Basic wedding etiquette guidelines

Regional—There are dozens of books on the market about wedding etiquette. Each has its own version of what is acceptable and what is not. Depending on how closely you choose to follow etiquette, here are some basics.

Bachelor and bachelorette party rules no longer require the sexes to have separate events. There is no reason, as long as both sides agree, why one party for the whole wedding party cannot be arranged. In this case, all those attending would pitch in an equal amount to cover costs.

Send wedding invitations to both sets of parents as a keepsake, as well as to the officiate. Send one to all members of the wedding party. If you don’t want children at the wedding, either print “Adult Reception” on the card or use word-of-mouth to spread the word. All invites should include a “Reply by” date. Call guests who have not replied one week after that date. You can estimate that about 85 percent of the guests you invite will attend. Make sure your RSVP cards include postage.

Everyone who is involved in the ceremony needs to be at the wedding rehearsal, including musicians, parents of the bride and groom, and all attendants, whether groomsmen or bridesmaids. A rehearsal dinner usually follows the ceremony practice but does not include spouses or significant others of those in the wedding party unless specifically invited by the hosts, which in most cases are the groom’s parents. Practicing the music at the rehearsal is essential. We take many of our cues from the music at the ceremony and one little mistake can throw everyone off balance.

For the ceremony seating, the parents of the bride and groom should sit in the front rows respectively. In the case of divorced parents who don’t get along, the mother sits in the front row and the father sits in the second row. If everyone is friendly, they may sit in the front row together. Don’t arrive late to the wedding or you can consider it missed. Once the mother of the bride is seated, a signal that the ceremony has begun, formal and informal seating is complete. No guest should ever enter the ceremony once it has started under any circumstances.

At a wedding of more than 75 guests, you may want to limit the receiving line to bride and groom, mother of the bride and groom, and maid of honor/best man. For smaller numbers of guests, the whole wedding party and fathers may be in attendance. Technically a receiving line should take place at the reception upon entrance of the first guests but since many couples schedule post-wedding photographs to be taken immediately following the ceremony, it is acceptable to hold the receiving line outside the church.

At the reception, plan on feeding the band or DJ when making catering arrangements. Don’t do the money dance—it’s tacky. Head-table seating is up for grabs these days, so any combination of the wedding party, parents, grandparents and significant others is fine. Assign seating if having more than 30 guests at the reception. You don’t have to name each person to a seat; just put the names on tables. For example, seat the Miller family and the O’Brian family together at one table. The parents of the wedding couple should sit at a reserved table if they are not already seated at the head table. Don’t bring gifts to the reception. Gifts should always be sent to the bride’s residence prior to the wedding.

At the reception, the bride and groom should have the first dance prior to a sit-down dinner. The bride should dance with the groom’s father and the groom with the bride’s mother. Etiquette also calls for the bridesmaids and groomsmen to dance together regardless of marital status. The garter toss, while a long-standing traditional event, has recently fallen out of favor. The bouquet toss, another long-standing event, can be omitted if desired, but is acceptable if kept low-key.

If the wedding is called off, you should return the gifts unused. Make sure you keep a list of who sent what. Engraved gifts may be kept. Cancel travel plans immediately and inform guests who planned to travel to your wedding first.

Keep in mind that these are just some basic wedding etiquette guidelines. Ultimately, it is your day and you need to bring to it your unique outlook so it will be much more memorable to you.
by Doris A. Black, MultiAd Builder