A guide to wedding etiquette

While wedding etiquette rules have somewhat relaxed over time, basic etiquette is still applicable for modern brides, grooms and wedding guests.

Acquainting yourself with basic wedding etiquette will ease your worries while planning. Wedding and Function has compiled an etiquette lists to help you out.

All things Bridesmaid

Who hosts the bridal shower?

Anyone from the bridesmaids to the mother of the bride, to the mother of the groom can host a bridal shower. In any case, the hostess should consult with the bride about the guest list, because shower guests should also be invited to the wedding.

Can I say the kind of bridal shower that I want?

You can discuss the bridal shower with bridesmaids, or whoever is hosting, but avoid making demands, especially those that dictate the budget. If you really don’t want games, you may express it but do not make requests that will add extra expenses to the host.

Who pays for the bridesmaids dresses?

Being a bridesmaid is a great honour, but it can also be expensive. There will be some evenings spent out planning the day, travel expenses, accommodation and the cost of the bachelorette party as well as the wedding gift. The bride may, therefore, help out by paying for the bridesmaids’ dresses.
Thus, include the costs in the initial wedding budget, if your budget is very tight, you could ask them to pay for their shoes and any accessories or you could offer to pay for these with hair and make up if they could pay for the dress.
Ultimately the best is to speak to your bridesmaids and make sure they are happy with the route you are looking into, also be sure to speak to them in advance so that they also have time to plan and budget.
When choosing dresses, always listen to their opinions and take into consideration different body types if you have mulitiple bridesmaids – just because you’re paying doesn’t mean that you can totally overrule their wishes.

Do my bridesmaids enter before or after me?

Different countries have different traditions, in England, your bridesmaids traditionally follow you up the aisle; in the US, it’s usually the other way around. Here in South Africa it is standard for the flowergirls to walk in first, then the bridesmaids and then the bride walks last. There’s no set rule so you can choose the order you prefer.

How do I back out of my bridesmaid or maid of honour duties?

If, for example, you find the financial or time responsibility of being a bridesmaid is too much for you, discuss it with the bride before accepting the role. Other than illness, family emergency, or an iron-clad work demand, it’s not proper wedding etiquette to back out once you’ve committed. Again, if you are cancelling, let the bride know as soon as possible.

Planning your Guest List

Where do I start with my wedding guest list?

Draw up a list of everyone you’d like to invite to your wedding in an ideal world and sort them into four categories. The people who must be invited at all costs are parents, siblings and best friends – your priorities should be on parents and siblings attending the whole event; best friends can come to the evening ceremony.
If there is space, then you can invite the friends that you still see or keep in contact with regularly – including work colleagues (if you’ve been there a while) and long-term mates from university, gym etc., ultimatley be true to yourself and invite the people you want to share your day with.

Do I need to invite my co-workers?

Frankly, you do not have to invite everyone you work with. If you choose to invite them, pick a logical dividing line – like your immediate division or team, so that nobody at your office feels excluded. Remember to treat any invited co-workers as you would friends. Mail invitations to their home addresses and discuss wedding plans outside of the office.

Do I need to invite someone I casually mentioned the wedding to?

Casually talking about the wedding is okay just don’t mention an invitation if it’s not going to be followed by a formal one. It’s impolite to uninvite a wedding guest, even if it was a verbal commitment. If you have to, diplomatically skirt around the issue by saying you haven’t finalized the wedding guest list.

If someone asked me to attend their wedding, must I invite them to mine?

Don’t feel obligated to reciprocate; but if you feel it’s not proper, ask them to be a reader or to fulfil some other role at your wedding. Similarly, it’s a nice gesture to include your fiance’s siblings in the wedding party, but you are not required to do so.

What if we are getting married abroad?

Stick to close family and best friends only. When you come back, and then hold a post-wedding party for everyone else. If you want to, you can give your other friends the option of coming along but make it very clear that you won’t be offended if they cannot join you.

The question of ‘plus ones’

Like the wedding budget, there is never enough space for everyone on the guest list. Make sure you prioritise on those who really matter. Don’t feel obliged to include a ‘plus one’ for everyone. The exceptions are guests who are in a committed relationship, whether married, engaged, or in a live-in partnership, and those who won’t know anyone else at the wedding – even if you haven’t met their other half.
Don’t forget, too, that it is considered the height of rudeness for a wedding guest to ask for a ‘plus one’ or to assume that a partner is invited. If someone does show up with an uninvited guest, avoid an uncomfortable situation by finding a place for them and follow up with the invited guest via a polite phone call afterward.

How do I get my wedding guests to RSVP?

Give your wedding guests enough time between the invitation’s arrival and the RSVP deadline. Sending pre-stamped enclosure cards or permitting RSVP via email may also encourage guests to respond faster. Make follow-up calls to guests who have yet to reply in time. This is a great time to ask your wedding party or family for some help.

Do I still need to send a wedding invitation to someone whom I know is not coming?

Since a wedding invitation comes with the expectation of a gift, you don’t want people thinking you want their gift even though they cannot attend – so rather don’t send invitations to someone who let you know that they are not coming. If its family or very close friends, you may send an invitation anyway but with a note that explains you are sending it as a keepsake.

No-children allowed

Nowadays, many couples decide not to invite kids on their wedding day – but it must be handled carefully. The majority of your guests will respect your decision and make suitable arrangements, but there will be a few who may want to make you feel uncomfortable about your decision.
Remember, it’s your day and stick to your decision. Make no exceptions, even for your best friend or closest family member, as it may seem unfair to the other guests who have organized childcare. It also often helps to give a reason and make a specific age cut-off point – for example; “unfortunately due to the limited size of the Luxury Hotel, we have decided not to invite children under the age of eight”.

I’m paying for the wedding myself, how do I tell my parents, I can’t invite certain people?

The best idea is to give your parents a fixed number of seats so they can fill them as they wish. If there are certain people you do not want in attendance, then have a private and honest conversation with them when you first discuss the wedding guest list. Don’t insist that your parents settle with the situation, but be clear about your wishes.

Am I obligated to invite a wedding guest’s date to the rehearsal dinner?

Because the rehearsal dinner is traditionally a close-knit event for wedding participants and family, it is not necessary to extend an invitation to an attendee’s wedding guest.


Wedding Guests

What is the correct way to address a wedding gift cheque?

It does not matter. Unless you know the couple has a joint bank account, pay to the order of either the bride or the groom – NOT BOTH, and ensure the cheque is easier to cash.

How much should I spend on a wedding gift?

There is no minimum or maximum. When shopping for a wedding gift, just consider your personal budget and your relationship with the couple. Buy what you can afford or what you feel suits the couple. Don’t be afraid to diverge from the wedding registry if you need to.

Is it okay to use mobile devices to upload pictures during the wedding?

When in doubt, ask the for couple’s permission before posting photos to any social media outlet – especially during the ceremony. Uploading photos not only distracts you from the wedding ceremony, but it also broadcasts details of the event to people who may not have been invited.

As a guest what can I do to help the couple with their planning?

Planning a wedding can become stressful and as an invited guest you can do the following few things to help smooth out the process….
– R.S.V.P.on time
– If you have any special dietary requirements let the bride and groom know earl
– Don’t add your own plus-one
– Don’t assume kids are welcome

Planning a Wedding

Who should know about my engagement first?

Before your broadcast the big news on the social networks, proper wedding etiquette says you should share your engagement with family and friends first. If you have children from a previous marriage, etiquette says you should tell them first, then your parents, family members, godparents and anyone you are particularly close with. After that, you can go ahead and make it public knowledge.

Do I need to bring a present to an engagement party?

Traditionally, the answer is no. However, today some guests bring a small token, like Champagne flutes, for the couple – but this is not standard everywhere. Consequently, do not expect your engagement gift to be opened at the engagement party.

How do I deal with an over-enthusiastic mother/mother-in-law-to-be?

Difficult family situations and interfering mothers can add pressure to the wedding planning process. Allocate both the mothers special tasks, like allowing them to help with the flowers, or research wedding car options. Let them feel involved and part of the wedding planning process and you should be able to restrain the meddling!

Who should host the rehearsal dinner?

Traditionally, the groom’s family hosts (and pays for) the rehearsal dinner and arranges a guest list in conjunction with the bride’s family. Nowadays, some families are splitting the cost or let the bride and groom host their own rehearsal dinner – the groom’s family should get ‘first dibs.’

Should I set a wedding dress code?

Traditionally, a formal engraved invitation meant that guests were expected to wear morning dress – without it being stated on the invite. Nowadays, wedding dress codes can be quite varied and it’s fine to specify what you want – just keep the wording simple and clear.

Who pays for the wedding?

Traditional wedding etiquette says the bride’s parents pay for most of the wedding. Today, however, many couples fund their wedding themselves or split the cost between both families. Since no one really likes to bring up this subject, it’s important that you speak to both parents and find out what, if there is anything that they would like to contribute early on in in your wedding planning.

Should we offer a choice of food, or stick with a set menu?

When having a sit-down meal at your wedding, it is simpler (and usually cheaper) to stick to a set menu with provision for vegetarians. If you want to offer more choices, it is probably a better option to have a buffet where guests can choose from a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options. Your guests know they are coming to a wedding and not a restaurant and as long as you choose a fairly simple menu, they should be happy.

Who sends the wedding invitations?

Traditionally, wedding invitations come from the bride’s parents, although at times the groom’s name is followed by “son of (his parents’ names)”. Nowadays, many couples just send their own invites. If you want to know when to send out the invites, see our wedding planning checklist here.

When should we register our wedding gift list?

Soon; especially if you’re planning to use one of the popular department stores. Some will let you register online early, but otherwise 12 weeks is about standard.

Can we ask for money instead of presents?

Times have changed and many couples already have a home before their wedding so bringing them china and linen may be pointless. Asking for money as instead of gifts is now quite commonplace and acceptable, but it must be handled carefully.
Some guests may still prefer to buy you a present. Be prepared to make a compromise and set up a small wedding list and suggest that vouchers for a variety of retailers would be just as useful. However, if you can make it known that cash would be welcome, most of wedding guests will be happy to oblige! Just give assurance that the money will be spent wisely.

Can I register for wedding gifts if it’s my second marriage?

Whether it’s your first wedding or your third, you can still register for gifts. There are plenty of people who may want to give you a gift, including those who have attended a prior wedding.
If you feel uncomfortable about receiving wedding gifts all over again, you can sign up for a honeymoon registry. It’s also perfectly fine to ask your wedding guests not to bring you gifts.

Ceremony & Reception

What time should the bride and groom get to the ceremony?

The groom and best man should arrive at the venue at least 30 minutes before the bride. It’s the bride’s privilege to be the last to arrive – just don’t overdo the lateness or your groom may be a bundle of nerves by the time you make it up the aisle!

Can I have someone besides my father walk me down the aisle?

Traditionally, the bride’s father has the honour of walking her down the aisle, but you can have anyone who is important – mom or stepdad, brother or sister. You can even walk alone or with more than one person. Just don’t let it be a last-minute decision. Maintain an open and honest dialogue with anyone affected by your choice.

Do we need a receiving line?

In an ideal world you’d speak to all the wedding guests individually, but this is time-consuming and you won’t be able to say much more than a hello to each person. A good compromise is to go round with your groom to every table and chat to the table collectively.

Complex families and the head table

The seating plan at a wedding can be a logistical nightmare. For the traditional wedding where the parents of the bride are married and are the hosts, and groom’s parents are together, then the head table doesn’t generally pose a problem. If parents are divorced and remarried, it can seem impossible to keep everyone happy.
One simple solution is to go for a non-traditional seating plan and ignore the whole idea of a ‘head’ table. Each of the parents/side of the family can be allocated their own table with their closest friends or relatives, leaving the bride and groom to sit with their wedding party and friends.

Can my pet dog be part of my wedding?

The presence of pets at a wedding ceremony does not affect its legality. You just need permission from the owner of the building where the wedding is taking place and you need to consult the registrar for a civil ceremony or the relevant celebrant for a religious ceremony.
If you want your pooch to be present, bring it to rehearsals. Let it sniff around the venue. If there’ll be loud organ music, get a tape recording to play at home, gradually increasing the volume so that your pet gets used to it.

When are the speeches and what order should they go?

Traditionally, the speeches are made as coffee is served and the bride’s father speaks first, followed by the groom and best man. However, you could have the speeches before the meal so that the speakers can relax and enjoy their food, or hold them later on when your evening guests are also present.
It’s not traditional, but it’s now common for brides to say a few words. Read more about wedding speeches here.

Can I skip the cake cutting?

There are certain traditions, like cutting the cake, that are okay to omit. Instead of cake, you may opt for something that provides more variety such as a candy bar or a selection of pies -it’s really up to you. If you do skip the cake, be aware that the cake cutting ceremony and the serving of dessert is typically the signal to guests that it is okay to leave without being rude.

Do we have to have wedding favours?

No, you don’t, especially if you’re on a tight wedding budget. However, you may be surprised at some of the inexpensive favours out there. You can have lots of little cupcakes instead of a wedding cake, and these could double up as favours.

How much should I tip my wedding vendors?

You do not have to tip wedding vendors with whom you have a contract. Depending on service and relationship, a small gift or a cash tip is at your discretion. You should, however, distribute tips to non-contracted staff like musicians and servers.
Meals for vendors are typically included in your contract, but you should plan to pay for their dinner regardless. Discuss meal options with your venue or caterer to find something that works with your budget.

How long do I wait before sending a Thank-You Note?

Best to send a thank-you note as soon as possible; but you have approximately three months to express your gratitude. If the three-month timeframe has elapsed, send any lingering thank-you notes as soon as possible. Sending an email or putting a generic thanks on social media, your wedding website, or anywhere else does not replace a handwritten note.
To save time, the bride and groom can both write thank-you notes and simply sign each one. In a serious time crunch, it’s acceptable to send an email that acts as a digital placeholder to say you received the gift and a thank-you a note will follow.

Your Honeymoon

Your honeymoon should be relaxing, fun, and romantic — essentially the best vacation of your life, no matter where you go or how long you’re gone for. Yet, it is sometimes a stressful time for couples with the many circumstances and situations to consider.

Right off the bat, it is important to ensure that both of you are happy with your trip of choice and here is some expert-approved etiquette tips for planning the best honeymoon for you.

I want to go to the beach, he wants to go on a game drive. What should we do?

The secret is compromise. Try to work in some of your favorite things, whichever destination you end up choosing. For example, agree that you’ll game drive in the mornings, then spend the afternoon together shopping, sightseeing, hot-tubbing, and getting to know your fireplace.

Or, do a combined honeymoon — a few days at game reserve and the next few at a beach resort.

My fiance wants to plan a surprise honeymoon for me, but I’m worried I won’t pack the right type of things. Any ideas?

You can pack several different bags and ask him to tell you which one to take when the time comes! If you’re more of a type-A personality, make sure the surprise doesn’t go sour; ask him to tell you what type of destination you’re heading for (tropical island, big city, mountain resort), what temperatures to pack for, and how formal or casual it is.

Or have him confide in your maid of honor, who can steer you in the right direction.

We’re honeymooning at my parents’ beach house to save money. How can we make the trip feel special?

If it’s not too far from home and circumstances allowing, travel by train — a romantic journey always feels fun and different.

Once you arrive, indulge in an elaborate beach picnic. Fill the place with a rainbow of flowers and eat out at special places a few times.

Rent a convertible or put a “do not disturb” sign on the door.