A basic understanding of proper wedding etiquette is essential for everyone! Whether you are planning your wedding day, in the wedding party, or simply attending weddings, Pamela M. D’Orsi of PDR Events and New England Invitations is back on the podcast to help you navigate the unspoken guidelines for being polite and considerate of others. Sara and Pamela share their own experiences and provide tips to save you from committing these wedding faux pas!
Can you introduce yourself for our listeners?
My name is Pamela D’Orsi Ryan. I’m a wedding and event planner, as well as owner of New England Invitations that’s located on Main Street in East Greenwich. I’ve been a wedding planner for over 15 years. I’ve produced weddings in Rhode Island, focusing on Newport, Palm Beach, New York City. Additionally, I have a wonderful invitation company called New England Invitations, where I create invitations for clients not only in Rhode Island, but throughout New England and abroad.
Not only do you do that and event planning, but you can really talk about the etiquette of wedding day!
Yes, it’s not just etiquette, though. It’s also some do’s and don’ts, how to set boundaries, and give your guests a good experience, too. And how to be a good bridesmaid or groomsman.
I don’t know where to start because there’s so many topics when it comes to etiquette!
Let’s just start with the beginning of the wedding planning process. You have your venue and you’re putting together your guest list. One of the things I always get asked is should a couple invite people from work or do they have to? Absolutely not! Don’t send a save the date – just in case circumstances change where you’d no longer want them to attend your wedding. I’ve had couples send save the dates then leave a company and wonder if they should still send the invite.
Oh, I hadn’t even thought about that! So you’re saying if you send a save the date, you should technically send an invitation.
Exactly. That leads me to the reason for the save the dates: they’re to tell people the date and to ask them to hold it. It also provides accommodation information. Back in the day, we used to just send them to out of town guests. Now everyone gets it. Basically, I encourage couples to hold back on sending save the dates on anyone on their “B list” when it comes to the guest list. It’s okay to NOT send someone a save the date but send an invitation, but not the other way around.
Any other etiquette things couples should think about when it comes to the invite list?
Certainly, how do you want to address them? Nowadays women are keeping their last name. So it’s no longer Mr. And Mrs. You know, it could be Mrs. And last name or her maiden name. Then make sure you know how they want to be addressed socially, because I have somebody who’s a doctor, and she professionally uses her maiden name, but socially, she uses Mr. And Mrs. her husband’s last name. So that’s important. If it’s a same sex couple, you know whose name goes first. That’s really just a matter of choice. It really comes down to addressing people the way they want to be addressed!
What about the etiquette for someone who is a guest and getting the invites?
Yes! This is such a good point. I have had so many brides and grooms say to me, when I get an RSVP card, I’m going to put it in the mail right away. The last week before the RSVPs are due, the whole family winds up getting involved to divide and conquer, reaching out to people who didn’t RSVP. So, if you’re a guest: RSVP or send something to let the couple know what’s going on. The other thing is that if an invitation is addressed to you but does not include a plus one, don’t reach out and ask to bring a plus one. There’s a maximum number of guests that the couple can invite for the venue. It can put a couple over budget and just really isn’t polite. Finally, make sure you pay attention to if children are invited or not.
There’s nothing wrong with asking if you need clarification, but don’t ask if you can do something that’s clearly not listed on the invite.
What’s the etiquette for thank you notes on the other side of a wedding day?
We talked about this some in our other episode (see it here!), but thank you notes are a way of acknowledging that you received a gift or that someone attended your wedding. It’s really important. I know that we talked about it last episode, but Sara had mentioned the experience of giving a gift and not knowing if it was received until someone got a thank you note or it was brought up way later in conversation. So, it definitely matters if you send one or not. It’s really important to send out a little handwritten note – doesn’t have to be much! You can just say, “Dear Aunt Clara and Uncle Mike, Thank you so much for the blender. We make our shakes in it every morning. It was so much fun seeing you on the dance floor.”
I think it’s important to start writing them young, too. When you have kids and they’ve had a birthday party or the holidays, asking them to write a short note is nice. Everyone is so excited to get thank you notes! One thing etiquette wise, there is no timeline on a thank you note. So, there’s really no excuse because you can just sit and write a few at a time. Also, consider doing a postcard with a wedding photo or something like a card to use your beautiful photography! It’s an easy thing to do but it goes a long, long way.
Any other etiquette tips and tricks about paper products?
I think we covered most of the major ones! I do work on a lot of wording for invitations. People ask who should be issuing the invitation and it depends on you and your family. Are you planning to issue it with your families or parents? Or just as a couple? Traditionally, it’s alongside the parents because everyone is contributing. But, it’s something to think about because you don’t want to offend anyone with your first piece of wedding stationery.
So we talked a little bit about the guestlist from the very beginning. What is something else when we’re dealing with wedding etiquette that our listeners should think about?
One thing I think listeners should think about is asking people to be in your wedding party. Something to remember is that if someone says “no” to being a part of your celebration, it’s nothing personal. Being in a wedding has become a super expensive thing in the last few years. Being a bridesmaid, for example, means someone is expected to pay for a bachelorette party, hotel accommodations, food, dresses, and then that’s all before the wedding day, too. It can be a big financial obligation. So, if you’re asked – it’s okay to say no to being a bridesmaid or part of a wedding day! You could ask if you could do something else special to help out – like pass out programs or set something up. But, don’t feel obligated if you can’t afford it. It’s okay to ask what the cost might be before you say yes or no, too.
Another nice gesture for your wedding party is to pay for hair and makeup, because it’s another huge expense. Many couples also give out gifts to their wedding party on the day of the wedding. So, on both ends, it adds up quickly! I feel that if you’re going to require your bridesmaids to have their hair and makeup done, then you have to cover it.
Bottom line: if you’re asking your attendants to pay for things, be honest about what it’s going to cost and ask them 6-10 months before the wedding so they can plan. If you’re expecting them to have makeup done or a certain piece of jewelry, you need to provide that. Communication is key! For my couples, we make an itinerary for their wedding party that has what’s expected, the prices, and if it’s covered for the individual. We also make a checklist – like no earrings, or what jewelry to wear. It’s a nice, easy way to communicate everything.
Let’s switch to the guests. Is there proper etiquette to make sure your guests have a good experience?
I talk about this a lot with my couples. It’s proper etiquette to ensure that your guests have a great experience. What I mean by that is we want to make them feel welcome from the moment they arrive. I’ve been at weddings where I don’t know where to go and I’ve gone in the wrong door because no one was there to guide me. Little things like if music is playing or how the bar is setup all go into your guests’ experience.
What’s the etiquette for a bar?
You should have an open bar for at least your cocktail hour. I recommend setting aside a specific amount of money for your bar, and when that dwindles down, your team knows to switch to a cash bar. Or, have beer and wine available all night and liquor is cash. But, you want to provide something because your guests invested their time and money to attend your event. Make the night special for them!
I know that couples say weddings can get expensive quickly – and they can. Consider lowering your guest list and you can do more of the bells and whistles that you want!
What other tips do you have for our couples?
Here’s a little side tip – sometimes venues charge vendors for their soft drinks. It sounds silly, but this is a simple way to take care of your vendors. Get them a vendor meal from your venue or caterer and make sure that they can have a soft drink with it. Many of us drink water, but it’s nice to have the option for the caffeine without an extra charge!
Seriously! As a photographer who’s with a couple all day, being able to have that little kick of caffeine can help! Okay, so what about if it rains on your wedding day?
Well, whether it’s raining or it’s super hot, there’s things you can do to provide your guest a good experience. One might be a tent. Or, if it’s raining can you provide umbrellas so people can walk from one location to the other without getting drenched? Think about what’s available too, maybe there’s a walkway or pavilion to guide them to. Just think through the scenarios and determine how you can best take care of your guests. Etiquette truly starts as soon as your guests arrive.
You should also think about your bridal party, too. If you’re getting married in the summer, think about the attire they’re in. You don’t want them too hot or cold, so maybe you need to provide a wrap or jacket. Just think about the comfort – what would you want if you were a guest at this wedding?
How about thanking your guests as you’re talking about creating a wonderful experience for them?
I tell couples if you have 200+ guests, you need to have a welcome reception to meet and greet everyone. It’s a chance to say hi and make sure you’ve talked to everyone without the stress of it all happening on your wedding day. But, again, a thank you note makes a huge difference in acknowledging someone attending your wedding. You can also do receiving lines or visit everyone’s table at the reception but both take a lot of time, so if you have the option for a welcome event, consider it!
I also wanted to just kind of throw out a little tip here! If you’re making speeches on your wedding day and you want to thank everyone, make sure you write out who you want to thank. My husband and I winged our thank you speech and forgot some important people.
Yes, speaking of speeches – unless you’re a standup comic, keep your speech under three minutes. I’ve never had anyone leave a wedding asking me for more speeches. I’ve had a wedding where they did the speeches the night before. And it was phenomenal. The only speeches given at the wedding were the parents, and it was great. I like to say speeches should be like a lady’s skirt: long enough to cover everything but short enough to keep your interest, ha!
What about gifts now?
Yes! So, we talked a little bit about the wedding party but it is proper etiquette to get them a gift as a thank you for being there. Everyone loves slippers and pajamas. Consider a nice piece of jewelry, too.
What about gifts for your vendors?
I give my clients a little cheat sheet for tipping to help them decide what to do. If someone goes above and beyond, they can certainly provide more. But, the basic tip is a nice thing to do. It’s always well received by vendors and it’s a nice way to thank them for their services.
We have an entire episode about tipping your vendors that you can find here!
Are there any other wedding etiquette tips that guests or couples should think about?
If you;’re a guest, don’t walk into the wedding with a big box! All gifts like that should be sent to a couple’s place directly. Envelopes are okay – many couples have a box or display item for them, but we’re seeing less of the big boxes because registries are less item specific now. Don’t leave the wedding planner wondering how to get the Tiffany’s vase back to Chicago for a couple while they’re off on their honeymoon! Just send it to their house, I promise you, that’s the best option.
What are the top three tips couples should be considering when they are planning their perfect event?
Give your guests a great time and make sure they’re well-taken care of.
Take care of your wedding party.
Send thank you notes! Whether they were there or just sent gifts, make sure to acknowledge that thoughtfulness!
What We Discussed
Meet Pam (1:47)
How to address guest list (5:50)
Who issues the invitation (16:20)
Guest etiquette (31:06)
Thank your guests (40:34)
Wedding party experience (44:43)
Links Mentioned in the Episode
You can find New England Invitations and PDR Events: Website (New England Invitations) and Website (PDR Events) | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | 36 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI
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