Whether you’ve been to 20 weddings or two, putting yourself in the couple’s shoes before the big day can make all the difference between being the wedding guest of dreams or landing yourself in the social sin bin forevermore.
Most of us are aware of the more traditional no-gos but everything from tech to modern day wedding dress codes can throw a spanner in the works when it comes to good as gold wedding guest behaviour.
Here’s your handy wedding etiquette checklist of what to avoid…
1. Ignoring the RSVP Deadline
Image: The Impressionist
There’s enough wedmin on the couple’s plate already – chasing guests for yays or nays adds an additional element of stress. They’ve given you an RSVP date for a reason and may even have made it as faff-free for you as possible to reply by accepting RSVPs online or providing a response card and a stamped envelope. The least you can do is let them know your plans. Add the RSVP deadline to your calendar or set a reminder on your phone as soon as the invite lands in your inbox/on your doormat.
2. Not RSVP-ing at All
You may ghost Tinder dates but there’s no coming back from ghosting soon-to-be-weds. If you can’t or don’t wish to attend, let them know in good time and with grace.
3. Not Letting the Couple Know in Advance about Dietary Requirements
Not to be dramatic, but no one wants a death on the dance floor, not to mention the fact that catering for unspoken allergies or preferences at the last minute can be extremely trying for the couple and caterer alike. Tick that box on the RSVP and alert the couple of your dietary needs well ahead of the wedding day. Caterers can then tailor canapés and the wedding breakfast to your needs, avoiding hunger, anger and impromptu ambulance calls. Everyone’s a winner.
4. Assuming That Your Partner/Child/Dog Are Included
If the name’s not on the invite, chances are they’re not on the guest list. Double check in advance if you’re unsure, but definitely don’t rock up with uninvited plus ones in tow. This isn’t a picnic.
5. Questioning the Guest List
If you do discover that an upcoming wedding is a child/plus one-free zone, don’t try to negotiate or squeeze your new squeeze over the line. At the least it’ll make the couple feel uncomfortable and at the worst it could jeopardise your friendship. Respect their wishes and only ask in an emergency.
READ MORE: Should I Invite Children to My Wedding?
6. Crashing the Whole Day When You’re Only a Reception Guest
You’d be surprised at how often guests get wind of the whole day’s plans and decide to join from the get-go. If you’re an evening guest, enjoy your day and arrive at the time and location requested on the invite. Everyone will be happy to see new, fresh faces and you’ll get to party the night away without your feet hurting.
7. Texting or Calling the Couple on the Wedding Morning
Or the week before really. If you’re in any doubt as to the logistics check the invite, consult the wedding website if there is one, or ask another one of the wedding party. Bother literally anyone else but the bride and groom.
8. Playing Weatherwoman/man
Of the uncontrollable elements of any wedding, the weather is often the main player. Sending constant weather app updates is only likely to ramp up anxiety during the already very busy week leading up to the big day. Bring a brolly if needs be but don’t bombard the couple with your wedding predictions.
9. Being Late
Probably the most glaring wedding gaff in the book – don’t park up just as the bride is making her entrance. Arrive at least 15 minutes before the time stated on the invitation to avoid spotlight stealing and awkward aisle shuffling.
10. Being Early
There is indeed a sweet spot where wedding guest timing is concerned. Arriving an hour or more before kick-off can mean that you’ll get in the way of last minute wedding preparations, catch the groomsmen having a seating plan meltdown, see the bride before time or simply place extra strain on the wedding party. If you’re ahead of schedule, grab a coffee and bide your time.
11. Sitting on the FROW
Even if there are no signs on the seats, the front row at the wedding ceremony is almost always reserved for family and the wedding party. Pull up a pew a few rows behind to be on the safe side.
12. Waving Your Phone Around During the Ceremony
The couple wants to walk up and down the aisle seeing your beaming face looking back at them, not your iPhone lens. Ditto don’t be tempted to snap throughout the ceremony or film proceedings – it’s the wedding guest equivalent to being that person that blocks someone’s view at a gig because they’re recording everything on an iPad. Are you really going to watch it back? Savour the moment instead, especially if the couple have actively requested an ‘unplugged’ ceremony. Speaking of which…
13. Live Blogging the Wedding
Even if the couples have a wedding hashtag, refrain from going too crazy on the socials too soon. Chances are that your pals want to keep elements of the day special or sacred or share professional photos in their own time. Be fully present on the day rather than on the ‘gram.
14. Competing with the Photographer or Videographer
This is a pet peeve of Holly Poulter, Creative Director of Revelry Events: “Don’t get in the way of the photo and video teams, photobomb professional photos or try to steal the limelight from the bridal party during filming (or anytime really).
“Missing that first kiss or ring shot because a guest stood in front of the set-up wielding an iPad (it’s always an iPad) is a professional and a couple’s worst nightmare. Professionals were hired for their expertise, so leave them to it and keep your phone in your clutch during the ceremony.”
READ MORE: How to Have an Unplugged Wedding
15. Wearing White
A white base with a pattern over it is one thing but give a white wardrobe choice a wide berth as a rule. Leave it to the bride and whip out that white sundress at another time.
16. Not Removing Your Sunglasses for the Ceremony
Ray-Bans could fly on a beach or in a field, but particularly if the wedding ceremony is taking place in a church or place of worship, take sunglasses off as a mark of respect during the official bits. You can put them on again as soon as the canapés come round.
17. Adding Commentary to the Service
Don’t be tempted to add Love Island-style narration during the vows. A tiny degree of heckling might be acceptable during the speeches, but the marriage ceremony isn’t the time for a blow by blow voice-over. Even if elements of the service are unfamiliar to you, save your curiosity and remarks for later (although if they’re rude, save them for never).
18. Turning Up Drunk
This shouldn’t really need to be said but arriving sozzled at the outset is both disrespectful and doesn’t bode well for your stamina throughout the day – it really will only go downhill from here. A pint or a glass of bubbles as you’re getting ready beforehand is all good. A dedicated pregaming session is not.
19. Not Adhering to the Dress Code
Modern weddings are often more relaxed than formal nuptials of old but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to wear jeans, even if the vibe is chilled beach wedding or festival wedding. Adapt your wedding guest outfit to the occasion and be mindful not to upstage the wedding party – a flowing gown will look out of place at the registry office and risks stealing the limelight from your hosts.
If you can, find out what colour the bridesmaids are wearing beforehand too to ensure that you don’t end up being mistaken for a ‘maid all day and perhaps don’t buy your wedding guest outfit from the ‘bridesmaids dress’ edit on ASOS. That said, if you do end up in a similar hue to the bridesmaids by coincidence, don’t worry about it too much – there are far worse wedding mishaps.
20. Arriving Empty Handed
Even if you can’t afford a gift, bring a small card or a token of your love for the couple. They’ll appreciate it down the line.
READ MORE: How Much Should You Spend on a Wedding Gift?
21. Going Rogue on the Gift List
Holly advises to “stick to the gift list if you can. Your friends have chosen these items, or chosen a charity or honeymoon fund, for a good reason”. If you do want to go off-piste in the gift department, don’t bring along anything too bulky or heavy on the day. There will likely be no place to put it and trying to haul it home or on honeymoon will be a pain for the newlyweds. If you really want to go big, deliver it directly to their house after the wedding instead.
22. Bringing Flowers
As lovely as a bunch of blooms is, the wedding florist is really all over this one and the couple will have a surplus of bouquets and table decorations to distribute or take home already. Save the roses for the wedding anniversary.
23. Hijacking the Mic
Unless you’ve been asked to give a speech, do a reading or are designated MC for the day, don’t go grabbing the mic. The couple will have thought the order of the day through very carefully so don’t throw a curveball by way of an impromptu speech.
24. Ignoring or Rejigging the Table Plans
Don’t underestimate the blood, sweat and tears involved in the social maths of putting together a table plan. Your friends have put care and consideration into matching you with other guests that they think you could get on with so don’t write fellow table mates off before the bread basket’s even been round. If nothing else, it’ll cause the caterers a huge headache too. Sit tight.
25. Nicking Someone Else’s Meals
Even if you don’t like the look of the option that you originally chose, don’t succumb to food envy by switching up your meal at the last minute. Firstly it’ll mess up the kitchen choreography and secondly you wouldn’t dream of doing it in a restaurant, so don’t do it at a wedding. If a fellow guest is happy to swap meals, that’s another matter, but don’t go telling porkies as to your initial order.
26. ‘Reviewing’ the Wedding
Image: Grace Loves Lace
This isn’t Project Runway or MasterChef – reserve all judgements on dresses, decoration, food, cost, speeches and set lists. Even if you’re knee deep in planning your own wedding, someone else’s celebration isn’t a yardstick to measure against, particularly not out loud and especially not on the day itself. You wouldn’t want your wedding on TripAdvisor and neither do they.
27. Making a Big Announcement of Your Own
Don’t use someone else’s wedding as a platform to loudly announce your own engagement, promotion or baby news. By all means discuss on the downlow if asked but keep the focus where it rightly should be, just for today.
28. Citing Divorce Stats
On the flipside, don’t go down the doom and gloom route. Save any cynicism around love, monogamy or marriage for another day and a different crowd. Equally don’t complain of wedding fatigue – it’s an honour to make a loved one’s guest list, so even if it’s your zillionth wedding of the year, show some love.
29. Interrupting the Couple When They’re Eating
It’s highly likely that this is one of the few mouthfuls that they’ve managed all day; give them a moment to enjoy both the meal that they meticulously put together and each other’s company. They’re very likely to do the rounds to your table anyway and if you still haven’t managed to give them your well wishes by the time that you’ve finished coffee, get them a drink and toast them on the dance floor.
30. Crashing the First Dance
Unless the newlyweds have signalled for backup, leave the first dance to the lovers. You’ve got the whole night ahead of you.
31. Lifting Bottles of Wine From the Table or Bar
By all means top up your glass but don’t take an entire bottle of Sauv for yourself or help yourself to the bar stock if service is a bit slow. If you wouldn’t do it down the pub, don’t do it at a wedding. Holly also highlights that it’ll stop you pacing yourself – “a very drunk guest is only ever a fun story five to ten years down the line and you want your friendship to survive in the meantime. Also, the couple could well be paying for an even more hefty bar tab at the end of the night if you overdo it.”
32. Hounding the DJ
The couple will have most likely agreed to a playlist or general theme beforehand. Even if it’s not your thing, party on anyway. You can have your own Spotify dance session later once the wedding has wrapped so just grin and bear any cheese.
33. Tucking into the Cake Before It’s Been Cut
Yes, it really happens! Even if it’s made of cheese or consists of a stack of pork pies, just don’t do it. Likewise don’t gorge on more than your fair share of the late night party food. We know that you’re trying to mop up the booze but no one needs seven hog rolls.
34. Flirting with People That You Probably Shouldn’t
You know who. Don’t even go there.
35. Staying on Beyond Carriages
Don’t try to instigate an afterparty at the venue or take ‘one more song’ into the wee hours. It’s likely that the venue operates a strict curfew so you could end up landing the couple in hot water or cause them to incur charges. Move it on elsewhere.
36. Not Acknowledging Parents or Family Members
Holly emphasises that it’s important to show your appreciation to the couple’s nearest and dearest at some point during the day: “Seek out the parents of the couple to congratulate them. It’s highly likely that they’ve contributed in some way to the wedding, financially or otherwise, and it will mean a lot to them on such a significant and emotional day to know that you’re enjoying yourself.”
37. Not Considering Transport Options
Don’t expect the couple to sort your ride to or from the wedding. If wedding transport isn’t included in the order of the day or on the invite, assume that you’ll need to designate a driver or book a taxi in advance. You don’t want to be nagging the couple for local cab firm numbers at the end of the night.
38. Leaving the Favour Behind
A considerable amount of thought and expense tends to go into supplying wedding favours for every guest – don’t abandon yours at your table when the clock strikes midnight. Don’t hoard them either, if there are extras the couples will likely let you know and encourage you to take them.
39. Bailing Early
Unless pre-agreed or strictly necessary, don’t bolt from a wedding party before the band has kicked in just because you’re tired, bored or fancy a change of scene. Fully showing up will mean the world to the couple and you can guarantee that they’ll do the same for you in future.
Want to know more things not to do? Real brides reveal the worst behaviour they’ve ever seen – you’ll be shocked!