The Manners Maven

Modern wedding decorum can be mystifying. Snezana Pejic makes sense of assigned seating, social media, and B-list guests.

Wedding Etiquette Snezana Pejic

photograph by jj miller

Once upon a time, the bride’s parents paid for the wedding. Registries were simple: towels, plates, and linens. There were no giddy cousins choosing filters for the cake on Instagram, and no tipsy roommates live-tweeting the reception. But things have changed, and so has wedding etiquette. Snezana Pejic, director and founder of the Etiquette Academy of New England, in Brookline, trained in royal protocol while working for the late Majesty King Hussein of Jordan. Now she offers a primer for modern-mannered parents, guests, and couples who deserve to be treated like royalty—at least for one day. 

How has wedding-day etiquette changed over the years? 

Now, couples tend to treat weddings as “parties” as opposed to actual weddings. We worry about the little things like flowers, how many food courses, or the cake. In reality, it should be about the new family being created.

Speaking of family: Should kids get an invite—even to swanky affairs?

Yes, invite children unless it’s absolutely impractical. Young toddlers might not belong at a glitzy affair—so if you choose a sophisticated venue, consider offering babysitting options for your guests. A wedding is about honoring and uniting entire families.

And should you extend invites to plus-ones whom you barely know?

Don’t omit a plus-one just because the couple has only dated for a short while. After all, in this day and age, couples can marry after three months. Instead, invite the guest if you’ve met in person, regardless of how long the relationship has lasted. Whether you want to give every solo guest a plus-one option depends on your budget.

Should couples visit every table?

It’s really beautiful to visit every guest. Make the rounds and acknowledge each person by name, even if your feet are sore and you haven’t eaten. You can relax on your honeymoon.

Is assigned seating passé?

There’s nothing worse than a reception where people are diving for seats. Having assigned seating makes things so much smoother for everyone. It also helps you keep track of who’s in attendance and where to direct your photographer for group shots.

When it comes to thank-you notes, is email appropriate?

Nothing can replace a personalized thank-you. A tailored note shows that you’re being thoughtful and that you appreciated a guest’s presence and the effort it took for them to be there.

Registering for vacations or money: smart or tacky?

I don’t think it’s rude at all. Actually, it’s a lovely thing to allow people the opportunity to contribute to something that’s meaningful to you.

What are some etiquette rules that are completely outdated?

The traditional belief that parents must “give away” a daughter—as if it’s the last thing they’ll do. Nowadays, you’re gaining a son or gaining a daughter.

Who pays the bills?

This discussion should include both families. If one family has more money, they should take a bigger part. You need open communication: “This is how much we can afford.” Everyone has limits. That’s why it’s so important that families meet ahead of time, so they feel comfortable discussing these issues. If the bride and groom are in their twenties and starting from scratch, it probably isn’t reasonable for them to contribute. But if they’re in their late thirties or forties and financially established, it’s absolutely okay for them to pitch in.

If parents are paying, do they get to make decisions about decorations, food, et cetera?

The question for parents should always be: “How am I bringing happiness to my kid’s life?” In most cases, parents have had a wedding already. It shouldn’t be about them; it’s someone else’s turn now. So while the people who are paying should have some decision-making authority, they should ask the bride, groom, and close family members if there’s something they’d really want to see. If the groom’s parents are vegan, the menu needn’t be entirely vegan—but at least offer one option for them.

What are your thoughts on A and B guest lists?

The guest list is one of the hardest decisions to make. If you haven’t spoken to someone in a while, ask yourself how they bring meaning to your relationship. For practical purposes, it’s okay to have an A list and a B list. If you haven’t spoken to someone in several years but they’re still symbolically important—say, a godparent—then send an invitation.

How can social-media-shy couples discourage guests from posting photos?

This kind of request is absolutely appropriate for a wedding website, and even at the bottom of an invitation. Then offer a reminder on the big day, either by posting a small sign or asking a greeter or the person handing out programs to offer verbal reminders.

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Be the best guest with Snezana Pejic’s etiquette commandments.

Don’t get hammered

A wedding isn’t an excuse to get drunk, even if complimentary alcohol is provided (and it should be). 

Turn off your phone

A ceremony is not the time to play Candy Crush, even if you’re in the back row of an enormous church. Struggling to stay disconnected? Leave a voicemail message indicating that you’ll be away from the phone, and drop it someplace else—like your car or hotel room.

Be a thoughtful photographer

If you must snap and upload, make sure you get permission in advance. And think twice about captioning photos or putting them on social media until the day after the event.

Skip the profanity

This is one rule that never goes out of style. It applies online (posting photos to Facebook) and in real life (toasts).

Remember: It’s not about you

Weddings don’t cater to guests’ every whim: They should be a reflection of the happy couple. So if you’re a vegan and it’s a barbecue hoedown, or if you wore heels without realizing the ceremony was on the beach, don’t complain or take it personally.

For additional tips from the pros, check out more advice from Wedding Experts.

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