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February 10, 2020

15 Wedding Guest Dos and Don’ts

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Consider this your VIP pass to being invited to all future family and friend fêtes.

Being invited to a wedding means that you have been hand-selected by the bride or groom to attend one of the biggest moments of their lives. When you think about it, that’s a pretty big honor—especially if you consider how tight wedding guest lists can be. To make sure you’re making the newlyweds proud, you’ll want to stick to a few ground rules during all the merriment.

Do: RSVP on Time

Wedding invitations are sent six to eight weeks in advance and the couple will usually ask that you RSVP four weeks before the red-letter date. So when you get one, don’t stash the reply card out of sight, thinking, “I have tons of time.” Do that, and you’ll probably forget all about it.

Don’t: Bring your Own Plus One

Trust us, every couple goes through a painstaking process of deciding how many people they can have at their wedding. If yours is the only name that appears on the envelope, then you are the only one invited, period. If the couple intends for you to bring along a date, the envelope will read “Ms. Jane Doe and Guest.”

Don’t: Assume Kids are Welcome

Since it’s considered bad etiquette, a couple usually won’t flat-out write “adults only” on their invites. Instead, the onus is on you to interpret the wording on the envelope. If it’s addressed to “The Doe Family” on the outside, or if the names of you and your children are listed individually on the inner envelope, you are free to roll with an entourage. If not, hire a babysitter and leave the little ones at home.

Do: Make Diet Restrictions Known Early

Sometimes an RSVP card, in addition to listing meal options, will include a space for you to write in any allergies or food restrictions you might have. If the one you received doesn’t, it is up to you to contact the couple directly and let them know of your severe nut allergy or gluten intolerance.

Do: Arrive on Time

Making an entrance after the bride is not acceptable, so plan to be in your seat 30 minutes before official showtime. If there is an unforeseen obstacle preventing you from getting to the ceremony on time—heavy traffic, late babysitter, wardrobe malfunction (they do happen!)—never interrupt a ceremony service. Wait until the I do’s are done and guests have left their seats to join the celebration.

Do: Look the Part

A formal or casual dress code is self-explanatory. For everything in between—yes, “creative black-tie” really is a thing!—refer to our comprehensive guide on wedding guest attire. And a note for the ladies: No matter the day’s fashion guidelines, use common sense when choosing footwear for an outside event. Otherwise, you might find your stilettos sinking into muddy grass or sand with every well-heeled step you take.

Do: Wait to be Seated

Most ceremonies reserve the first rows of seating for the bridal party, immediate family, and grandparents. So unless you’re one of them, look to the ushers for guidance.

Do: Respect the Bridal Suite

The room where the bride gets ready before the ceremony is often off-limits. Most of the time, there is a sign on the door requesting privacy or an usher nearby to keep the area clear.

Don’t: Play Paparazzi

Just as your phone can be a major distraction to you throughout the day, it’s going to be doubly so for a bride and groom at their ceremony. The couple wants to look out and see your smiling faces—not the back of your phone or, even worse, your iPad—beaming back at them.

Do: Keep it Offline

Just because you’re happily snapping away at the reception doesn’t mean that the bride and groom want their faces plastered all over the web. However tempting it is to show off your friends’ newly married status, don’t post photos or videos of their wedding to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social-media site has yet to dominate in the future. Many couples now include notes on their website or in their programs to this effect, but if they don’t, err on the side of caution and ask the couple post-wedding what they prefer.

Do: Be a Team Player

Is there a coat check at the reception? Use it. Is everyone expected to join in on the first dance? Boogie on up. In accepting the couple’s invitation, you’re implying that you’re down with whatever they throw your way.

Do: Keep your Speech Short and Sweet

Being called upon to say something witty, eloquent, touching, and profound to a room full of people can leave even the most outgoing among us tongue-tied. Give yourself some guidelines: Tell one story or convey one message—and make it brief. The point is to say something from the heart, not entertain the masses. 

Do: Drink Responsibly

Here’s a friendly PSA: Drinking to ridiculous excess isn’t just unbecoming, it’s dangerous, especially if you haven’t lined up a ride home beforehand. When the bride and groom provide an open bar, they’re providing a courtesy. A great way to show gratitude: Pace yourself so you can continue to toast the happy couple well into the wee hours of the morn

Do: Be Considerate of the Venue

Once the bubbly emerges and the DJ cranks up the tunes, it can be easy to forget you’re partying on rented property. To score the space, the couple took on the responsibility of keeping it intact by signing a contract and paying a deposit. It’s up to everyone in attendance to make sure they get their money back. Also, don’t take anything from the venue home (it happens more than you think!). Even the centerpieces on the tables may be created with items that need to be returned post-festivities.

Do: Mail your Gift

To keep the bride and groom (or, most likely, their wedding planner) from having to haul dozens of boxes back to their newlywed suite, go postal. Most stores that handle registries give buyers the option to ship items directly to the couple’s address. Likewise, if you’re giving the gift of cash, don’t bring it to the wedding. A card could get lost in all the commotion and, though uncommon, thefts do occur.

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