once guests start arriving the pressure turns up for the couple and for the vendors.
If you happen to arrive late, do NOT just walk in to the ceremony site and rush to your seat. Hang back and quietly observe what is happening before walking down the aisle. You don’t want to embarrass yourself or be rude to the couple by walking down the aisle in the middle of the wedding party. If you can’t slip into a seat quietly from a side aisle, then you’ll need to wait off to the side and out of view, until after the entire wedding party, has made their way down the aisle. Once all eyes are at the front, and on the couple, you can slip in and find a seat.
Observe Quiet Times
It’s sad that this even needs to be addressed, but it does. The following are examples where quiet time should be observed –
- Ceremony – the whole thing
- Rituals or Traditions, as they are being performed, unless audience participation is being encouraged
- First dance
- Family dances, such as the traditional father daughter or mother son dance, unless audience participation is being encouraged
- During Toasts
- When you hear Announcements
They only last for a few minutes and it’s appropriate and expected that you stop talking to your neighbor during one of the above-mentioned events. It’s just the right thing to do. It grieves my heart to watch a father give a heartfelt tear-filled toast to his daughter, that no one could hear because the talking was so loud. Also, people get so nervous when they are giving a toast and having to yell above the noise is so much more difficult for them. I know you’re excited to see your cousin/girlfriend/aunt/whomever but you can talk to them again in a moment. Please be respectful.
Treat Staff Members and Vendors Appropriately
Staff members and vendors were hired by the couple to perform very specific tasks for the wedding day. They were contracted and hired by the couple for the couple. Unless they are specifically your waiter/waitress, they were not hired for you. Yes, they will treat you with respect and in a lovely way, but please understand that when they have to stop what they’re doing to assist you with your concern (it’s too hot, it’s too cold, the light is too bright, the light is too dark, you don’t like where the bride has you seated, you want someone to hold your purse for you, you brought a picture you want to hang on a wall, you brought a flower arrangement that you want displayed, you want a cocktail but the bar doesn’t open for an hour, you’re planning a wedding too and want to pick their brain for ideas, and on and on) then you’re taking them away from what they were hired to do, for the couple.
When the caterer must leave their food station to go retrieve your purse, that you insisted on them holding in the back, they have to leave a line of people that are waiting to be served dinner. When you pull the photographer away to take some pictures of you and your friends, the photographer may end up missing the first dance!
Staff members and vendors are to be treated with the same respect that you would give to all other humans. Because, they are humans and they deserve basic human decency and yes, even kindness. You would be shocked, and possibly disgusted, with the things we have seen guests do at weddings but that’s a blog for another time.
If you see a vendor eating during a wedding, it’s okay. Most vendor contracts allow for them to eat at some point during the event. Usually vendors will eat in a remote location at the venue but not all venues have a place to hide away. Even though you are only seeing them during the few hours you’ve been there, it’s highly likely they’ve been there for many hours. It’s not unusual for my staff and I to be on site at a venue for 14 hours or more on a wedding day. At some point, we need to eat.
Don’t assume that a vendor is “drinking” just because you see them with a glass in their hand. Most vendors have a strict no drinking policy for their staff. After all, we are at work! Personally, I don’t drink at all, but try to use a water bottle instead of drinking from a glass from the bar, when it’s available, but not all our couples are thrilled to see us drinking from a plastic water bottle when they want only glassware used. It’s a tough balance for us. On that note, please don’t offer any of the vendors alcohol. For my staff, you will never work with me again if you’re caught drinking at an event, and I’m not alone in this. We are at work and most people don’t have jobs where it’s okay to drink. How would your boss feel?
If one of the planning staff, or any other vendor, asks you to do something (or not do it) we’re most likely doing so at the request of the couple. We’re not trying to ruin your fun.
Some of the weddings that we have been a part of end with the couple apologizing for the behavior of a family member or friend that has attended their wedding. This is simply unacceptable. When you are disrespectful to a vendor or staff member, you have disrespected the couple as well.
Prepare for Children in Advance
If you receive an invitation addressed to only you, you and your spouse only, or you and your significant other only, that means that only you, or the two of you, are invited. If the wedding invitation did not specifically name your children or was not addresses to “family” or “and family”, your children are not invited. If you cannot attend because attending without your children will cause a hardship to you, simply RSVP as a NO. No other explanation to the wedding couple is necessary.
If your children are invited and you choose for them to attend, please consider what is best for your children and the other guests, in advance of your attendance. Prepare for childcare, as needed. Maybe you can pool resources with other guests with children to have a sitter or child minder on site, with the couples’ permission and approval, of course. Or maybe you should pick an appropriate time to have little ones leave, usually around 9 or 10pm, before inappropriate music is normally played.
Children, just like adult attendees, are expected to behave at weddings. If you wouldn’t run around the dance floor during the father daughter dance, or scream during the toasts, then your child shouldn’t either. You’re the only one that finds it cute. Everyone else is laughing out of discomfort. You, and your child, are simply stealing the spotlight from the couple. I know you love your kiddo. I love mine, too, but this day isn’t about you.
Please respect the couples wishes for having children at their wedding. It’s a personal decision and it’s not about you. It’s not okay to bring your child to a wedding that you know they are not invited to. One of our wedding had some very “adult style” entertainment towards the end of the night and the guest that arrived with a child in tow, against the desire of the couple, was very upset. There was a reason it was a child free event.
- You know how much alcohol you can handle. Stop before you get to that point.
- Don’t text or call the couple on the wedding day. If you have questions, find someone else that might be able to help you.
- Do not complain to the couple or their parents during the wedding. This is such bad form and Mrs. Manners, if you remember who that is, would be appalled.
- Don’t take pictures or stand up and move around to take photos during the ceremony. You may block the professional photographer that the couple hired to document their day.
- Sit where you’re assigned to sit, without complaint. If you don’t like who you’re at the table with, don’t sweat it, you’ll only be sitting at that table for a little while.
- Visiting with the couple during dinner is the worst time! They’re so hungry. Let them eat, then chat it up!
- Dress according to what the invitation stated. If it wasn’t stated, check the wedding website. If it’s not stated there, it’s best to dress according to the time of day that the wedding is happening and the style of the event venue.
- Don’t bring a gift to the wedding location, unless it’s a card with cash. Send physical gifts to the couple’s home in advance of the wedding. Cards can be given directly to the couple, their parents, or placed in the designated spot during the reception.
- If transportation is being provided for you, use it.
- Ladies, don’t wear white or ivory, or even an outfit that is mostly white. Yes, this is still a thing!
- Do NOT attempt to give a toast, unless you were specifically asked to do so.
- Leave the DJ alone. If he’s not playing “your song” there’s a good chance it’s on the couple’s Do Not Play list and he’s trying to be nice by not telling you.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That means no to the candlesticks, votives, flower arrangements, pictures on the walls – if it’s not yours and you weren’t asked to take it home, do not take it! That beautiful vase was most likely rented from the florist.
- Dance! Use the photo booth! Have a great time!