2 Jul 2023

How to be a great wedding guest

Wedding season is well under way and many of us will be looking forward to more than one wedding over the course of the summer. Inevitably, much of the focus when it comes to weddings is on the marrying couple, their parents and the wedding team. All eyes are on them, as they should be, but remember that, as a guest, you are an important part of the day and ensure that your behaviour contributes to positive memories and doesn’t let you down.

Essentially, it is your job to be an enthusiastic participant: to comply, willingly and joyfully, with everything that is asked of you; to show gratitude and appreciation for all the hospitality; to share the excitement and happiness of the couple. This may all seem entirely obvious, but there are lots of ways in which your behaviour can sound a sour note:

• Respond promptly to the RSVP

It is helpful when you are invited to a big, formal event to reply promptly. Your hosts may well be juggling limited numbers, and keeping a reserve list of guests in hand that can be drawn on to fill vacant places. This is an organisational headache so do your best to be clear and unambiguous. Don’t prevaricate – it’s frustrating if you come up with a provisional reply, which is dependent on other circumstances. Once you have accepted an invitation, understand that you have committed to attend; it is extremely discourteous to change your mind if a better opportunity comes along.

• Comply with your hosts’ requests

Read the invitation carefully and obey instructions about children and plus ones. If they make it clear that the invitation does not include children or plus ones, then you must accept it – no wheedling, or trying to get special treatment. If the invitation is ambiguous, make a polite request for clarification from the hosts – don’t leap to conclusions and turn up on the day with unwanted extra guests.

• Follow the instructions

That means reading all the bumf that comes with the invitation thoroughly and ensuring that you understand all the timings, that you have secured accommodation, that you’re aware of transport requirements, parking restrictions and so on. Your primary aim should be not to bother the hosts with your own logistical issues – they’ve got enough to worry about. So, if you encounter any problems with practical arrangements, try to sort them out yourself, or consult fellow wedding guests.

• Follow the dress code

If none is specified and the wedding is very traditional, men should wear morning dress, suits, highland dress or military uniform. Women should dress smartly, and hats are generally worn. A more contemporary choice might be suits and ties for the men and smart day dresses for women. Non-traditional dress codes will be specified on the invitation. Whatever the code, do your best to look fabulous, without outshining the couple. This is not a time for one-upmanship. Women should avoid head-to-toe outfits in white or cream, and remember that, unless it is cleverly accessorised with pops of colour, all-over black will look too sombre for a celebratory occasion.

• Sort out your wedding present

If you’re buying from a wedding list this should be reasonably straightforward; do it promptly when you receive the information and then there won’t be any last-minute panic. If you’re bringing a present on the day, make sure it is clearly labelled, and ask as soon as you arrive where presents should be left – you don’t want to be encumbered by a large package.

• Be punctual

You really must arrive at the ceremony before the couple – so aim to get there at least 30 minutes before it is due to begin. Build plenty of contingency into your planning, so that you’re not foiled by last minute traffic delays and remember that country roads (if it’s a rural wedding) are slow and unpredictable.

• Don’t mob the couple

They’ll have so many things to do, so many preoccupations, so many people to talk to. You don’t want to be hanging around waiting to speak to them.  Approach them when they’re on their own and briefly convey your congratulations and approbation, but don’t monopolise their attention. You must accept that a wedding day is not the time for a big catch-up or intense conversation.

• Lose the technology

You need to be in the moment, so put away that phone. Switch it off during the ceremony to avoid any ringtone embarrassment; turning it off will help you resist the temptation to text or post during proceedings. Don’t turn into a crazed paparazzi – you might want to take a few snaps but do it discreetly and make sure that your flash is turned off.  Don’t sit, hunched over and self-contained, at the service or the reception, texting or posting pictures on Instagram. Live the day, don’t post about it.

• Go with the flow

Whatever has been planned in the way of guest entertainment, go for it. This may mean spending hours on the dance floor, listening intently to a live band, sitting in small groups around a fire pit toasting marshmallows, gambling in a mobile casino, or marvelling at some close-up magic…the possibilities are endless. Just go for whatever is thrown at you with enthusiasm and easy compliance.

• Be careful about booze

Weddings are often generous affairs and free drink is available for hours on end. Pace yourself and at least alternate alcohol and water to keep yourself well-hydrated. If you’ve been drinking solidly for hours you may find that, by the time the evening reception comes, you’re an inebriated social embarrassment.

• No carping

There might be things that don’t quite gel on a wedding day – the musicians might be rusty, the food overcooked, the wine tepid, the speeches long and rambling. But don’t even dream of articulating boredom or disappointment to your fellow-guests. It is your job to stay completely positive.

• Circulate and socialise

Weddings are great occasions to meet strangers as everyone is full of warmth and good spirits. So don’t huddle in a clique of people you know; approach strangers, look out for wallflowers, be observant about older guests and relations. Smile and introduce yourself to all and sundry – you have a perfect conversation starter (“how do you know the bride/groom?” or “isn’t this lovely?” or “Don’t they look happy?). Just take it from there and run with it.

• Avoid Faux-Pas

There are so many little ways in which you can disrupt the day and cause social embarrassment. It pays to be aware of the more obvious pitfalls: your phone blasts out a jaunty ringtone during the ceremony; you switch the place-cards and disrupt the careful social engineering of the seating plan; you’re caught in the act as you grab a greedy armful of wedding favours; you upstage the bridal couple with your uninhibited antics on the dancefloor; you become closely acquainted with the free bar and get increasingly drunk and rowdy; you make a pass at someone who is entirely unsuitable; the whole event loses its allure and you end up sulking aggressively at a lone table. The list goes on. Don’t be the guest from hell that everyone is talking about long after the event.

• Say a big thank you

If you manage to grab the hosts and thank them on the day, it will be much appreciated. In addition, it’s a gracious gesture to send a thank you note with copious thanks and compliments after the event.


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