Cheers at a wedding

How to Attend a Wedding: Guest Etiquette for the Modern Man Let the invitations roll in...

[Feature image by Alasdair Elmes]

What do you your old lacrosse teammate, college roommate, and Greg from accounting have in common? Their wedding invites are on your refrigerator.

Whether you’re a wedding guest virgin or you’re an old pro at getting through the season, we’ve put together a modern guide on “how to do weddings,” from receiving the invite to closing out the dance floor.

Before the Big Day

Check the guest invitation twice

Being a great guest starts way before you step foot into the ceremony. Start off on the right foot by paying close attention to the invitation and giving it a thorough read through.

wedding invitations

One plus one

First, determine important details:

  • Will you be able to attend on the date listed?
  • When’s the RSVP card due?
  • Do you have a plus one?

There’s a clear answer to that last question. You’ll either have a line where you’re asked to write the name of your guest or your envelope will address multiple people. If neither of these is the case, it’s safe to assume you’ve been invited solo.

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Don’t call the couple for clarification or to ask them to approve a guest — most likely their decision is due to budget, and you should respect their choice.
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Send it back

When it comes to the RSVP card, make sure it’s returned in a timely matter, and it’s completely filled out. Your name, meal preferences, and any guests should be clearly printed on the card. Don’t make the bride call you because you were too lazy to go to the post office.

Even if it’s a more casual affair, it’s imperative you send the card so the couple can account for you. Otherwise, you might show up to the reception without a seat.

Make sure if there are other events to RSVP to, such as a welcome dinner or a morning-after brunch, you’ve confirmed whether you’ll be attending.

When you receive your invitation, you should also take a look at the dress code. Make sure whatever you’re planning to wear will match the formality of the event.

A wedding guest’s guide to gifting

Table of wedding gifts
Yomex Owo

If you’re close enough with the couple to have been invited to their big day, there shouldn’t be any grumbling about gift-giving.

Check the registry

More likely than not, the couple has given you a direct roadmap to what they want — be sure to shop off their registry. These are things they’ve specifically stated they want or need, and you won’t run the risk of giving the couple something they already own.

Since most people create wedding websites, you should be able to find their registries with ease. Shop early to find something in your budget or give a joint gift with a mutual friend to help check a bigger item off the list.

Send it early

Since this is the 21st century, do yourself and the couple a favor and don’t bring the gift to the actual ceremony.

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Most likely, their registry will give an option to have your gift shipped to a location of choice.
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Attending the Festivities

At the ceremony as a wedding guest

Chairs set up for beach wedding
Sweet Ice Cream Photography

Be on time

Timeliness isn’t just of the essence; it’s required. There is no way to subtly sneak into a wedding without drawing attention from what’s going on. Give yourself plenty of time for traffic, wrong turns, and finding parking.

If you do find yourself late to the ceremony, look for an usher to escort you in. If you can’t find anyone, clear the entryway and wait respectfully for the ceremony to conclude.

Often this is the space where the bride has her last private moment with her family before being married — let her have that space on her day.

Be considerate with your seat

If you are on time for the ceremony (as you should be), check any signage about where to sit. Most ceremonies have free seating, but some people go the more traditional route of having the groom’s people on one side and the bride’s on the other.

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The one place to absolutely avoid is the front row. This row is most likely reserved for immediate family who will be entering with the wedding party.
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Starting at the ceremony, and continuing throughout the night, keep your phone in your pocket. While you probably know it would be incredibly rude to scroll through Instagram during someone’s vows, you should also refrain from taking photos.

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The couple is paying a lot of money for a professional photographer, and they want photos of their smiling guests, not people watching them say “I do” through a lens.
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At the reception as a wedding guest

attendees at a wedding
Sweet Ice Cream Photography

You’ve finally made it to the fun part — the reception. Here is the home stretch of being a good wedding guest, and we have just a few more etiquette tips to get through.

Be cautious of the open bar

One of the reasons you might’ve been so excited about this part (besides celebrating your friends’ eternal love) is the open bar.

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However, don’t forget this isn’t an average night out. This is the most important day of someone’s life. An open bar isn’t an open invitation to go wild.
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And ruining this special day with a dance floor cleanup is a whole new level of asshole territory. Know your limits and respect them.

Respect the couple’s time

The reception will also be your first chance to interact with the couple for the night. You may know the groom from way back, but they’ll be fairly secluded with family and then bombarded with guests up until this point. Be respectful of the couple’s time and the receiving line if they come over to your table.

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For the most part, you should always let the couple come up to you.
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They have to get to everyone in the room by the end of the night, and that won’t happen if they spend five minutes with every guest.

Again at the reception, do your best to stay off your phone and enjoy the evening instead of scrolling or being too focused on posting.

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Too much coverage could be awkward if the couple wanted to post certain details, and you beat them to it.
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The Greatest Wedding Guest

guests dancing at a wedding
Ben Konfrst
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You’ve been briefed on what it takes to be a good wedding guest, from opening the envelope to the end of the evening. Take just a minute to reflect on the kind of stress your friends have been under — they’re spending a large sum of money, everyone they know will be there, and there’s no way everything is going to go perfectly.

If you do what you can to make the day run a little smoother, you’ll probably find you’re naturally following all these rules anyway.

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