How to Be a Great Wedding Guest: 6 Essential Tips For Young Adults

It’s wedding season again and that means your young adult child may have gotten or will soon be getting an invitation to a friend’s or colleague’s wedding celebration. Maybe they’ve been to a number of weddings before, but those have been family events, where they’ve been under your watchful eye or surrounded by extended family members.

As the parent, you probably responded for the family and bought the gift, and maybe even picked out what they were going to wear. Now that they are about to, or have already flown the nest and are attending the wedding of someone you don’t know well or at all, it’s all on them. 

Do they have the knowledge and experience to be a good wedding guest? Perhaps it’s time for an etiquette refresher or a bigger-picture discussion of respecting the bride and groom’s wishes for their big (and often super expensive) day.

As your young adult begins to attend weddings on their own, here are some things they should know. (Photo credit: Marybeth Bock)

6 important things your young adult wedding guest should know

1. RSVP on time, and with no add-ons

The concept and adherence of the RSVP has gotten a little lax over the last few decades. Many young people today mistakenly think that you only need to respond to an RSVP if you’re planning to attend an event. This is not true, especially when it comes to a wedding, which is why most invitations include a stamped return envelope for the RSVP card. (Even if there’s not one, they need to click on the link of an evite or email back as soon as they know their plans, and definitely before the deadline. And even if they’ve verbally told their friend they are coming.)  

Also, your young adult may think it’s not a huge deal to just bring along a plus-one because “what’s one more person at a huge party?” Have a chat with them about the expenses of a wedding and how seating and food are precisely planned and uninvited guests are not a fun surprise for those footing the bill. If the couple didn’t extend a plus-one invite, explain to your young adult that there’s a good reason, like budget constraint, venue capacity, or the couple’s desire for a more intimate event.

2. Use the couple’s gift registry

Your young adult may not realize that a lot of thought and time went into creating the gift registry – so they should use it. Couples now usually have gifts listed and priced for all budgets and have normalized options for gifting cash for all kinds of needed things like their honeymoon travel, lodging, and activities, and even for house downpayments.

Your young adults should not feel bad if they can only make a small contribution. People understand that many younger guests don’t have as much disposable income. Encourage them to give what is comfortable for them (and/or go in with some friends) and that every amount is genuinely appreciated. 

3. Lean into the couple’s wishes

Wedding norms and traditions, like everything else, change with the times. And as social media has become such a huge part of young people’s lives, it has affected how brides and grooms want their weddings to look and feel. Does the invitation “highly encourage” a particular vibe (like “floral frenzy”) color scheme (like “monochromatic”) or state a classic dress code? Go along with it! (Borrow or thrift an outfit if necessary.)

Are there assigned tables to sit at? Sit there – you’ll have plenty of time to socialize with your besties after the meal, and maybe chatting up the groom’s uncle or cousin will end up being a great networking opportunity.

4. Don’t make the event about you

Perhaps your young adult is disappointed that they weren’t asked to be in the wedding party. Maybe they will get seated with a family who has a temper-tantruming toddler in tow, or their assigned table is way in the back of the reception hall.

Maybe there won’t be an entrée that meets their specific dietary preference. These things don’t happen because someone is trying to slight them or thinks they’re not important. Talk to your young adult about the stress that a wedding can cause and that those who have planned it are just doing their best during a pretty hectic time. Guests need to be flexible and understanding. It’s all about the wedding couple and their big day – not you. 

5. Be respectful during the ceremony and behave appropriately at the reception

Encourage your young adult to plan ahead and allow time for parking, chatting, and getting seated so that they arrive on time, or a few minutes early, for the ceremony. Many couples today want their guests to be fully present and in the moment, so they kindly ask for an unplugged ceremony, with all phones put away. This applies to everyone, so be sure your young adult knows to respect this wish and leaves it to the professionals to get the photos and videos of the ceremony.

An open bar is not an invitation for guests to get obnoxiously drunk, monopolize a microphone and tell an embarrassing story or strange inside joke, or to dance inappropriately. Save the wild antics for an after-party and be mindful of reading the room. There’s a way to be an enthusiastic guest and participate in the festive traditions, yet still keep it classy.

6. Show your appreciation

Make sure your young adult takes the time to congratulate the happy couple and to express a sincere word of congratulations to show their appreciation for being invited to share in their special day. It’s also nice to take a moment to greet at least one of the parents of the bride or the groom that your young adult knows the best. 

When it comes to weddings and pre-wedding events like bachelor/bachelorette trips these days, I love the advice for young (and older wedding guests alike) from event planner Julia Turley at Less Stress Events

Just like the couple can do whatever they want for their wedding day, you also have the choice to do what is best for YOU. If they are allowed to set boundaries, then so are you. If you can’t afford an outfit within their dress code, or to hire a babysitter, or the travel expenses to get to their destination – that’s fine. Don’t go! It’s much better than complaining to the happy couple and causing a fuss for everyone.

Julia Turley, Event planner Less stress events

By sharing these helpful tips, your young adult can be a gracious and respectful wedding guest who contributes to the joy and celebration of any couple’s wedding day. 

More Great Reading:

90 Perfect Mother Son Dance Songs for Weddings

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

Read more posts by Marybeth

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