The Essential Wedding Etiquette for Guests Guide

Most weddings result from months of planning, hours of stress for the involved parties and planners and thousands of dollars. Respect the effort that went into the event, as well as the affection that led to your invitation.

Follow basic wedding etiquette as a guest, and you’ll help the ceremony and celebration go as smoothly as possible. These dos and don’ts guide wedding etiquette as a guest.

Before the Big Day

Do RSVP, and do so by the deadline.

Better yet, RSVP as soon as possible, rather than wait until the last minute. This helps with planning and tracking expenses, as well as avoids the wasted time and effort of tracking down non-responders.

If only paper response cards are provided, then reply by postal mail. However, take advantage of any other more immediate RSVP options provides, such as email or a wedding website.

Wedding invitations are crafted with care. If you’re on Instagram, give the bride and groom a shout out by sharing the invite to your story and tagging them.

Don’t assume that you can bring a plus one.

The budget or event space might be limited, and the guest list might need to be similarly limited. If the invitation does not specify additional guests, then don’t assume that you can bring one. Don’t even ask.

An exception would be the omission of a significant other with whom you’ve been together for a while, and who knows the bride and/or groom. Then you could politely ask whether the lack of invitation was an oversight. Just be gracious and accept whatever answer you’re given.

The same goes for your children. If your children aren’t invited, then don’t bring them to either the ceremony or the reception. If the couple has decided not to have children present at their wedding, that’s their choice. Respect their wishes.

Do let the planners know about dietary restrictions.

Alert them to any food allergies, vegetarian, or vegan requirements or other dietary restrictions well in advance so an alternative meal can be ordered from the caterers.

At the Wedding Ceremony

Don’t get in the way of the professional photographer.

Enjoy the moment as it happens, and let the hired photographers capture the memories. Imagine how unappealing a photo filled with upheld phones would be.

If you absolutely can’t resist the urge to capture a few photos of your own during the ceremony, don’t use a flash. Your flash could ruin the professional photographer’s photos, not to mention distract from the ceremony itself. And be as discreet as possible, keeping your phone quiet and out of the way of the professional photographer.

Even if your photos appear dark you can always use an editing tool to brighten up the picture.

Quick tip: If you’re editing a picture of the bride you can make the dress stand out even more by increasing the brightness and clarity.

Do follow the dress code.

Dress appropriately for the occasion and for the photos and videos that will last a lifetime. You don’t want to be that one guest in jeans that stands out in a sea of black ties.

If the bride is wearing white, you probably shouldn’t show up in a lacy white dress. When the invitation explicitly invites guests to wear a specific color or style, try to honor the request. If it’s a less formal summer wedding, go ahead and ditch the formal wear and opt for more casual clothes to keep cool and comfortable.

Don’t be late.

Plan for traffic delays and parking problems, and aim for arriving 10 to 30 minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin. If you do get there after the ceremony begins, seat yourself as quietly as possible in the back. If you arrive during the procession, wait until the bride reaches the altar to enter.

Do silence your phone and your self.

Remember to minimize distractions and disruptions, which take away from the rightful focus of attention.

During the Wedding Reception

Don’t use flash photography.

At least, don’t use flash photography during big moments, such as cutting the cake or the best man’s speech. Chances are that a professional photographer hired by the wedding party will be shooting these important scenes, and your flash could ruin the picture.

Above all else, allow the photographer to do their job. If your pictures are coming out too dark without the flash, try shooting in black and white.

Do be mindful when using social media. 

Use the right wedding hashtags when sharing photos and videos to make it easy for everyone to find. Be gracious when posting group photos; just because you look good in a group photo that is unflattering to most doesn’t mean you should post it.

While group photos are fun, have someone else take it. The photographer may even ask for some guests to get together for a photo, so do leave your selfie stick at home!

Don’t share inappropriate moments, such as if a wedding guest has too much to drink. Capture and share the moments that are fun for all and not embarrassing for some.

Don’t bring large gifts.

This doesn’t mean don’t buy large gifts, just don’t bring them to the reception. A large gift creates the annoying hassle of transporting it at the end of the event.

If possible, don’t bring gifts to the venue at all, since many venues will not accept liability for them and their presence adds burden to whoever ends up being responsible for rounding them up at the end of the night.

Don’t complain.

Don’t like the lasagna? Wish the champagne flowed more freely? Bored by the DJ’s music selections? Keep it to yourself. Complaining brings negative energy to what should be a positive event.

Complaining also can’t change the venue or ceremony or whatever, but it can change the wedding party’s mood.

Do sit where assigned.

The couple probably spent hours arranging the seating chart, and not sitting where assigned could throw things off.

For example, the catering staff’s serving workflow probably will be disrupted and could delay food service. You only need to sit at the assigned table for the duration of dinner, so suck it up and stay put.

Introduce yourself to tablemates if you don’t know them, or at least a chance to practice making polite small talk.

Do let the couple eat in peace.

During dinner likely is one of the few moments the couple gets to spend time together, uninterrupted. Don’t interrupt. Also, this meal might be their first since morning.

Don’t give any unplanned speeches.

Unless you were asked to do so by the couple or someone in the wedding party, do not give a speech. An unplanned speech disrupts the flow of planned events and could be taking time away from planned toasts. Your toast might not be appreciated and any words you’d like to share are better saved for another time.

Do enjoy yourself.

This is a celebration, after all. Get out on the dance floor, mingle with the other guests, congratulate the newlywed couple. Enjoy the thoughtful planning that went into the event, and appreciate the details dedicated to your good time, from the appetizers to the entertainment to the guest favors. Seeing happy faces should help the couple relax and enjoy the party, too.

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