While your main job is to show up and have fun, there are a few things to keep in mind as a guest at a wedding. Here’s what to do (and not do) at a wedding.
Whether you’re attending your first wedding or your 100th, being invited to a wedding is an honor. The couple has intentionally chosen to include you in one of the biggest days of their lives, which means a lot considering how tight wedding guest lists can be. While your main job is to show up and enjoy the day, there are a few more things to keep in mind as a guest at a wedding.
While much traditional wedding guest etiquette is fairly intuitive (like showing up on time and sending a wedding gift), there are a few considerations that aren’t always so straightforward. Our handy list below will help you navigate both the obvious and not-so-obvious elements of common wedding guest etiquette. And when in doubt, it’s always best to ask the couple any pressing questions.
Wedding invitations are mailed six to eight weeks before the wedding date (12 weeks prior for most destination weddings), and couples typically request that you RSVP at least four weeks before the big day.
While this is done so guests can plan in advance to be able to attend, the RSVP date also helps the couple work through some critical wedding planning elements. Solidifying things like seating charts, headcounts for the caterer, and numbers for furniture rentals all rest upon the number of guests attending, which is why RSVPs are kind of a big deal. One of the first rules of proper wedding guest etiquette is getting your RSVP in on time—sending it in late means you’re making people scramble last minute to accommodate you.
Nuptial no-no: Sending your RSVP card late—or not at all
Whether the couple includes a paper RSVP card in their wedding invitation suite or requests that you respond digitally on their wedding website, it’s important to fill in all of the requested information. This might include noting your food choices, checking “will attend” or “will not attend” boxes, and including the full names of all the guests in your party who will be attending (if you were given a plus-one). Whatever information is requested, be sure to fill each section out before sending it off.
Nuptial No: Forgetting to fill in part of the RSVP card
In addition to listing meal options, some RSVP cards include a space for you to note any food allergies or dietary restrictions you may have. If the one you received doesn’t, it’s up to you to reach out to the couple and let them know ahead of time. If done far enough in advance, this shouldn’t be an issue for the couple to arrange. Asking for a gluten-free plate or vegan meal option as you’re being served at the reception is a different story.
Nuptial No: Changing your meal order last minute
Believe us when we say that hashing out the guest list is one of the most painstaking parts of the wedding planning process. While plus-one invitation etiquette can be confusing, a good rule of thumb is to never make assumptions. Before extending your invitation to a partner, friend, or family member, take a close look at how the invitation is worded. The standard etiquette to abide by is that only the names addressed on the invitation are invited.
Nuptial No: Bringing a plus-one who wasn’t invited
If your wedding invitation explicitly mentions “adults only,” you don’t need to wonder whether or not you can bring your kids to the wedding. However, some consider this to be bad etiquette and will leave it to you to interpret the wording on the invitation. If it’s addressed to “The Cooper Family,” it’s safe to assume that the whole family is welcome. If not, be sure to leave the little ones at home.
Nuptial No: Bringing your kids who weren’t included in the wedding invitation
Before you reach out to the couple with any questions you might have, explore their wedding website first if they have one. The couple has a lot on their plate, and their wedding website serves as a hub for any information you might need, from travel arrangements to the dress code. This thoughtfully curated resource is intended to help their guests, so avoid reaching out to the couple directly for answers to a question that’s likely already covered on their site.
Nuptial No: Asking questions that have already been answered on the wedding website
Speaking of gift-giving etiquette, a good rule of thumb when deciding on your gift is to rely on the couple’s wedding registry. While it’s not uncommon for well-meaning friends or family to purchase something they think the couple will really love that wasn’t listed on the registry, the wedding registry exists for a reason. It’s filled with specific items the couple actually needs and wants, and while you might think that cutlery set just isn’t exciting or heartfelt enough, the couple will be thrilled. Try your best to limit your gift options to what’s on the wedding registry!
If the couple is using Zola's registry, the couple has the option to choose when gifts are shipped to them—meaning you don't need to worry about figuring that out as a guest.
Nuptial No: Buying a wedding gift that’s not on the couple’s registry
[design: downloadable attire guides]
A wedding dress code exists for a reason, and any gracious guest should do their best to follow it. This is a wedding, after all! While a formal or casual dress code is fairly self-explanatory, always use your best judgment when it comes to your fashion choices while keeping common etiquette in mind. Guests should avoid wearing white (unless instructed otherwise), and all guests should avoid wearing anything flashy or provocative (again, unless instructed otherwise).
You should be able to find the wedding dress code on your wedding invitation or on the couple’s wedding website, but if you’re still wondering what’s appropriate and what’s not, be sure to consider things like the season, time of day, and location. A spring brunch wedding typically calls for softer colors and lighter suits for men, while an evening black-tie wedding means darker shades and longer hemlines for women. For more wedding guest dress code tips, jump to our visual below!
Nuptial No: Ignoring the dress code
If punctuality isn’t your strong suit, you’ll need to make an extra effort when the wedding day rolls around. Fashionably late simply doesn’t apply to weddings. Your best bet is to arrive at the ceremony early so you can take in the venue and take your seat on time. We recommend planning to arrive 30 minutes before the ceremony start time—this gives you a buffer for unexpected traffic or delays.
If you do arrive after the ceremony has begun, try and find the coordinator for instructions on getting to your seat. If you show up during the processional, you’ll need to wait until the couple reaches the altar before discreetly finding your seat.
Nuptial No: Showing up after the ceremony has begun
Unless you’ve made prior arrangements and let the couple know in advance, wedding guests should plan to attend both the ceremony and the reception. You shouldn’t try to attend only one or the other unless you truly have a scheduling issue—after all, the couple intentionally made an effort to include you in witnessing their special day.
If something comes up on the wedding day that will cause you to miss the event, call the hosts as soon as you can to inform them. RSVPing and then not showing up without letting anyone know is considered poor taste and should be avoided at all costs.
Nuptial No: Skipping the ceremony, then showing up for the reception
Knowing when to put your phone away is key to being a considerate guest, especially during the ceremony. Unless otherwise instructed, silence your phone or turn it off completely as soon as you arrive—you don’t want to be the person whose phone goes off the moment the ceremony begins. This applies to snapping photos during the ceremony, too—the couple already invested in a photographer, and taking your own photos only makes their job more difficult.
While most guests can expect to keep their phones stowed away during the ceremony, some couples will choose to embrace technology with a wedding hashtag. If they have one, do your best to capture some sweet moments at the reception and share them using the hashtag. The couple will love having those moments to look back on, and they’ll appreciate guests who participated in using their unique hashtag.
Nuptial No: Playing paparazzi during the ceremony
If you see a seating chart or name place cards at the reception, it’s important to follow them. The couple has likely pored over seating arrangements based on different dynamics like personalities, life stages, and relationships. It’s never OK to swap your place cards or break from the seating chart, and respecting the seating chart helps keep the flow of the event intact.
Nuptial No: Sitting in a different seat than you were assigned
While the couple will undoubtedly appreciate their guests having fun at the reception, don’t forget that you’re partying on rented property. The couple has a deposit on the line, and every guest should do their part in respecting the space. Aside from common sense (don’t break anything), this also includes not taking anything home from the venue (yes, people do that). You never know what items are rentals that need to be returned by the end of the night, and the responsibility for those missing items will fall on the couple. Make it easy for them by respecting the venue.
Nuptial No: Treating the venue carelessly
The open bar is to be enjoyed, not abused. While the couple wants you to have fun, maintaining proper decorum and knowing your limits is especially important at an event like a wedding. An open bar is provided by the couple as a courtesy, and you can show your gratitude by taking care to pace yourself. Similarly, excessive drinking can really become a problem when it’s time to leave—make sure you have a ride lined up beforehand to avoid putting yourself and others in a dangerous situation.
Nuptial No: Abusing the open bar
If you’ve been asked to give a toast or speech at any point in the day, aim to keep it brief. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be touching and eloquent, but shorter is always better when it comes to toasts and speeches. Try focusing on one story or message, and keep it around five minutes or less. The goal is to share something from the heart, not leave guests checking their watches as the speech drags out beyond what’s appropriate.
Nuptial no-no: Dragging your speech out too long
As a guest, an event like a wedding usually means a lot of new faces. While you aren’t expected to introduce yourself to every single person, you should probably avoid sulking in the corner while everyone else is socializing and dancing. Make an effort to introduce yourself to the guests seated at your table and say hello to the couple’s family. It goes a long way in showing your appreciation for all the hard work the couple put in to bring the day to life!
Nuptial No: Not making an effort to introduce yourself to new faces
Sure, you might not need another Koozie or that personalized set of matches, but the couple put time, thought, and effort (not to mention money) into those wedding favors. It’s how many couples show their appreciation for your presence on their special day, so avoid leaving them behind. If it’s not something you really want, you can always take it with you and toss it once the day is over.
Nuptial No: Leaving your wedding favor behind because you don’t want it
If you want to be a gracious guest, make a point to say hello to the couple’s parents and congratulate them on the special occasion. If you’ve never met them before, make an effort to introduce yourself and tell them how you know the couple. It’s likely that the couple’s parents had a hand in making the wedding day possible, so expressing your appreciation won’t go unnoticed.
Nuptial No: Forgetting to congratulate the couple’s families
Similar to making an effort to socialize with others, a key part of being an outstanding wedding guest is being actively engaged in all aspects of the event. The couple hand-picked you to join in the festivities, and being present and engaged with whatever is thrown your way will mean more to them than you know. This includes everything from hitting the dance floor as soon as the couple invites guests to join to signing the guest book. None of this should feel like a chore—the point is to enjoy yourself and let the couple know it!
Nuptial No: Acting bored or uninterested
While the social graces and rules of wedding guest etiquette are plentiful, they’re not hard to follow. With the amount of time, money, and effort couples pour into their special day, making an effort to be a thoughtful and accommodating guest goes a lot further than you think. At the end of the day, you’re there to celebrate and support the happy couple, and your gracious attitude is a simple way to show that support. The newlyweds will thank you!
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