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9 Wedding Etiquette Must-Dos Most People Forget
The concept that there’s a right way to do something (and a wrong way), a.k.a. etiquette, has been around since the dawn of time. But, in today’s day and age, especially when it comes to weddings, much of the old-school protocol has gone out the window. Sure, it may have to do with changing times, or type of wedding you’re attending—i.e. a ceremony in a church with hundreds of people will likely hold you to a higher standard than a beach wedding with a handful of the bride and groom’s close friends—but that doesn’t mean etiquette in its entirety no longer exists (at least we hope not). “Etiquette was created so people would know how to act and be accepted by the rest of society, which, when you get right down to it, is no different than trying to get a ton of likes or hearts on your social media posts,” says Larissa Banting of Weddings Costa Rica in Santa Ana, Costa Rica.
So what rules should you remember at your own wedding—or as a guest? We talked to top wedding and event planners to get the inside scoop on which elements of wedding etiquette still matter today.
If you’re getting married…
Treat your guests like guests.
“Since you’re inviting people to celebrate your passage into wedded bliss, it’s your responsibility to make sure they are taken care of and made comfortable,” says Banting. “That means having enough seating for the ceremony so people aren’t left standing, having fans or cold drinks available if it’s hot, and having sufficient food and drink for all.” Of course, this is why you hire a wedding planner—to make sure you can sit back enjoy on your big day while ensuring your guests are taken care of. “It may be your day but once you’ve included other people along for the ride, you need to worry about their comfort too,” Banting adds.
Don’t keep people waiting.
You’re going to be pulled in a million and one different directions on your big day, which is why it’s crucial that you create a realistic timeline that you can stick to — and one that won’t keep guests waiting. “Hair and makeup is usually the area that can send the best-laid plans off the rails, so pad in an extra hour to ensure you’re ready on time,” suggests Banting. “If you have a long photo session between the ceremony and reception, offer guests a cocktail hour to keep them occupied—and, if you’re planning on having touchups done or changing into another outfit before or during the reception, just be aware of the time.”
Play music that will appeal to all guests.
You and your crew might be into Beyonce’s latest single, or those 90s throwbacks that you mentioned to your band or DJ in your pre-wedding meeting, but remember that you’ve likely invited guests of all ages. Consider what some of the older crowd (your grandparents, uncles, aunts) might want to listen to as well. “Select a wide range of music to be played so everyone has a chance to get up on the dance floor and have some fun,” says Banting. “Save the hip hop for later in the night once the older crowd has cleared out.”
Be thankful for your toasts.
As the focus of all the wedding toasts, the couple shouldn’t toast to themselves, says Banting. “Proper etiquette is to remain seated, smile and not raise your glass, then thank the person who made the toast.” Although it’s not required, she points out that it’s a nice gesture to finish the toast session with a small speech from you and your bride or groom. “Make sure to thank your guests for coming, your parents for their support and then say something gracious about your newly betrothed before raising a glass to all and taking a sip.”
Send thank-you notes.
Even if you had the chance to thank someone verbally for attending your wedding or giving you a gift, handwritten thank-you cards are still definite dos. “Guests spend considerable amounts of time and money in choosing a gift, selecting attire to wear, finding child care, and traveling to and from all of the wedding-related events,” Kimberly Lehman of Love, Laughter & Elegance in Massillon, Ohio, points out. “A heartfelt message, written to the giver of the gift, is much appreciated—just a few lines stating how nice it was to see them and spend time together at the shower or wedding, and how much the gift is appreciated and may be used is fine.”
If it’s not your wedding…
Give a gift at each event you’re invited to.
Traditionally, as a guest, if you are invited to the shower and the wedding, then yes, you should bring a gift, says Lehman, though the bachelorette party is usually more informal so a gift is not necessarily required. “If you are a member of the wedding party, you are expected to contribute financially to the shower and bachelorette party, as well paying for your attire, accessories and/or grooming for the wedding,” she adds. Of course, this can be a bit overwhelming for some, especially when you’re still in school, but Lehman points out that it’s your choice to say yes or no to being a part of the wedding party. “Another solution is to have the wedding party contribute one large gift, for example the stand mixer the bride has had her eye on for months.”
Don’t assume you can bring a plus-one.
“Many guests don’t realize that when they are invited to a wedding, the couple and families are paying for each individual person to attend, to eat and drink and be entertained, rather than one blanket fee,” explains Lehman. “This is why accurate head counts are so crucial to keeping the budget under control.” In other words, if the invitation sent reads “Mr. Jim Smith and guest”, then yes, bring said person, but if the invitation is addressed only to “Mr. Jim Smith,” only Mr. Smith himself is invited to attend.
Always RSVP by the deadline.
There’s a good reason invitations, especially ones to weddings, have a deadline for when you can RSVP by. Head counts are important people! Whomever is planning (and paying for) the wedding seriously needs to know how many people to expect far before the one-month countdown. “If you happen to see the bride before the wedding and end up telling her your RSVP in person, don’t think that got you out of sending your response in,” says Jessica Janik of The Invisible Bridesmaid in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “As soon as you know you will or will not be able to make it, be courteous and send back the RSVP card if that’s what is requested.”
Don’t get in the way of the photographer or videographer.
You might consider yourself the master photographer, thanks to your skills on Instagram, but the couple hired professionals for a reason. “Don’t stand in front of the hired personnel so you can get the perfect shot of the bride and groom on their big day,” warns Janik. “And, if you did happen to take that perfect shot, wait until the ceremony starts to post a photo—you don’t want to beat the bride and groom and post before they have a chance to.”