Wedding Etiquette: Do's & Don'ts Guide

The season of nuptials is upon us and you’ve likely got a soiree or two to attend. But, with our social media-saturated and ever-changing world, wedding etiquette can be hard to keep up with. So, today, we wanted to offer our own Venuelust version of wedding etiquette 101. Read on...and don’t you dare forget to send in that RSVP card.

Bringing a Plus-One:

Wedding Etiquette Plus One

Traditional Wedding Invitations

We’ll start with one of the most common wedding etiquette dilemmas—the plus one. For traditional weddings and the weddings of previous generations, an inner envelope was an absolute must—you’d receive a wedding invitation addressed to you and inside of that initial envelope was the “inner envelope,” which contained the actual invitation. On the inner envelope was your actual invitation status. So, while the outer envelope may have been addressed to “Jon Smith,” the inner envelope would likely read, “Mr. Jon Smith & Guest.” With these more traditional invitations, knowing if you are invited with a plus one is relatively easy.

No Inner Envelope

Wedding Etiquette

Many of today’s weddings, however, tend to be a bit less traditional, and, especially with creative or artsy wedding invitations, you’ll notice there’s no inner envelope (some couples even opt for e-vites). In this case, you should always check the outer envelope as it likely displays your correct invitation/plus-one status. If the outer envelope is addressed to you solely and doesn’t read “and guest,” you’re not invited with one. The only exception to this would be if the RSVP card is filled out in a way that invites you to bring a plus-one. For example, the card may read ___ of ___ attending. If the couple has filled out “2” in that second line ( i.e. “___ of  2  attending”), then you are indeed invited with a plus one.

What if I’m invited alone?

Wedding Etiquette Invited Alone

If you’ve been invited without a plus-one, chances are you’re tempted to ask if you can bring one. Don’t. Remember, the day is not about you; it’s about the couple. There is a price tag attached to every single guest that’s invited. Wedding packages, on average, can cost anywhere from $100-$300 per guest. If you’re not in a serious relationship, the couple likely chose to invite you solo to save a little money, rather than opting to pay a hefty price for a person they’ve never before met. As hard as it may be, you have to bite your tongue and show up alone. Even if you’re super close with the couple and are sure they would understand, don’t ask. Planning a wedding can be super stressful. Budget, timeline, family relationships and a handful of other things are all at play. If you weren’t invited with a plus one, the couple likely thought that through and chose to invite you solo for a reason. Don’t question it.

What if my guest changes?

Wedding invites often show up months prior to the wedding, so you may be in a situation where you’ve been invited with a specific guest but have since broken ties with that person and now want to bring a different guest. This is a tricky situation and proper etiquette can vary.

If you were invited with, say, an ex-girlfriend who also happens to be close with the couple, you need to talk to the couple and let them know you’re no longer together. You can offer to show alone or come separately if they still want the ex-girlfriend to attend. Don’t ask about bringing a different guest unless the couple offers up that solution. Remember, if you both want to come separately and bring new guests, your invite count just went from two to four (i.e. from $400 to $800). So, again, wait for the couple to offer that solution and, if they don’t, you’ll have to fly solo.

If your ex-girlfriend, however, never knew the couple and they simply addressed the invitation to her out of respect for you, you can approach the couple (given there is still ample time before the wedding) and let them know that, while they addressed the envelope to someone specific, you’re no longer together/aren't able to bring them. From there, you should wait for the couple to offer you the option to bring a different guest. They likely will—if they never knew your ex, they probably don’t care that you’ll be bringing someone different in her place. 

Does the couple really need to know who my plus-one is?

Wedding Etiquette Place Cards Names

Image via ShopCharlieWhiskey on Etsy

One of the most difficult parts of planning a wedding can often be collecting names. Guests who are invited with a plus-one with no specific name (i.e. “and guest”) may not think it’s a big deal to RSVP with Jane but instead, bring Kate. But, for couples who are opting for assigned seating, it IS a big deal, as they’ve likely had a place and escort card made for Jane.

After all, assigned seating means the couple needs to know the spelling of your guest’s name so they can create a place card for that guest.

Wedding Place Card

If your change of guest comes in after you’ve sent in the RSVP card, you need to let the couple know right away that you’ve broken up with your girlfriend/boyfriend, etc. Let them know you are so sorry for the change of plans. Most importantly, let them know that you’re only giving them this information so that they are aware, but that you are not expecting them to change the place card or table list. Remember, while changing guests may feel simple for you, it can be a huge hassle for the couple getting married. So, your best bet is to be extremely apologetic and not demanding of anything at all. Your goal is to make their day as easy as possible.

And, remember, couples can always write “John Smith’s Guest” on place/escort cards or the table list instead of a specific name. So, if you’re not positive who your guest will be, you can always RSVP with your plus-one as “and guest.” That way, it won’t matter if you end up changing guests at the last minute.


When should I RSVP?

RSVPing to a wedding could not be easier. You’ve either received a pre-addressed envelope with postage included or simple instructions for RSVPing online. Either way—it takes all of two minutes of your time and, therefore, should not be put off until the “RSVP by” date. If you know, as soon as you receive the invite, that you will be attending without question, then RSVP right then and there. Don’t put it on your fridge or set it on your desk to get to later. With so many last-minute, late and missing RSVPs, you’ll score some serious brownie points for getting yours in early.


Wedding Etiquette Gifts

Do I have to buy the couple something from their registry?

The short answer is yes. Or, give cash. With the popularity of wedding websites at an all-time high, chances are you have plenty of information when it comes to gifting. The couple will likely have their gift registry information listed on their website and, if so, you definitely should order something from the registry (or opt for cash, which is always a welcomed option). Remember, while you may love those wicker baskets your aunt weaves, the couple may not. Registries exist so that the couple can communicate what it is they need in order to start their lives together. It’s not so much about what you want to give, as it is about what they need.

TIP: You should never bring a bulky gift to the wedding itself—this just creates trouble for the bride and groom (especially if it’s a destination wedding). So, if you’ve got your eye on that huge ceramic bowl they’ve registered for, order it prior to the wedding and ship it directly to them.

Is it OK to just give money?

Absolutely. In fact, most couples would rather have money than the items on their registry (but asking for money is a bit of a faux pas, hence registries like Honeyfund). So, even if a couple is registered somewhere, money is always a safe option.

If a couple is not registered anywhere but has not included any information on their website or invitation that states “no gifts,” they’re probably hoping to receive money. In this case, you should definitely opt to give cash or write a check.

TIP: If simply giving money feels uncomfortable for you, make the presentation of the money a gift in and of itself. Include a nice hand-written note with your tips for a successful marriage or favorite quotes on love. Use pretty stationary and a nice pen. Just because you’re giving cash doesn’t mean the gift has to be void of any character or personality.

What if the couple requests no gifts?

If the couple has specifically requested no gifts, you're completely allowed to not bring one; however, you should definitely still bring a nice, handwritten card or note. If you absolutely hate the idea of showing up empty handed, make a donation to their favorite charity in their name and include this information in a nice card.

The Ceremony:

WEdding Etiquette Ceremony 2

Can I take photos on my phone?

If the couple has a custom hashtag that they’re publicly sharing (i.e. it’s on a sign, or in the program, etc.), then you’re free to take photos and share (but do not share until after the ceremony—there’s nothing worse than having your head buried in your phone while the couple is saying their I Do’s).

Wedding Etiquette Phones

Just remember, the ceremony is the most formal/important part of the wedding, so don’t spend the entire time snapping away. It’s acceptable to take a photo or two while the bride or groom is walking down the aisle or during the recessional, but certainly don’t take photos during the most intimate parts of the ceremony itself (i.e. exchanging of vows). It can be distracting to other guests and shows that you’re not really present in the moment with everyone.

Also, be sure to turn your flash off before the ceremony. And, remember, there’s a professional photographer there for a reason. Don’t get in their way, and certainly don’t leave your seat to get a better angle. And, above all else, be present in the moment. There will be time for social-media sharing later.

Wedding Etiquette Ceremony

On the other side of the custom-hashtag sign is the “no phones, please” sign. Many couples are opting to display these for a number of reasons. Either they wish for their guests to be present and in the moment (which can be a rare thing in this day and age) or they don’t want photos of their wedding posted online before they’ve had a chance to share their own professional photos. Either way, respect their wishes and keep your phone completely out of sight.

The Reception:

Am I allowed to change seats at the reception?

Wedding Etiquette Seating Charts

The short answer is no. At least not during the meal/initial part of the reception itself.

Ask any couple who’s had a large wedding and they’ll tell you: hands down, the seating chart is the hardest part of planning. With family politics at play, riffs between peers and countless other issues, seating charts are like a work of art—the couple likely spent months accounting for each and every individual seat. This means you are seated where you are seated for a reason.

Wedding Etiquette Changing Seats

No single seat at a wedding was decided on a whim. Maybe the bride sat you there so you could act as a buffer between the two crazy cousins you’re sitting between. Maybe the groom sat you at the head of the table because you’re a killer conversationalist and he knew the otherwise-drab table needed your punchy personality. Whatever the reasoning may be, you’re seated where you’re seated for a reason. You shouldn’t change seats before or during dinner--especially if it will cause a distraction or you're having to ask strangers to switch. A small swap, like switching with a  friend you know at the same table, is usually fine, though.

Wedding Etiquette Dancing

Once the meal has been served, however, you’re free to roam as you please. Chances are, everyone is mingling, dancing and enjoying dessert, so don’t feel confined to your assigned seat. Swap seats if someone else is willing (but don’t ask unless you’re sure they want to swap as well), visit with other tables, hit the dance floor and make sure you say hello to the bride and groom.

Do I have to wait for the cake to be cut to leave?

Weddng Etiquette Cake Cutting

In more traditional weddings, cutting the cake was a sign that guests could take off for the night. With modern day weddings, however, this often isn’t the case. In fact, with the rise in popularity of alternative desserts like s’mores over fire pits, cheesecake stations or mini dessert buffets, many couples may not do a cake-cutting at all.

So, how do you know when to leave? Well, you should always stay through cocktails, speeches and the meal at the very least. But, once you’ve enjoyed your meal, taken some time to dance and said hello to the couple, you’re free to go.

Wedding Etiquette When to Leave

So many couples will tell you they hardly remember their wedding day because so much is going on—this means, they likely won’t be upset if you take off a little early, as they probably won’t even notice. If you’ve got a long drive home or a babysitter you have to get back to, leaving early is completely warranted.

Whether or not it's kosher to leave early also depends on who you are. If you’re a coworker or friend of the couple, you’re probably free to do as you please. If you’re a bridesmaid or close family member, however, you’ll need to stay longer than most.

Wedding Etiquette

Overall, remember that the goal of any wedding is to celebrate two people. If you find yourself unsure of what to do in any given situation, ask yourself how you can best celebrate those two people and make their lives easier. As long as that’s your focus, you’ll likely land on the right answer.

Have any other wedding etiquette tips we should know about? Share them with us in the comments section below.