Your Wedding Guest Etiquette Questions Answered
You want to enjoy your big day—and you want your loved ones to, as well. Take care of everyone with these solutions to conundrums our readers have come across while planning their nuptials, from whether everyone should receive a welcome bag to how to manage a certain someone’s potentially raucous behavior at the reception.
We want to ask our guests to dress in a palette. Is that rude, and will they hate us?
We can’t speak for your guests, but from our point of view, it all boils down to how you phrase your request. Adopt an encouraging, no-pressure tone and people will gladly indulge you; come across as demanding and they might judge you as a control freak. You can share the dress-code info on your wedding website or invitation suite or via word of mouth; just do so in a casual way. Keep the focus on fun (“It’s a black-and-white ball!”), not on how great your wedding photos will look if everyone turns out in pink and persimmon. When it came to his own wedding, design director Michael McCormick found that attendees appreciated the direction. “We included a note on our invitations requesting that guests wear black-and-white cocktail attire,” he says. “The reaction was great! When you ask someone to show up in a specific type of dress, it can be intimidating. But give people a frame of reference and they’re usually happy to oblige.”
How can we ask guests not to publish any pictures of our wedding on social-media sites?
It’s completely reasonable to ask guests to respect your privacy. Try including a separate card with the invitation suite requesting that wedding-goers refrain from posting images from your day anywhere online. You could also have loved ones send you their images, which you can then (selectively) upload to a password-protected photo album. You might also add a note to the program to remind forgetful guests. And, a bit of humor goes a long way. Joke that you’re not Luddites; you’d just prefer to keep this one offline.
Do I need to give welcome bags to my out of town guests who aren’t staying at our hotel?
You don’t need to run all over town delivering gifts. This sort of attention is one of the perks guests sacrifice when they find their own lodging. But if several people are staying in the same place and you only have to make one additional trip, drop off the goodies for them too. Or, greet all the guests who have traveled with something easy, like packets of maps, lists of activities, and handwritten notes to the different locations.
Is it rude to ban guests from the bridal suite?
No, it would not be rude at all. In fact, it is perfectly understandable to restrict people from coming in and out of the bridal room. Your best bet for keeping the bridal suite from turning into a preceremony receiving line is to place a bridesmaid or usher on door duty. Have her politely but firmly tell guests you’re getting ready, and that you can’t wait to greet them after the ceremony. Or, post a sign on the door that states, “Mother of the bride and bridal party only.” Once you’ve decided on a closed-door policy, don’t make any exceptions. Guests should certainly understand your need for privacy and will be just as happy to say their congratulations after the ceremony.
What’s the best way to assign seats and tables?
Open seating may seem as if it would be fun and spontaneous, but guests shouldn’t have to feel like they’re the new kid in the school cafeteria. You don’t want them to be stranded, without somewhere welcoming to sit, or rushed into claiming territory. That said, you needn’t micromanage—only the most formal receptions require place cards at each setting, says Joyce Westin Dunne, a Chicago wedding planner. Assigning only tables and letting guests choose their chairs is perfectly acceptable. Should you decide to forgo table assignments, remember that your guests will take longer to seat themselves. And you’ll need to account for more settings than number of guests, since it’s inevitable that there will be incomplete tables (for example, six guests seated at a table of eight).
What’s the proper way to organize escort cards for guests with different last names?
The easiest solution is to provide a card for each guest. That would certainly eliminate any difficult decisions. However, this would mean you’d need almost twice the display space, which could pose a problem if your list is large. A more space-saving option: use a single seating card for each twosome and follow the format you used when addressing your invitations. If the couple live together or are married, put the woman’s name before the man’s (and be sure to alphabetize by her last name). If an established couple does not share an address, however, each should get an individual card, just as they received their own invitation. If you sent an invitation with an “and Guest” notation, simply ask for the name of the person your friend is inviting before the wedding and make sure the date gets a separate seating card.
How do you tell a friend you’re worried how her husband will behave at the reception?
The key here is to find a point person whom you can make aware of the situation—and chances are his wife isn’t the best pick. What about talking to a mutual friend the husband (let’s call him Mike) respects? Say something like, “I don’t want to curb anyone’s good time, but I’m worried about Mike. Could you help keep an eye on him?” If his buddies can curtail pre-partying and attempt to steer him away from the strongest drinks during the cocktail hour, it’s likely going to be more effective than a potentially awkward conversation with his wife.
I’m worried that some of my guests might be too tipsy to drive safely at the end of the reception. What precautions can I take?
First, make sure the bartender you hire is licensed, experienced, and insured. This way, he’ll be able to recognize who should stop drinking and have the tact to insist that they do. Claudia Hanlin, a Martha Stewart Weddings contributing editor and co-owner of the Wedding Library in New York City, also suggests making enticing nonalcoholic options, like a great-tasting punch, readily accessible throughout the event. Toward the end of the night, nix the booze, and offer only alcohol-free beverages, like water, tea, and coffee. Even with all these efforts, you might still wind up with people who’ve downed a few too many. Have a designated-driver service or a taxi company on call, and give your planner and caterer their numbers. Or enlist some of your more sober-minded guests to serve as in-a-pinch chauffeurs. Also, consider reserving a crash pad at a nearby hotel for those who live too far away to be driven.
How can we invite guests to a post-reception gathering without implying that we’re paying?
The after-party is separate from the wedding, so treat it as such. Don’t include information about it on your invitation. Instead, as the reception draws to a close, verbally recruit livelier guests to continue the fun, saying, “We’re going to a club after the wedding.” The informality of this invite gets the message to those who want to join and allows guests to decline politely. Most of the guests who join you will expect to buy their own drinks, but if the question comes up, be direct.
Most guests will be traveling to our wedding. Should we invite them all to the rehearsal dinner?
Only people at the actual ceremony run-through—the bride and groom, their parents, the officiant, attendants, and readers—plus their dates, must be included in the meal that follows. But if your budget allows, it's a friendly gesture (and a fun time) to invite all out-of-towners, or locals and travelers alike, and turn it into a welcome reception. Or, you could dine with the wedding party only, then ask everyone else to join for drinks or dessert. At the very least, give far-flung guests restaurant or bar recs so they can gather elsewhere on their own.