What Is Modern Wedding Etiquette?

No matter how happy the guests are for the newly weds, all too often they remember a wedding for all the wrong reasons -- delays, bad timing, disorganization, low supplies of drink...
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The wedding season is upon us and here at Debrett's we are frequently asked: what is modern wedding etiquette? Etiquette is constantly evolving and many traditions and conventions don't fit comfortably into the wedding day. Many brides and grooms are throwing the rulebook out of the window in the desire to have the wedding day that they want, rather than one that convention created.

Does this mean that wedding etiquette no longer matters? Not at all. In its purest form, etiquette is about how we communicate and interact with each other. It is how we make those around us feel -- good etiquette lies in consideration for others. So, in the case of a wedding, the care of the guests and the roles of the wedding party -- the best man, ushers (groomsmen) and bridesmaids -- are crucial.

Planning a wedding is, for the most part, the same as organizing a party. Care and attention are required for those who are attending -- they have, after all, often traveled from far afield, bought an expensive gift and forked out for a night's accommodation. Some couples, however, think that merely issuing an invitation and allocating a suitable spot on the seating plan is more than enough provision for the guests.

Good organization and clear communication makes for happy guests and, in turn, happy guests create a better celebratory atmosphere. The couple should think about weddings that they have attended and use their experiences to their advantage. Did they have to wait for endless photographs to be taken of the happy couple and their extended family? Did they know where to park, and were there plenty of ushers on hand to point them in the right direction? Were they well fed and watered? No matter how happy the guests are for the newly weds, all too often they remember a wedding for all the wrong reasons -- delays, bad timing, disorganization, low supplies of drink...

Good advance planning creates the structure of the day, but too many weddings fall down when nobody, apart from the bride and groom, is familiar with the order of events. The key players -- the best man, ushers (groomsmen) and bridesmaids -- must be properly briefed. The bride and groom should be able to relax, safe in the knowledge that everything they've planned is in hand. It is, therefore, good etiquette for the wedding party to understand what's being asked of them, enabling them to fulfill their duties.

The best man has the most important role. He must be a good communicator, a diplomat and work with everyone, from the mother of the bride and the bridesmaids to the caterer and the wedding band. He is also the groom's personal assistant, ensuring that everything runs to plan and that the groom can focus on the important stuff -- such as enjoying the day, rather than worrying that the carefully-chosen canapes aren't circulating.

The ushers (groomsmen) should also work closely with the best man. They are there to help the guests and, in a sense, act as the floor managers of the wedding day. They must make sure that the guests know where to go and that people are in the right place at the right time.

At Debrett's, we recommend that there is one usher for every 50 guests, but most grooms choose more. What many couples also forget is that the ushers set the tone for the entire day as they are the first faces that the wedding guests see when they arrive. They must employ good manners right from the start when they seat the guests and await the arrival of the bride.

The bridesmaids, meanwhile, get off quite lightly. After last minute bridezilla panics, the maid of honor and other bridesmaids should ensure that the bride has her dream wedding. There may be flower girls to keep an eye on, or the odd task here and there, but often the bridesmaids come into their own in the run up to the wedding rather than on the actual day.

So modern wedding etiquette is not about old-fashioned formalities or getting it right (or wrong). Many conventions expected at weddings of yesteryear now seem contrived and awkward. A successful wedding is one where everyone -- not just the bride and groom -- has a special time. So, don't be scared to ignore the rule book as good wedding etiquette lies in successful organization and planning. Just make sure you look after those guests...