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How to Be the Perfect Wedding Guest

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Being a professional wedding planner, I often get questions from friends and family regarding proper guest wedding etiquette. For most people, weddings are unchartered territory, especially with wedding "rules" and traditions constantly changing. Making sure you are a respectful guest can become a bit of a challenge, to say the least. With brides and grooms really focusing on having a unique event, every wedding can be completely different from the last. Church ceremony, no ceremony; registered for china or registered for a mortgage. Here are some of the top guest-related questions I am asked (with answers!) along with tips for being a great guest.

Is it OK to skip the ceremony and just attend the reception?

Short answer: No! Longer answer: The entire point of a reception is to celebrate what was witnessed at the ceremony: the love and commitment between two people. Why celebrate something you didn't bother to be a part of? Free food? Free alcohol? You get to show off your air guitar skills to "Sweet Child of Mine?" Essentially, the ceremony is the important part and what comes after (a.k.a. what some consider the "fun part") is a chance to rejoice with the couple; to show them you are truly happy about what you just witnessed. It doesn't matter if the ceremony is at noon with 300 people in attendance and the dinner at 6 p.m. It gives you plenty of time to change, nap and play scrabble, and then get to the reception refreshed and ready to eat, drink and dance the night away.

Saying this, there is an exception to every rule (and, no, you cannot just use this part as an excuse). If you have to work (and cannot easily get out of it) or have a significant family event to attend (i.e., baptism, grandmother's 90th birthday party, etc.) then it is acceptable to miss the ceremony. Just let the couple know your reason in advance, if possible. You don't want them to think you skipped out, and you certainly do not want to pretend you were there.

My invitation says "and guest." What exactly does that mean? Do I have to be in a serious relationship to bring a date?

"Guest" does not exclusively mean your significant other. You can certainly bring a "friend" as your guest to a wedding. This is a good area to use your best judgment. Whether you are in a long-term relationship, just starting to date someone, or would like to be dating that someone, feel free to bring them as your guest. Even if that someone is truly just a friend, but you want to have a dancing partner (or not be the weirdo all alone in the corner), by all means, go for it. However, if you have other friends attending the wedding, I do not suggest bringing your best friend along as a date. You want to keep in mind the bride and groom have to pay for each person who attends. Also, you will need to give a gift that reflects two of you, not just one. If you do bring a guest, don't expect them to chip in for the gift, unless, of course, they know the couple as well and feel comfortable doing so. Remember, it is very nice of the couple to invite you with a plus one (assuming they do not know your "guest"), so try not to take advantage.

If a couple is not registering for gifts does that mean I should give cash?

You don't have to give cash if someone has not registered, but, honestly, that is usually what the couple is hoping for. It is best to ask someone close to the bride or groom (i.e., parents, wedding party or even the couple themselves) about what the couple would like as a gift. They will know whether or not the bride and groom are hoping for cash gifts. If you know the couple really well and think you can give a very personal gift, then go for it! Otherwise, I would stick to giving cash.

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Tips for being a good guest:

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before the ceremony start time. If the invitation says 3 p.m., arrive by 2:45 p.m. This will give you time to say hello to friends and then find a seat. The bride is already nervous so arriving right when she is getting ready to walk down the aisle isn't the best thing.
  • Even if you are at the table in the back corner, don't talk while speeches are going on. Most likely, they can hear you at the front, and if not, the tables next to you definitely can.
  • Finish your drink before getting a new one (you don't know if the open bar that the bride and groom have paid for is a package or based on consumption).
  • When the staff asks you to please take your seat for dinner, do it! Getting a large group of people to sit down can take up a lot of precious time when guests don't want to stop their conversations. Just keep in mind, the longer you take to sit down, the longer it will be until the party starts.
  • Give your gift before or on the day of the wedding, not after. If you are giving it on the day, make the effort to do it during the cocktail hour while the gift table is out and lots of people are around. When you give your gift during or after dinner, odds are the gifts have already been locked away somewhere safe and you run a greater chance of it getting lost (or annoying the person who has to leave the party to lock it up).
  • Don't drink too much (just enough).
  • Dance! In the end, the bride and groom just want their guests to have an amazing time. Sometimes throwing the decorum rules out the window and joining that congo line is the "proper" thing to do.
I hope this helps you be the best guest you can be at the next wedding you are invited to!