Something New, Something Borrowed: 10 Refreshed Etiquette Tips for Today’s Wedding Attendees

Even before the pandemic, wedding etiquette was an often-tricky area to navigate. Now, as we emerge from a year like no other—and increasingly celebrate in-person events—the dos and don’ts around “I do’s” and being a good guest have become even more complicated.

Some protocols remain true: do RSVP as soon as possible and don’t be late for the main event. Other areas are a little less clear: Should you send a gift if you attend a virtual ceremony? What’s the best way to greet other guests at in-person events?

Hilton, as a company that hosts thousands of weddings each year, is encouraging travelers to make new memories and reconnect this summer. To ensure wedding goers have the latest etiquette tips ahead of their summer celebrations, the global hospitality company partnered with International Etiquette Expert Diane Gottsman. Follow these modern-day manners to maintain your status as the perfect wedding guest: 

  1. Put a Stamp on It: Even if the invite says you have two months to respond, the best course of action is to reply within one week. “Waiting too long is a sign you are hesitant or waiting to see if something better comes along,” Gottsman said.
  2. Dress to Impress: If there is a suggested attire listed on the invitation or the couple’s website—such as black tie, cocktail or casual—let that be your guide. And if you are still unclear, it’s fine to reach out to the hosts for some guidance. As a general rule, “Dress up rather than down,” advised Gottsman. “The outfit you choose tells the host how excited you are to attend the wedding. It shows that you put thought into the event.” Finally (and perhaps this should go without saying)—don't wear white. It's reserved for the bride.
  3. Honor Those Air Hugs: “Everyone has a different comfort level with closeness right now,” Gottsman said. “As a good guest, it’s your responsibility to pay close attention to non-verbal cues as well as be clear about how you feel.” If someone reaches out for a handshake, hug or fist-bump, you can reciprocate if you feel comfortable. If you’re not ready for physical contact, offer another friendly gesture, such as a heartfelt nod in the other person’s direction. If someone comes in for a hug, it’s okay to pull back, smile and say “I can’t wait until I feel completely comfortable with hugs; I’m just not there yet” in a cheerful voice.
  4. Know the Picture-Posting Protocol: Unless the couple guides you otherwise, “They get the right to post the first wedding photos on social media,” Gottsman said. If they encourage you to post at will—such as through guidance on a wedding website or at the event—it’s A-OK to share your snaps. Be sure to use any hashtags provided and remember that the official wedding photographer and videographer get first dibs on any great shots. “Clear space, when needed, for the professional photographer.”
  5. Stash Your Smartphone: You can pull your phone out to take photos, but once you’re done, tuck it away. “It can fit in a pocket. It can fit in a purse,” Gottsman said. More importantly, do not put your phone on the table while you are dining. “Your cell phone is not a utensil.” It’s a potential distraction for you and could be off-putting for others.
  6. Get Accustomed with Other Customs: Do some research before attending a wedding that will incorporate cultural customs unfamiliar to you. For instance, in the U.S., “A handshake may be an expected greeting, but in some areas, a bow may be more acceptable,” Gottsman said. Some research can help, but your best bet is to reach out to the person who invited you to get some pre-nuptial prep. “Every culture has a different set of customs. Knowing how to dress, how to gift and what to expect is the responsibility of a good guest.” 
  7. Connect with Courtesy. If staying at a hotel with friends and family, keep courtesy top-of-mind. For instance, if you booked connecting rooms through Hilton’s new Confirmed Connecting Rooms by Hilton option, “Think about how often you’ll spend time together and when you’ll keep the connecting doors shut and open,” Gottsman said. Also, while you and your roomies may embrace the up-all-night slumber party vibe, guests in rooms around you may not enjoy it as much. Remember to keep the volume down and the fun contained to your cozy cove of connecting rooms.
  8. Be Choosey with Conversation Topics: “Conversation will no doubt come up about hot topics, such politics and religion—and now vaccines. But a gracious guest will make every effort to steer clear of a volatile debate,” Gottsman said. “There are other things to talk about, and you are not going to change anyone’s mind.” If a touchy topic does arise, it’s fine to politely change the subject. Although you may want to let someone know that you disagree with them, “You don’t have to get into a debate. We can respectfully set our boundaries.”
  9. Give What Feels Right to You: The first etiquette rule: If you are invited to a wedding (virtual or in person), send a gift, even if you can’t make the event. The second: Don’t feel pressured to give more than what you are comfortable with. Gone are the days when a guest was expected to cover the amount of their individual per head cost. Not sure what type of gift is appropriate? “Follow the registry.” Gottsman said. “This way, the couple won’t get duplicates if everyone follows the list. Cash and checks are great alternatives to the registry as well.”
  10. Get Glam for the Cam: Sure, it may be tempting to lounge in bed while watching a virtual wedding, but if there is two-way viewing, grab the suit instead of the sweats. “Whether you are an in-person or virtual guest, the same courtesies apply,” Gottsman said. RSVP as soon as possible, dress for the occasion, arrive on time, show your smiling face (don’t default to an avatar) and send a gift. “You are a guest. And even if it’s virtual, a wedding is a wedding. It's a celebration and a time to reconnect.”