8 Wedding Guest Faux Pas to Avoid, According to Experts

Consider this our guide for acing the event.

Wedding seating Chart with Handpainted Crest

Photo by Amy and Stuart Photography

There’s so much to discuss after attending a wedding: the bride’s dress, how the groom looked at her during the couple's first dance, the décor, the food, the cake, the entertainment, and all the special touches. But if, after the big day, you find yourself talking mostly about a particular guest, chances are it’s because he or she committed an awkward or embarrassing faux pas. And while most guests are well-intentioned, faux pas—even accidental ones stemming from being unaware of current etiquette and traditions—are shockingly common. 

“For every wedding I do, there is at least one,” says NYC-based Lara Mahler, founder and chief planner of The Privilege is Mine, regarding guests who don't follow etiquette. “I don't think that guests are intentionally trying to make things difficult. I just think that sometimes guests may not know how much time, money, and coordination weddings actually take, and how many people are involved in making the wedding run smoothly. I think that if they knew, maybe they would be more mindful.”

Meet the Expert

  • Lara Mahler, founder and chief planner of The Privilege is Mine, an NYC-based wedding planning collective.
  • Gigi McDowell is the founder of Fêtefully, an on-demand virtual wedding planning platform.

Don’t want to become the wedding guest everyone is whispering about during or after the big day? These are the most common faux pas you’ll want to avoid.

01 of 08

Making Assumptions

Social media has created even more opportunities to make a wedding guest faux pas than ever before. As soon as someone who is newly engaged posts the “I said yes!” photos on Instagram and Facebook, well-wishers often flood the post with such sentiments as, “I can't wait for the wedding,” and “Send me my invite!” They'll likely also get direct messages from family members they haven't spoken to in 10 years saying, “Congratulations, here's my address!”

According to Gigi McDowell, who founded Fêtefully, an on-demand virtual wedding planning platform, those are the first things that get under a bride’s skin: “Who said we were going to have a wedding? We just got engaged! You’re making a lot of assumptions here, assuming that you will be invited to the wedding. Please don’t do that to the bride. Let her bask in the moment and wait to see what the couple's plans will be.”

02 of 08

Showing Up with an Uninvited Guest

A minimalist white wedding invitation with cursive black script next to white flowers.

Photo by Eve Yarbrough

Arriving at a wedding with a guest who is not invited is an enormous faux pas. There is always a reason why hosts choose to not invite plus ones. “It could be for financial reasons or it could be simply because they are wanting to have an intimate wedding with close friends and family,” explains Mahler. “Whatever the reason is, by bringing a guest who was not invited you are adding an additional expense for the host. Floor plans and seating charts that were carefully created will have to be reworked and it is also just not respecting what the couple wanted for their wedding day.”

03 of 08

Wearing Anything White

Unless you’ve been specifically instructed to follow a dress code with a light color palette, wearing anything that resembles a white dress—including off-white and golden-white—is strictly forbidden because it takes away from the bride’s spotlight on her special day. “I’ve seen the mother of the groom arrive at the wedding wearing a white dress or pantsuit,” says Mahler. “Just don’t do it.”

04 of 08

Requesting a Different Menu

A green salad sits on a wooden table with cutlery and bread at a wedding.

Photo by Karen Hill Photography

Another unacceptable wedding guest faux pas is requesting a different menu from the options indicated on the invite. “If you receive an invitation with three options—for instance, fish, beef, and a vegetarian option—don’t write on the back of the invite that you ‘don’t like any of these options and need to have something different,’” says McDowell. “The most expensive part of that couple's special day is the food budget. If you are allergic to a dish, an ingredient, or just don’t like what is being served, then eat before the wedding and share your meal with another guest.”

05 of 08

Changing the Assigned Seating

A seating chart made from square papers with names stuck to a gold frame mirror surrounded by flowers.

Photo by Amy Anaiz Photography

Don’t care for your assigned seat? You’re going to need to just tough it out for a few hours, not take it upon yourself to start rearranging things. “The couple takes time and care to seat people at certain seats and tables with certain people, and when you just disregard your seat and sit somewhere else that is not only messing with your seat but with other guests,” Mahler clarifies. “This has happened many times where inevitably a guest is left without a seat and we have to find a place for them at a random table, with people they don't know, all because one person decided to change things up.”

06 of 08

Arriving Empty-Handed

Wedding Gifts on Table
Art Montes De Oca/Getty Images

Honestly, there is no excuse for showing up to a wedding without a gift — it certainly doesn’t need to be the most extravagant item on their registry, so don’t feel ashamed for choosing something thoughtful that fits your budget. “I like to think of weddings as an extension of the home,” says Mahler. “Imagine you are being invited to the couple's house for a dinner party—would you arrive at the dinner party empty-handed? Bringing a gift to a wedding is just being a good guest to the host of the party, which is the couple and the couple's family.” (Note that if the couple has indicated that gifts be sent to their home, then of course there is no need to bring a second gift to the physical wedding.)

07 of 08

Disrespecting Cultural Traditions

When it comes to cultural influences, McDowell says wedding guests should follow the couple's lead and example. “It's a very, very fine line to walk since there are many cultures that don’t have the standard American wedding traditions that most guests are used to,” she cautions. “Most often the guests don’t mean any harm or disruption, it's just that they have never participated in a certain type of ceremony or celebration. Be respectful and be there to support the couple's big day.”  

08 of 08

Ignoring Instructions

If the bride and groom make simple requests—such as a black tie dress code or the time all guests should arrive—honor them. “It's one night and it's what the couple is asking,” says Mahler. “Weddings are very personal and different things are important to each couple. Why not just collectively decide to follow what the couple is asking of their guests for one night?”

When in doubt, know that it’s okay to ask the bride and groom questions ahead of their big day (but not on the day of the wedding, when they are busy and it’s too late to make any changes). For instance, if the invitation doesn’t specify if children are invited, feel free to get clarification on that when you receive the invitation, rather than making an assumption. That way, the couple has a chance to clarify their wishes and you don’t run the risk of making a wedding guest faux pas everyone will be talking about for years to come.

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