Tips for Wedding Guests: How to Avoid Embarrassing Faux Pas

Larry James, Guest Author

While advice and how-tos for Brides and Grooms are plentiful, many guests are still left with lingering questions about wedding day etiquette (often called wediquette).

It is an honor to be included in a couple’s special day – and it’s usually a ton of fun – there are a few guidelines wedding guests should be aware of. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts plus a few additional tips to help guests avoid embarrassing faux pas and ensure a day of celebration for all.

First the Dos!

rsvpDO RSVP promptly. Notify the couple as soon as possible. A speedy reply is always welcome and will assist the couple in making definite plans. Follow the instructions on the RSVP card to indicate your intentions.

If you cannot attend, a quick, “with regrets” response may allow the happy couple enough time to fire off an invitation to a guest they might not otherwise be able to include. If you must cancel after you’ve accepted, do so as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute.

It’s okay to decline an invitation. Write a brief note, including a brief explanation of the conflict. However, when explaining yourself, use good judgment.

We all know stuff happens. However, if you cannot attend because the wedding conflicts with your previously scheduled golf game or trip to the new shopping mall, it might be better to decline without the details.

Never change your mind at the last minute. This kind of inconsistency may seem harmless to you, but it wreaks havoc when you are planning a wedding. Make a decision, however difficult, and stick to it.

If you were unable to attend, call and schedule a dinner date with the Bride and Groom when they return from their honeymoon. Create a very special evening to show your Love and affection. Catch up on the wedding festivities. You’ll definitely see more of the Bride and Groom than you would have at the wedding or the reception.

DO be there in spirit. If you cannot attend, write a toast and fax or e-mail it to a delegated wedding attendant. At the reception, the best man, maid of honor, or sometimes even the Bride and Groom will read your sentiments aloud. Your best wishes are toasted by all and you are forever part of a very special moment.

DO make your hotel and plane reservations early, especially if you receive a “save the date” notice. Often the couple will reserve a block of rooms (especially for the wedding party) at the wedding venue. Be sure to inquire.

DO arrive on time! Get there at least 15 minutes before the ceremony begins. Never arrive late. Take into account extra time for traffic snarls, bad directions and last minute runs to the convenience store. Do a MapQuest for specific directions. Unfamiliar with the location of the venue? Do a trial run.

If you do arrive late, approach with caution! Wait quietly at the back of the room until an appropriate moment.

If the ceremony is underway, the processional may also be in progress and you really don’t want to be strolling down the aisle beside the wedding party. If an usher is available, make your presence known and ask for assistance finding a seat. Never walk down the center aisle after the bridal party!

If the processional is underway, please wait quietly and patiently in an area outside and/or out of the way until the processional has been concluded.

Ideally, there should be someone to direct you as to when you may enter and take a seat. Use a side aisle rather than the center aisle. Always exercise discretion.

Although you may prefer to be seated up front, arriving late greatly diminishes that opportunity so locate a seat quickly and quietly in the back and avoid drawing any attention away from the ceremony that is underway.

If you have arrived after the ceremony is underway at an indoor wedding and cannot find an open entrance, avoid the temptation to knock! You may feel badly that you are missing the ceremony, however, you will only make matters worse by interrupting the ceremony.

guestbookDO sign the guest book, engagement photo, etc. When you enter, some couples will hand rice or bird seed bags, bags with rose petals, etc., for you to toss during the processional. Arrive early enough to be a part of this celebration.

DO have fun! Surrounded by family, friends and well-wishers, the Bride and Groom may not be able to spend more than a few moments with each guest. But having spent so much time on planning their perfect day, knowing that the guests had fun is the icing on the cake. Celebrate Love! The Bride and Groom are your hosts and want you to celebrate with them. Leave your problems at the door and enjoy their hospitality.

DO give a gift. It is customary for wedding guests to give gifts to the Bride and Groom. Even if you can’t attend it is customary to send a gift anyway. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have up to a year to send a gift.

Purchase gifts early, and use the registry. This process is designed to make your life and the lives of the Bride and Groom much easier. Usually these are sent as soon as the invitation is received, rather than brought to the wedding. Gifts should be sent before the wedding. If you do bring the gift, take it to the reception and place it on the gift table. If you have given a shower present or engagement gift, you should still give a wedding gift.

Sending a gift indicates your support and best wishes for the happy couple who are starting their lives together. The benefit of sending a gift ahead of time is that the couple will not have to worry about keeping it safe at the reception or transporting it after.

Some guests may feel that for a second wedding, a gift is not necessary and bring a card instead, particularly if they gave a gift for the first wedding. This choice is left to your discretion, although most etiquette experts disagree with this idea.

It is also appropriate to give a gift of money, or to make a donation to charity in the couple’s names.

Send flowers, a registry gift, a bottle of wine, a journal to take on the honeymoon, a gift certificate to a spa or restaurant or tickets to a great show. Let your imagination be your guide.

Personalize your gift. While registries offer a great way for couples to select the perfect gifts, going the extra mile by adding a personal touch is a wonderful way to show you care. If the couple has registered for china, include a special family recipe with the place setting.

nocellzoneDO remember to turn off your cell phone or pager. It’s the height of rudeness to allow a personal call to interrupt someone’s once-in-a-lifetime, special moment.

DO commemorate the special day. After the wedding, send the Bride and Groom your snapshots. Even though most couples have professional photos, there is something extra special about pictures taken lovingly by friends and family. Personalize the gift by framing the best shot in a beautiful china frame to embellish the couple’s living-room.

DO wait in the receiving line, if there is one. Congratulate the newlywed couple and their parents after the ceremony. Keep your greeting upbeat and brief.

DO remain quiet and attentive during toasts at the reception, and while the couple cuts the wedding cake. If you do not drink alcohol, join in the toast with a glass of water or a soft drink.

DO wait for the Bride and Groom to have their first dance before you hit the dance floor. Then. . . it’s party time! Don’t be shy. Get up, dance and enjoy the evening. The couple will be pleased to see all the guests having a great time.

DO avoid keeping the Bride or Groom engaged in conversation for too long. They have many guests to greet, and a honeymoon suite awaits them. Remember, the Bride and Groom want to see and talk to everybody, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to talk with them for long.

DOs & DON’Ts about invitations. Just because you’ve been invited to a wedding does not mean you are obligated to attend. Also keep in mind that just because a friend has talked to you about their wedding, that doesn’t mean that they are inviting you. They may be having a very intimate ceremony, or may only be having close friends.

If you feel that you should have been invited, and are worried about the invitation being lost in the mail, first be patient – it may still be on its way. If you still haven’t received one just before the wedding, you can call and say something like “I just wanted to wish the two of you every happiness on your big day this weekend.” If they’ve invited you, this will be their clue to say “You’re not coming?” or “Didn’t you get your invitation?” Most of all, don’t take it personal if you weren’t invited.

If the invitation is addressed to you, the couple are expecting you to attend the wedding unaccompanied. Don’t bring a date unless your invitation specifically says “+ Guest.” Clearly indicating your guest’s name is important if the couple are to personalize your guest’s place card.

Every effort is usually made to seat you with other unaccompanied individuals and/or acquaintances. As the wedding date approaches, it is not improper to ask the couple if other mutual friends have been invited unaccompanied so that you may arrange to arrive at the wedding with them. This might be an attractive situation for you if you are single, unaccompanied and attending an evening wedding with concerns about not having a “date” for the event.

Couples know that not everyone they invite will be able to attend, and frequently their budget reflects this. If you cannot go to the wedding of a close relative, or a close friend, it would be nice to send them a note saying, “I’m so sorry that I can’t attend your wedding. I would love to be there, but unfortunately I will be out of town. Best wishes for all your happiness.” Most invited guests will also send a gift.

A few DON’Ts. . .

wedchildDON’T bring the children. . . unless the invitation specifically lists your children’s names, or says “The (your last name) family,” then your children are invited. It is never appropriate to ask the couple to let you bring extra people, even your children.

Many couples specifically do not want children at their wedding, or have not budgeted for the cost of having your entire family there. Bring children only if the invitation expressly mentions them.

If the exclusion of your children is such a problem that you can not attend without them, simply send your regrets, stating that family matters prevents you from being able to attend, and leave it at that.

Weddings are formal events and typically not appropriate for small children. No one thinks your child acting up is adorable. If you are allowed to bring children to the wedding or reception, make sure that they are not the center of attention.

This is the Bride’s and Groom’s day and they certainly don’t want their recordings or videos to be filled with children crying or misbehaving. A wedding ceremony and a two-year-old are not compatible.

Don’t take situations such as this personal, instead find a sitter and enjoy yourselves. Perhaps other couples that you know attending the wedding are in the same predicament. Pooling resources together and hiring one sitter for all the children is an option.

Look for a company that specializes in providing interactive entertainment for children during the wedding and the reception. This will allow you and your adult guests to focus on celebrating every precious moment of your special day.

It is inappropriate to bring anyone who was not specifically invited; each additional person is a significant expense, and table seating and catering has been planned for a specific number of guests. Look closely at how the invitation is worded.

DON’T upstage the couple. Dress appropriately for the time of day, the setting and the season. A Saturday afternoon wedding generally means a coat and tie (perhaps with light-colored slacks) and flowing dresses. An evening wedding calls for a suit, or coat and tie with dark slacks.

If the invitation says black tie, men should wear tuxedos and women should wear formal dresses. If you are unsure of the dress code, you’re safer erring on the side of dressing up too much.

Never wear white. White is reserved for the Bride. Don’t be tempted to go more formal than you think the couple will be, and don’t dress to call excessive attention to yourself (e.g. a super short miniskirt or a sequined tie.)

Unless the invitation specifically calls for it, never wear blue jeans, even if the invite says casual. Casual in this case means your best casual, not your weekend down home casual.

DON’T take “flash” pictures during the ceremony. As much as you would love to capture that perfect Kodak moment with a shot of the couple during the ceremony, remember that they may find your camera’s flash to be a distracting or a nuisance. Even if the couple has a professional photographer, snapping away, proper etiquette would indicate that you refrain from photographing the couple during the ceremony.

Do not get in the way! They’re paying a lot for a professional photographer’s expertise and time, so let the Bride and Groom get their money’s worth!

There’s a reason celebrities dislike the paparazzi – they can be very intrusive. It is easy to get carried away on the big day, but try to respect the dignity of the ceremony by refraining from taking distracting flash pictures at solemn moments.

weddingguestsDON’T drink and drive. If you will be drinking, make sure you have a designated driver. While a wedding is a time to enjoy yourself, no one appreciates a drunk guest embarrassing themselves. Drink alcohol in moderation.

Misc. Tips. . .

Tradition dictates that friends and family of the Bride sit on the left and friends and family of the Groom sit on the right as you enter. It’s polite to ask, however with some couples it doesn’t matter. Typically, an usher will lead you to your seat.

If you’ve been invited to a ceremony, you can safely assume that you don’t have to be a member of the faith to attend. You never have to participate in any part that you don’t believe in. Simply sit quietly as others observe their religion. Your primary purpose of being at the wedding is to support the couple’s love and relationship.

If this doesn’t matter to you, do as the others do. This includes standing and sitting along with the crowd. Not only does this take minimal effort, it is also a sign of respect. Exceptions include participation in events that make you uncomfortable, or spiritual practices reserved only for those of a certain religion.

If you have questions about attire, or other logistics of the wedding or protocol, for a quicker response your best bet is to call the best man or maid of honor. They will be more accessible than the Bride or Groom.

Put the happiness of the Bride and Groom above everything and follow these simple DOs and DON’Ts of courtesy and common sense and they will take you a long way on the road to proper etiquette and being a very special wedding guest.

Copyright © 2010 – Larry James. This idea is adapted from Larry’s Wedding Website. Larry James is a non-denominational minister and performs the most “Romantic” wedding ceremony you will find anywhere! Every wedding ceremony is customized to your complete satisfaction. Call to check availability: 480-998-9411 or 800-725-9223. You will find more than 455 pages of Wedding ideas, tips (90 tips and growing), ceremonies, and more at: Check Larry’s availability.

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