14 Oct 2022

Your Wedding Etiquette Dilemmas

From time to time, we have a look at our postbag and sift through the questions that you have sent in on the vexed subject of wedding etiquette.

Here is a selection of questions, with answers from our etiquette experts:

1. “What’s the best way to explain to a friend that he or she isn’t invited to the wedding, because numbers are restricted?”

Be direct and offer an alternative. So don’t let your friend find out that he or she hasn’t been invited by a process of inference and osmosis – that will cause genuine offence. Instead, bite the bullet and approach the subject head-on.  You can do this in person, or in writing (not by text).  Explain that numbers are very restricted, that only a very small number of people have been invited (if you like, you can add a further explanation for this – budget, venue, family complications etc). Express your regret and propose that, as you won’t be seeing each other on the big day, it would be lovely to have a celebratory get-together. Suggest a time and a place (don’t leave it just hanging in the air as a possibility).  Reassure your friend that you’re really looking forward to spending some quality time together.

2. “As the bride, how will I manage to be a ‘social butterfly’ on the big day, moving politely from one guest to the next, without it looking like I’m ditching each person for someone more interesting?”

As a key player on the big day, you will certainly need to circulate, and everyone will be aware of this. But it’s very important that you give each person you’re with your full attention, and don’t allow your glance to wander around the room.  Once you’ve exchanged a few pleasantries and feel you need to move on you have two alternatives. You can grab a passing guest and introduce him/her to the person you’re talking to – give a short explanation, “Sally have you met John?  We were at school together in Suffolk….” Once the two are beginning to talk together, you can say “If you’ll excuse me, I must go and chat to xxxxx”.  If this is too difficult and you can’t lay your hands on any passing guests, just confront the problem head-on by saying “I’m so sorry, it’s been lovely talking to you, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to go and circulate/talk to x, y and z, or I’ll be in trouble!”  Your guests will be charmed by your honesty and will understand that you have other social obligations.

3.I have no idea where to start with the dreaded seating plan – my fiancé’s parents are divorced and can’t be seated together, I don’t know if we should seat our two best men (both married with young children) at the top table or with their families, and in general I’m not sure whether to put people with guests they know or try to mix people up to encourage mingling. I’m toying with just having guests pull a number out of a hat on the day so they can’t blame us if they’re unhappy with their seat!”

Generally, a seating plan is a chance to integrate your guests, and you can have great fun ‘matchmaking’ your friends in the table plan, and you may even find you are responsible for new friendships forming on your wedding day. Try and ensure that you alternate sexes and arrange the tables so that guests can recognise at least one other person on their table. Don’t take integration too far – you wouldn’t want your maiden aunt to be sitting on a table with a bunch of rowdy 20-something singles, so it’s often a good idea to match generations.

As far as divorced parents go, one solution is to dispense with the top table option altogether. Have three ‘top’ tables, one hosted by each of your fiancé’s parents, and one  – where you and your husband will sit – hosted by your parents. Each of the best men (with their families) can sit at your fiancé’s parents ‘tables.

4.  “My husband-to-be wants to do the speeches before the meal to get them out of the way, but I hate the thought of everyone going hungry while waiting, especially as we aren’t having canapés and I know how long my dad will be! Would it be an idea to alternate the speeches between courses, ie father of the bride, then the starter, then the groom, then the main course, then the best man, then the dessert? Or will this disturb the flow of the speeches?”

As you know, the tradition is to have all the speeches after the meal, and this really is the best idea – not just because it’s a tradition. As you say, guests will be anxious to get on with the real business of the wedding (ie socialising and celebrating), and won’t want to hang around waiting for the speeches before they start eating.  And once people have settled down to eat, and are enjoying both the food and the company, a series of interruptions between courses won’t be very popular either.  After the meal, when everyone has had plenty to eat and enjoyed some good conversation, is the time when there is a natural lull, when guests can sit back, sip a drink, relax and enjoy the speeches.  Of course, as your husband says, this means the speeches are ‘hanging over’ the speechmakers, but the desire to get them over and done with can go against the natural rhythm of these events.  Your guests will be much more receptive to the speeches after the meal.

5. “The wedding coordinators at our venue have really gone above and beyond the call of duty to make our day special and I want to get them something to say thank you. What’s appropriate?"

It is customary to simply write a gracious thank you letter to everyone who has helped, singling out specific things you appreciate (eg “we loved the table decorations and thought your seating plan was masterly”). It is quite common to send a printed and mounted wedding photograph as a gesture of appreciation.

Since your coordinators have provided a service, albeit a very good one, you would not normally give them a gift.  If you really feel you would like to do so, then a bottle (or more!) of champagne (suitably gift-boxed), or some very fine quality chocolates would be most appropriate.


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