Your Guide to Wedding Etiquette

Etiquette expert Liz Brewer explains how to handle wedding planning properly without offending anyone


Etiquette guru Liz Brewer, author of ‘Liz Brewer’s Ultimate Guide to Party Planning & Etiquette’, explains how to navigate your big day with plenty of tact — and a lot of style.



Who to Invite

It is normal for the bride and her parents (who normally pay the main costs of the day) to put together a guest list of close family and good friends. An additional ‘reserve list’ can also be compiled and as replies come in, guests can be invited from the second list if there’s room.

If you’d prefer not to have children at the wedding, write only the names of the adult guests on the invitations and politely explain, on a separate card, that there is a seating plan and children are unable to be included. Or, to make life easier for parents, you could arrange for a separate crèche or playroom and point out that this facility will be available for children instead of the reception.

Wording on Invitations

This depends on the type of wedding and extent of formality. For a church wedding followed by a reception, a formal invitation makes life easier as it covers all the necessary information. The wording on the invitation needs to include:

  • Names of the bride’s parents or other hosts
  • First name of the bride and groom and surname and title of the bridegroom (Mr., Sir, Captain etc.)
  • Location of the ceremony
  • Date, month and year of the wedding ceremony
  • Location of the wedding reception
  • Dress code
  • Whether children are included
  • Time guests can expect the day to end
  • Address to which guests should reply and an RSVP deadline (it helps to enclose a reply card)

Gift Lists

Traditionally, a separate card is included with the invitation showing details of the wedding gift list. It’s up to the couple to choose gifts from every price range.

Asking for cash can be a tricky issue, so decide what you really need it for and list it as one of your wedding gifts — for example ‘donations towards home improvements’, or ‘a contribution towards the honeymoon’. It’s far easier asking for cash when your guests know it’s going towards a definite project or gift.

Choosing Bridesmaids

The choice is yours but close family and friends are the first to consider. Whoever you do ask, do so at the beginning of the wedding planning. Apart from the obvious fact that dresses need to be made or bought, it helps to avoid anyone making assumptions.

If you’d like a young bridesmaid or pageboy, make sure the children are up to the challenge. There’s nothing worse than a crying bridesmaid or page, however cute. Speak to the parents first, to find out whether it’s appropriate.

It is traditional for the outfits, hair, shoes and make-up to be paid for by the maid of honour, bridesmaids and pageboys, or their parents.

Ceremony Seating

Whether you’re getting married in a church or civil ceremony, the ushers (usually brothers or good friends of the couple) take charge. The bride’s side is usually on the left — this stems from the old days when the groom needed his sword-arm free in case kidnappers descended to abscond with the bride! Nowadays, ushers mostly need to use their common sense; if one side is light on numbers spread the guests out evenly, for example.

It’s sensible to reserve the first row on the left for parents and close family of the bride, and the second row for parents of the bridesmaids, etc. Similarly, the first row on the right should be reserved for the best man, the groom’s parents and his close family.

Reception Planning

Although it’s fun and easy for guests to sit with their own friends and family, a wedding provides them with an opportunity to meet new people. Bear this in mind when doing your table plan.

The top table is reserved for the couple, their parents, the best man, maid of honour and, if necessary, other significant guests. The traditional order is: Chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s Mother, best man.


Wedding speeches are usually given by the father of the bride, followed by the groom, the best man and, occasionally, the maid of honour. Speeches should be short, meaningful and humourous. It’s not normal for a bride to speak at her own wedding.


Saying Thank You

This is extremely important, especially for a significant event where your hosts have gone to a great deal of effort to make sure everyone enjoys the occasion. The groom usually announces the thanks, and gives out presents to parents and bridesmaids etc. where appropriate — but it shouldn’t be a long list. A short, general thank you for coming is normally included in both speeches made by the father of the bride and the groom.