wedding guest etiquette

Wedding Guest Etiquette: DO’s and DON’Ts

Chances are, you’ve seen a guest behave poorly at a wedding where that’s being totally wasted or just telling dirty jokes, or just being a jerk. It’s just that kind of time when all the relatives are down, everybody’s there and happy and there is that one bad guest that everyone remembers for the rest of their lifetime and you don’t want to be that terrible guest that everybody thinks of not so fondly and actually resents.

Wedding Guest Do’s & Don’ts

As a guest, you are there to support and celebrate the bride and groom and here are the thirteen do’s and don’ts that you should keep in mind at any wedding.

  • Do RSVP in a timely manner. The wedding couple and the entire team has spent a lot of time, money, and effort to plan this whole event and they want to know as soon as possible who they can expect at their event. If it turns out that you RSVP’d with yes and you have a major life event and can’t come, let them know as soon as possible so they can make arrangements and maybe invite someone else or get their money back. Nothing is more disappointing to a bride and groom to have guests be disrespectful by either not RSVPing or RSVPing and not showing up. If you pull that on them, they will not invite you to any other event again.
  • Don’t ask to add guests to an invitation. If the invitation says plus one, you can bring another person, not three others. If it says plus family, it means you can bring your family. If it says no children and you have children, you have to find a babysitter or someone who takes care of your kids and you can’t ask to bring your kids because they specifically don’t want that. It can be hard for them to say no but you should respect their wishes and if you can’t make it work, simply say no and regretfully decline but don’t show up with more people or ask for more. The reason is, every wedding couple has to make hard decisions about their guest list and you just make it even harder on them when you bring those requests.
You are invited to support the bride and groom

You are invited to support the bride and groom

  • Do respect the dress code. If the invitation has a dress code, follow it. Popular dress codes for weddings include cocktail attire, black tie or black tie optional. If the invitation does not state a dress code, you should definitely ask the wedding couple, of course, you know them, and you kind of have an idea of what they want and how they dress normally. But weddings are different and so you should always make an effort to reach out so you know in advance.
  • Do buy a gift from the registry or give them cash. Nobody’s interested in your self-knitted blankets, your old vases, or your hand me down glasses. Either, get the couple something from the registry because that’s what they specifically want and just because you like something, does not mean it fits their home and lifestyle. If you can’t run anything on the registry anymore that you actually want to give or you think is out of your budget, give cash. As a newly married couple, you need to make lots of decisions, choices, and purchases, and cash will always help.

So how much cash should you give? Well, that really depends on the culture. If you’re in Spain for example, you’re expected to pay for a very expensive dinner and then it’s not unusual to pay 200-300 euro as a gift per person. In Germany for example, where I’m from, it’s not uncommon that you give about 75-150 euros per person. In the US on the other hand, it’s not unheard of that guests pay about $20 per person for a wedding and in my opinion, that’s almost worse than not giving anything at all because it’s almost like an insult. In most places, you should try to at least pay $50-100, that way, it shows that it’s a meaningful event and if you can’t do that, maybe come up with a creative solution, a gift that you know they’ll enjoy, they invited you after all and if it’s not within your budget, don’t go into debt but make sure that you can do the best that’s possible for you.

You can opt to give cash as a wedding present

You can opt to give cash as a wedding present

  • Do go with the flow. Chances are the bride and groom made lots of plans and this is the time for you to relax, just sit back, enjoy and go with the flow. If you’re supposed to be at a cocktail hour at five, don’t go somewhere else and show up at six. Just make sure you respect their plans and show up on time.
  • Don’t be greedy at an open bar. In most cultures, if you’re invited to a wedding, that means you’re not expected to pay for anything and everything is included. In the US, however, it’s not uncommon to have a cash bar where guests are expected to pay for alcoholic beverages. Now sometimes, you’ll find an open bar and that’s because the wedding couple wants to be very generous and just wants you to have a good time. That does not mean you should abuse it and order the most expensive scotch you can get your hands on. Simply be respectful. Order a drink, someone has to pay for it.
  • Do drink in moderation. It’s great to have a drink and relax and be jolly but it’s not okay to have eight drinks and be totally drunk and pass out and maybe puke into the corner. That’s something you want to avoid and it really ruins that wedding day for the bride and groom who spent so much time and effort and money on this event. Nobody will ever forget that you were the drunk while at the wedding and they may tease you for it years later.
  • Don’t encourage over consumption of others. That means, don’t buy shots, not for the groom, or anybody else, and this is not a frat party, this is a wedding. So don’t overdo it.
  • Do leave the drama at home. This is not the time to rehash old stories or disputes. This is the time to enjoy and come together. If you have to, swallow your pride.
Dont abuse the wedding bar

Don’t abuse the wedding bar

  • Don’t embarrass the wedding couple by trying to be the center of attention. That means as a woman, do not wear a white dress, that’s reserved for the bride. Same as the men, don’t wear shiny dinner jackets, or big boutonnieres, or top hats as the guest because that’s not about you, it’s about them.
SRS wearing a top hat

SRS wearing a top hat

  • Don’t arrive late or leave the event early. If you have major other conflicts with your schedule and you can’t make it work, simply don’t attend. it’s just very disrespectful to show up late when they are in the middle of the ceremony or to just leave early because it just tells the wedding couple you don’t care enough to stay.
  • Do say goodbye to the bride and groom in person. It is their day and yes, they don’t have time to spend an hour and talking to all their guests. The least you can do is say goodbye personally with a handshake, with a hug, and thank them personally that they invited you. At our wedding, guests snuck out and I never invited them to anything again and for many others, it’s just a very disrespectful gesture and sometimes, I even heard people say “Oh, the meal is done. Now I can go!” and that just creates a really bad mood that you want to avoid as a guest. You want to be a good guest.
  • Do plan a safe ride home if you had a few drinks. Do not drive yourself. Get a lift or an Uber or even an old school cab or have someone drive who didn’t drink. That way, you get home safely and everybody is happy.


If you follow these thirteen simple guidelines, I’m sure you’ll be a wedding guest that is well remembered, respected, and thought of fondly.

Wedding Guest Etiquette: DO's and DON'Ts
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Wedding Guest Etiquette: DO's and DON'Ts
A quick primer on how a certified gentleman of style should behave at a wedding.
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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6 replies
  1. Tim Bell says:

    Thank you for the timely and well written article. Please don’t pluralize dos by using an apostrophe.

  2. James de Saxton says:

    I think that what you are suggesting is that for one to have spoken with the couple during the course of the reception is mandatory, but probably enough at a very large reception. Large weddings would be quite impossible if everyone chatted with the couple, then later did so again to say goodby.

    I have only once been to a reception where the bar was not hosted. It did seem terribly awkward to me; however, the couple weren’t particularly flush. Still, it seems peculiar to invite someone to an event and then have them pay for their refreshments. Might be better to have a more intimate event.

  3. Stephan G. Dennie says:

    Very useful article. I find it eases the tension of the parents and grandparents of the couple to give a genuine compliment about the couple or the ceremony and reception. I also try to base the cost of the gift to be at least equal to their cost per guest.

  4. PG Berry says:

    Some very good tips and pointers. Just one observation, “but it’s not okay to have eight drinks”. Have you been to a English wedding. Eight is a minimum!

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