Wedding Reception Etiquette That Every Guest Should Know

Unless you're asked by the couple, no, you cannot give a toast

Updated 08/16/19

TEC PETAJA

While every wedding is a little bit different, there are a few tried and true pieces of etiquette for guests that apply across the board, like arriving 15 minutes before the ceremony start time listed on the invitation or only RSVP-ing for the number specified on the invitation’s envelope. We asked our experts to share a few things you need to know before you get to the reception that will help you be the very best wedding guest.

When should we start dancing?

Though the timeline will vary from wedding to wedding, dancing usually begins after the traditional first dance, father-daughter dance, and mother-son dance. If you’re not sure when to hit the dance floor, keep an eye on the bridesmaids and groomsmen. They’ve been briefed about the evening’s schedule, so they’ll know when it’s their cue to get guests to join the newlyweds. Some weddings will begin with a dance set before dinner service starts, while others will have a full meal before anyone hits the dance floor. Follow the crowd, and of course listen for the DJ or band leader to invite you!

When should we sit for dinner?

Toward the end of cocktail hour, servers (and sometimes the wedding planner) will begin to approach guests and encourage them to make their way to the reception. Do your best to head that way when you’re asked, as delays in seating can also cause delays in the kitchen—meaning cold food! If you’re mid-conversation, wrap it up on the way to your seats, or seek out your companion later to finish what you were discussing. Not sure where to sit? Look for an escort-card display on your way to the reception space, which will tell you your table number. Once you’ve arrived, take a look at the table and see if there are place cards with guests’ names at each seat. If so, sit wherever you find your name. Otherwise, grab whichever seat looks good at your table! If there's no assigned seating—go forth and pick at will.

Can I make a toast?

Unless you were invited by the couple to say something during the reception, or they specifically open the mic up to anyone who wishes to speak, do not approach the microphone. You may have something really genuine and sweet to say, but if it’s not part of the evening’s scheduled events, it may not be appreciated, no matter how heartfelt your words are. Instead, go up to the bride or groom and share a quick private moment.

Can I post pictures on social media?

Before you start posting, check to see if you’ve gotten any signals from the bride or groom. It’s quite common to see a note on the ceremony program asking guests to put their phones away during this big moment, but that usually does not extend to the reception unless the couple specifically says so. If you do want to share a few snaps, see if the couple has a hashtag you should use. This will make sure they can easily see the pictures you shared once the wedding night is over!

How long should we stay?

In the past, the newlyweds didn’t always stay until the end of the reception, meaning guests stayed as long as the bride and groom did, then left whenever they pleased after the guests of honor had departed. Today, with late-night celebrations and after-parties on the schedule, it’s not uncommon to see the happy couple out until the wee hours with their guests. Ready to head home, even if the band is still rocking? Wait until after the cake has been cut, which is a signal that the formalities of the evening are over. Don’t forget to have a bite or two, which is supposed to be good luck for the couple’s marriage!

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