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Wedding etiquette guide

From switching your engagement ring to banning children and asking for cash, SoBristolWeddings helps get you through the complicated world of wedding etiquette unscathed.

It will be one of the happiest days of your life, but planning your wedding can sometimes be a headache – from negotiating top table politics and ‘no kids allowed’ policies, to whittling down the guest list and whether to accept gifts.

Discover how to navigate some of these sticky situations with style and grace, with SoBristolWeddings’ etiquette guide.

The engagement

Who to tell first

The groom – or bride – has popped the question, but who should they share the good news with first? Traditionally, the bride-to-be’s parents are the first to be informed, followed by the groom’s parents; any little ones they might have; then siblings and close relatives and friends.

If you’re unable to tell them in person, then a phone call should suffice. Just don’t announce the big news on social media before your nearest and dearest find out!

How long should the engagement last?

This is entirely dependent on each bride-and groom-to-be’s individual situation. We’re no longer living in an age when the stereotypical marriage-obsessed woman can drop everything to plan her dream day in a matter of weeks – although short engagements can work well for couples who have already built a life together over a number of years, and see marriage as somewhat of a formality.

Important factors to consider when deciding on the length of your engagement should be time and money. Ask key questions such as ‘how long will it take us to save and achieve our budget?’ and ‘how much time can we dedicate to wedding planning, outside of work and social commitments?’ and you should reach the right answer. Typically, engagements last between 13 and 18 months nowadays.

The ring

And, what do you do if, you don’t like the ring? And by this, we don’t mean you wish it were bigger or a different cut, but that it’s made from yellow gold, even though you only ever wear white, or it isn’t practical to wear every day, for example.

An engagement ring is a symbol of lifelong commitment, and he most likely spent months trying to choose the perfect one, not to mention several months’ salary on it, so if you can overlook his jewellery faux pas then let it slide. But if you really can’t bear the thought of wearing it every day for the rest of your life, then be honest and tell him as gently as possible. Perhaps suggest going ring shopping together to find something that you both love.

The guest list

How to whittle it down

The guest list is quite possibly the biggest marital minefield you’ll be faced with throughout the whole of the planning process. Your budget or venue capacity may dictate the number of guests you can invite, but there’s also children, partners you’ve never met, nosy neighbours, acquaintances and long-distance relatives to consider.

Firstly, decide a concrete number of guests to invite to the ceremony, followed by additional numbers for the evening do. Then jot down your ‘A’ list guests, which should include immediate family, best friends and any others you simply couldn’t imagine getting married without. Your ‘B’ list should include aunts, uncles and relatives and friends you see regularly, and ‘C’ list colleagues, extended family and family friends. Your ‘D’ list will then consist of friends you’ve lost contact with and people you think you should invite but aren’t exactly sure why.

Compare the number on your lists against the number of guests you’ve decided on, and then whittle it down from here, working backwards.

Banning noisy nippers?

Some couples balk at the idea of having a bundle of joy screaming through their nuptials, toddlers running ragged through the church, or hiking up the catering costs with additional mini mouths to feed. Simply put, if you are one of those couples, then it’s entirely acceptable to ban children from your wedding. Some might argue it’s ‘anti-family’ not to invite children, but it is your day, after all.

Of course, you have to be sensitive when telling mums and dads, so call them before you send out the invites pre-warning them that it will be an adults-only affair, allowing for plenty of time to book a babysitter.

Alternatively, make it clear on the invitations exactly who is invited to the wedding, omitting the little ones’ names… and hope it doesn’t cause too much controversy!

The invites

Invitation wording

Traditionally the bride’s parents were the lucky ones to host – and pay – for a wedding, but these days it’s becoming more common for the bride and groom to, or a combination of the betrothed and both sets of parents. The general rule is to start the invitation with the names of those hosting.

Traditional etiquette omits stepparents, but you can add them if you like, remembering that divorced parents’ names should be listed on separate lines and mum’s name usually comes first.

The wording doesn’t have to be this formal; omit titles and/or surnames for a more modern feel.

When to send save the dates and invitations

The idea of save the date cards is to give your guests plenty of notice to make travel plans, save money on accommodation and request the time off work, especially if you’re planning a destination wedding or one that falls on or near a national holiday. Aim to send yours 12 months before the big day, or nine months at the latest, if time is running short.

Invitation-wise, there are not set rules as to when to send these out, but try to get them stamped and sent no later than four months in advance of the wedding, giving your guests enough time to make the necessary arrangements, and RSVP of course.

The gift list

‘Traditional’ gift list

Most major department stores provide a wedding gift list service and there are also online companies that can provide a one-stop gift registry service bringing together your favourite items from several different retailers.

Whether it’s the trendiest new teapot, Egyptian cotton bedding or a high-tech camera for honeymoon you’ve got your eye on, be sure to provide plenty of options for your family and friends to choose from, with a wide range of prices too. You don’t want to underestimate the generosity of dear Aunt Edna, nor outrage tight Uncle Tom!

Pop a card in with the invitation politely informing guests that you have a wedding gift list, should they wish to use it, along with details of how they can contribute, including the website address.

Money for honeymoon

Asking for money to go towards paying for your honeymoon or spend in the sunshine is growing increasingly popular with brides and grooms because more often than not, they’ve already set up home together and have everything they need.

You shouldn’t be bashful about suggesting the gift of money in the invitation, but be sure to tell guests where you’re going and what it will be spent on to give them the warm glow of knowing they’ve contributed to something special.

Honeymoon registry websites are a great idea and offer guests an array of exotic honeymoon gifts to buy, from swimming with dolphins and dinner under the stars to romantic massages and emergency cocktails.

The table plan

The top table

The traditional top table plan is simpler than you may think; the real challenge is figuring out where to put everybody else.

There’s normally eight people seated on the top table: the bride, the groom, both sets of parents, the maid of honour and best man.

The bride and groom sit in the centre, with groom to the bride’s right. The bride’s mother normally sits next to the groom, with the groom’s father to her right, and the maid of honour on the right-hand end. Still with us? Then the bride’s father sits on her left, with the groom’s mother next to him and the best man on this end.

This is only a guide, however, and many brides and grooms choose to mix it up to suit them, especially if there’s friction between family members or their parents are divorced and remarried – the key is, it is your day and you need to be happy with the arrangements.

To mix or not to mix?

Another quandary that often comes up is whether to keep close family and friends seated together, or mix them up a little.

The obvious benefit of keeping them together is they’ll feel more comfortable during the wedding breakfast and there will be no awkward silences. But many couples will want their nearest and dearest to meet and mingle for the first time on their special day, and the wedding breakfast provides the perfect opportunity.

Try to consider your guests’ ages and interests when putting together the seating plan and it’s a good idea to seat children and their parents at the same table, preferably with some crayons or toys to keep the little ones entertained.

Avoid filling tables with total strangers and steer away from seating lone singletons on a table full of couples.

The speeches

Generally there are three people expected to deliver a witty, sentimental and, more often than not, blush-inducing speech during or after the wedding breakfast: the father of the bride, the groom and the best man.
The bride’s father normally introduces the bride to the groom’s family, with plenty of praise and tender memories, before toasting to the happy couple and handing over to his new son-in-law.

The bridegroom then has the job of thanking everybody, including both sets of parents for their help and support; the bridesmaids, best man and anybody else who helped in the run-up to the day; and their guests for joining them to celebrate. This is usually the point at which thank you gifts are handed out too.

It’s especially touching for him to mention any family members no longer with them, such as grandparents, or who are unable to make it due to illness, and of course, he can’t end without raising a glass to his beautiful new bride.

The best man’s speech is often the high point of the reception and a chance for him to embarrass the groom as much as acceptably possible with silly stories and amusing anecdotes. He then proposes a final toast to the happy couple, before handing over to the master of ceremonies, or announcing the next part of the day, such as the cutting of the cake or entertainment.

The thank yous

Giving gifts is a traditional way of thanking the most important people in your wedding, so don’t forget to account for them in the budget. One of the oldest customs is the exchange of gifts between the bride and groom, something long-lasting and memorable, such as engraved jewellery or a collectible.

You’ll then need to buy gifts for both sets of parents, as a token of appreciation for all they’ve done for you. Flowers are always a good option for mum, while dad is sure to appreciate a bottle of his favourite tipple.

Next, you’ll want to thank your bridesmaids and groomsmen for their help in organising your hen and stag dos, and anything else they’ve contributed to. Some couples will see buying the dresses, suits, shoes and accessories as thank you enough, but it’ll make them feel extra special to receive a little something extra during the toasts.

Flower girls and page boys, of course, deserve a small token of appreciation for their big and important roles in your wedding, as well as anybody else who played a big part, such as an uncle who walked you down the aisle.

By Shelly McCatty

© SoBristolWeddings
Tuesday 19 January 2016

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