Wedding Season How To Be A Good Guest

wedding guest

This week I stopped by a local wedding venue in Kitchener that is known for it's delectable food, stunning Spanish style building and many, many photo ops, Hacienda Sarria. They kindly allowed me to take a few photos on their property and I thought this would make the perfect time to talk about the upcoming wedding season and how to be a good guest (there are more photos at the bottom!)

Wedding etiquette. It's as old as time itself and is really only understood by the person who reads it over and over while planning their wedding - the bride (or groom). Guests only know that they should show up, possibly bring a gift and eat, drink and be merry. And while all of that is true, there are a few things you can and should do during this wedding season to be a good guest. A wedding is something the marrying couple look forward to their entire lives. You want them to remember sharing their special day with you, and not remember you as the one dancing with the lampshade on their head!

Follow the tips below this wedding season and you'll be on your way to being the perfect guest!

How to interpret the invite

Pay special attention to who the invite is addressed to. Is it your name plus your spouse? Then you're both in! Are your children's names missing? That means leave them at home. The only time children are invited is if their names are on the invite, or you have been told directly by the bride or groom themselves.

If the invite has your name and 'plus guest' feel free to bring along a date but if the invite has only your name, this means you'll be headed to the wedding on your own. This is common for weddings on a tight budget, or for British weddings. It's rumoured that Pippa Middleton insisted on the "no ring, no bring" rule for her wedding (it's exactly as it sounds. Not married or engaged, you do not bring along a date).

Which leads me to...

Should you even go

This is one that you don't commonly hear etiquette experts talk about but I think it's important that when you get an invite, pause to consider if you should go. Yes it's lovely that the couple want you to share in their special day but you should consider a few things first. Are you close with the couple? I have been in the situation where I was invited to two weddings by people that I really didn't know very well. One I declined and the other I attended, and immediately regretted.

If you barely know the couple getting married, chances are you will not know any of the guests! For some this is no big deal but for myself I can be incredibly shy (you wouldn't know it by how loud I am! Ha!) and when everyone in attendance (or at least sitting at your table) is of a different age group...let's just say it was awkward and we slipped out as early as we could. Total up the cost of a gift, new outfits, transportation and hotel stays, and I spent a small fortune to attend the wedding of someone I barely knew and have never seen again.

And speaking of expenses, you really need to consider yours first. Sure, you don't have to buy all new clothes to attend a wedding but you do need to provide a gift. Today's gifts range from $100 to $1000 depending on your relationship to the couple and your own budget. Then there is the cost of shower presents, engagement parties, buck & doe parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, the list goes on! Attending the wedding of a friend or family member can cost you quite a bit! If this is out of reach for you, a polite decline might be the best option.

What to wear

Alright, you've read and understood the wedding invite and decided that yes you would love to attend this special celebration. Good for you! Now, what are you going to wear? The first thing to do is read the invite. Where will the wedding be held and at what time? If it's a beach wedding at sunset, maxi dresses with sandals for the ladies and khakis, oxford and a tie is perfect for the gents. And don't forget the sunglasses!

If this is a formal wedding with a church ceremony and reception at a hall, evening wear is where it's at. Pretty dresses and a suit and tie will help you fit in nicely. If the invite specifies "Black Tie" grab your formal wear, rent a tux and you're off to the ball!

To coordinate or not

I can't help myself, I love coordinating outfits! Nothing looks sharper than a gentleman's tie matching a colour in his date's dress but I will admit, this takes a lot of leg work. I once changed an entire theme of outfits because I couldn't find the right tie! It can be incredibly stressful and exhausting, not to mention expensive! Sometimes the easiest thing to do is just dress in a way that makes the individual comfortable and not worry about matching. You'll both be dressed up and that's good enough!

There are not many fashion rules that I believe in but don't ever, I mean ever, wear white to a wedding unless the wedding invite specifically states that it's a white party (which are increasing in popularity). If you are close enough to the couple that they share details of the wedding, including what the colours are, try to stay away from matching up with the bridesmaids. It's incredibly awkward if the bride has picked the loveliest colour of purple J.Crew dresses and then you show up as a guest wearing the same one! If this was an accident, no big deal. But the bride will know if she told you about the dresses and it's pretty crass to do such a thing on purpose. 

Wedding gifts

Wedding etiquette states that registry information should never be included in the wedding invite but that rule may be going the way of the do-do bird. Wedding registry stores provide couples with inserts for the invites (it's free advertising for the company, just saying) and with the rise of wedding websites, many couples are including their website right on the invite. The website will contain all the places they are registered or what they hope to receive as gifts. If you don't receive any of these cues, ask someone in the wedding party or close family of the marrying couple what they would like to receive. Some couples would prefer a monetary gift, others would like items for their home, or you can contribute to their honeymoon by making a payment to their travel agent (this is a very new and popular gift item!).

This is of course, all up to you as the guest. How much to spend on the couple is a very personal thing but a good rule of thumb is to start at $100 and work your way up. The Knot has a great article on the rules of gift giving and even suggests pooling resources with other friends attending to give one big ticket item! Such a great idea!

In the past guests had up to 1 year to send a gift but don't. There really is no need for that. You can send a gift early to the home of the marrying couple or their parents before the wedding or bring to the reception. My advice is if your giving a gift, send it two weeks before the wedding and if you're planning on a monetary gift, place it in a card and bring to the reception. Bringing a large boxed present to the reception is a logistical nightmare for the couple that has to find a way to get all those boxes home and every wedding I have been to has a spot to hold cash cards. Easy for you to carry and easy for the couple to deal with.

Open bar or cash bar. Do not complain!

Nothing will get you on the naughty guest list faster than complaining about the bar situation to the married couple. Hosting an open bar or a cash bar is a decision that the couple probably agonized over. I know I sure did! I chose a cash bar for my wedding and there were a great many reasons why that guests would know nothing about. I was married and had my reception on a luxury ship on the Toronto Harbour. Our entire wedding and reception lasted only 5 hours and we were docked and ended the evening at 10pm.

None of our family or friends were from Toronto which meant everyone attending had to find their own transportation. And the insurance company knew that. Oh yes, if you decide to provide alcohol you need your own insurance. I remember looking at the quote and thinking they placed the decimal in the wrong place! Also, because we booked with an all inclusive venue (they provided the food, music, etc.) we had to purchase our alcohol through them at a flat fee. The cost for us to host an open bar was over $10,000 and that was back in 2003! I'm sure it's much higher now. At the time my husband and I did not drink alcohol and because there were many children in attendance, including our own, I chose to not provide the alcohol for the evening. It was a personal and financial decision which I still stand by. You never know what goes on in the planning phase that leads to the couple making the decision to provide an open bar or cash bar. I've attended both and wasn't really all that concerned about it. A wedding is about so much more than if you can drink for free or not.

My point is, do not complain. Ever! Especially to the couple. That is the fastest way to ensure you are never invited to anything again. Not only will you deeply offend the couple (again, you don't know the reasons behind the decision) but anyone who hears you say this surely won't be inviting you to their wedding! It's in poor taste to complain about anything, so just remember to keep your comments to yourself and carry a few dollars in your pocket if you really want a drink. And just a little word to the wise, if you attend an open bar wedding, do not think you need to help the couple get their money's worth by drinking the place dry. You do not want to be remembered as the lush of the party.

How to back out last minute

This one comes from personal experience. I was all set to attend my dear friend's wedding and two days before, I was hit with a sinus infection and strep throat. Lots of fun. I was determined to attend this wedding so I rested until the day of, popped as many antibiotics and cold medicine as I could stomach, slapped on some blush to give me colour and away we went (to the reception, we skipped the church because I was feeling ill). We got to the reception, signed the guest book and found our seats. And I wanted to die I felt so sick. We slipped out quietly and I went back home to bed. The next morning I received a text asking where the heck was I all night! My friend knew that we were there, but never got a chance to see me in person. I had committed a faux pas. I should have texted her to say I had to leave early or at least told the maid of honour, whose job it is to assist the bride in any way.

If you do need to back out last minute due to illness or for any reason what so ever, let someone know. If you can't connect with the couple, try getting in touch with their parents, maid of honour or best man. Even if you back our last minute, you still need to provide a gift. Send it right away and include a note to say that you're sorry you had to miss out on the wedding.

wedding venue

wedding season

Banana Republic

wedding venue


shoes for a wedding


wedding guest


wedding guest dressing

Dress | Shoes | Clutch c/o

Many thanks to Hacienda Sarria for letting me take these photos on their gorgeous property!