Wedding Etiquette: A Guide for the Modern Couple | Family Politics with Jo Bryant

I remember when Mr Nu Bride and I first got engaged.

I felt like we needed to invest in an entire new dictionary. A wedding dictionary with accompanying thesaurus! The jargons, the traditions and the never-ending list of etiquettes, so hard to decipher and equally difficult to decide which ones to keep or cull.  To this day are still causing havoc in engaged couples planning.

To help you, I have enlisted the help of wedding etiquette guru, Aisle Style wedding consultant and editor of 15 of Debrett’s etiquette guides, including Debrett’s wedding guide, Jo Bryant to join us. Jo works with brides, businesses and luxury brands on all aspects of weddings, etiquette and modern manners.

Jo Bryant Photo

We have put together a wedding etiquette 4 part-series, just for you, addressing the fundamentals from what happens on the day, to RSVP’s to Plus Ones and politics.  We outline the traditional etiquette and modern-day alternatives.

What I will personally say is this, keep your wedding day tailored to you and your partner, if an etiquette just doesn’t feel right, ditch it. There are no re-percussions, no-one will sling you in jail. Don’t over think it, understand the etiquettes and why they may be in place and decide if you want to keep them or not and it should make things a lot easier for you in the long run!

Here we go. Over to Jo!

1.Traditionally the bride’s parents would host her wedding, but how do you tastefully ask your parents for money to contribute to your wedding?

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The traditional formula of a bride’s parents hosting, and therefore paying for the wedding, is now largely out-dated and ignored.

It is the norm that couples live together and have some joint finances and responsibilities before they get engaged. Gone are the days of dowrys, or the husband providing a new home for his wife upon marriage.

As a result, the financial formulas for weddings are very fluid, and tend to be resolved by how much the parties involved can afford, or how much they offer. A couple with large salaries who are well-off might pay for the all or the majority of their wedding, particularly if they are slightly older. Alternatively, the bride’s parents may be prepared to foot the bill, with a contribution from the in-laws.

What is a modern-day alternative? 

Most frequently we see a mix of all of the above: the couple, the bride’s parents and the in-laws all making a contribution. This is also true in the case of divorced parents, when the budget may have multiple sources.

What about the in laws-to-be?

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In this day and age, it would be unusual for the in-laws not to make some sort of contribution, even if it is relatively small in relation to the overall budget.

If it is too personal to talk actual figures, they could pay for an element of the wedding, thus keeping the cost a secret. Good examples are the wedding cars, reception champagne or wedding cake.

This is also a good trick for involving them with the wedding planning, but maintaining control.

By giving an overly interfering mother-in-law a specific project, for example getting florist quotes, liaising with the church organist, sourcing a hairdresser, she has a designated task and role in the planning, but is not meddling in important decisions.

What’s the best way to put together a guest list and narrow down your choices. Who stays and who goes?

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The guest list is usually influenced by the size of the ceremony and /  or reception venue.

There is no easy way to keep everyone happy, but a method must be put in place to avoid arguments or lists (and budgets) spiralling out of control.

Once the ceremony and reception venue are booked, and the budget finalised, it can work well to divide up the capacity and give each of the major players a portion. For example, for a wedding of 150 guests, the couple may have 80 guests, the bride’s parents 45 guests, and the in-laws 25.

The couple should have the majority of the overall list, and the parental allocations usually depend upon who is making major financial contributions, the structure of the families (i.e if parents are divorced, then the list may need to be divided into more chunks) and, in all honesty, the levels of diplomacy and difficulty of the parties involved.

Everyone should also have a prioritised B-list; these potential guests are sent an invitation promptly when refusals come in (so they never know they didn’t make the first cut!)

Eventually, everyone will have filled their allocations or may have a few spaces spare, and the final list will take shape.

The most important thing is to have a proper master-list where acceptances and refusals are logged; this should be the responsibility of just one person (usually the RSVP addressee) to prevent confusion or mistakes.

What is the etiquette around plus ones? 

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A good rule for inviting other halves is to consider the relationship status and how long the couple have been together. Obviously married or engaged couples are always invited together, and long-term, co-habiting couples should be treated the same. Similarly, for someone who is invited but knows nobody else at the wedding, it is considerate to give them the chance to bring a plus-one on the day, should you wish to.

Don’t feel guilty about not inviting a friend’s latest boyfriend of just a few months; the likelihood is you’ll end up in years to come with a stranger in your wedding photos. Remember, too, that they might not even want to attend in the first place. If there are lots of instances of short-term other halves, and the venue capacity can accommodate it, then an economic solution worth considering is an evening-only guest list.

Remember, if you are inviting a plus-one, it is good form to try to find out their name, rather than writing ‘plus-one’ on the invitation.

It is rude for a guest to ask to bring someone, but unfortunately it often happens. Stick to your guns: once you start breaking the rules, it is difficult to start saying no to others.

How can couples tastefully navigate their wedding plans with families who are fragmented without causing upset about who is / isn’t invited?

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Clarity and honesty are key: arguments happen when people are surprised or not warned about a situation. The couple should have any important conversations upfront and early on in the planning process, this gets any bad feeling out-of-the-way and allows plenty of time for resolution or acceptance.

Never force tradition on non-traditional scenarios. For example, the bride may choose a step-father or brother to give her away if her parents are divorced and she has an estranged relationship with her biological father. Similarly, don’t force people to sit together who are sworn enemies or may feel upset if they are in close proximity to new partners. (Nu Bride: I agree,  but wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults could behave like adults just for one day, so couples don’t have to be burdened by personality clashes and family feuds).

A happy wedding day is created when everyone is relaxed and at ease. How this is created doesn’t matter as long as everyone is well-cared for and able to enjoy themselves without worrying about the pressures of convention and tradition.

Traditionally who should sit on the top table and how can we help couples with larger families or if parents are estranged?  

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It is traditional at a rectangular top table for the wedding party to sit along one side, facing the room, in the following order from left to right:

Chief bridesmaid, father of the groom, mother of the bride, groom, bride, father of the bride, mother of groom, best man.

However, this arrangement isn’t very social and is terrible for those who hate being centre of attention as you can feel very ‘on display’. Instead, a circular or oval table works well.

Modern Day Alternative?

When there are estranged parents (and especially when other halves are involved), the traditional top table never works out well. Instead, a good solution is to have a few top tables. For example, if the groom’s parents are divorced and remarried, then the wedding couple host a table with the best man, bridesmaids and ushers; the bride’s married parents host a table; the groom’s mother and step-father host a table; the groom’s father and step-mother host a table. This formula should ensure a happy and atmospheric wedding breakfast!

Excellent tips Jo. This should get you started. Any challenges you would like Jo or I to answer please feel free to comment below or contact us via social media! 

For further information on Jo Bryant please visit:

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