“A guest never forgets the host who had treated him kindly.”
Now that it’s springtime, it’s officially Wedding Season. Soon you’ll start receiving wedding invitations, and perhaps even requests to stand with one of your friends as a groomsman or even as best man. If this is new territory for you, here are some tips to help you come through like a boss.
It’s all about manners
A speaker at a business etiquette course I attended once said that manners are simply making others feel at ease. If you find yourself deep in the wedding wilderness, let this be your north star.
Respond, please (That’s what RSVP means!)
When you receive an invitation in the mail, you will nearly always see “RSVP” or “The favor of a reply is requested” somewhere on the invitation. Even if you don’t, regard it as an ironclad rule that your hosts — most often the bride’s family, but nowadays it could be the happy couple themselves — need to know whether or not you’re planning to attend. The self-addressed stamped envelope included with the invitation is for your convenience and their planning. Caterers charge by the plate and that can add up. Check your calendar, arrange for time off, and always send a reply.
Check the registry (and purchase an appropriate gift)
It is tradition to give gifts to the bride and groom to help them set up housekeeping together. Bridal couples register at department stores — and even Target — to help gift-givers know what the new household needs and to avoid duplication. When choosing a gift, consider the relationship and what you can afford. Your third cousin twice removed is not expecting you to buy her and her husband a refrigerator.
Arrange for delivery of the gift to the bride’s residence before the ceremony. You will see people bringing wedding gift to the reception, but don’t be that guy. By tradition, you have a year from the wedding date to send a wedding gift to the newlyweds.
Don’t assume and don’t presume
Generally, if you’re a member of the wedding party — an usher, groomsman, the best man — or a member of the family of the bride or groom, you’re invited to the rehearsal dinner. Likewise, if you’re an out-of-town guest, you’re normally invited. If you’re unsure, ask discreetly.
If you’re participating in the ceremony, you’re normally responsible for your formal wear rental — often including the shoes — but not for your own corsage. At out-of-town weddings, you pay your travel expenses, but your hosts ordinarily provide your lodgings.
Going back to the invitation for a moment, unless the inner envelope says your name and guest, only you are invited. Likewise, if you have kiddos and their names do not appear on the inner envelope, arrange for a babysitter.
One last item on this topic: After your friends return from their honeymoon, do not show up uninvited and do not invite yourself to be an overnight guest in their home. Let them extend an invitation after they’ve had some time to adjust to married life.
Take note of the location and time of day for the wedding, and dress appropriately. Unless the invitation specifies black tie or the exceedingly rare white tie, a suit or sport coat and tie will be proper. Press your shirt, trim your nails, shave — or groom your facial hair — and wear your best shoes (women will notice, I promise). Smell good, but not too good. Mind the details.
Be early — guests can be seated as early as 30 minutes before the start of the service. Smile (but not like an idiot). It’s a happy occasion after all.
Friend of the Bride? Friend of the Groom?
Your friends may or may not follow this tradition, but if they do, friends and family of the bride are seated to the left; friends of the groom to the right (walking toward the front of the church). Note: In traditional Jewish weddings, the bride’s side is the right. If you’ve brought a date to the wedding, she will take the usher’s arm and you’ll follow as he leads you both to your seats.
Unless you’ve been asked in advance by the groom, don’t assume this is your responsibility. Some receptions are like poetry slams with round after round of toasts, but these are rare.
If you haven’t been asked, and you still want to offer a toast, clear it with the bride and groom before you bother the DJ, the emcee or the band. They aren’t necessarily going to hand you the mike just because you ask. Most receptions are carefully planned months in advance. Unfortunately, your inspiration may not fit the plan.
OK, so assume you do get to offer your wisdom to the couple and their guests. Please do the following:
- Be on message — Don’t ramble; have a beginning a middle and an end for your remarks planned in advance. Engage your brain before putting your mouth in gear.
- Be sober — I’ve seen this done the other way. It ain’t pretty.
- Be specific — Speak to the praiseworthy qualities that make the bride or the groom so wonderful for the other. You do know them, right?
- Be brief. (Ahem.)
- Be memorable, but only in terms of your eloquence, your charm and your decorum. If you have to look any of those words up, you probably shouldn’t be offering a toast.
- Pro tip: In being witty, don’t say anything that could be construed as suggestive, off-color or rude. It’s a toast, not a roast. There will almost certainly be children and grandparents in attendance. It is bad form to offend either group, let alone your hosts.
Dance the night away
Part of the purpose of a wedding reception is to bring the bride and groom’s single friends together. Weddings can be contagious. It is good manners to introduce yourself to the other guests as you circulate and engage in light conversation. If you’re single, you’ll endear yourself to the single young women present if you’re confident enough to ask them to dance. You can tell which women are single when they assemble for the bouquet toss. If you’re single, you show up for the garter toss, too.
Over the course of the evening, the best man — married or single — ordinarily dances with the bride, the maid or matron of honor, the bridesmaids, the mothers of the bride and groom, and single female guests. This is the time to be a gentleman. Brush up on some real dance steps and have fun on the dance floor.
Thank your hosts
It’s manners 101, but if you want to stand out in the best kind of way, make sure you find the parents of the bride before you leave and thank them for their hospitality. Even though it will be an emotional day for them, they will remember your courtesy.