Here’s the wedding guest etiquette for how to be everyone’s favorite guest from the moment you receive the invitation to the big day.
By: Maralee McKee
It’s an honor to be invited to someone’s wedding. And with that honor comes some special wedding guest etiquette, because if there’s ever a time to rise to an occasion, this is it!
My family has been blessed to receive a wedding invitation from someone we love very much. Seven years ago, we interviewed a college student for a part-time job (20 hours a week) helping with the boys since I travel a lot teaching and speaking. It was mutual admiration from the moment we met! My husband and I have been blessed with two boys. This young lady has become the daughter we will never have; however, she is ours in a way because we love her so much and we get to share our days with her.
She’s now completed college, her master’s degree, her internship, and she’s working in her chosen field. (They grow up too fast!) Next month, right out of a fairy tale, she’ll marry her college sweetheart!
I had forgotten what an emotional, financial, and time-draining experience organizing a wedding was until watching her parents and her plan a thousand details. She was so excited the day she finally mailed the invitations! “Now it feels real!” she beamed.
I hope the guests were as excited to receive them. If they were, they’re keeping their enthusiasm to themselves. The wedding is just 26 days away, and most of them (73 percent) haven’t responded.
When it comes to weddings, what might simply be another invitation to us is the culmination of someone else’s dream. We acknowledge the bride’s and groom’s joy when we respond quickly and happily.
The next time you find yourself pew-side at a wedding, here are wedding guest etiquette top tips for honoring the couple and celebrating their marriage in gracious style!
Wedding Guest Etiquette —The Top Ten Tips for How to Be Everyone’s Favorite Guest!
1. Be the first to RSVP! A quick response shows you’re eager and honored to attend the wedding. It also demonstrates that you’ve made it a top priority on your schedule. The proper time to respond to a wedding invitation, and I know this will come as a surprise to many, is within 24 hours of receiving it. Seven days is the absolute latest the response card should be mailed.
A special touch is to write a note on the inside or back of the response card letting the couple know how excited you are for them. Something like “We’re so happy for you and looking forward to being with you on your special day!” sends a positive message to the bride and groom that their wedding is going to be a memory-making day for their guests. To help with responding, here’s more about how you can RSVP to weddings and any business or social event.
If you’ll be responding no, in addition to the above post, you’ll want to check out this post about how to respond that you won’t be attending.
2. If you can’t attend the wedding, include why (if it’s not too personal) on the response card, and let the couple know your good wishes for them. If you live nearby, it’s nice to arrange a time after the wedding to celebrate with the newlyweds. You could write, “We’re sad the timing of our long-planned trip is the same week as your wedding. We’ll be thinking of you and would love to see every photo when you’re back from your honeymoon! I’ll call the first week of July to plan a time when we can get together.”
Grace Note: The same kindnesses about responding apply if the invitation requests that you RSVP to an online service or the couple’s wedding website. (“RSVP” loosely translates from French as “Please respond.”) The only difference is that if the reason for not attending is at all personal, you would only leave your best wishes for the happy couple online and share the reason you can’t attend with the bride or groom in person or on the phone. Your voice is more friendly than explaining via a text or email.
3. A wedding invitation is not transferable. If your spouse can’t attend, it doesn’t mean your sister or best friend can automatically fill in. The invitation is extended only to the persons whose names are on the envelope. Every guest is hand-chosen and should be known by either the bride or groom. If a card is addressed to “Mr. Jonathan Eldridge and Guest,” then he’s free to bring whomever. The couple should know the name of everyone at their wedding even if they don’t know them personally. For this reason, Jonathan should include the name of his guest on the response card. “Lauren McKnight, my new girlfriend, will be my guest for the wedding. I look forward to introducing you!”
Grace Note: Children are not invited unless their names are listed on either the outside or inner envelope of the invitation. You don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that the bride meant to include them. Also, please don’t put her in the awkward position of asking whether they may attend. She’ll feel bad if she has to say no. And please don’t think that it’s anything personal.
Some couples want a more family-style wedding and some want an adult-only celebration. There isn’t a right or wrong way. It comes down to their vision, and also a lot of times the budget dictates the exclusion of children.
Weddings are expensive, and most caterers do not give a discount for children’s portions. You might see some children at the wedding. They’re usually close family members like nieces, nephews, or cousins. Or they might be the children of other guests who weren’t as considerate as you and brought their children even though they weren’t invited.
4. If you attend the reception, you are obliged to send a wedding gift, even if you gave a shower gift. In the U.S., gifts aren’t usually opened at the reception, so it’s more thoughtful not to bring the wedding gift to the ceremony or reception. It’s a logistical nightmare to get all the gifts packed into a car and stored while the couple is on their honeymoon! Gifts are best sent to the bride’s home (or the return address on the invitation) prior to the wedding. That way, the bride has the opportunity to open the gifts and write and mail the thank-you notes as the gifts trickle in instead of having a hundred cards to write after the wedding.
Grace note: If you do bring a gift to the wedding, make sure to put a card with your name inside the box. Often, wedding cards get separated from gift boxes or bags, and the happy couple has no idea who sent them the gift they’re opening.
5. If there’s a receiving line, go through it. Keep your compliments and good wishes brief so the line moves quickly. Introduce yourself to each person you don’t know, and never bring food or drink with you. Be careful as you hug the bride that your makeup doesn’t get on the shoulder of her gown and that you don’t accidentally leave a lipstick mark of a kiss on her cheek. 🙂 Since you’ll be meeting new people, both other guests at the party and members of the bridal party, here’s some more of what you’ll want to know. If you’ve ever been in the awkward situation of seeing someone you know, but you’ve forgotten their name, this is what will rescue you every time. They’re all gracious points of wedding guest etiquette.
6. You may wear white or black to a wedding. Just make sure that your white dress isn’t made of lace or beaded and that your black dress won’t be confused for what you wore to Great Uncle Albert’s funeral. (Also, black is best left to weddings starting at 6 PM or later.) If you’re having trouble figuring out how dressy or informal of a wedding it will be by the wording on the invitation, here’s how to tell.
7. Arrive at the wedding fifteen to twenty minutes before the start time listed on the invitation. That gives you time to say hello to friends and be seated before the ceremony, which you hope will begin on time. For other situations, both business and social, here are the best times to arrive.
8. Turn your cell phone all the way off before you’re seated. When the phone vibrates, it’s tempting to take a peek at who’s calling. Turn it off, and then you can check it in between the ceremony and the reception as long as you do so in a private location. You’ll want to keep your phone off during the reception, too!
9. Do not take photos unless….an announcement has been made publicly before the reception that guests may take photos. You may take photos of yourself with friends during the reception, but NONE that includes the bride and groom without their consent. This is their wedding, and they decide the photos of themselves that they want to represent it. Do not post any wedding photos on social media or share them with others.
The newlyweds should be allowed the joy of being the first to share their wedding with the world. Once they have posted photos on social media, you may share the photos they posted and the ones you took with friends.
10. Don’t be the first or last to leave. If you need to leave early, do so with as little attention as possible, because once guests notice someone leaving, others tend to follow. You don’t want to be the last to leave, because after a long day that was preceded by so much planning (especially during the week leading up to the wedding), the members of the wedding party are probably tired. If you want to keep the party going, you can meet up with friends somewhere close by. Try to stay until the couple cuts the cake, and if you can stay to send them off, that’s even better. However, wedding receptions often run long, and it’s not always possible.
Grace note: Don’t get drunk at the wedding. At the last wedding I attended there was a beautiful lady about 23 years old, an employee of the groom, who was drunk. Drunk is ugly. And weddings are supposed to be beautiful. Drunk and weddings don’t mix. In fact, since being drunk is ugly, why ever be drunk? Not only are drunk guests and members of the wedding party not at their best, but they’re also taking undue advantage of the host’s generosity by blowing the lid off the bar bill.
11. If the wedding was hosted by someone other than the bride and groom (often, the bride’s parents), it’s nice to send a note of appreciation following the event. Similar to sending a note after you’ve attended a party or dinner, this is your opportunity to thank the hosts and congratulate them on a beautiful, romantic, flawless wedding! This is especially nice if you know the hosts/parents. Here’s a beautiful and easy five-step formula for writing heartfelt thank you notes.
If you want the full picture on being the best version of yourself at a wedding, make sure to check out the linked posts in this article. They’re full of gracious and savvy skills that will help you be authentically you at your best!
Until next time, do what only you can do! Bless the world by being you at your authentic best…the person you were always meant to be! It will bring out the best in everyone around you, too!