Wedding Etiquette: A Guide For The Modern Couple: On Your Wedding Day


With lots of planning advice thrown at us during the run up to our wedding days,  we often forget about the really useful advice that will help us on to the day itself.

There have been many a time when I have stepped in as an ‘unofficial bridesmaid’  to reduce some major nerves, or to help give direction to some ushers running around like headless chickens and to answer some unexpected questions that pop up.

For a lot of people getting married or having a role in the wedding party may well be the first time they’ve experienced it and they need guidance on the day so it helps to inform them and yourself, in advance.

To help, I’ve invited wedding etiquette guru Jo Bryant back to help iron out some wedding day creases.

Does it matter who sits where?

London Astoria Wedding | Vitae Photography | www.nubride.com_0028Vitae Photography via Sophia and Ayo

Traditionally, a bride’s side of the ceremony venue is to left of the aisle, and a groom’s is on the right.

Usually the parents/immediate family members of the wedding couple sit in the front rows of their respective sides. Other family/VIPs usually sit towards the front too. After that, it’s a balance of sides.

For example, I have a huge family but my husband doesn’t, so when we got married we evened the ceremony sides by seating our friends on his side of the church.

It can help if ushers / groomsmen are seated at the ends of rows, ready to sit last and get up first. Any readers, those taking part in your ceremony and those with babies or small children should also sit so they can get out quickly and easily.

Modern Alternative

The trend of ‘choose a seat, not a side’ is becoming increasingly popular, especially with complex family scenarios where it is too hard to create a sense of hierarchy. Even then, there should be a loose structure in place: VIPs should have a decent seat near the front with a view of proceedings.

Who walks who down the aisle

Jay RowdenJay Rowden | Sheyi and Simon

Traditionally the bride walks down the aisle with the person giving her away on her left, usually taking her left arm. During the ceremony, the bride and groom stand in the middle, with the person giving the bride away to her left, and the best man to the groom’s right. If the ceremony venue is small, then the couple may stand alone with the ceremony officiant, and the person giving a bride away/the best man are seated. This is sometimes helpful for photographers when space is tight.

Modern Alternative…

Nu Bride: The can also vary depending on culture. Some couples choose not to have anyone giving them away and walk down the aisle alone. This can be a preferred option if there has been a bereavement or if family dynamics or relationships are tricky. Alternatively, they may choose their mother, father and stepfather, or a friend walk them. It’s a very personal choice governed by circumstances. 

Should any bridesmaids precede or follow?

Bloc MemoireBloc Memoire | Jason and Junia

In the UK it is tradition that the bridesmaids follow behind the bride. In the US the bridesmaids and flower girls walking up the aisle first. Usually, the bridesmaids walk in pairs, or the chief bridesmaid (maid of honour) may walk in front of the other bridesmaids, leading the way. If there are baby bridesmaids or page boys, then they can be spread out amongst the bridesmaids so they each have a grown-up hand to hold onto.

Modern Alternative… 

Nu Bride: There is no right or wrong way. Choose whatever formula feels right for you. Some couples also choose to have their groomsmen and bridesmaids entering up the aisle in pairs. I knew I wanted my ladies to precede. So I chose the US style and had my ladies lead one-by-one. I only had two bridesmaid, so it added a little suspense to my big reveal .

Where do you put your engagement ring?

0061_C_VH6A7046Phil Drinkwater

On your wedding morning, remember to pop your engagement ring on the third finger of your right hand, leaving your other hand free for the exchange of rings and placing of your brand new wedding band.

How can groomsmen assist the wedding couple on the day? 

London Astoria Wedding | Vitae Photography | www.nubride.com_0026Vitae Photography via Sophia and Ayo

Groomsmen / Ushers are vital for the smooth running of a well-planned wedding.

While the best man should be keeping an eye on proceedings and is the main support on the day, it’s the ushers’ role to support the best man and keep their wits about them throughout the day (i.e. pace the drinking!).

It is sensible to allocate specific tasks to each of them.

This may include jobs such as distributing buttonholes; meeting and greeting at the ceremony; seating guests; moving flowers; helping gather people for photographs; ushering guests through to the wedding breakfast; checking all is running to time; getting up on the dance floor promptly!

Modern Alternative…

Nu Bride: Not having any groomsmen? See below! 

What about the bridesmaids? 

Sheyi and SimonJay Rowden | Sheyi and Simon

The chief bridesmaid (maid of honour) is the bride’s aide. Aside from the practicalities of helping with getting dressed, trains, veils, bustles, trips to the loo, etc. She should be unwaveringly supportive, and work with the best man to ensure timings all run to plan and as a main point of contact on the day.

The other bridesmaids should be there to help too, particularly if there are young children as pages or bridesmaids. Emotions may run high, with nerves, last-minute panics and adrenaline, so the bridal party must stay cool, calm and collected!

Nu Bride: I concur! Having a wedding party on your side who can support you emotionally throughout your planning and not just on the day, is vital! If you haven’t already chosen your maids, these tips may help!

Modern Alternative…

Nu Bride: Some couples choose not to have a wedding party at all and delegate some of these above roles unofficially to close friends and family. It is a great way to involve family and friends on the day if you want to eliminate the formality. 

Do couples need a toastmaster and why? 

Tosin and Matthew_Nu Bride_My Beautiful Bride-433My Beautiful Bride | Tosin and Matthew

Toastmasters were all the rage a decade ago, but have seen a decline in recent years as couples choose to tone down the formalities of the day.

They often come as part of the package at venues, or can be hired independently (but make sure you choose one from one of a professional guild).

A toastmaster is a useful asset to a large wedding where announcements need to be heard clearly and guests moved between different areas at the reception. For smaller weddings, if it is not included in your wedding package, it is a good plan to save your cash and ask a loud-voiced usher to take on the role instead. (Nu Bride….Choose with caution!)

Modern Day Alternative… 

Nu Bride: Toastmasters are brilliant at organising and directing your wedding party working closely with the venue to ensuring your day runs on time. However, more and more couples are choosing MC’s and even comedians to take on the role, bringing a more relaxed and fresh feel.

What is the purpose of a receiving line, do you really need it?

`Victoria MitchellVictoria Mithcell | Jay and James

A receiving line allows the couple to greet every guest and, where necessary, introductions to be made. A receiving line may be just the couple, or sometimes also with one or both sets of parents. Some couples may like the formality of meeting everyone in a structured way, without the pressure of needing to make lengthy conversation and circulate later on. However, many couples find receiving lines old-fashioned and, moreover, a time-consuming task during the drinks reception.

Modern Alternative…

If it is decided to not have a receiving line, then a nice alternative is to informally socialise during the drinks and between courses at the wedding breakfast. Every guest should have a moment, no matter how brief, to congratulate the couple. Special attention should be made to the elderly and those who have travelled far.

Nu Bride; it is a lovely opportunity to circle your wedding tables after you have eaten your meal and spend a moment with your guests. You will love to the chance to spend time with them and they will also appreciate it. It may well be the only chance you get! 

Wedding breakfast & food

Jay RowdenJay Rowden | Sheyi and Simon

This phrase “wedding breakfast” is a hangover from when weddings took place in the morning, and was followed by a meal (hence a groom may wear a ‘morning suit’ and have a ‘wedding breakfast’). Really, it is just the meal at the wedding reception. This may be a formal, seated and served affair, or a more casual buffet or BBQ.

Modern Alternative…

Some couples find the idea of a traditional wedding breakfast all too formal and expensive, but with some research and original thought, there is something for all budgets and tastes. Afternoon tea, substantial canapés, food trucks, bowl food, buffet food stations, dessert tables, a hog roast… Just remember, people are drinking and it’s a long day, so they need feeding. A wedding is a party, and you have a duty to provide for your guests appropriately.

Nu Bride: Absolutely! Always ensure there is food in the evening for when the munchies kick in and if you are inviting evening guests. People get miserable when they are hungry!

Who should give a speech?

Bloc MemoireBloc Memoire  | Jason and Junia

Speeches are a highlight of the reception if they are not too long, but are well-pitched and well-delivered. (Nu Bride: Not easy for some!)

Traditionally the father-of-the-bride or equivalent, the groom and the best man give a speech, with some specific toasts  and thank you’s at the end of each.

Modern Alternative…

Today, it’s quite common for anyone to give a speech. But impromptu wine-fuelled ramblings should be avoided. If someone, such as the chief bridesmaid, does want to say a few words, then it is wise to have it scheduled into proceedings. Timings are crucial to keeping your audience engaged, so the more speeches there are, the shorter they should be.

Nu Bride: Agreed. It’s becoming more and more common for leading ladies to own the mic and rightly so!   If one of you is more comfortable with public speaking than the other, take advantage of your strengths and do what feels right. We’re not all natural public speakers so if speaking is not your bag, abdicate the responsibility to your other half if they enjoy the limelight, or perhaps play a clever pre-recorded message instead. Or if it’s really not your bag and you want to give it a try, simply saying a few thank you’s is enough.

Do we really need a first dance?

Upwaltham Barns Wedding, Joey & Luke West Sussex Wedding - Benjamin Wetherall Photography ©0141Benjamin Wetherall | Joey and Luke

While some couples dream of their first dance becoming a You Tube sensation, for others the very idea of dancing in front of their guests is simply too much. Sharing such a romantic, intimate moment with an audience isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and it’s likely that if you’re not into it, then it will be as embarrassing for everyone watching as it is for you.

You’ll have many more important things to worry about in the run up to the big day and a first dance is by no means compulsory. The most important thing is to get the party started, so why not choose a floor-filling first song instead? Ask your immediate family, or your wedding party to hit the dance-floor as soon as the music starts, and soon enough everyone will be having too much fun to notice that you didn’t dance.

Bust this myth, is it OK for a bride to be late to her ceremony?

Photo by Katch Silva

Katch Silva | Heather and Andrew

Not really… everyone at the ceremony is waiting, and being late will usually cause irritation rather than heighten the sense of anticipation. Also, it’s not very fair on your already-nervous other half to them wait! That said, my wedding car got stuck behind a tractor on a rural lane and I was fifteen minutes late for my ceremony. My husband still needs convincing that it wasn’t intentional!

Nu Bride: LOL! Oh the poor man is scarred for life Jo


Thank you Dear Jo! That should certainly get you started!

Header image: Vitae Photography via Sophia and Ayo

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One Response to “Wedding Etiquette: A Guide For The Modern Couple: On Your Wedding Day”

  1. Rob
    July 7, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    As a wedding photographer and photo booth owner I have a personal dislike of line ups! They are impossible to get a good image from while eating up precious time on the day. Being announced into the reception is far better in my opinion.

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