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Wedding Etiquette

When it comes to weddings today, pretty much anything goes. Gone are a lot of the traditions from days past.  Yet many couples still turn to proper etiquette to help answer questions and solve dilemmas.  As an event planner I get flooded with questions from couples on the best way to handle various elements.  Here are five of the most common questions I get asked and how etiquette states one should handle.

1. How do indicate to my guests it's an adult only reception?

If the names of the children are not on the invitation, then it symbolizes they are not invited.  Some people do not know this; and some will pretend they did not notice the omission.  There are a few other ways to make sure your guests are aware. The first way is with word of mouth. Start early by mentioning it to guests you talk to about the wedding and ask key people to help spread the word.  Next, put a mention of it on your wedding website.  It doesn't hurt to offer a list of possible babysitters on the website as well for a further hint.  Finally, it can be mentioned on the invitation itself with the reception card saying, "Adult Only Reception."

If you are still concerned that you may have a guest who will bring a child, make it a point to call them and politely inform them of your wishes.  If they get mad and tell you they are not coming, then it is their breach of etiquette not yours.

2. Receiving line: Do we have to do it and who stands in it?

When people hear the words receiving line, they cringe.  It is something less people are doing and no, it is not required at a wedding.  They do serve a purpose though.  As hosts of the event, the couple should make sure to greet every guest and thank them for coming.  Doing a receiving line will save the couple time from having to greet everyone at the reception.

If you decide to have one, the traditional line includes the couple, the parents, and the bridesmaids.  The order of that line would be the bride's parents (mom first), groom's parents, bride, groom, maid of honor, and then the rest of the bridesmaids.   If the groom is in the military and in uniform, then that is the only time he should stand before the bride.  This is the traditional line, but I have seen entire wedding parties to just the couple themselves stand to receive people.

3.   Is it ok to have a cash bar?

The official answer to this question is no.  As the host you are expected to treat your guests as you would if they were at your house for dinner.  This means they should not being paying for their drinks.  If money is a concern, consider just serving beer and wine to your guests.

4.  Who all do we tip?

There are multiple people who help make your day go off successfully and a tip can be a nice way to recognize those who helped make it a success.   Some vendors will put the gratuity directly on the bill, so check your contract beforehand.  If not included in the price, it is polite to tip the following people:

  • Bartender
  • Wait staff
  • Hairstylist, makeup artist, and nail technicians
  • Wedding officiant.  Most will not charge you for their services, but is customary to make a donation to their church or organization.
  • Valet parking and coat check attendants
  • Limo drivers or any type of chauffer for transportation

Other vendors such as your Photographer or DJ also appreciate tips since they do a lot of work behind-the-scenes to prepare for your wedding that you may not even be aware of. You may tip these and other vendors as well especially if you feel that their work and services were above and beyond what was expected.  If money is an issue but you still want to recognize a service provider, a nice thank you card goes a long way. They will also appreciate it if you leave them nice reviews on any online sites where you may have found them or done your research.

5. How do I handle the divorced parents?

This is a question with no one real answer.  Weddings are a joyous time filled with so many emotions, including those of marriages that may not have ended so happily.  Everyone is brought up in different situations and may have several parents with whom they are close.  We encourage open communication with all parents from the beginning with your wishes of the day.  Make sure that they understand they are all important roles in your life and that it means the world to you that they all are there to celebrate.  For those big moments consider dividing the honor equally.  For example, let's say you want to do the father-daughter dance with your step father but not hurt your father's feelings.  You could do two dances or start the dance with your father and half way through the song change to dancing with your step-father.

If you are worried about animosity, it is best to try and not force them to become friends.  Consider having more than one parents table at the reception, and seating in different rows for the ceremony.  It never hurts to recruit a neutral bridal party member to help facilitate during moments where tensions can run high, such as family portraits.


These are just some of the common questions I get asked by our couples when planning their weddings.  These are not hard, set in stone rules that you must obey. I have seen several couples break these rules and the wedding has gone off successfully. At the end of the day, it is what you and your fiancé want.


Wedding consultant Holly Wagner is co-owner of H&K Weddings and Events.

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