How to be the perfect wedding guest

Want to be on everyone’s “best guest” list? (Of course you do!) Use these easy etiquette guidelines to have fun and impress any host.

Caiaimage | Tom Merton | Getty Images

Whenever I receive a wedding “save the date” I get excited. I jump on my calendar, and check if I’m free—and I generally will be. (After having four kids my idea of a social event is watching my favorite TV program uninterrupted.) Usually, I even send a text straight away to the bride and groom-to-be. It’s just a short SMS acknowledging their initial invite and expressing how happy I am for them. For me, it’s the first step in being the perfect guest for your loved one.

There are many other ways to be the perfect guest, but some are more obvious than others (and we could all use a little refresher every now and again). Want to go the extra mile? Here’s how you can contribute to making the event go as smoothly as possible.

RSVP & arrive on time

This etiquette isn’t exclusive to wedding invitations of course, but it’s extra important when nuptials are involved. It may seem small, but your on-time RSVP makes a huge difference to the happy couple. Chasing up replies is one of the most common wedding-planning headaches. A lot of other details ride on knowing the head count at any given wedding, particularly the bride and groom’s budget. Plus, when the caterers are demanding the final numbers for the tenth time to prep the wedding menu, you can see how having stragglers gets stressful.

Know that a good guest arrives fifteen to thirty minutes before the ceremony start time to find a seat.”

Plus, leaving your reply until the last minute doesn’t exactly convey the message that you are excited to be a part of their celebration. So check those agendas, stick a reminder on the fridge, and send your reply, preferably a quick email and a little message in the post. If you have a doubt due to potential work commitments, let the bride know straight away, so she at least knows you’re trying to figure it out (rather than ignoring the invitation).

And speaking of timing … on the big day make you sure you get to the service before the bride! When the invitation specifies a ceremony time of 6 p.m., that means promptly at six, so a good guest arrives fifteen to thirty minutes beforehand to find a seat.

Handling the no-kids invite

When planning a wedding the couple often ask themselves what atmosphere they would like to have; serene and elegant or fun and informal. And in making that decision, some couples may decide to forgo child attendees. As much as kids are great fun, any parent knows that they can be unpredictable, loud, or just generally create havoc. After months spent dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s during wedding planning, it simply may be too much of a risk for a bride to include young kids on the day.

Don’t be offended. The couple is not singling out your child specifically. They are offering you the chance to share in their joy without distraction.”

So when you receive that invite and your kids’ names, or “and family”, aren’t mentioned, don’t be offended. The couple is not singling out your child specifically. They are offering you the chance to share in their joy without distraction. So if you’re tempted to contact the bride and ask if your little cherubs can be added on, don’t. You’d be putting her in the awkward position of having to say “no”, or worse still, saying “yes” to something she and her future husband really don’t want.

If, however, you think it would be impossible for you to come without the kids, you can still handle the situation with tact. Contact the bride with a personal note, and say that you won’t be able to make it, as much as you’d love to be there, because you have childcare issues. This puts minimum pressure on the bride and gives her the option of inviting your kids or just accepting the fact that you cannot make it.

And for those of you hoping for dates, the same rule applies to plus ones. (Unless you are in a seriously committed relationship, it’s poor form to ask for a plus one after you’ve seen just your name on the envelope.)

Handling the plus-kids invite

This one can be a double-edged sword. If children are invited your whole family gets to share in the fun, but it might cost you in other ways: mainly your kids’ wardrobe budget. They’ll need to look dapper for the day (I’m envisioning mini Lord Granthams or Lady Marys here).

Discuss how your children can help the bridal party: by being quiet at the right times, or as helpful attendants for older guests.”

But if you decide to come with your kids in tow, here’s what I would suggest, mother to mother: prepare your children for the occasion by explaining what a wedding ceremony involves. (Bust out your own wedding album as a great illustrator!) Discuss how your children can help the bridal party: by being quiet at the right times, or scattering petals. Older kids can act as helpful attendants for the older guests at their table. For those with very young children, just come to the wedding prepared … and maybe have a relative on standby to help!

Select the right guest attire

Before you’ve finished reading the ‘save the date’, any self-respecting female guest is already envisioning her closet and wondering if she has a dress—and shoes … oh, and a bag—for the big day. The vast majority of women are probably looking online at Zara or J. Crew for dresses within five minutes! But if funds are low, or it’s your fifth wedding invitation of the season, you could try recycling dresses with different accessories, à la Duchess of Cambridge.

The safest bet is a colorful dress with an appropriate cut that doesn’t try to upstage the bride.”

But whether you shop your closet or a store, bear in mind the overall rule for a best-dressed guest: be appropriate. Give thought to the venue, the climate and, of course white is an absolute don’t. Also, some brides prefer guests not to wear the color black, as it feels too somber. The safest bet is a colorful dress with an appropriate cut that doesn’t try to upstage the bride.

Snap and sing happy

At the church service. Of course, weddings are the opportunity to click away and get some fabulous shots for posterity (most couples will undoubtedly be thrilled by your efforts), but there are more solemn times during the church service where you have to keep those fingers off the button—the priest will normally guide you. But when in doubt, lay off the trigger during prayers, and vows, and just enjoy the moment.

While you’re at it, make it a priority to help sing the hymns—oh yes, there is nothing worse than a hymn sung in a mumble, especially at a joyous occasion. Give those vocal chords a good stretch and let your voice be heard, this will often encourage others. After all it is a celebration!

If there’s a specific hashtag posted at the reception, go ahead and share your best shots.”

At the reception. Normally the policy at the celebration is to click away, but remember not to invade the bride and groom’s space. (They probably hired a professional photographer, after all, so they don’t need you to catalog every second, too.) Once you have some beautiful shots, also don’t rush to put them up on your social media accounts without the happy couple’s permission. Though, if there’s a specific hashtag posted at the reception, go ahead and share your best shots.

Cheers & dining

It almost goes without saying, but the worst crime a guest could commit is emptying the open bar. Celebrate with your friends, of course, but be considerate of the occasion. If you are coming to the wedding with someone who might have a penchant for chatting to the bar staff more than the guests themselves, you could always have a quiet word with the bar staff and ask them to water down his or her drinks.

If you’re allergic to peanuts, speak up. If you don’t like onions, hold your peace.”

Also, remember to mention food allergies ahead of time. If either you or your family have certain dietary requirements, like you are allergic to peanuts, forewarn the bride well in advance. She’ll likely want to make sure you’re accommodated properly. However, your aim is not to make things difficult for the bride, so if it’s a question of not liking onions, it’s best kept to yourself.

Get friendly with other guests

Even if you’re besties, don’t hog the bride—everyone there will be clamoring for a bit of her attention, and the day will likely be a whirlwind for her. So instead of hanging by her side, give her time to breath in between all the other guests (and maybe even distract a few yourself with that funny anecdote you’ve been dying to tell). And if you see an opportune time, simply stop by and giving her a refill glass of water or champagne.

Don’t grumble about your place setting. If you’re stuck next to people you don’t know, or people you don’t really get along with, do your best. Table planning is almost always a source of tension and perhaps the bride and groom are relying on you to help keep your table going. Really not a fan of your seated dining partners? Use it as an excuse to get up and dance more often!

Keep an eye on the older generation. Weddings are tiring even for younger guests, so when you see those more advanced in age, check they are OK, if they need a drink, or perhaps a five minute chat. Weddings are about bringing family and friends together, and the bride will appreciate your caring efforts. Plus, it’s these golden oldies who are most likely to have an interesting thing or two to divulge about the wedding party! You might have a better time chatting with them than you’d think.

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she'll ever be as stylish as the French.

Leave a comment: