Over the past 23 years, I’ve seen just about everything when it comes to guests not having a clear understanding of the etiquette of being an invited guest. If you are getting married at a wedding venue, it might be costing you $100 per head for every guest who attends. Here are a few bits of wisdom for brides, grooms, friends and family on how to avoid committing an embarrassing faux pas on the BIG DAY.

#1: Why Aren’t They RSVPing?
By far, this is THE biggest blunder a wedding guest can irresponsibly make. No matter how you clearly communicate on the RSVP cards, no matter how graciously you request, there will be a few flaky guests who will never let you know, “I’m in” or “Out.” Admittedly, there will be some of your closest friends who just ASSUME you know they would NEVER miss your wedding day.

I’ve never understood this, but some guests think they only need to respond if they are actually coming. The thinking is, “If I don’t send you a ”Yes” – assume I’m not attending.” Many invitees don’t realize how important it is to get an accurate headcount in a timely manner. They might be the nicest people on the planet, but check them off as being absentminded or just plain discourteous.

Avoiding The Mystery of Your RSVP
When you receive the invitation and you know you’ll be attending, put a stamp on the envelope and mail it the next day. Many couples are now sending out electronic invitations. If so, go to their website and click on “I’m coming” and then hit SEND as soon as possible. Couples who are planning a wedding have a mountain of details and you don’t need to be one of them.

What to Do With No RSVP
Don’t send emails or text messages. If you haven’t received an RSVP it’s time to grab the phone and settle the matter in a minute. It doesn’t have to be you. Do you have a willing friend or family member who will reach out to flaky guests. The script can sound something like, “Hi Jim, we sent you an invitation to John and Jane’s wedding and want to know if you’re coming?” Simple, firm, tactful, and direct. Communicate that there are deadlines for their answer, and then if you hear nothing, assume they will be a no-show and move on to the next person on your list.

#2: A No-Show is a No-No
Anyone who is of the age of reasoning doesn’t need this reminder, but you can be sure there will be at least one invitee who will make a really crummy mistake: RSVPing “Yes” and then forgetting or deciding they can’t or don’t feel like going to your wedding. When a guest says, “I’ll be attending”, they will be included in the caterers head count. As I mentioned earlier, this can be upwards of $100 per person and the bride and groom will have to pony up regardless if they show or not. Just remember, their name tag will be on the table in front of their chair and everyone sitting there will be asking, “I wonder why so-and-so isn’t here?” Yup, guests who actually do come will be sitting at the table with a hole in it, leaning over to engage in conversation.

What to Do if You Can’t Make it:
If life “happens” and you are unable to attend, CALL (not text or email) and let the couple know you unfortunately can’t make it. Your circumstances (or “story”) should be pretty darn convincing and a heartfelt apology should suffice. Oh, yes . . . make sure you make it right by sending a generous and meaningful wedding gift. Don’t be a no-show who sends a $10 gift card to Starbucks.

If This Happens at Your Wedding
Inevitably, you will have “Yes” people who don’t show. Don’t waste a moment. Let your wedding coordinator or venue know ASAP. Most caterers leave room for the unexpected and will allow for a certain percentage of no-shows. If more than one guest is missing at a table, your coordinator may be able to combine a table so your guests don’t feel like they are sitting at the “only-lonelys” section of the wedding. After the wedding, make sure you reach out to your AWOL guest, “We missed you at our wedding and we were concerned for your well-being. Is everything okay?” If personal injury or an act of nature was not the cause of their absence, a bit of confrontation is probably in order: “We were really disappointed you weren’t there – we felt kind of disrespected.” You can’t control their response, but sometimes calling a person down on their irresponsibility is exactly what is needed.

#3: Having One Too Many
Ah, yes . . . the open bar! The ultimate Nirvana for the life of the party. The ultimate invitation to drink, drink, drink, and drink some more!! The problem is once a person has waaay too much “happy juice,” they can turn into a drunken fool. At recent wedding I attended, I heard that one of the groomsmen threw up all over his family in the car during the ride home! And another groomsman at the same wedding “heaved” in the elevator at the hotel! How classy. While it is true that the bride and groom want their friends and family to have the time of their lives, their always seems to be at least one drunken soul who takes it too far.

Don’t Be the Joke of the Party
On one hand, for those who drink responsibly, even clear-thinking adults sometimes drink too much or forget to eat while they’re drinking. Many hosts will provide shuttles for guests staying at local hotels. For those who live locally, make sure you have a designated driver or other plans for transportation. If the bartender takes your drink away from you, remember, they’ve done this before and know when you’re putting yourself in danger. It’s time to start drinking loads of water to hydrate and clear your head.​ Don’t be the person who throws up in the family van or loses his lunch in the elevator. Don’t be the joke of the party.

If This Happens at Your Wedding
If you’re aware of a guest who’s gone way over their limit and is “acting a fool,” ask your wedding coordinator or trusted confidant to tell your bartender, “No more for John / Jane.” Perhaps this person needs to be taken out to the parking lot so they are no longer a distraction. Most importantly, make sure that person does not get behind the wheel of a car and try and make it home. That is a tragedy waiting to happen. Sometimes saying, NO, is the most loving thing you can do for a person.

#4: Being Late
I have been officiating weddings for over two decades and never quite understood why guests are late for weddings. You can probably think of someone you know who is chronically late for everything. And then there are others who don’t allow enough time for parking, finding the venue, traffic, or simply don’t read their invitation. In some cultures, I have learned the ceremony is pretty much unimportant and the reception is when the celebration REALLY begins. Funny story: A couple of weeks ago, I officiated a ceremony that started an hour late (Yikes! It wasn’t my fault!). When we finally began the processional, a group of about 10 embarrassed guests could be seen entering the wedding venue. I’m sure they thought the ceremony would long be over once they arrived, but they were BUSTED. 240 people were staring at them thinking, “How could they?” Please respect the bride and groom by arriving to the wedding on time. One trend I currently see is that the bar is open PRIOR to the ceremony. I think it’s a great idea. Reward those guests who arrive promptly.

Don’t Be Late
Do your best to arrive fifteen minutes before the ceremony. The bride and groom have gone to great sweat and money to make sure their guests are treated like VIPs. A wedding is not an event where you can be “fashionably late.” Don’t think of the time before the ceremony as a time to stand around and stare. Walk up to a few people you know and a few you don’t know and mingle. Use this time to socialize and then get the best seat in the house for viewing your loved one’s important moment. Last and most importantly, if there is a legitimate reason you will not be able to arrive on time, the old adage is still true: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.

What to Do About Late Arrivers
When I work with couples, I always tell them it’s more than okay to start ten to 15 minutes late, especially if traffic or parking is difficult. I do believe the LATEST a ceremony should start is 30 minutes after invitation time. Anything longer is being rude to those who made the effort to get there when invited. However, if your wedding venue contractually wants you to start promptly at four – four it is. Just remember when you send out your invitations to let your guests know that the ceremony time is FIRM. Have your wedding coordinator or family member keep a lookout for arriving guests so that they can let you know whether the majority have arrived. If there is a late arrival, don’t sweat the small stuff. Keep your mind focused on everything that is beautiful about your wedding day. Keep your mind uncluttered. Be present. Don’t allow those who are tardy get to your temper.

About Dean

Dean Merrill brings 22 years of experience as a wedding officiant in Southern California. His creative and professional approach to performing weddings comes from a unique blending of talents he utilizes in every ceremony in which he officiates. He is currently the preferred wedding officiant for Southern California’s #1 rated wedding coordinator, Bella Vita Events.