A Guide for Wedding Guests

save the date So you got invited to a wedding, what now? A wedding isn’t just another party, and being invited to be a part of its celebration is an honor that comes with a lot of responsibility. Obviously the bride and groom are the stars of the event, but guests also have an important role to play. It is your duty to celebrate the new union joyously, graciously, and with the utmost consideration for others. A wedding may be your introduction to a new tradition or culture, and good guests adapt to and respect customs that are new to them. Whether the wedding is held in a cathedral or a backyard, whether the guest list is small or rather large, every guest should behave in a way that will make the day happy for everyone. The following tips from Peggy Post will help you become the best wedding guest around!

Responding to Wedding Invitations

A guest’s first duty is to respond promptly to the invitation when it includes an RSVP request or a reply card. In order to respond, you’ll need to check your schedule and consult with anyone else included in your invitation. The reasons for a prompt reply are simple: the hosts of the wedding need the most exact count of guests in order to plan for catering, guest seating, and more. If you send your regrets promptly, the couple will have time to invite someone in your place if they wish. Most wedding invitations come with a reply card and preaddressed return envelope. Fill in your name(s), indicating whether or not you will attend.
When the wedding invitation is addressed to you “and guest,” you must decide if you want to bring someone so you can let the hosts know. Ideally, you should write the name of your guest on the reply card. If you don’t know who your guest will be yet then simply accept for yourself “and guest”. Once you know whom you’ll bring, it’s thoughtful to let the hosts know your guest’s name prior to the wedding day, if possible. If you reply only for yourself, you cannot show up at the wedding with a date or companion.

Are children included?

Your children are invited only if their names are on the invitation. No one should ever ask the couple or the hosts to include children or anyone else who haven’t been specifically invited. It’s rude to ask a couple to make an exception for your children or to subject them to the embarrassment of having to say “no” to such a request. The invitation will arrive in more than enough time for you to arrange for child care on the wedding day if need be.


If something unforeseen happens and you cannot attend a wedding after you’ve accepted the invitation, you should call the hosts immediately. This is very important because the hosts will, in most cases, be held financially responsible for all or a substantial percentage of any catering expenses for no-shows. Also, alerting the hosts that you can’t come may give them time to invite someone else.

Choosing and Sending Gifts

Gift selection isn’t really about buying, nor is it a competition. Choosing a gift is a matter of deciding what you believe will give pleasure. Thinking about someone else is one reason why people often enjoy shopping for others. You do not have to choose something from the bridal registry. The bridal registry is a convenience for guests, not a mandate. However, checking a couple’s registries may give you a better idea of their taste and needs, even if you purchase off-registry. Gifts should be sent before the wedding or as soon after the wedding date as possible. But late is better than never, so if you have an unavoidable delay, send your gift when you can. Married couples and nuclear families generally send one gift, as do couples who live together. If you receive an “and guest” invitation, you’re responsible for a gift but your guest or date is not. Group giving, when guests pool their resources to purchase a more elaborate gift, is also fine.

Am I supposed to buy a gift that costs the same amount of money that the hosts are spending on each person at the wedding?

No. This is a modern myth. The amount you spend strictly depends on your budget, how close you are to the bride and groom, and what you think is an appropriate gift. Even if you know how much is being spent on the wedding, you are under no obligation to spend more than you can afford.

Giving Money

A gift of money is sent directly to the couple with a personal note, or into the financial gift registry. In some cultures, a gift of money is brought to the wedding and presented to the bride and groom.

Guest Attire

The wedding invitation and the time of the wedding will be your best guide to its formality or informality. A formal invitation to an evening wedding indicates that you’ll definitely dress up. An informal invitation to a noon wedding tells you that the affair is either informal or casual. Other things to consider are: is it secular or religious? Does the religion or the culture of the bridal couple require head coverings? Would bare shoulders and arms or open toed shoes be offensive? If head coverings for women and/ or men are required, they will usually be provided at the site for people who do not have them.

On The Wedding Day

Wedding guest etiquette isn’t very different from the manners for any social occasion. Punctuality is essential. A wedding usually begins as the time stated on the invitation, and you should arrive at least twenty minutes early. It’s fine to greet other guests in the lobby or vestibule of the ceremony site, but it’s best to hold off on much talking until after the ceremony. Let an usher show you to your seat. At a casual wedding, guests might seat themselves, but remember that the front two or three rows are usually left free for family and special guests. If a program is provided, look it over and familiarize yourself with the order of the service. Programs may include helpful instructions for guests of other faiths and traditions. At the reception there may be some lag time before the reception gets under way, and this is a good chance to greet friends, meet guests you don’t know, and sign the guestbook if there is one. It’s customary for guests to remain at a reception at least until the couple cuts their cake or after the first dance, if there’s dancing. Many guests remain until the bride and groom depart. When there is dancing, the party may go on very late. In any event, don’t leave without thanking the couple and their parents or any other hosts. If you haven’t done so already, also take a few moments to offer congratulations to grandparents and other family members before leaving.

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