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Wedding Guest Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts

Guests at a wedding showering the bride and groom with rose petals.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Even if you’re not part of the bridal party at a wedding, there’s still a lot to remember, just as a guest. The truth is there’s a lot you can do to make the day even more special (or not) for the couple. If you’ve been invited to a wedding, here are a few do’s and don’ts to ensure you won’t be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Weddings are meant to focus on the couple tying the knot and be a celebration of their love. However, the guests contribute a lot to the overall mood of the event. If you’ve been invited, you’re obviously important to the couple, and you, no doubt, want to do everything you can to make their special day go as smoothly as possible.

Here are some tips on how to be a model wedding guest.

Do: RSVP on Time

Have you ever tried to plan a get-together with friends, but no one would tell you whether they were coming until the last minute? Try multiplying that frustration by 100, and you’ll have a good idea of what couples go through when people don’t RSVP for their wedding.

RSVP is an abbreviation for the French phrase, “Repondez, s’il vous plaît,” which translates to, “Respond, if you please.” In other words, they want you to tell them if you’re coming or not.

Most wedding invitations will include a requested date by which you should RSVP, and you can make the couple’s lives significantly easier if you do so. When you RSVP, it gives them an accurate count so they can plan accordingly for food, drink, and seating.

You also don’t have to wait until the date specified to RSVP if you think you might forget—go ahead and do so as soon as you receive the invitation. If you do forget to RSVP, even if you won’t be able to attend the wedding, call or text them as soon as possible to let them know, and then drop the RSVP in the mail ASAP.

Late is definitely better than never and, trust us, the nevers will be discussed.

Don’t: Bring a Plus-One Without Permission

Two couple at a wedding toasting with champagne.
Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com

Many wedding invitations to single friends and relatives will include a “plus-one,” which indicates you’re free to bring a date if you wish. However, unless that option is on your invitation, don’t just assume you can bring someone along.

It’s helpful to remember that every guest at a wedding costs the couple money. Even if the idea of going alone makes you feel awkward, try not to be self-conscious about it. After all, if you didn’t get the option to bring a date, no one else will either. You might even meet someone interesting!

The important thing to remember is the day is all about the couple, so they get to choose who can and cannot attend their wedding.

If you really want to bring someone and you’re close to the couple, it doesn’t hurt to reach out before you RSVP and ask if it would be okay. Just be prepared to respect their wishes if they say no.

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Do: Turn Off Your Phone

A woman taking a picture with her cell phone during a wedding ceremony.

Unless you’ve explicitly been asked to take photos during a wedding ceremony and/or reception, put your phone on silent and keep it that way for the entire day. There’s nothing ruder or more disruptive than a cell phone ringing as a bride walks down the aisle. It’s the easiest way to ruin an otherwise beautiful ceremony.

It’s not just ringtones and notification noises that can be disruptive either. While it might be tempting to snap a photo when the couple is kissing or cutting the cake, be sure to ask first. They might not want photos taken or posted by anyone except themselves and/or their wedding photographer.

Even if you have permission, do be mindful about when you pull your phone out. If you’re taking photos during the ceremony, for example, you’ll probably have to hold your phone out to the side or above your head to get a clear shot. This will likely block the view of other guests and your outstretched arm might end up memorialized in their professional wedding photos forever.

However, if you’ve gotten the go-ahead, and you can take some pics without blocking anyone’s view or standing too close to the couple, that’s just fine.

Don’t: Be Late

Being late for anything is considered rude, but especially when it’s an important event. If you’re late to a wedding, it can be particularly troublesome because you could interrupt the actual ceremony. In fact, it’s highly likely an usher won’t even allow you to enter if the ceremony has already begun, so you could miss it completely.

Save yourself (and the couple) a lot of frustration by planning ahead. Leave early enough to be seated at least 15 minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin. If you’ve never been to the venue before, give yourself plenty of time to park and find your way to where the ceremony is being held. It’s always better to arrive way too early than even a few minutes late.

Do: Follow the Dress Code

Wedding guests sipping champagne.
G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock.com

A couple chooses a dress code for their wedding for a reason. Wearing clothing in the style that they request will make you feel far more comfortable at the event. It will also ensure that you don’t stand out too much in photos and videos.

If you’re confused about what to wear, do a quick search online. Whether the dress code is black-tie optional or beach formal, you’ll get loads of ideas to help you throw something together.

There are also some general fashion rules particular to weddings that you should follow, whether there’s a dress code or not. Keep these general guidelines in mind when choosing what to wear:

  • Women shouldn’t wear white: This is considered stealing the bride’s thunder.
  • Avoid anything too flashy: Anything covered in sequins, provocative, extremely low-cut, too short, or otherwise distracting is a no-no. This is the couple’s special day, after all, and they should be the center of attention.

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Don’t: Assume Children Are Allowed

A young boy and girl sitting under a table at a wedding reception.

Just as you shouldn’t bring a date without permission, the same applies to young children. Many people prefer a child-free wedding, and while this can make it difficult for parents to attend, it’s still important to respect the couple’s wishes.

If children aren’t permitted, this will be stated on the invitation. If your kids are invited, their names will likely also be included on the invitation, or “and family” will follow your name.

Even if children are permitted, you still might want to find a sitter, particularly if your child is still a baby. After all, if he or she starts crying in the middle of the ceremony, it will be embarrassing for you and annoying to everyone else.

Toddlers will also most likely get bored after about an hour or so and start to get restless. If you can, use your wedding invite to score some kid-free time and lock down a babysitter early.

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Bring something to keep the little ones occupied.

Do: Drink Responsibly

For many people, an open bar is an excuse to let loose. While a night of free drinking is certainly a reason to celebrate, you have more of a responsibility than normal to contain yourself at a wedding.

When someone gets intoxicated at a wedding, everyone has to deal with them: the other guests, the wedding party, or even the couple. A few too many can make all the difference between having a good time and making a scene.

Don’t bet that you can hold your liquor well and risk embarrassing yourself during a special event. Drink responsibly and help your friends and family do so, as well.

Don’t: Stray From the Registry

Someone handing a wedding gift to an usher.

People put items on their wedding gift registry for a reason: they need them. Many younger couples, in particular, are preparing for both a life and new home together. They’ll need things like kitchen tools, small appliances, linens, and décor.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, a particular family member might gift a specific or special handmade item to every new couple in the family. If that’s not the case though, you should always default to the couple’s registry.

If you’ve been invited to a wedding, you might think all you have to do is show up. However, you have a bit more responsibility than that. From what you should wear to cell phone etiquette, here are some things you should (and shouldn’t) do at a wedding.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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