Best Guest

By Kristen Castillo

July 1, 2015 5 min read

Once the invitation arrives in the mail, you start asking yourself questions: "What should I wear?" "What gift should I get?" "Can I invite a guest?"

All of these questions and more are common concerns for wedding guests. Read on for tips from wedding and etiquette professionals for answers to your questions and find out what it takes to be a great guest.

*Can You Bring a Date?

The general rule: The only people who can attend the wedding are the ones listed on the invitation. So if the invite says "Mr. and Mrs. Jones," then only the husband and wife can attend. If it just says "Miss Jones," then the woman must attend the wedding alone.

Make sure you RSVP for the wedding by the date indicated on the invitation. Showing up anyway after neglecting to RSVP is a big no-no.

If your children's names aren't listed on the invitation, don't show up to the wedding as a family.

"A gentle way to deal with this situation is to have the family table off to the side or back of the reception area," says author and etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, who is also the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach.

Another option? The bride and groom might provide guests who have children the "name of a reputable baby sitter in your area who is willing to accommodate parents who want to attend the wedding," suggests Whitmore.

*What to Wear?

Weddings tend to be dressy events, but exactly how dressy?

If the invitation says "black tie," wear a tuxedo.

Otherwise, "a man should wear a suit and a woman should wear a cocktail dress or Sunday best," says wedding planner Fran Plodkowski of Social Graces, noting beach weddings can be more casual.

"Remember, it is a wedding," says Plodkowski. "Look your best."

*Gift Guide

Giving a wedding gift is customary but do you give a gift off the couple's registry or write a check? If so, how much to give? There's no fixed answer here.

"People do not know how much to give," says Plodkowski, who advises guests to give what they want to and can afford.

Still, you don't have to give a gift of equal value to the price of the dinner, especially since many weddings are big budget.

Typically, the closer guests are to the bride and groom the more they'll give. For example, the groom's sister would give a larger gift than his co-worker would.

*Time Matters

Guests often mistakenly assume weddings don't start on time.

"As a result, we see guests that purposefully arrive late," says Camille McLamb, founder and lead coordinator at Camille Victoria Weddings, noting ceremony and reception schedules are fixed to accommodate parties and events throughout the day.

"Guests should plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the start time listed on the invitation," urges McLamb. "If a guest ends up arriving late, she should try to check if the bridal party is lined up before going inside. If the bridal party is lined up and about to go down the aisle, the guest should wait off to the side until the processional is over and then sneak in up a side aisle."

*Remember You're Not the Photographer

Sure, it's exciting to capture the wedding in photos, but remember you're a guest, not a photographer on assignment.

"Don't photobomb the vows," says etiquette expert Cheryl Seidel. "Remember there's probably a professional photographer somewhere behind you trying to do the job the couple has hired him to do."

Seidel also reminds guests to not block people behind them; instead, sit in the back or on the far aisle. Also, don't use an iPad to shoot photos: "There's no way you can be inconspicuous," she says.

Before you post your pictures to social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, make sure the couple approve.

*What's for Dinner?

Even if the reception venue is a restaurant, it's not OK for guests to order whatever they want. That's because the menu is preordered and paid for by the bride and groom. Even vegetarian, vegan or specialty-diet meals are ordered ahead of time.

Guests with special dietary needs, such as gluten intolerance or nut allergies, should inform the bride and groom at the time of RSVP.


Often guests worry about getting in and around the ceremony and reception venues.

"Especially with the rise in loft weddings, not all wedding venues have elevators," says McLamb. For elderly and disabled guests, "stairs and moving from one space to another within a venue can present difficulties."

McLamb advises brides and grooms to tell guests about any potential accessibility challenges at the venue so the guests can prepare ahead of time. She also says couples should reserve some tables for elderly guests during cocktail hour.

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