You’ve been invited to a wedding, it’s such an honor and privilage to be invited. I hope that’s something that was a thought you had as you opened that invitation and you take your response very seriously. In a couple’s lives they have plenty of people they would love to celebrate this day with you and out of everyone, you were one of the 100-200 people selected. With your response comes responsibility and certain etiquettes that as a wedding photographer who spends plenty of weekends with guests, I’m learning that sadly alot of these aren’t known or they’re ignored. So I thought I’d help everyone out and remind us of some pieces of Wedding Guest Etiquette. Some of these are specificially from brides who shared with me their personal experiences, you’ll find those in quotes.
Don’t assume you’re going to be a guest at all
“I had at least three awkward situations of people either assuming or asking if they were invited to my wedding. I either felt guilty enough to add them to my list and move things around, or I had to have the awkward conversation of “sorry, but you’re not invited.”
If the invitation only has your name, that means only YOU are invited. You don’t get to invite a date or someone else.
If on the invitation envelope it says “Susie Thompson and Guest”, that means you get to bring someone along with you. If it says “Susie Thompson”, that means you’re going alone. You don’t get to ask to bring someone along, you have to decide if you want to attend the wedding alone or not. Chances are if this is the case, you know a couple other girlfriends who were also invited who also don’t have long term significant others and you’ll all be seated at the same table together. This is the bride saying, I want you there but I don’t want your Tinder date there. Don’t ask her if you can still bring this guy that you’ve only met online to her wedding. If you do, she may have to have that awkard conversation with you and say no. Or she may have to spend more money that she can really afford to pay for his plate. Remember it’s not just the plate she’s paying for for him. There’s typically 18-20% gratituity added to that plate, 6% tax and then of course whatever money they’re spending on alcohol they now have to add an additional person to that amount.
Be no later than 10-15 minutes early for the time on the invitation
This means that if the wedding invitation states 4:00pm ceremony start time, you should be arriving and finding your seat at the ceremony location no later than 3:45pm. This way everyone is seated and the ceremony has the option to start exactly at 4:00pm vs having to wait another fifteen minutes to start because it’s obvious alot of guests are late. I was the photographer for a wedding where over half the guest list was 30 minutes late. This meant that instead of the bride and groom having an hour between the ceremony and reception to get from the church back to the reception hall, capture all the family formals, capture bridal party photos and a few bride and groom portraits, we had 30 minutes! Fortunately the bride and groom knew we wouldn’t be able to get all that done in that amount of time and so they opted to pay for an additional hour at their reception and pushed the reception back. But because their guests were so late and didn’t respect the start time on the invitation, the bride and groom had to pay even more money out of their pocket so that they and their guests could enjoy their time during the reception.
If you rsvp yes, you better be there!
Only cancel if it’s a true emergency! If you must cancel, as soon as you know you won’t be able to make it contact someone you know who can inform bride & groom. If this means that it’s a week before or two hours before, let them know! Not showing up costs the bride and groom money they can’t get back PLUS likely means someone else who would’ve come wasn’t invited so you could be invited. If you inform them a week before, there’s a chance they might be able to give one of their other friends a plus one so that plate doesn’t get wasted. Or they can invite someone else last minute. If it’s same day, I promise you, they will notice that you’re not there and if you haven’t contacted them you’ll be on their mind. They’ll be wondering if you’re ok and why you didn’t make it. Were you in a car accident on the way and that’s why you’re not there and why you haven’t contacted them?! This isn’t something they need to be concerned about on their wedding day when it was just something as simple as you woke up not feeling well and didn’t feel like pushing through the period cramps. Believe me, that’s a real thing, it happened to me at my wedding.
RSVP in a timely manner
Do not make the hunt you down to personally ask for your RSVP. The couple has a million things going on as it is the last few weeks before the wedding. Every single one of their vendors is emailing them on a regular basis asking for final details and finalizing questions. They’re packing up all the tiny little details and getting their jobs organized so they can leave for a week or more. The last thing they need to be worried about is hunting down a grown adult, to ask if they’ll be present for this free meal and drinks and if they are what do they want? The filet mignon or the crab cakes. Respect your friend/family member, as soon as you get the invitation make a decision and dropped the pre-addressed, pre-stamped card in the mail.
Ladies, wear a dress or some nice slacks and a nice shirt. Gentlemen, wear some khakis and a button down at least, if not a suit and jacket. Please No Jeans! Even if they’re your fancy jeans. Take the excuse of this wedding to get a little fancy and pull out those heels you never wear or that little black dress.
Don’t wear white unless bride approves!
White is still the colored reserved for the bride. Unless she has previously encouraged you to wear white, white and black weddings are becoming more popular. If she hasn’t made this obvious, find an outfit that has color or is black. This also includes dresses that are white backgrounds and have floral prints.
Stick to the registry or give money
The couple spent a lot of time on the registry. They know the needs they have at home, they probably didnt’ register for that salad spinner because they already have one they like or they won’t ever use a salad spinner. So don’t gift them with something that you think they’ll want, chances are it’ll just be a waste of your money. If you do purchase them something, instead of opting for a check, PLEASE for the love of all that is great, give them the gift receipt. This way that salad spinner can be returned for something they will actually use and your money wasn’t wasted and they won’t feel terrible just donating the salad spinner to Good Will because they don’t know what else to do with it.
If you have pictures of the couple prior to the ceremony, specifically the bride. Do not post to social media until later in the reception.
You don’t want the groom’s first sight of his bride on their wedding day to be while he is waiting for the ceremony and is anxiously scrolling through instagram stories and up pops a full body image of his bride. Just wait. You’ll have plenty of time to post that image for your friends on social media to see, just make sure the groom has seen his bride and the only way to know for sure that he has is if you’ve seen them at the ceremony together.
Be mindful of any special notes mentioned in programs and invitations.
“We wrote please no photos for the ceremony in multiple places but somehow there were a few people who didn’t get the memo.”
Put your phones/iPads/cameras away during the ceremony!
This goes hand in hand with the note above, if the couple has requested in a note, if the officiant mentioned it. Respect it. Don’t pull it out. Even if they didn’t request it, just leave it in your pocket! Please. Sit back and live in this moment with them. I promise you, their photography team and videography team will capture all the moments. The couple has spent thousands of dollars on their media team and the last thing they want is your cell phone sticking out in the aisle blocking their photographer and as a result the ONLY image they have of their first kiss or of them being announced, is one from your cell phone. One that is dark and grainy and can’t be edited to good quality no matter what magic is bestowed upon it. Just leave it in the pocket!
Let the bride & groom eat and enjoy their dinner. Talk to them after they’ve finished.
This seems pretty self-explanatory. Chances are they haven’t eaten in hours and are starving. Let them enjoy this time just the two of them at their sweetheart table and once they’ve finished, head up to the table to connect with them. Or wait for them to come around to your table.
Watch your alcohol intake. Be classy with it.
Just because it’s open bar doesn’t mean were a bunch of drunk college kids. Keep it classy, enjoy a few glasses. Get a little drunk but don’t get drunk enough that you’re falling over or vomiting in the bathroom. No one wants to see that. No one wants to deal with that.
Dessert isn’t served until the bride and groom cut the cake!
Yes, they choose to have the dessert table full of cookies and cupcakes and all sorts of goodies sitting out before dinner was even served. This isn’t an invitation to take these items. Dessert isn’t served until the cake has been cut. Eat dinner, drink some drinks and just wait for the cake cutting! It’ll happen soon, promise!
So for now, those are my top pieces of Wedding Guest Etiquette. Do you think there was anything I missed?! If so, drop them in the comments below!
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