Stephanie Parsley Photography

Wedding season is in full swing. So what better time to brush up on your wedding guest etiquette than now? 

We have a guest post about exactly that by wedding pro Mandy Shoptaw. Shoptaw is a wife and mother, a freelance wedding and event coordinator, a writer, a social media marketer, a hobby photographer, and a frequent volunteer for public schools and organizations with a focus on children and women. She is happiest in her kitchen preparing to welcome a group of her favorite friends for a cocktail hour or brunch. You can follow her on Instagram at @msshoptaw and online at or  

Without further ado, here are a few pieces of advice from Shoptaw to keep in mind during the next wedding you're attending.

1. RSVP.

Being invited should be considered an honor, so do the host the courtesy of sending your RSVP promptly and should circumstances change your reply, reach out to the host and let them know.

Let’s say you ran into the groom at the grocery and were verbally invited and did not know you should RSVP but arrive seeing it is a sit-down meal. First, apologize to the hosts (or at least the wedding coordinator) and tell them you would love to witness the ceremony as a favor to the groom and that you are happy to wait to be seated last so that all family can have a place first. Also, let them know you understand if you are not on the RSVP list and graciously leave if you do not have a place at the table. Your hostess will most likely still try to accommodate you but a little humility and grace goes a long way in the midst of a stressful day.

More reasons to RSVP:

  • Some venues charge a per-person rate to cover items such as catering, beverage, chairs, linens and dinnerware rentals. 
  • Showing up unexpected takes the hostess away from photography and mingling with guests to try to find a seat for you. 
  • The venue may ding the hosts with an additional charge for this last-minute change. So while mom and dad think they’ve written the final check, they get a new bill reflecting additional guests.

Moral of the story: RSVP by the deadline. Period.

Stephanie Parsley Photography

2. What About the Kids?

See above! If your invitation did not specifically invite the entire family there may be a reason. Before RSVPing for a party of six, visit with the host family to clarify. It may be that the venue is not suitable for small children and no childcare will be provided, it may be that for each child the host is paying the same rate as for an adult, or it may be that they just want to enjoy the company of adults on their wedding day. Respect their wishes.

Speaking of kids, they can be great fun and can really make a wedding special. I can recall many adorable flower girls and ring bearers who have delighted guests with their impromptu antics. If you do bring children to an event, someone must keep their eyes on them at all times regardless of the venue. It’s disrespectful for children to run up and down an aisle in a church and in certain venues not having someone watching the kids can be dangerous. I was coordinating at an outdoor venue once and after telling the parents several times to please keep up with their children, it wasn’t until one jumped into a fountain that the parents understood.

Moral of the story: We love kids but having kids at a wedding or event isn’t always appropriate.


3. Special Meal Requests

We (all wedding and event personnel) get it, some people have allergies and these allergies can be life threatening. And look, we truly want you to be safe so if you are a vegan, gluten-free, have a peanut allergy, etc., bring your own snacks because the kitchen can not 100 percent without-a-doubt guarantee that you won’t get sick or eat something you find morally objectionable. Every caterer will try to be accommodating with advance notice, but event meals are made in bulk and for the masses. Don’t trouble your bride and groom or their families with your personal food issues. You know what they are and have a better understanding of how to keep yourself safe and healthy.

If you feel you could eat the salad but have a question about the dressing just politely ask the wait staff if they can find out what ingredients are in items or ask if the chef has a moment to visit privately to confirm what you can or can’t eat. But please don’t make a fuss and certainly don’t trouble the bride.

More of the story: You know your body and it’s the bride’s day. Don’t add stress.


Erin McCall Photography

4. Follow the Timeline

The bride, planner, venue, florists, transportation services, musicians, caterers, bakery, bartenders and everyone involved in the planning stage of the event have put a lot of thought into creating special experiences for the guests.

At a certain venue where I frequently work there is a “gates open” policy where the event starts when the gates open. Vendors are scurrying around with last minute details up until about 30 minutes before the gates open time and in that last 30 minutes people are tidying up and getting into place to receive guests. It never fails that a good-hearted aunt or uncle, cousin, or friend arrives an hour early and calls from the gate asking for entry. Arriving too early might mean waiting at the gate for an hour.

Many brides or hostesses concerned about drinking and driving will provide a coach bus or shuttle service. This can be a fun experience in itself as it allows you to enjoy the entire event experience without worry of driving tipsy. But please arrive on time for the bus pick-up and at the designated location because once it goes it can’t come back and if you RSVP to ride please do because the host has paid for the use of that coach counting on you to fill a seat.

Venues have a cut off time and if vendors arrive for pick up after that time the clients get a bill for overages. So while you and your friends may still want to party, why not take it to one of the many awesome local bars?

Moral of the story: Arrive on time, leave on time.


5. Put Away Your Cell Phone and Cameras

See those nice folks over there with the professional photography and video equipment? They are hired to take photos. So don’t feel like you need to bring your cameras — even if you are a photographer. Sure, you’ll want to get your own party pics and post to social media, we all get that, but no one wants to look back at their wedding photos in 20 years to see a bunch of iPhones waving at the bride and groom during their kiss or your cousin’s wife lurking along the aisle snapping photos in front of the pros.

Moral of the story: Let the professionals handle the photos. Unplug and live in the moment.


Erin Wilson Photography

6. Don’t Drink Too Much

For the love of Pete, please follow this rule. It will keep you out of trouble across the board.

Drunk guests frequently lose items, which means someone from the venue has to search for the missing items, someone from the coach bus has to look extra carefully during the bus cleaning for that thing you left, and the bride and groom — if the item is found — feels responsible for getting it back to you.

Drunk guests can be rude guests, often behaving in ways they would not in normal life. You wouldn’t curse out a bartender after the last call, right? Or race a service cart through a crowd of dancing friends? How about get into an argument with the father-of-the-bride because it’s time to leave? Of course not, so don’t become Drunky McDrunkerson at your friend’s wedding. These aren’t the stories they want to hear about at their five-year anniversary.

I had a vendor recently recount a conversation she overheard at an event. A group of twenty-somethings were complaining about the bar offerings, “That’s all they’re serving?” Dude, it’s an open bar. Just say thanks.

Moral of the story: Don’t be like Drunky.


7. Express Your Appreciation

Before you leave a wedding, make an attempt to see the host family, bride and groom, or someone involved with the wedding to express your appreciation.

Moral of the story: A thank you never goes out of style.

8. Consider the Staff

And while we’re on the subject of appreciation, yes, the staff is getting paid to work the event, but they shouldn’t be treated poorly so please put trash in trash cans, flush toilets so they don’t overflow, return items to tables or catch trays, park where you are supposed to park, and if something happens — like red wine spills on a white tablecloth — politely ask the nearest server to assist. You may be at a wedding or event for 4-6 hours, but the staff has most likely signed up for an 8-12-hour shift. As a coordinator, I regularly put in nearly 30 hours on a wedding weekend. On any given Saturday I could walk 10-13 miles. If a coordinator or other staff member is hanging back it might be that she needs a 10 minute break to eat a powerbar and down some water to prepare for the next phase of the event and hearing an intoxicated bridesmaid say loudly to a group of guests, “All she does is sit!” isn’t helpful to anyone.

Moral of the story: Be kind.

Erin Wilson Photography

9. Vendors Work Hard

A natural segue from the staff are all the vendors who are working behind the scenes to make this day special. Florists arrive early to decorate and then return that evening to clean up. It’s always irritating to pick up your candlesticks or vases from an event only to have a guest burn a napkin in the flame or pour wax out on top of something you have to later clean. Plates, glasses, and flatware rentals have to be returned or the client is charged a replacement fee so don’t wander home with that champagne flute.

Perhaps most important to vendors is that guests leave on time. You see, the vendors are on a deadline and most have been going since 6 or 7 a.m. and are ready to call it a night. They probably have three pick ups between midnight and 3 a.m. and then have to drop their truck at the warehouse. When the event ends at 10, 11, or midnight, that’s the time to go, not 30 minutes to an hour later.

Moral of the story: It’s not just about you.

10. Gifting

The bride, groom, and their families have their hands full the day of the wedding. It is a great courtesy to send gifts in advance of the wedding and, should you get down to the last minute, send the gift after instead of walking in with a set of china. And yes, if you give a gift at a shower you don’t need to give a gift at the wedding.

Bringing a gift to a wedding isn’t some great etiquette sin but it does often create an extra step for the family to pack the gifts and transport them to the bride and groom’s home. It’s very easy for cards to get lost in the shuffle and that’s disappointing when someone’s check to the new couple doesn’t get cashed or acknowledged. I still have guilt over a beautiful piece of pottery that was given to me during my wedding but the card was somehow misplaced. We asked around but no one knew who gave us the lovely present. I still use that pottery to this day and hope that the mystery giver knows that I appreciate it.

Moral of the story: Send gifts beforehand.