Polite Ways to Help You Deal with Poor Guest Behavior

Discover expert etiquette tips on how to handle your loved ones’ cringe-worthy actions.

Anna Post shares some of the most common ways guests may misbehave at your wedding – and find out how to fix them, politely of course!

wedding photo interfaith at monarch beach resort flowers by cina and fitz carlile photography cocktail hour near golf course
Photo: Fitz Carlile Photography

Manners are sets of acceptable social behavior – how we are expected to carry ourselves, and how we expect others to act in return. And weddings have lots of expectations – err, manners!

For guests who are not up to speed on what those are or how to read the more subtle signals, there are a few ways you can help steer them on the right path. And what happens when an attendee steps afoul of wedding-day manners? Generally, it’s rude to correct someone publicly, but sometimes the moment calls for diplomatic action.

Addressing the Dress Code

Not everyone’s interpretation of dress codes – let alone style or taste – is the same. From guest apparel that is too casual, revealing, or even over-dressed, sometimes people miss the mark. To clarify what you mean, first, make sure the style of your invitation reflects the level of formality you are planning.

Second, include mention of desired dress, but preferably on the enclosure, rather than on the invite itself. Wording can vary from the direct to the delicate: “Semi-formal attire,” “reception to be held on lawn” [read: ladies, beware of high heels!], and perhaps for a beach wedding, “flip-flops welcome.” More details can be provided on a wedding website.

Third, there is word of mouth. Even descriptors such as “semi-formal” can mean something different depending on where you are and what time of day the festivities will occur. So make sure to paint a picture for loved ones when asked – “Think day dresses for ladies and sports coats for men” or “It’s a bit dressier – most will be in cocktail dresses and suits with ties.” Examples can offer a better idea on how they can pin down the right note to hit.

The No-Show

In the past, I’ve talked about handling wedding guests who RSVP for – or worse, arrive with – individuals who weren’t invited. But there isn’t much you can do in the moment about someone who RSVPs and then fails to show up. It is inconsiderate, but dwelling on that faux pas won’t do anything to change it, and will take away from enjoying your day.

Don’t mention it to other attendees – it will only give more life to the situation and draw attention to it. Ask a bridesmaid, planner, or someone else close to you to alert the caterer, remove the absent guests’ name cards, and clear and rearrange the chairs at their assigned table, if there is one. This will minimize any visibility of their absence.

Enthusiasm Overload

It can happen at any social function – that individual who, in his or her enthusiasm, latches on to you and doesn’t let go. This is understandable at a wedding – it is an emotional event, and in many cases you haven’t seen your guests in a while. It’s important for the newlyweds to spend time speaking with everyone (in fact, it’s worth stressing that this is perhaps your single most important task during the course of the day), but it can be tricky to mingle when one person monopolizes your time.

A simple solution is to introduce him or her to another attendee. If that’s not an option, don’t show any impatience, but when the exchange begins to run on, smile your truest smile and say, “I’m so sorry, but duty calls! If you’ll excuse me.” Most anyone will understand that as the bride you are busy, and not take offense. This can happen especially during the receiving line, which is a time for hellos, congratulations, and quick pleasantries. In this case, you might draw the next person in the receiving line into the conversation in an effort to transition your chatty guest on.

The Switcheroo

So much thought goes into seating assignments; but some family members and friends, for whatever reason, decide to swap their place with someone else. Maybe they want to catch up with an old buddy or avoid a relation who they don’t get along with. Unless the change involves a head table – say, the wedding party or your closest relative – it’s often best to turn a blind eye and let it slide. While they should respect your designations, it’s simply too small to be worth your attention on such an important day.

But if the choice does affect any special seating, either discretely (and with a smile) ask them to switch the places back, or ask a sibling or bridal attendant to do so on your behalf. “Sorry Jim, but this table is for my parents and some of our closest family members. Would you mind returning to your original seat? Thanks.” Any friend worth their salt will happily comply.