In my 30+ years of being a wedding planner, I have seen all kinds of behavior from guests. Mostly good, but an incident or two of a “guest behaving badly” has occurred. In most cases, guests do not realize how their actions impact the bride and groom on their wedding day. As a guest, you should always remember that your actions are being watched by everyone in attendance.
There are a few simple common-sense rules for being a good guest. First, we'll start with RSVPs.
Upon receiving the wedding invitation, note the date of the RSVP request. It's there for a reason. Couples need to supply food counts to the venue/caterer several weeks in advance. If there is an entrée choice, please enter it as well. Additionally, please inform the hosts of any other dietary restrictions you or anyone in your party may have.
They can’t read your mind. Sometimes it’s impossible to make any last-minute adjustments on site, especially when the wedding is at a venue where there is no real kitchen. If the couple is aware that you might need something special, it can usually be arranged beforehand, and you can be accommodated.
Being a good wedding guest is all about respecting the couple. You are there for them and to celebrate their new marriage.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
When you receive a wedding invitation, it will clearly state whether or not children are invited. If your children’s names are not on the invitation, that means that only the adults are invited. At that point, you have the choice of attending and having a night out and getting a sitter for the kids or declining if that is something you don’t want to or can’t do. Please respect the wishes of the couple.
This also means that you should not bring any extra people with you. “My mother-in-law is in town and we’re going to bring her with us as well. You might want to consider calling the couple first and asking if this is okay, just don't show up. I planned a wedding where a group who had relatives visiting from out of the country and brought nine extra people! Needless to say, there wasn't food for these people, let alone tables and chairs. Yes, this really happened and it caused a lot of disruption to the happy day!
I always say, “If you’re not going to RSVP to my wedding and still attend, please feel free to bring a chair and a sandwich.”
As I mentioned above, if the children were not invited to the wedding, please do not bring them. Respect the couple's wishes. If you are bringing a child who is invited to the party, please indicate this on your RSVP. I always prepare children's meals for the kids. Rather than fish or beef, most kids prefer chicken fingers and fries, pizza, or burgers. I've even been known to serve the Jr guests milkshakes. Inform the wedding planner of any dietary restrictions for your children. It is important to note if a child has a nut allergy as this may affect the arrangement of the kitchen. Also, if you have a newborn or young child, tell them that food is not needed in that instance. Similarly, please indicate on the RSVP if you will need a highchair or booster.
Please remove your child from the room if they are fussing during the wedding ceremony. This is very disruptive to a very sacred and special moment. I've seen a bride give "the look" to someone whose child was screaming at the top of their lungs and whose parent didn't have the good sense to remove them. You don't want your child's disruptive behavior to be a memory of the wedding ceremony for the couple.
You should also take responsibility for your children if you bring them. You may enjoy having cocktails with friends and relatives you haven't seen in a while, but a child running around the reception without parental control is a nuisance. It could be dangerous, kids can fall, and wedding cakes can too!
Children at weddings are something I love to see. My passion for this industry began when I was only six years old and attended my first wedding. Children get a great understanding of what life is all about by witnessing this right of passage. The wedding can be made even more fun with the participation of children. Having attended weddings as a child gives me so many fond memories.
The majority of couples now register for gifts. It makes it very convenient for guests to pick out something they know the couple will like and send it directly to them. If the couple has registered, please don’t be creative and get them something that’s not on the registry. Many times, these items or things may not be liked by the couple, and then they have to return them to get what they want. Many boutiques and even larger stores give you a store credit, so if you don't find what you want, you're forced to buy something they have.
Also, recycling gifts you have received personally for other occasions and giving them to the couple to just get rid of them is a no-no. Trust me, they know. This is something I can relate to personally. My husband and I received a silver tray that appeared to be handmade when we were married. It was in a box from a lovely gift boutique in the suburbs. When we took it back the lovely lady looked at us and said I’m really sorry guys, but this is not our merchandise. Busted!
You should not bring wrapped gifts to a wedding when the couple does not live in the city where the wedding is taking place. They will now have to ship them to their home. Please don't bring a full set of wedding china wrapped in the box to the wedding. Lots of wrapped gifts can be a hassle for the couple to get out of the wedding, then to their wedding night location, then home. The best thing to do is ship the gifts.
If you want to go "old school," you can just give them an envelope with a monetary gift. First of all, do not put cash in an envelope. For safety reasons, please write a check or obtain a money order or cashier's check. How much to put in the envelope is a personal decision, but the rule of thumb is you always want to “cover your plate” meaning your gift should include the price of the wedding meal they are providing plus a little bit extra. In the old days, there was usually a receiving line at the reception, and the guest would hand the envelope to the bride or to her mother, who had a bag to hold all the envelopes. Nowadays there is usually a gift card box on the gift table. Put this in before the ceremony begins. It never fails, at every wedding, a guest is running around with an envelope they realize they forgot to give the couple, and the gift box has already been put away and the envelopes are secured.
It is important that you arrive on time. Disrupting the ceremony can ruin the sanctity of the moment. Also please make sure you’re at the correct Church or Venue! Several times as soon as the wedding starts I have seen several guests make a quick exit. Juan even admitted to me as I was standing at the back of the church “wrong wedding we're at the wrong Saint Michaels.” Also, the Marriott Suites and the Marriott hotel are two different venues!
If you realize you cannot attend the wedding the week of please inform the couple immediately. They may be able to adjust their guest count. If a last-minute family emergency prevents you from attending the wedding, couples should understand that things happen, but please let them know you will not be attending due to illness, the death of an immediate family member, etc. This way they’re not wondering where you are and why you’re not at the wedding. In case you can't reach them before the wedding, please call the day after. Many are worried something drastic may have gone wrong.
Food and beverage
Don’t overeat. It is not appropriate to ask for additional plates after you have been served a plated meal. If dinner is being served off a buffet, please don't pile your plate so high that you can't balance all the food going back to your table, or bring multiple plates back to the table. The same principle should apply to food stations at cocktail parties and sweet tables. One plate at a time, please.
Don’t hit the bar right before it closes as you’re going to dinner, and bring three cocktails and put them at your place. There is usually wine served with dinner. If you don’t drink wine and would prefer a cocktail all you have to do is ask. Most times, you’ll be accommodated.
Please don’t overdrink. The last thing a couple wants is a drunk guest who vomits all over the dance floor. Or all over the bride. Yes, these things happen. Trust me, the couple will not forget this. Don’t embarrass yourself.
Please don’t ask for a doggy bag. Depending upon where you are at the venue they may be able to accommodate you. The caterer may not have brought anything to wrap up your food if you're at a nontraditional venue. Unless you’re like one guest who pulled out a Ziploc bag and folded foil from inside her purse and made her own!
Don’t help yourself to things at the wedding
A framed table number is not a wedding favor! Most of the time these are rented, or the couple is expecting to receive all of these back if they did tell me I’m selves on their personalized. Once I had to ask the guest to remove this from her purse.
If there is an amenity basket in the restroom, these items are for everyone to use during the evening. Either use the product and put it back once you’re done or if they’re individual use sizes, please only use what’s needed. This is not the time to replenish your purse. Once I had to ask a woman for a full-size bottle of hairspray back during cocktail hour. She said she thought it was “a giveaway”.
Centerpieces and flowers. Most of the time the couple wants guests to take these home, but just don’t assume you can do this. Sometimes couples designate someone at the table to take the centerpiece home as a thank you for throwing a shower, hosting an engagement party, or doing something very special for the couple. The couple often sends them a written note before the wedding instructing them to do so. However, if you see a table with centerpieces on them as you leave, help yourself to one. At this point, anything is fair game! A couple has spent hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars on these and would love them to be enjoyed after the wedding. Keep in mind the container the flowers are in. A tall, towering vase, or a beautiful silver or crystal bowl, usually the flowers can be removed easily and taken home. Vases or bowls are usually rented from florists. I had to run after a guest in a hotel to get the elevated base back and caught them right as they were getting into the elevator. See if the flowers can easily be removed. If you’re not sure ask a waiter or the wedding planner on-site. So “Take the flowers, leave the container.”
Wedding cake/good night gifts. Back in the day, the wedding cake was never served but cut and slices and wrapped in wax paper for guests to take home. If there is some sort of a good night take home ( I do this all the time) either an edible sweet or savory or some sort of favor, only take one per couple or individual attending. Usually, the quantities of these are accounted for wedding guests, not your neighbors.
My final thoughts
You may be shocked by some of the examples here. However, all of this really did happen. As a wedding guest, it's important to think about how you may feel if you were the person getting married. Think about how you would feel if people were not considerate of your feelings or needs.
If you break one of these rules and are not considerate of others' feelings, trust me—they will talk about you for years. Some friendships and relationships end in extreme circumstances.