What Should a Guest Do If He or She Unexpectedly Can't Attend the Wedding?

Whether you came down with a nasty virus or weather is affecting your travel plans, it's important to manage a last-minute RSVP change tactfully.

jen geoff wedding outdoor ceremony
Photo: Kate Headley

You've had the date saved for months, purchased an outfit, bought a thoughtful gift, and arranged travel in order attend a wedding. Despite your very best intentions to attend the big day, now you unexpectedly need to cancel. This situation is far from ideal for everyone involved, and it can spark panic in any well-meaning wedding guest. Whether you're reneging on your RSVP because you're sick, grounded due to poor weather, or have some other legitimate reason, it's important to do so tactfully. Here, wedding planner Jenna Lam shares tips for managing a conflict that emerge after RSVPing "yes" to a wedding.

Have a Meaningful Excuse

"Guests should keep in mind the expense and effort involved in planning a wedding when responding 'yes' to an RSVP," says Lam. Couples spend lots of time and money on the event and dealing with a no-show puts a damper on the big day. Therefore, guests should try their best to uphold their RSVP commitment, only backing out if major outside circumstances get in the way. Lam says that weather (which can alter travel plans) and illness are acceptable reasons for not attending, since you don't want to mess with the safety and wellness of yourself or other guests.

Let the Couple Know ASAP

Knowing the final guest count is important for the caterer, rental company, and bartender to provide sufficient supplies. Keeping this in mind, Lam says you should let your host know ASAP if you can't attend the celebration. "If you have even a glimmer of a doubt that you might not be able to attend, you should let the host know of your circumstances immediately, so they can advise you on how to proceed," she explains. "If the wedding isn't formal or seated, perhaps the couple has more leeway in getting the caterers their final counts. But for most weddings, a change in an RSVP is not to be taken lightly." Lam also recommends reaching out to the couple with a phone call, since texting the information can seem unapologetic and impersonal.

How to Cancel on the Wedding Day

You woke up on the morning of the wedding with a high fever and nasty cold. Instead of stressing the couple with your last-minute change of plans, Lam recommends reaching out to the planner or a close friend of the bride or groom instead. "That person can troubleshoot how to adjust the seating charts and other duties without bogging the bride down with details on her big day," says Lam.

Make It Up to the Couple

Although you likely have a viable reason for missing the wedding, you may still feel guilty about the circumstances. Following up with a heartfelt note or phone call is essential. Make sure to express your apologies and avoid pestering the bride and groom with a series of excuses. Additionally, Lam says you should still send a wedding gift to the couple and advises you do so "sooner rather than later!"

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