Having a wedding is one of the first times you and your partner will play “host” together, meaning your guests’ comfort and enjoyment is a top priority. From deciding who to invite and telling them what to wear to making sure they feel at home, navigating the world of wedding guest etiquette can be a little tricky, which is why we’ve rounded up some of the biggest questions you might be asking—as well as expert-approved answers.
We can’t afford to invite all of our guests with a plus-one. How should we handle it?
In this situation, it’s important to be both specific and strict. Decide where you’ll draw the line—for example, only married or engaged couples can bring a date—and stick to it, no matter what. Then, when you send out invitations, make sure the addressing is clear. For anyone invited with a guest, be sure to put the guest’s name on the invitation, too (i.e. “Ms. Emily Garber and Mr. Samuel Dunn,” not “Ms. Emily Garber and Guest”). For a guest invited alone, put only their name on the envelope. When you’re talking to friends about the wedding, be forthcoming. Let them know that you either can’t afford to host a larger group or simply don’t have space at the venue, and leave it at that—no negotiating allowed.
We’ve decided not to invite kids to the wedding, but my significant other’s mom really wants us to invite her grandkids. Can we bend the rule or is that playing favorites?
Making exceptions can be a recipe for disaster, so it’s better to stick to your guns. Have an adults-only celebration rather than deal with the whisperings about why your brother-in-law could bring his kids but your own sister couldn’t. The only exception? If you’re having an adults-only reception but really want to have a flower girl and ring bearer at the ceremony. In this instance, you can send your favorite kiddos down the aisle (and even take photos with them during cocktail hour), but should have a babysitter available to watch them for the rest of the evening. That means no little ones on the dance floor!
I work in a small office, and my wedding has been a major topic of conversation. Do I have to invite everyone?
Another wedding guest list etiquette doozy. Keeping the guest count under control is a challenge, and not chatting about your wedding when there are just a few of you in the office? Well, it’s hard to stay mum about something so exciting! But after all that wedding talk, it would be rude to only invite your boss and leave the rest of your coworkers out of the fun. For a truly small group (think four or five people), you should go ahead and invite the whole gang. If you’re in a larger office, and just have a few close work friends, it won’t be too much of a surprise if just your boss and one or two others make the cut.
We were invited to a friend’s wedding. Do we have to invite them to ours?
There’s no hard-and-fast reciprocation rule, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t ruffle feathers by not returning the favor. If the couple was married in the past few years, and you have both the space and the budget to invite them, consider doing so (unless, for example, they are two of your 12 cousins and the other ten won’t make the cut). If it has been five years or more, or you’ve fallen out of touch, don’t worry too much about it. Instead, make the plans that best fit your budget and your venue, and prioritize the people you really want to have there.
I know a few of our friends are single. Do we have to invite them with a plus one?
Plus ones might be the most common topic when it comes to wedding guest list etiquette. The good news is, if your friend is single, you’re not expected to add “and guest” to their invitation. But before you send an invite with only one name on the envelope, check in with your friend. If you’re not sure about her status, just ask! You never know when the person you thought she’d only dated once or twice might have just moved into her apartment. On the other hand, if she’s casually dating and it’s nothing serious, you can definitely invite her on her own without hurting anyone’s feelings.
We set our budget based on our initial guest list, but now my mother-in-law wants to invite 30 more people. What should we do?
This is a tough one, especially if your MIL has helped cover the costs. It’s best to chat directly with her and your significant other about the toll that number of people takes on the budget and flow of the event, whether or not she is financially involved. See if she is willing to edit the list down or, if the venue has space for them, if she will consider throwing in some cash to help accommodate their presence. If you really cannot host them, offer to celebrate with your MIL and those guests after the wedding day.
Am I obligated to invite a bridesmaid’s date to the rehearsal dinner if I don’t know the person?
Rehearsal dinners tend to be reserved for close family as well as the wedding party. If you don’t know your bridesmaid’s date personally, you technically don’t have to invite them. That said, it is kind to offer the date a spot, especially if you have the space.
We’re having a destination wedding, and we’re worried some guests may not attend due to the cost. How can we help them save?
Recognizing the added cost of a destination wedding is empathetic of you as a host. Be sure to give guests information on travel and accommodations as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly and look for booking deals. If your room block is in a pricey hotel, consider having a second block in a less expensive hotel nearby. Offer to help single guests find roommates to bunk up or carpools to the destination. If you can, cover guests’ transportation between wedding event venues and maybe even the airport. And, of course, be understanding if someone cannot attend due to the budget.
I want our wedding to be formal, but I am afraid guests won’t come if the dress code is “black tie.” What can we do?
If a dressy affair is what you’ve dreamed of, don’t let guests’ attire stop you! Most guests will be happy to dress the part in order to be there for your big moment. Of course, renting a tux and finding a gown can be pricey. To give your guests a little more flexibility, consider a “black tie optional” dress code. It lets your guests know that dark suits or cocktail dresses are totally appropriate while still guaranteeing you’ll have a batch of gents in bowties and satin lapels.
We don’t want gifts, but we know some guests will insist on buying us something. How should we communicate we don’t want monogrammed towels and toaster ovens?
Since registries and gifts for the happy couple are such a tradition, it’s challenging to help your guests, especially the older ones, understand your position. We know many couples live together before marriage these days, and they often don’t require new household items like appliances and linens. Simply explain to your guests that their presence is gift enough. You can post this on your wedding website or communicate it through email or phone while discussing plans with your friends and family. Alternatively, consider setting up a charity registry for guests who do want to show their love through presents—they can donate in your name. Lastly, if a guest does gift you something, graciously accept and send a thank you note, even if you don’t keep it.
We have some friends who aren’t in our wedding party, but we want to find a way to honor them at the celebration. What can we do?
There are plenty of ways to include more close friends and family. Have them serve as greeters at the ceremony, pass out programs, or even save a special time for them to give a toast. You may want some to share readings during the ceremony. If a guest has a particular skill, such as public speaking, consider having that person emcee part or all of the reception. And, of course, any friends and family can hang out while you get ready. Just stock some extra Champagne and whisky.
We are having a small wedding. Can we invite everyone to the rehearsal dinner?
Of course! There’s no rule that says only certain guests should be included in the rehearsal dinner. It is common courtesy to invite your immediate family, wedding party, and the officiant to the event, but if budget and space allow, feel free to include the entire guest list. In fact, many couples are now fusing the rehearsal dinner with a welcome party, allowing guests to mix and mingle prior to the big day. Just note that if you plan it as an official wedding event, you should cover all the costs, including the bar.
We don’t want guests to take pictures during the ceremony. How do we stop them from doing it without confiscating their phones?
At every wedding, there’s always one aunt that wants a video of the first kiss for her Facebook, right? Be transparent with your guests that you’re leaving the photography to the pros. Set up a sign explaining that you’re having an “unplugged” ceremony at the entrance to the venue, and ask your officiant to announce your request to the crowd before the marriage begins. While you cannot completely control people and their cell phone cameras, hopefully your friends and family will honor your wishes.
We’re vegetarians and have planned a fantastic meatless feast. Are we being rude by not serving meat to our guests?
This is a tricky one. If you’re staunch vegetarians and have designed a menu where no one will miss the meat, go ahead. After all, your wedding should reflect who you are as a couple! On the other hand, the sign of a good host is keeping your guests in mind while planning. If your family and friends are real “meat and potatoes” types, you may want to compromise by offering a single meat entrée alongside the vegetarian options you’ve selected.
We don’t drink alcohol, but we know our guests do. How should we handle the bar?
It’s sweet of you to consider the enjoyment of your guests, even if you don’t partake in alcohol consumption. Think about what, if any, alcoholic beverages—wine, beer, mixed drinks, hard liquor—you feel comfortable serving. If cocktails make you nervous but you still want adult beverages, opt for lower ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks like wine, beer, cider, and liqueurs like amaros. If you still want to participate in a “Champagne toast,” serve a non-alcoholic cider in flutes for a formal toast sans booze. You guests already love you and know you don’t imbibe, so they won’t hold it against you if there isn’t a full bar. Plus, they may even thank you for the hangover-less brunch the next day.
My guests have all sorts of dietary restrictions, like gluten-free, vegan, paleo, and pescatarian. How do I accommodate everyone?
The short answer? You probably cannot. Don’t stress and bend over backward for each and every diet—your guests understand they are picky, and likely face the same challenges at any restaurant. However, it is possible to give your guests more detailed information about what’s in the food. Alert your catering team to the fact there are some special diets. They can direct you to items that are friendly to certain restrictions during the menu planning process. If you have a buffet, include details like “gluten-free” or “vegetarian” on the menu cards by each dish. For seated dinners, offer a vegetarian option as well as a meat or fish dish. Vegetarian dishes are often easily converted to vegan dishes by removing cheese or honey, which most catering teams can accommodate with a small request from the guest.
We had a falling out with a friendly couple during our engagement. Can we dis-invite them?
Technically yes, but you should take into consideration a few things. First off, rescinding an invitation is poor form, so unless you can’t stand to be within 50 feet of them, keep their RSVP. Just don’t spend time with them on the wedding day. If you really can’t fathom seeing their faces at the reception, meet in person or call—don’t text or email—the guests and explain that you feel it’s best they don’t attend. Understand, though, that taking this position generally puts an end to the friendship, and be prepared for the ramifications of your actions.
Is it ok to send email thank you notes?
Like formal wedding invitations, this is one of the opportunities in life to send a handwritten thank you letter. Your guests spent time, money, and effort to celebrate with you. Show your appreciation by writing a personalized thank you to each guest, noting how much you loved having them at the festivities and acknowledge any gifts. We know this takes time, especially after all the wedding planning! Start by dividing your guest list into sections, and set a goal to accomplish a section each week. Before you know it, you’ll be done!