When you’re staring down a list of wedding planning tasks that is seemingly endless, it’s very easy to write etiquette off as an old-fashioned notion designed to make weddings less fun. I mean, “Why do we need a seating chart?” is a real question I’ve been asked by so many people. But now that I’m a decade (plus) into wedding industry work, and have been to my fair share of weddings as a guest, I understand that wedding etiquette is designed to prevent the guest experience from devolving into a Lord of the Flies situation. And your wedding website can be the first line of defense against the kinds of miscommunications and misunderstandings that would cause that. So we decided to partner with Squarespace to share our best wedding planning etiquette tips. Because to put it simply: you’ve got ninety-nine problems and like ninety-eight of them could have been solved by clearly communicating information on your wedding website.
But there’s wedding etiquette, and then there’s… WTF were they thinking? You know… the weddings where you thought you were signing up for a garden wedding, only to find yourself hiking through the woods in four-inch heels to your college roommate’s remote venue location that is (surprise!) actually a three-night camping excursion with no exit strategy and no ride home.
So we asked you to share some of the weirdest things you’ve witnessed said, and done around weddings. And hoo boy, did you deliver. So buckle up folks. Here are five wedding guest nightmares you should never repeat:
1. DON’T SURPRISE YOUR GUESTS WITH WORK.
Communal weddings can be a beautiful thing. Potluck receptions. Open mic ceremonies. But what you don’t ever want to do is turn your wedding into a surprise workday. As one commenter told us:
I think I’ve talked about this on APW in years past, but my weirdest request by far was the time it turned out that my husband being the best man actually meant “please be the primary food servers for ninety guests.” We worked the buffet for over an hour and a half. I guess we would have been happy (maybe?) to do it if someone had asked us in advance, but right after the ceremony we were directed behind the mac and cheese and meat, handed a giant serving spoon, and told to start scooping. We are still friends with the couple, though my husband has always liked them more than me. I generally try to block it out and give them some kind of “they were desperate” benefit of the doubt.
So, yes. Don’t do that. While it’s perfectly fine to ask your wedding party to participate in some of the heavier liftings of wedding setup and breakdown, you’ll want to make sure they know about it well in advance of your wedding. You can do this by text or email or word of mouth. But if it were me, I’d be hacking Squarespace’s email marketing tools to make my life easier. While it’s normally used for businesses to send out promotions, you can easily take advantage of an email program to schedule out wedding correspondence and create separate mailing lists for different events (i.e., you can email just the people who are coming to the rehearsal dinner and those who are not, etc.). And they look a lot nicer than your standard Gmail. More importantly, however, you can avoid the thing where your best friend is doing a live performance of Chef with no warning.
Laura Ford Photos
2. Your guests are not barbie dolls. do not treat them like they are.
At some point in modern wedding culture, we decided that anyone planning a wedding carries the same social cachet as Diddy planning a white party. This is to say that you get to tell them what to wear and otherwise treat them like props. (Spoiler alert: You shouldn’t. They are not.) One APW reader told us that in the preceding years, she and her roommate have been invited to events with the following (clearly not optional) dress codes:
- Mountain Bohemian
- WASP Garden Party
- Beach Boho (no shoes please!)
- Derby Attire
I mean, I’m all for no shoes, but MANDATED no shoes is something else entirely. So first things first, unless you are Diddy, don’t give your guests overly specific dress codes. They are adults; they know what they like to put on their bodies. You can suggest recommended attire based on the formality of your occasion or the topography of your venue. But you’ll want to avoid anything like this exchange that happened between two of our commenters:
Commenter 1: I was told I needed to wear a beige dress to a wedding overlooking the ocean (men in khakis & blue ties and women in beige). Guess who doesn’t look particularly good in beige? JUST ABOUT EVERYONE.
Commenter 2: I was just given the same dress code, including links to outfits that I, a person not even invited to the ceremony, could wear. I tried to explain why setting such a strict code might not make sense from a financial standpoint for guests, especially since it’s also a destination reception… and mentioned that people may enjoy wearing colorful outfits. No avail. I’m okay buying an outfit, but I don’t like it or feel confident in it, so I can’t imagine other guests are really thrilled with wearing muted colors either. Plus, it just felt so weird to be told what to wear as a grown woman!
And for the love of all that is good in this world, do not change the dress code for your wedding at the last minute unless you have plans to send smoke signals out to each and every one of your guests:
My friend went to a “black tie” wedding, only to find out that they CHANGED THE DRESS CODE and had communicated (somehow) with most of the guests except for her. She was the only one wearing a floor length gown and everyone else was in cocktail dresses. She was so embarrassed.
If your wedding has a (reasonable) dress code, the best place to communicate it is on your wedding website. With Squarespace you can update your website as often as you need to (even from your phone). So if your dress code is, shall we say, an evolving entity, don’t rely on word of mouth to get your information distributed, unless mortification is the theme of your wedding. And, while updating your website is a good first step, if pandemic season taught us anything, it’s that over-communication is key. So set up a website pop-up, send out an email blast, or otherwise connect with everyone on your guest list so no one is left feeling like the odd-ball come wedding day.
3. Don’t Make Your A-List and B-List Public.
Planning a wedding is a stressful and expensive endeavor. You just gotta make choices that fit with your budget, and that often means cutting (or getting creative with) the guest list. But what happens within the delicate nuances of invitation list politics should remain within the delicate nuances of invitation list politics. As one reader explained:
I went to a wedding recently where the invitation wording was, “The couple invites you to a dessert reception.” When we arrived, it was immediately apparent that they had just invited a second wave of people to join them for the dessert-and-dancing portion of their full wedding reception, which was already in full swing. Which, honestly, was fine, except the reception was running behind schedule—as receptions tend to do—and they hadn’t designated anyone to run interference for the “dessert reception” guests, so we all just ended up standing around awkwardly outside the reception room and watching their first dance through the window.
While you can’t necessarily run interference on a late schedule (though maybe a “B-List” wrangler isn’t a bad job to give someone—see tip number one above), you can avoid that high school cafeteria feeling at your wedding by not broadcasting every event to your entire guest list. Instead, keep public information public, and create private pages on your wedding website for anything that is specific to a small group of people, like your wedding party members or the smaller group of folks you’ve invited to your pre-wedding festivities (with Squarespace you can password protect any page of your website, so private events can stay on a strictly need-to-know basis.)
On the flip side, if you have wedding events you want people to attend, make sure that information exists somewhere that is easily accessible to your guests (like, say, your wedding website). Because you don’t want them to end up in a situation like this:
If you are having a wedding-related event to which everyone is invited, then you need to come up with a way to systematically invite everyone. Note that I say systematic, not formal. Wedding website, email, all of these are fine. But don’t just rely on informal word of mouth.
Here’s the background for this rant: My spouse and I recently traveled two-thirds of the way across the country for a wedding of his cousin. We arrived Thursday afternoon for a Saturday wedding. Rehearsal dinner Friday—we were not invited, which is 100 percent fine. It was very clear that was only for bridal party and immediate family. But then at the wedding reception, I learned that there had been a casual BBQ on Thursday evening to which we were not invited, but my spouse’s sister was invited and did attend. Now, I don’t think this was an intentional inclusion/exclusion decision by the bride and groom. It sounds like what happened is that it was word of mouth, and somewhere along the family word of mouth chain, the word was passed to her, but not to us (perhaps because we had bought tickets for an event that night and it was assumed we therefore had a conflict; perhaps because she was staying at the “reserved block” hotel and we had not). But it still really stung. Had we been invited, we would have made every effort to be there (including leaving the event early or trading in our tickets for another night).
As someone who knows that many (most) folks never remember to look at a wedding invitation before getting in the car/plane/boat to attend said wedding, what I’m looking for on your wedding website is:
- When it starts (‘it’ being any and all events I am to attend)
- Where the ceremony location is (including if it’s hard to get to)
- If it’s going to be a cash bar
Otherwise, there is a 75 percent chance someone will never make it. (For more on what to include on your wedding website to make it actually useful, we’ve got a whole bunch of tips right here.)
Justin McCallum Photography
4. Don’t tell me what I want. you don’t know me.
Sometimes you have to convey less than ideal information through your wedding website. For example, maybe you aren’t inviting plus ones to your wedding. Or maybe your wedding is for adults only. That’s fine! And you should let your guests know as soon as possible so they can make plans accordingly (think: maybe even before invitations go out). But unless you’re psychic, don’t presume to know what’s in your guests’ hearts.
The wording for “no kids” can be tricky because you want to make it clear, but also not piss anyone off. Because, while the names on the invitation SHOULD be enough, lots of people don’t know that or toss the envelope in the trash. Plus, if travel is required, they’ll want to know WAY before the invitation arrives if they need to plan ahead for a weekend of childcare. Most people in my circles have tended to use, “Adults only,” and I think that’s pretty much fine. I got an invitation recently that said, “No kids please. We thought you deserved a night off.” Like, no, you are not doing people any favors, so don’t try to be cute.
If you’re worried about offending people, we’ve got a ton of wedding website wording examples you can steal (just don’t try to make lemonade out of someone else’s lemons, okay?).
5. Don’t do… this.
Your wedding website can cover a lot of sins (awkward details about who’s invited to which event, dress code requests, and anything else you think might throw off your guests’ groove). But it is not a get out of jail free card for bad behavior altogether. As one reader relayed:
I think the strangest (and rudest) wedding thing I’ve ever encountered was a few years ago. My husband was standing in a wedding for a good friend of ours. We’re told that there will be a rehearsal dinner. Fine, no problem. Then dinner changes to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Still fine. Then we’re told that it will be dinner, but that it’s potluck. So we take ourselves and the two wedding party people staying with us off to find some nice food to bring (the potluck announcement was made the night before the rehearsal). Show up to the groom’s parents’ house with food at the appropriate time with three salads and a large pie. We were told to put the food in the kitchen and head down to the basement. We’re downstairs mingling and the groom’s mother comes down with a tray of maybe twelve sandwiches and two small cheese plates for about thirty people. This ends up being the only food served to us for the evening. When I went to leave, the mother told me to take the food I brought with me home because “no one” was going to eat it. I am still rather furious about this several years later.
But let’s pretend no one you know would ever do that.
Wedding Website as Emotional Bodyguard
While it might seem like a lot of work to set up your wedding website early on in your engagement process (like… now), what I’ve learned over the last decade is that your wedding website is the number one tool in your arsenal for keeping people sane and off your back. The more you can clarify online, the fewer questions you’ll have to answer IRL. (Except maybe to constantly tell people to check out the wedding website.) You can follow this ten-step guide, and download our ebook to make it super simple for yourself. And remember: with Squarespace you get unlimited pages to customize, so there are no restrictions on what you can share. So if your wedding is one of those events with lots of moving parts, fear not. But perhaps most importantly, beefing up your wedding website means your guests can show up to your wedding informed and prepared, which in turn means more fun and less drama for everyone. Even if there’s just some wedding crazy that can’t be fixed. Though I guess for that, at least we all have each other?
Did we leave anything out? What’s the biggest surprise you ever got as a wedding guest?
This post was created in partnership with Squarespace. Squarespace makes beautiful wedding websites happen in a matter of minutes, thanks to their user-friendly software and modern, minimal template designs. Every yearly Squarespace purchase also comes with a custom URL, and of course, their award-winning customer service (just in case you get stuck). Click here to start a free 14-day trial and make your wedding website today. APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW at checkout.