Your top 15 etiquette questions answered.
Wedding planning often brings out the good, the bad, and the unpleasant in everyone: the couple, the in-laws, and yes, even the guests. Some things never change—how to choose a bridal party without offending anyone, how to deal with friends wanting a plus-one, how to let family members help without taking over—but these days, modern couples have a whole slew of other issues. There’s the bride and groom worried about cellphones taking over their ceremony and their photographer missing a great shot. And there’s the question of whether a couple needs to provide a wedding website with up-to-the-minute time lines and detailed how-we-met stories. (One more thing to add to the to-do list.) So, we’ve culled through your questions and asked our wedding etiquette experts to tackle the uncomfortable, yet inevitable, scenarios many brides and grooms will encounter before the big day. Read on and breathe a little easier.
Q: “Can I have an unplugged wedding?” Michelle
A: You’ve spent months preparing for the moment that you finally say, “I do.” The photographer is positioned perfectly to capture the photo of your first kiss as a married couple. Suddenly, your uncle holds out his iPhone, obscuring the camera, and the moment has passed. The solution to this frustrating and all-too-common debacle? An unplugged ceremony. “We’re noticing this more and more,” says Elizabeth Gopal of East Made Event Company. “It is not uncommon for the officiant to make an announcement asking guests to turn off cellphones or to see a welcome sign asking guests to abstain from photos or videos of the ceremony.” In an increasingly tech-savvy world, it can be difficult for guests to resist the urge to document a special event, particularly a wedding. You should emphasize via signage or a wedding program that you invite your guests to be “present” throughout the ceremony, allowing the professional photographers to capture special moments. In addition, you may want that special moment to be private among the family and friends you have invited to celebrate with you, as opposed to instantly sharing your vows with the masses. In contrast, Kawania Wooten of Howerton + Wooten Events suggests encouraging your guests to use their phones at the reception. A fun wedding hashtag will enable you to look back on the small moments of the party that you, as the bride and groom, may miss.
Q: “We are finding the process of selecting the bridal party overwhelming. How do we pick and choose?” Whitney & Drew
A: Mindy Weiss, a nationally known wedding planner and noted author of The Wedding Book, suggests asking a single question: “Can you picture these people looking at your wedding photos with you in 20 years?” Consider how they’ll behave in the time leading up to and during the wedding. You want your bridal party to be supportive, dependable, and fun. Wooten encourages couples to remember that the smaller the bridal party, the easier it will be to manage throughout the process. “People are much more understanding when they didn’t make the cut if it’s a smaller party,” she says. Gopal, however, feels that ultimately money is the deciding factor. “You have to cover that many more bouquets, gifts, hair, and makeup sessions,” she says. “You don’t owe anyone a conversation, but you hope that people will understand it’s a financial expense on your end.”
Q: “How can I properly let bridesmaids know their responsibilities, particularly financially, when asking them to be in my wedding?” Eloise
A: The role of a bridesmaid has become an expensive one. Between dresses, bachelorette festivities, travel, and showers, the costs can quickly add up. Weiss suggests an honest discussion when you ask them to be part of the bridal party, giving them an estimate of what everything will cost. “You give them the opportunity to gracefully bow out,” adds Wooten. Bridesmaid coordination is an opportunity for a wedding planner to step in, like Eventi by Diana Venditto, who will contact the bridal party with dress information, dates and times, and details surrounding the bachelorette party. “If a bride can say, ‘Reach out to my planner,’ it eliminates the potential for drama and argument,” she explains. Whatever the method, it’s important to be upfront about expectations and expenses. “If they tell you that being part of your party is beyond their means, thank them for their honesty,” says Weiss, “and then try to find another role for them in the wedding. Above all, be gracious.”
Q: “Several people are interested in hosting parties or showers for us. How can we handle this without burdening friends with multiple invites?” Natasha & Peter
A: Multiple showers are trending, but they shouldn’t be overdone. Weiss knows that two heads are better than one. “If two people offer to throw showers for you with overlapping guest lists, try to persuade them to join forces,” she suggests. Wooten sees this as a prime opportunity to deploy the maid of honor and mother of the bride. Refer interested family or friends to them, and allow them to take the lead on planning. Perhaps an aunt can provide the cake, while another provides the location. Should you end up with duplicate events, ensure that the guest lists aren’t overlapping. “It’s unfair to pressure guests to attend multiple events, they’re already spending hundreds of dollars before the wedding takes place,” says Wooten.
Q: “So, my mother wants to add 15 guests to the list. Are we obligated to expand the guest list?” Kate & Tom
A: Ultimately, it’s the bride’s day, but it is important to consider who is paying for the wedding. “If your parents are insistent,” explains Weiss, “you may need to ask them to cover the costs for the guests who are putting you over budget.” Wooten suggests tackling the issue from the outset. Determine how many people you would like at the wedding, and then allocate a certain number of guests to parents. “If you look at it as a numbers game from the start, it becomes less of a personal issue,” she says.
Q: “When it comes to the ‘plus-one’ invitation, what’s the general rule of thumb?” Bette
A: Our experts agree: You are under no obligation to invite single guests with a date. Where it varies, however, are extending plus-ones to those in serious relationships. Gopal suggests extending the plus-one if a couple is living together or engaged. “Make one rule and stick to it,” she says. When you receive the inevitable call from a guest asking to bring a date, Wooten suggests a diplomatic approach: Inform said guest that you’re at capacity, but will follow up with them with a final answer once all of the RSVPs have been tallied. “If they believe you’re genuinely trying to accommodate them, they’ll appreciate it,” says Wooten. If you want to avoid an awkward situation entirely, Venditto will be the scapegoat. “Always blame the planner. Simply tell them the planner has set the guest list due to venue limitations, and you can’t exceed it. That’s one of the benefits of hiring a wedding planner,” she notes.
Q: “Can I register for gifts if it’s my second marriage?” Anna
A: Our planners agree: Why not? While it may feel taboo to ask for another gift from guests who attended your first wedding, rest assured that it’s not. “If you are celebrating your marriage and building a home together, no doubt you’ll want some updated, and perhaps more formal, splurge items that you may not want to purchase yourselves,” says Gopal. While you may not need the essential everyday items like plates and glassware, your guests will undoubtedly celebrate your union with a gift. “Registering for gifts provides your wedding guests with an opportunity to purchase a gift that you truly want,” adds Wooten. Trust our experts—guests will always appreciate gifting guidance when attending any wedding.
Q: “How can a couple tactfully let guests know that children aren’t invited to the wedding?” Beckett & Miles
A: Enter the wedding website. Don’t take away from the beauty of your invitation, but instead guide guests to the website for additional details. “An ‘adults-only reception to follow’ is an appropriate way to address your preferences,” adds Gopal. Another tactful way to express your decision, and the one Wooten prefers, is to recommend the child-care options provided by the hotel. Weiss knows that parents don’t always understand. “Explain your perspective,” she says. “Some couples don’t want to risk a toddler screaming through the ceremony or servers having to circumnavigate games of tag during the reception.” However, for parents who keep pushing the issue: “If you don’t want children at the wedding and parents are pressuring you to include them, you’ll have to weigh your desires against keeping the family peace,” says Weiss.
Q: “There’s a long break between the ceremony and reception. How can we bridge this time gap for our guests?” Georgia
A: Ideally, there should be a minimal break between the ceremony and reception. When that isn’t possible, Weiss recommends providing necessary accommodations. “If guests are waiting while the reception room is flipped, provide extra seating, set up an activity like a photo booth or a bride and groom quiz, and make sure to have a variety of drinks and foods,” she says. Should the break extend longer than an hour, as often happens with religious ceremonies, list a variety of activities on your wedding website that can keep guests busy during the downtime. Wooten incorporates creative solutions to fill the time, ranging from a shuttle tour of the city to a concert by a local band. “Especially in a city like Baltimore with so much visual interest, you can create an experience so guests don’t realize how much time has passed,” she says. Most importantly, ensure that your guests are aware of the time gap before attending the wedding. As Wooten knows, “There’s nothing worse than coming hungry and expecting a dinner, only to be told you have to wait two hours to eat.”
Q: “The RSVP deadline has passed, and several guests haven’t replied. How should I follow up?” Sasha
A: “If a guest hasn’t RSVP’d, don’t assume they can’t attend,” says Gopal. With multiple methods of communication, a direct phone call is still preferred. When making the call, however, remember that the lack of RSVP is not a personal affront. Wooten knows that weddings evoke significant emotion, but advises against placing blame. “Simply say, ‘I would love to see you and I just want to make sure I didn’t miss your RSVP.’ Deadlines come and go,” says Wooten. “Don’t make people feel like they broke a rule.” In order to alleviate stress leading up to the big day, set the RSVP deadline no later than a month before the wedding, allowing a buffer of a few weeks to follow up with those who haven’t responded.
Q: “Everyone has that friend or family member who wants to be involved, perhaps too much, and I’m anticipating that for my own wedding. How can I handle this without hurting feelings?” Olive
A: It is much easier to set boundaries at the beginning of an event, so have the conversation early. “Start with a positive, thanking her for taking an interest, and try diverting her by giving her a specific task,” says Weiss. Empower your friends and family with tasks that will alleviate your workload. “There’s always something you don’t want to do, be it the restroom basket, place cards, centerpieces,” says Wooten. “People just want to be able to say that they helped.” Consider sharing regular updates with enthusiastic helpers via e-mail, suggests Gopal. They’ll feel involved in the process, and you’ll avoid five phone calls about which boutonnieres you’ve selected.
Q: “Do I need a wedding website?” Kimberly
A: In this age of constant contact, you may not want to add one more reason for your friends and family to be glued to their screens. The wedding website, however, has become a popular and useful tool for couples to communicate essential information and avoid cluttering the formal invitation. “I recommend that all of our couples build a simple website,” says Gopal. “Websites are great places to keep your guests fully updated on time line information, venue locations, shuttle schedules, and travel tips if they are from out of town.” It can be expected that small details, such as the hotel-shuttle schedule, may change after the final invitations have been mailed. “The ability to keep guests electronically informed can be a huge stress reliever,” notes Gopal. “It is also a great place to tactfully include your gift wish list or registration information.”
Q: “We’re a little nervous about a guest causing a scene. How can we prepare for a potential ‘problem’ guest?” Dylan
A: After months of planning, don’t let one unruly guest disrupt the celebration. The wedding planner should be alerted well in advance and will communicate with the wait staff and bartenders. If notified ahead of time, bartenders can avoid making strong drinks and know when to cut someone off. “As a planner, I’m there to defuse the situation,” says Gopal. “Normally, if I can remove the guest and take them to a quiet place, he or she will settle down on their own.” If a couple doesn’t have a planner, enlist a family member. “This is where those over-involved family members can help,” says Wooten. “Ask them to keep an eye on any troublemakers.”
Q: “How much should I spend on a wedding gift?” Dana
A: In truth, there is no one correct answer to this common wedding guest query. “Spend as much as you feel comfortable giving,” says Wooten. Gopal, however, suggests this rule of thumb: “Think about the cost that the bride and groom are paying to provide each of their guests with a fun evening,” she says. ‘They’re treating you to dinner, drinks, and a night out, and I typically like to reciprocate that estimated amount.” Gopal advises selecting a gift between $50 and $100, with the understanding that younger guests may not have quite the disposable income as older guests. If that number makes you cringe, opt for a beautiful, hand-written card expressing well-wishes and a small token of congratulations, such as a picture frame. “I saved all of the cards from my own wedding,” recalls Gopal, “and I felt that they were such special gifts in themselves.”
Q: “If we host a destination wedding, are we obligated to provide an entire weekend’s worth of events for our guests?” Cora & Max
A: Whether a wedding is held in West Virginia or wine country, get the most out of your location by getting guests together for fun outings. Weiss notes that activities should be optional, varied, and not around-the-clock, but used to give guests the opportunity to see the highlights of the destination. “You don’t need to pay for the activities, but you do need to clearly communicate any costs by including the price on the guest’s list of activities,” says Weiss. Depending on how far guests will be traveling, consider expanding the traditional wedding weekend events, such as the rehearsal dinner and farewell brunch, to include all guests. Gopal says, “They are paying a lot of money to travel and spend time with you for a whole weekend. It’s important to make them feel welcome.”