Wedding Etiquette Advice for Guests

Weddings take a lot of thought, work and money to plan; some couples spend more than a year saving money and planning out details for their big day. With all the planning and money that go into a wedding, brides and grooms put a lot of thought into how to make a guest-friendly wedding that people will remember. But if you care about them (and hopefully you do, if you’re going to the wedding!) think about the ways in which you can show your best side and help make this a great day.

And no, none of these tips suggest you give an expensive gift.

RSVP promptly

If you’ve planned a moderate to large wedding before, you understand the stress of the dreaded head count. It’s a crucial number that the venue must have a week or two before the wedding- if the count is too low, guests can go hungry; if the count is too high, the couple will have to eat the extra cost. For this reason, replying on time is crucial for a thoughtful guest.

On top of the head count, RSVPs make it possible for the couple to create the seating chart, which is another headache. So whether you’re going to the wedding or not, send in your reply by the deadline listed on the invitation so that they can get through this complicated process in as low-stress a way as possible. While you’re filling out this card, be sure to be write neatly and include your name (yup, some people forget that).

Let the bride and groom know if you or your guest has to cancel an RSVP

Once you RSVP, do your best to keep your word and come to the wedding. However, things happen and sometimes canceling is necessary. Let the bride and groom or their parents know as soon as possible, so they don’t include you in the head count or seating chart.

Some people don’t realize that once they are part of the head count, their dinner is paid for whether they come or not. So if you RSVP’d with a guest and the guest cancels, let someone know!

Do not add guests to invitation (or assume your children are invited)

If the invitation is addressed to “John and Jane Smith,” then John and Jane Smith are invited to the wedding. If “John and Jane Smith and Jack Smith,” are on the invite, then those three are invited to the wedding, but not the children who are not listed (perhaps there is a child’s age cut-off that Jack made but his little brother didn’t). If “John and Jane Smith and Family” are on the invitation, then the whole gang is invited.

Yes, it can be hard to find baby-sitters; this is why it is okay to politely decline an invitation if you can’t make it to the wedding without the kids in tow. But don’t add a guest or children to your response card if they weren’t invited; this will force an embarrassed party host to have to call you and uninvite your additions. That’s an awkward conversation that no one wants to have!

Exceptions for uninvited guests:

  • If your husband or wife was not invited, this could be an error, and you can call the host and ask about the situation, since wedding etiquette states that spouses are included on invites. But if your spouse has had issues with the couple in the past, the “snub” might be purposeful, so keep that in mind.
  • Another exception is if you have a physical disability that makes it difficult to travel or spend the day without assistance. Most brides and grooms are happy to accommodate in this situation, and they probably just didn’t think about it in their rush to get invitations out on time.
  • Finally, if you have a baby who is too young for baby-sitting or is nursing, inquire about whether or not you can bring her. Babies don’t cost any extra for the bride and groom, and won’t run around the place. Just be understanding if the answer is no; babies at ceremonies and receptions can change the dynamic of the event, and some couples don’t want that.

Do not switch your guests if a specific guest was invited

Just like you shouldn’t add a guest if one wasn’t invited, do not switch guests out if your original one can’t make it. (This refers to invitations that include your guest’s name, not invitations that say “and guest”- in that case, you’re usually free to invite whom you want.)

This is because weddings cost a lot of money. Many brides and grooms include guests for long-term couples but do not have the money to include a guest for everyone. In other situations, they know your original guest and would love to have him/her at the reception, but don’t want to pay for a stranger to show up. So if you break it off with your boyfriend, don’t write your mother in instead!

If you are giving a large gift, mail or hand deliver it to the home

Some people bring their gifts to the reception, but there’s really no reason for this; after all, the couple isn’t going to open them that night anyway. And think about all those gifts they would have to bring home! This is especially troublesome if the reception is not near where the couple lives, or they do not have a van or truck to transport things. It’s much more thoughtful to have the package sent directly to their home, or to hand deliver the gift before or after the wedding.

Close to the big day, direct your questions to parents or wedding attendants

Unless you have no reasonable way of reaching anyone but the bride or groom, direct your questions to parents or other people whom you know are closely involved in the wedding planning. When getting down to the final days of the wedding, the couple will be in a whirlwind of planning, organizing, shopping, etc. (especially the bride), so while your question is going to feel crucial to you, handing out directions to guests will be the last thing they have time for.


  • Before you contact anyone, check the invitation or save-the-date to see if the bride and groom have a website. It’s amazing how many questions guests have that are already answered on the site!

Don’t make a big scene at the reception (this includes proposals!)

First, avoid conflicts at the wedding ceremony and the reception. The bride and groom only get this single day for their wedding, so you really don’t want one of their memories to be the time you and your husband had a loud fight during dinner. If a conflict arises that day, take it outside or, if you have to, go home. If you and your significant other are having problems before the wedding, think about whether you really want to attend.

Another, less obvious point, is that positive spectacles are not a good idea, either. Please, please, please do not propose to your girlfriend or boyfriend at a wedding! No one wins when this happens. First of all, you’ve let the hosts unwittingly pay thousands and thousands for your moment. And to your significant other, you will look lazy and thoughtless; no considerate person would force someone else to pay for and design the atmosphere for his proposal. So put a little more thought into your proposal and let the bride and groom have their day.

Don’t give a toast unless you were asked by the hosts

A wedding seems like the perfect place to pour one’s heart out about love and respect for a newly married couple. But keep in mind that if the couple wanted this, they would have asked you well before the wedding. While impromptu speeches are sometimes touching, more often than not they are given by tipsy people or are received with annoyance by guests because they stretch the dinner out too long. If you have something important to say, say it to the couple in person, or in a card. If you are very close to the bride and groom, you could also ask to give a small toast at the dress rehearsal. The couple has spent what was probably more than a year planning this reception out, so don’t surprise them with unexpected details!

If the bride and groom don’t find you, find them before you leave

People who have not had large weddings may not understand how hard it is for the bride and groom to talk to everyone at a reception. Most couples try their best, but are still upset the next day when they think of the people they didn’t get to greet. So don’t be offended if they don’t find you at the reception; walk up to them and exchange a few pleasantries before you go.

If you give a check as a gift, be careful how you write it

Most banks are good about depositing wedding checks with various last names and spellings, but not all are. Most brides don’t change their names legally right away (it’s easier to change it after the honeymoon), and not all couples have joint bank accounts. To keep the couple from having to call you and awkwardly ask for a new check, consider the following options for making out the check:

  • If you are closest to the groom, make the check out to him
  • If you are closest to the bride, make the check out to her maiden name
  • If want to make the check out to both, use the bride’s maiden name and write “or” between the names instead of “and” (i.e., John Doe or Jane Smith). That way they can deposit the check even if they don’t have a joint account.

Final Thoughts

Follow the tips above and you will help the bride and groom to have a great day. Weddings are a lot of fun but, by being a thoughtful wedding guest, you can make them even better.