Wedding Etiquette
How to avoid mistakes and make the wedding memorable for all the right reasons
By Terri Akman

Which of these scenarios actually happened at a recent wedding:

A. The vodka-drinking couple were dismayed to find only beer and wine at their friend’s wedding, so they took matters into their own hands. After a quick trip to the local liquor store, they kept a bottle of vodka and a quart of orange juice close at hand throughout the night.

B. The bride’s sister planned to come to the wedding solo, knowing that her family hated her boyfriend. At the last minute she decided this was as good a time as any to make her family understand that they might as well get used to him, so she brought him along unannounced.

C. The only hotel offered to destination wedding guests cost $450 per night with a two-night minimum but the bride and groom stayed outside of town in a cheap motel to save money.

D. All of the above.

Correct answer: D


Whether throwing the wedding or coming as a guest, confusion surrounding appropriate etiquette can ruin a wedding, destroy friendships and, at the very least, cause gossip for weeks. We asked wedding experts for etiquette do’s and don’ts for both the wedding couple and guests.



Bringing your own liquor is not the way to handle disappointment at the drink options. “As a planner, I’ve had people come up to me and share their disgust, but they have to be more flexible,” says wedding planner Kim Blackman, owner of KSB Events. “I’ve seen a lot more beer and wine only because of the cost, especially with a group of heavy drinkers. Often couples will have beer, wine and one signature drink. For non-drinkers sometimes they will have an alternative beverage bar with seltzers or teas or something more exciting than Diet Coke.”



Specialized diets, food allergies, religious and ethical issues affect many people, and most venues are well equipped to handle any individual needs. “Most everyone solves the problem one of two ways, either putting it on the response card or asking your guests to make you aware of it,” says Blackman. “The traditional response card that says ‘choose your entrée’ often includes vegetarian choices and also asks if there are any other dietary issues. If there is a buffet, most guests will make it clear that they have some sort of restrictions, even if they aren’t asked. It is very common for caterers to make special meals.”


Decision Making

“The most offensive etiquette breach I have witnessed, unfortunately repeatedly, has been by parents of either the bride or groom,” says Jessica Connor, director of catering and sales at The Madison in Riverside. “There is a very fine line between offering advice and inflicting it. Oftentimes, it is a monetary issue where one side is able to offer more financial assistance.

Conversations that are honest and forthright should be had so that both sides of the families feel represented, heard, honored and a part of what is and should remain a very happy occasion.

“Some families feel that offering to pay for some or all of the wedding warrants their right to make certain decisions, such as a deejay over a band, colors, flowers, dresses or budget. If this is agreed to from the start, with everyone being clear about all aspects of this arrangement, the planning will go infinitely smoother and much more stress-free. In these matters, listening is just as important as being heard. Weddings are very emotional times, and I would encourage families to stay focused on what is truly important – be supportive and stay happy.”



Make a realistic guest list to match your budget. “You might want to invite 200 guests, but if you don’t have the budget, consider something more intimate,” says Julie Yeager, director of sales for The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor. “A great way to control the number of guests is to send your invitations in waves, have an ‘A’ and ‘B’ list. It sounds terrible, but if you are trying to manage your numbers, send your must-attend invitees 90 days out and based on how many people can’t come, you then send out to your next list of people you would like to have. It is more difficult to manage, but the end result will be much better in terms of the space that you have and your budget.”


Uninvited Guests

At a wedding Blackman planned, the sister of the bride caused a commotion when she brought an unwelcome guest. “The sister of the bride had been dating a guy that everyone hated, because he was just not a great person, and a humongous fight ensued in the church,” recalls Blackman.

“There’s always the question of whether you invite someone with a ‘plus one’ and let them bring whoever they want, or if you only invite someone not married with a significant other. There are people who, for many reasons, don’t want children there or a guest bringing some random person they met at a bar last night, so they are very specific about the guest list. Not to mention that they are spending $150 dollars a plate.

“I’ve had people make that conscious decision and then the guest RSVPs just for themself, but then shows up with their kids or a date. In most cases there really isn’t anything the bride and groom can do, because the people are already there. With a sit-down dinner the table layouts can be complex. Having people just show up can mean redoing all the tables.”


Inviting Guests to the Ceremony Only

“Especially if the bride and groom are paying for the wedding themselves or if they come from large families and are only having the reception for family members and very close friends, they may invite some people, such as work friends, just to the ceremony,” says Blackman. “A lot of my clients who have been teachers will invite their students to come to the ceremony. You don’t need to necessarily give a gift if you are only invited to the ceremony.”


Tasteful tips for your wedding cake

To have the perfect wedding cake, begin planning long before the special day, says Classic Cake Executive Pastry Chef Robert Bennett. Here is some sweet advice to keep in mind:

“First and foremost, remember that other than the bride, nothing should outshine the cake,” Bennett says. Whether a five-tier traditional design draped in white fondant and pearls or a ravishingly colorful mad-hatter style masterpiece, the wedding cake should be front and center. As grooms’ cakes regain popularity, they should be designed to celebrate the man of the hour without taking away from the centerpiece.

A second tip is that size matters. “Couples want to be certain they order a large enough cake,” says Bennett, “so the first question I ask is if the cake will be the only dessert or one that complements a larger pastry menu.” This – combined with a proper headcount – will guide the pastry chef to design the right size so no one’s sweet tooth is left unsatisfied. In the same manner, it is important to know if the cake will be plated or if the dessert will be part of a buffet. “Guests will most likely be dressed for the occasion. It’s nice to avoid desserts that are hard to eat,” says Bennett. “A good rule of thumb is to serve moderate-sized slices or mini-desserts requiring one or two bites.”

Bennett goes on to say that he and other pastry chefs take great care in making sure there is a clear place to perform the ceremonial cake cutting – a tradition that often lives on in photos long after the day itself. With the knife jointly held in their right hands, the bride and groom need to be comfortable sharing this celebratory moment, so the correct height and placement is important. Many couples preserve the top tier, saving it for dessert on their first anniversary.

As wedding cakes get taller and taller, Bennett warns that it should be positioned far from the vibrating dance floor.  “It will likely collapse after hours of jubilation.”  The bride and groom may choose to be mindful of dietary preferences and respectful in terms of the cake theme if young children are invited. But Bennett holds true to his long-standing advice. “Couples need to remember this is their day and the cake should be created to reflect what they like…not the guests, not the bridal party and not the mom.”

January 2013
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