Wedding Guest Etiquette

It can be tricky to know just the right thing to do as a wedding guest. Times have changed, but basic wedding etiquette hasn’t. Know the rules and make a good impression at your friend or loved one’s wedding.

Step One: Get Invited!

The bride might want to invite everyone (including Cousin Jane, twice removed on her stepmother’s best friend’s side). Unfortunately, this is just not always feasible. Be a good sport if a distant family member, an acquaintance or a co-worker doesn’t invite you. The couple’s budget may not allow it, or the reception venue might be too small.

If you do get invited, congratulations! Now the real work begins. Your etiquette know-how will be put to the test in the coming weeks. Be prepared with the tips that follow.

A Prompt Answer
Your wedding invitation will come with an RSVP card and envelope. Be aware that only the person or persons listed on the invitation is or are invited. If your invitation states Ms. Jill Doe, that means just you — not you and your boyfriend. If it says Ms. Jill and Guest, then a special someone may tag along.

This goes for children, too. Be prepared to find a babysitter (or to politely decline) unless Junior’s name is on the invitation. Some brides make this extremely easy by providing a space to write in the number of invitees that will be attending.

Fill out your RSVP card and return it immediately. Don’t delay; your bride needs a head count sooner rather than later. You’ll make a good impression if you’re quick to get that response in the mail.

If you’re unable to attend, RSVP with your regrets, and do send a present; it is a show of good will toward the couple.

The Bridal Shower
If you’re very close to the bride (her mother, sister, sister-in-law or best friend) take the initiative by organizing a bridal shower. Don’t assume someone else will do this; they may be assuming the same of you! Start making phone calls and getting a feel for a good time to hold the event, whether or not it should be a surprise and how many people might want to attend.

It is within etiquette rules to ask for or even assign help with a bridal shower. Be diplomatic; for example, Hi! It’s Mary. I’m so glad you can attend Jane’s bridal shower on the sixteenth. Each guest is bringing a dish. Would you like to bring the salad, some refreshments or a dessert? A bridal shower is a joint effort; don’t be afraid to ask people to pitch in.

Get to the Church on Time

Don’t be late to the ceremony — no matter what. If you absolutely can’t help being late (for example, if your car breaks down en route), wait for the processional to get down the aisle before quietly entering the church, synagogue or venue. Find the closest seat possible to you; it is the height of wedding rudeness to push through aisles whispering excuse me while the ceremony is proceeding.

Let the professionals take pictures of the ceremony. You can pull out your camera outside as the couple is leaving the chapel.

When greeting the New Couple
DO wait your turn in the receiving line before entering the reception hall. DON’T go on ahead without being formally received by the bride and groom, unless there is some emergency or you have extenuating circumstances (for instance, you are in a wheelchair and there are only steps rather than a ramp).

DO allow seniors or differently-abled individuals ahead of you in line. This isn’t a must, but it will make a good impression and is general good etiquette.

DO say “congratulations” to the groom and “good luck” to the bride. This is an ages-old social must.

Once the ceremony is over, you can loosen up a bit, but remember to use good sense at the reception.

Bring a present unless you have already sent one ahead in the mail.

DO provide the happy couple with a gift — no matter what. However, you needn’t bring one to the reception if you sent one ahead of time in the mail. Only one gift is required.

DO politely follow up after six weeks to make sure the couple received your gift if you haven’t received a thank-you note by then. You want to make sure the present arrived on time and in good condition.

DON’T ask the bride and groom at the reception whether they liked your gift. It will sound like you’re “fishing,” and will put the focus on you when it should be on them. It also puts the bride or groom on the spot. Out of fifty, one hundred, or more guests, it will probably be difficult for them to remember which gift was yours.

Good Eats
DON’T begin eating until the best man or other appointed person has made the first toast.

DO observe good cutlery etiquette. (This is an easy one — work from the outside in, and never re-use the same piece of cutlery for the next course.)

DO tell the bride well ahead of time if you have any special dietary considerations. DON’T wait until the actual reception to do this; it will throw a monkey wrench into the kitchen’s plans and could send the already stressed bride into a tizzy. Be reasonable; if it’s a preference and not a serious medical concern, let it go. Push the salty garlic mashed potatoes to the side and nibble on the asparagus tips instead.

Wait Your Turn
DON’T interrupt the bride or groom while he or she is speaking with someone else.

DO wait for the couple to come around to your table before getting up to offer congratulations and a few words. Generally, the couple will do a quick sweep of all the tables in the room to make sure they haven’t missed anyone. After you’re sure the couple has gone around the room at least once, you can then go over for a more informal chat with either.

And a Good Time Was Had by All
DO make sure you seek out the bride and groom (individually, if they’re not together at the time) to thank them before leaving the reception. This is an absolute etiquette must, even if you are on close terms with the couple or have spent a good portion of the evening talking to them.

The next time you see the bride in a more informal setting, DON’T complain about the reception — no matter what. Unless you are a direct family member (mother or sister, for example) or the bride’s best friend, no bride wants to spend $150 a plate only to hear later that the air conditioning was frigid or the lemon cod was too dry. Simply smile, tell the bride again how much you enjoyed sharing her special day with her, and go on your way.

Use these etiquette tips, and you’ll be a guest that’s welcome at any wedding. Above all, keep in mind that the couple has honored you by asking you to share in this very special day.

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