Wedding Etiquette

Wedding etiquette can get quite complicated. Here’s some advice:
  • Ceremony Seating
  • Wedding Program
  • Receiving Line
  • Best Man Responsibilities
  • Reception Seating
  • How To Cut the Wedding Cake
  • Wedding Speech Etiquette
  • Wedding Dance Etiquette
  • Wedding Thank You Notes
  • Cancelling the Wedding

The wedding program and wedding speeches both require wedding etiquette. Wedding thank you card etiquette, wedding reception etiquette, and wedding ceremony etiquette are all areas that need to be learned. Likewise, wedding reception seating, wedding speech etiquette, and the etiquette of how to cut a wedding cake.

Ceremony Seating

As part of your wedding ceremony planning, sensitive seating situations need to be decided ~ divorced and widowed parents require specific wedding etiquette.

Divorced Parents
This can be tricky and varies in each situation.
  • If the mother and father were divorced but friends, they could still be seated on the front pew, as though still together.
  • If the divorced parent is re-married or has a significant other, then the appropriate seating arrangement would be to have him or her sit in the second row.
If the divorced parents are not on speaking terms, then the situation becomes even more difficult.
  • Have the mother sit in the front row and the father in the third row.
  • Any immediate family of the mother would sit right behind her in the second row.
  • Any immediate family of the father, right behind him in the fourth row.
  • If either divorced parent is re-married or bringing a guest, these guests may be seated in the fifth row.

If you, the maid of honor, or the best man see trouble brewing, the parent should be taken aside to remind them this is the bride and groom’s day, not theirs.

Widowed Parents
A widowed parent may feel more comfortable with a close family member or friend sitting with him or her in the front pew. This is acceptable wedding etiquette.

The Wedding Ceremony Program

There is a wedding ceremony order that’s traditional. But you can also follow a wedding ceremony outline that you feel more comfortable with, or that you want to create. Depending on the formality of your wedding, both are appropriate wedding etiquette.

In a traditional Wedding Program, there are four parts

  • the introduction
  • the ceremony order
  • the wedding party
  • the closure or special note

The introduction includes
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • the day and date of the ceremony
  • time
  • street address or building name
  • city and state

The ceremony order outlines the segments
  • the prelude
  • the seating
  • vows
  • readings
  • processional
  • others

You may also list
  • the titles of the musical pieces
  • selected lyrics
  • wording of prayers

The wedding party section lists all participants in the wedding
  • use full names rather than nicknames
  • use titles such as Miss, Mrs., Ms. and Mr.

In the closure or special note section
  • thank your guests
  • thank your hosts
  • honor a deceased friend or member of the family
  • a poem or quote
  • information about the tartans, the clans, unfamiliar traditions, or anything Scottish.
  • directions to the reception, if it's being held elsewhere, even if directions were included in the invitations.

This order is traditional wedding etiquette, but you can make adjustments to fit your wedding plans and still fall within the parameters of wedding etiquette.

Below is a sample wedding ceremony program sample. Not all elements are included or necessary regarding wedding etiquette. The wedding ceremony program wording can be adjusted to your plans and needs.

The Marriage Ceremony Uniting
Carolyn Sue Ruggles
Gary Michael Litzman
on Saturday, April 2, 2006
at half past six o'clock in the evening
First Baptist Church
Nashville, Tennessee

Guests Being SeatedElizabeth Kelly’s Delight
Delaney’ Fraher’s Dinny’s
PreludeAnach Cuan
Baidin Fheidhlimi
Lighting of CandlesLucky in Love
Seating of the MothersThe Rolling Wave
Entrance of AttendantsFor All Those Endearing Young Charms
ProcessionalInvitation to the Dance
Wedding Message and TraditionsRev. Glenn Ambrose
SoloThe Flower of Scotland
Presentation of the Bride and GroomThe Flower of Scotlandrecap
RecessionalScotland the Brave
Brown Haired Maiden
Order for listing the wedding party ~
  • Parents of the Bride
  • Parents of the Groom
  • Grandparents of the Bride
  • Grandmothers of the Groom
  • Maid of Honor
  • Matron of Honor
  • Bridesmaids
  • Junior Bridesmaid
  • Honorary Bridesmaid
  • Flower Girl
  • Best Men
  • Groomsmen
  • Ring Bearer
  • Officiant
  • Piper
  • Soloist

Receiving Line Etiquette

The reason for a receiving line is so the Mother of the Bride, as hostess, may welcome each guest. This is appropriate wedding etiquette. As at any party, the father of the bride, as host, is nearby, directing guests into the reception hall, introducing guests to one another, overseeing the smooth running of things. The best man should assist him.

The formality of your wedding determines the wedding etiquette. At a formal wedding, a receiving line is necessary. It’s an option at an informal wedding.

When deciding where the receiving line will be held, you must consider your guests and the time delay while photographs are being taken. Traditionally, at a formal wedding, the receiving line is at the reception site. For an informal wedding, the receiving line can be at the ceremony location. Both are correct wedding etiquette.

The receiving line can be omitted altogether, but the bride and groom must visit with each guest personally at their tables. Though proper wedding etiquette, this is very time consuming and your personality will help determine which way you’ll go. If you’re a mixer and like to mingle, go for the one-on-one at the tables. If you’re shy and find it hard to talk to people, a receiving line will be easier on you.

The traditional order in a formal receiving line is ~

  • Mother of the Bride
  • Mother of the Groom
  • Bride
  • Groom
  • Maid of Honor
  • All of the Bridesmaids

The groom is the only male in the line and children who participated in the wedding do not stand in the line, as determined by wedding etiquette.

To shorten the time in the receiving line, a less traditional order would be ~

  • Mother of the Bride
  • Mother of the Groom
  • Bride with Maid of Honor behind the bride attending to the train
  • Groom

If the fathers of the couple choose to stand in the line, the mother of the groom stands between them.

If the Bride’s attendants will be in the line, the Maid of Honor stands to the groom's left side with her bridesmaids to her left.

Remember, it’s your wedding and you can determine who will or won’t be in your receiving line. Second marriages and older children need some thought. If they are involved in the wedding, including them in the receiving line may be the right thing to do, regardless of wedding etiquette.

Best Man Responsibilities

Over and above the responsibilities that are seen, wedding etiquette asks that the best man also
  • Be first at the reception in order to welcome the bride and groom.
  • Assist the father of the bride at the receiving line.
  • Give his speech and toast at the reception.
  • Order flowers for the bride and groom's room at the first stop of the honeymoon trip.

Wedding Reception Seating

There is wedding etiquette to follow when planning the seating arrangement for the head table ~

  • Bride's Father
  • Groom's Mother
  • Best Maid
  • Minister
  • Bride
  • Bridegroom
  • Best Man
  • Groom's Father
  • Bride's Mother

More people than this at the head table is awkward and cumbersome.

The other tables are a matter of choice. If you are going to have pre-selected seating, appropriate wedding etiquette is for relatives and close friends to be seated near the head table. You’ll find more information on seating plans and how to execute them in Fire Your Wedding Planner.

How to Cut the Wedding Cake

Cutting a wedding cake can be a paralyzing experience. In the normal course of things, we just don’t cut a cake that big.

Recently I watched a young lady freeze when she picked up the cake knife. Her mother had to step in and cut the cake for her.

This can be avoided at your reception. Take a few minutes, go to How to Cut the Wedding Cake and print out the directions. Keep a copy for yourself, give one to your cake-cutter, and take one to the reception just in case.

Wedding Speech Etiquette

Four wedding speeches at the reception are the maximum per wedding etiquette. Traditionally, this is the order for toasts and speakers
The Bride's Father Offers a Toast to “The Happy Couple”
Usually the speech
  • pays compliments to the bride and groom
  • offers words of wisdom regarding marriage
  • adds an amusing anecdote or tale about the new couple

If the father is unavailable or uncomfortable speaking in public, according to wedding etiquette, the clergyman or a close friend may fill in for him.
The Bridegroom Replies for Himself and His New Wife.
By tradition, with everyone anxiously awaiting, his introductory sentence is, “On behalf of myself and my wife….”The speech needn’t be lengthy, but to meet the requirements of wedding etiquette, it should cover these points ~
  • Thank the father, or first speaker for their kind words.
  • Thank the guests. If any have traveled a great distance, somespecial mention is appropriate.
  • Thank every one for their gifts and best wishes.
  • Invite them to drop wishes cards into your Wishing Well, specifying where it is located.
  • If the wedding favors are on a special table, rather than at the individual seatings, tell them and ask each to please take one home.
  • Thank his new parents-in-law for the wedding and their daughter.
  • Thank his own parents for their contributions to the day.
  • Thank the wedding attendants.
  • Propose a toast to the Bridesmaids.
Per Wedding Etiquette, the Best Man Replies
for the Attendants in This Order
  • Thank the bride’s parents as hosts for the wedding celebration.
  • Propose a toast to all four parents.
  • Read any greetings or messages received in lieu of attendance.
The Bride’s Father
If he didn’t speak first, may now
  • Offer thanks for everyone’s attendance.
  • Express hope they will enjoy the remainder of the celebration
as a means of closing the speeches so the reception may progress according to wedding etiquette.

Wedding Dance Etiquette

Dancing at your reception is a nice touch of family togetherness on a happy and joyous occasion.

Traditionally, according to wedding etiquette ~

  • The bride and groom dance first to their special song
  • The father of the bride cuts in to dance with his own daughter
  • The groom asks the bride's mother to dance
  • The groom's father cuts in on the bride's father and dances with the bride
  • The bride's father cuts in on the groom to dance with his own wife
  • The groom asks his own mother to dance
  • The groom and his father exchange partners, the groom to dance again with the bride while his father dances with his mother
  • The parents exchange partners with the other set of parents
  • The best man cuts in to dance with the bride
  • The groom dances with the maid or matron of honor
  • Finally, the entire wedding party, ushers and bridesmaids join in
  • Once the entire bridal party and their parents are on the dance floor, the other guests are invited to dance.

Regardless of what wedding etiquette says, a nice touch would be to invite the grandparents to begin the first dance. The song played at their wedding reception, their favorite song, or a popular song from the era of their wedding would be appropriate.

Wedding Thank You Note Do's and Don'ts

Wedding thank you card wording is a difficult task many would like to avoid.So they opt for pre-printed thank you cards. A warm, handwritten note expressing appreciation and how you will cherish the gift over the years has a lot more meaning.

As much as you are tempted, do not use pre-printed thank you cards. This is an example of poor wedding etiquette manners.

Your guest didn’t just grab a gift off the shelf. They took time and thought to give you the very best gift they could. The gift is an expression of the giver and their wishes for your marriage.

Try to not be stiff or contrived. Strive for sincerity and warmth.

For those who hosted showers and parties, include a second thank you note with your gift thank you note.

If you received multiple gifts from one giver, don’t lump all the gift thank you notes into one card.

  • Acknowledge shower gifts within two weeks of the shower.
  • Acknowledge wedding gifts received before the wedding day within two weeks of receiving the gift.
  • Acknowledge gifts received at the wedding within two weeks of returning from your honeymoon. You could possibly have the cards addressed prior to the wedding day.

Don’t send out thank you cards without a return address. Let everyone know your new address.

If your wedding was informal, any darker colored ink will be fine. Following a formal wedding, dark blue or black ink should be used.

Put your focus on the gift giver as you write. Don’t start your thank you notes with “I”. Use “you” more than “I”, “me”, or “we”.

Group gifts ~If less than ten people have gone together on a gift, send each of them a personal thank you note. If more than ten went together for your gift, like co-workers in one office, one thank you note placed on the company bulletin board is appropriate. Then thank each one individually as the opportunity arises.

Monetary gifts ~If you know how you will use the money, let the giver know in your thank you note.

Calling the Wedding Off

Many brides and grooms have doubts and last minute jitters at some point in the wedding planning. It seems to be natural.

Selecting a partner and getting married is an important decision. It’s a life-long decision of lasting consequences.

Broken engagements are painful. Everyone involved is hurt to some degree. But "better a broken engagement today, than a broken home tomorrow."

The announcement of the cancelled engagement has to be handled using appropriate wedding etiquette. Regardless of the circumstances or how the engaged couple are handling the situation, an announcement simply must be made.

If there has been no formal announcement, simply pass the word to a few friends and ask them to pass the news along. Also ask them to maintain as much privacy as possible when passing the word along.

Once the engagement has been announced in the newspaper, a brief announcement of the cancellation is necessary. This would be adequate ~

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond M. Ruggles
announce that the marriage of their daughter
Carolyn Sue to Mr. Gary Michael Litzman
has been ended by mutual consent.

After the wedding invitations have been sent, the best way to handle the announcement is in printed form. If it’s only a few days before the wedding, the cancellation must be passed along as quickly as possible.This means telephone calls, as well as printed announcements. The wording might be ~

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond M. Ruggles
announce that the marriage of their daughter
Carolyn Sue to
Mr. Gary Michael Litzman
will not take place.

There might be other reasons to postpone a wedding, such as a death or serious illness in the family. All the guests must be notified as quickly as possible. Some may have plane and hotel reservations to cancel.

If there is only a postponement, an explanation is proper. If it’s a cancellation, no explanation is necessary. The grape-vine will tell them the details soon enough.

Time permitting, the announcements should be printed. But hand written notes are also proper. The wording for a postponement might be ~

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond M. Ruggles
regret that they are obliged to recall
the invitations to the marriage of their daughter
Carolyn Sue to Mr. Gary Michael Litzman
due to the death of Mrs. Ruggles’ father
Fred W. Sanders

If you’ve rescheduled the wedding, add the following to the announcement ~

The ceremony will be held privately
in the presence of the immediate family

If the wedding is going forward, but the reception invitations need to be recalled, use the following wording ~

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond M. Ruggles
regret that owing to a death in the family
they are obligated to recall the invitations
to the marriage reception of their daughter
on Saturday, the second day of April
two thousand and six
the marriage ceremony will take place
as originally planned

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