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September 2, 2023

A Guest’s Guide to Wedding Etiquette

The rules of etiquette are sometimes considered old-fashioned. Many weddings are still full of time-honored, sometimes rather unusual traditions, and the rules regarding polite behavior for guests are as relevant as ever, especially since they can take months to arrange.

The Invitation

While the wedding invite instructs you to “save the date”, it’s also worth saving any other information on there which may be helpful, such as seating arrangements, dress code, and menu options. Once you receive your invitation, returning your RSVP card at the earliest opportunity demonstrates good manners well before you arrive at the wedding.

Dress for the Occasion

In most cases, the invitation will outline the dress code. Wedding attire can range from casual to black-tie, although in some cases (such as a wedding with a particular theme), there may be recommendations for certain colors or styles of clothing. Unless it is specifically stated, avoid any white or cream-toned garments, or black.

Plus Ones

The question of whether or not you can invite an additional guest may also be found on the invitation. Unless it explicitly states this, it is best to assume that you have been invited as a solo guest, in which case it is good manners to avoid bringing along any uninvited guests.

Adults Only Invites

No matter the reasons the couple has for not wishing to have children present (whether it’s venue restrictions, budgeting or something else), try to see them as valid and not be affronted. If the invite states this, arrange suitable childcare in advance so you are not struggling to find it closer to the date and try to enjoy some “off-duty” time instead.


Many couples create their own wedding websites with a gift registry for guests to shop from. If you have known them for a considerable amount of time, this is an important task to deal with early on. Check the registry and make your purchase as soon as possible, but avoid bringing it with you to the wedding; most gift registries also include shipping information.

Show Up On Time

Punctuality minimizes the likelihood of disruption. If this is something you find challenging in general, plan your route in advance and strategize ways to deal with potential setbacks like heavy traffic. If you are late, an usher can escort you to your seat, but if you can’t, avoid the entryway to allow the bride and her family a few moments alone before the ceremony begins.

At the Ceremony

Check for signs indicating seating arrangements. Some adhere to the tradition of having the bride and groom’s family seated on either side, however, since these days most couples tend to have mutual friends and acquaintances, this is largely a thing of the past. As a general rule, avoid the front row as this is reserved for immediate family members.

Put Away Your Phone

Aside from potentially ruining the ambiance, phone use during a wedding could convey the unfortunate message that you’d rather not be there. Throughout the day, keep your phone in your pocket, and unless requested, leave any picture-taking to the wedding photographer.

Beware the Open Bar

After the formalities of the ceremony, the reception can come as a welcome relief, but be careful not to become too relaxed, however familiar you are with the newlyweds. In any event, too much of a good thing can lead to decisions you might later regret; at weddings, it’s especially important to keep this in mind.

Don’t Pull Focus

However romantic the setting may be, and regardless of how happy the couple will be on your behalf, this is supposed to be the couple’s day, so if you have any plans to propose, put them on hold until afterward.

Let them Come to You

Be respectful of the couple’s time, however long you have known them, and allow them to come to your table in their own time. It’s likely that they won’t appreciate being bombarded by guests, so take the time instead to chat with the other guests seated with you.

Know When to Leave

In most cases, the invitation will say something to the effect of “carriages at 11 pm”, which will indicate when it is time to leave. As with everything else, arrange your transport home ahead of time, say goodnight, and make a graceful exit, remembering to sign the guest book on your way out.

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