The Art of the A-List Guest

If you ask wedding planner Arney Walker who the best wedding guest is, she’ll tell you it’s someone who’s planned a wedding. A leader in the industry and founder of Arney Walker Studio, she always knows her former clients will send in their RSVPs right away, be in their seats long before the couple walks down the aisle, and they’ll never show up to a reception with a gift in hand. But there’s so much that well-intentioned guests just don’t know they should—or shouldn’t—do. And Walker, along with Page Napier Morris, an event planner and protocol expert in Charlottesville, is well-versed in the expectations of modern-day guest etiquette. This manners-minded duo first met at Sweet Briar College, an institution known as much for its emphasis on tradition as it is for its wedding-appropriate school colors—pink and green. Nearly two decades later, they team up for weddings across Virginia and D.C. In their years of throwing soirées, they’ve seen it all. With us, they share the oft-forgotten etiquette tips that will put a guest at the top of their A-list.

RSVP Ahead of the Deadline: “The RSVP date is the date your RSVP needs to be in hand,” says Walker, who notes that those who haven’t been in the thick of planning may not realize that the final count impacts everything—from food to thoughtful seating arrangements. 

“Send in your RSVP as soon as you know. Remember, the couple picked you to witness this important day, and they want you to be there! There is a responsibility in RSVPing,” adds Walker. Think about it. If 20 people don’t bother to send in an RSVP, do you plan for them or risk having them show up without your caterer including them in the final count?

Be In Your Seat Before the Start Time: Wedding starts at 3:00 p.m.? Don’t waltz in at 2:58—unless you plan to stroll in with the bride. “The time printed on the invitation is when the actual ceremony and processional will start. Guests should plan to arrive at the ceremony about 20 to 30 minutes before the time on the invitation,” advises Norris.

Take the Transportation: There’s a reason the couple paid a pretty penny to have transportation available for their guests. They want to make it seamless to get everyone there on time, avoid parking hassles, and cut out the discussion about whether you’ve arrived at the right place. Norris says, “Take the organized transportation, if provided. You can always get home on your own at the end of the night, but it is nice to not have to think about getting to various places if you don’t have to.”

Stick to the Registry: “It’s best to stick to the registry and address provided,” says Norris. Whether they’re going the traditional route and moving in after the big day or just navigating the endless stream of Crate & Barrel boxes at their front door, this season is one of transition. Make it easy on them and you by sending a gift from the registry to their home. Skip bringing any gifts or cards to the wedding.

Dress to the Nines: …if that’s what the couple wants. Norris recommends sticking to the dress code that’s on the invitation. Not sure what “country cocktail” or “coastal black tie” means? Ask the couple several weeks ahead of the wedding for guidance, before the last-minute frenzy sets in.

Give the Couple Some Space: Speaking of last minute, give the couple some space the week of the wedding. Walker recommends, “Don’t make the couple field any questions the day of their wedding. Ask a friend, the coordinator, or try the wedding website—that’s what it’s there for!” The couple should be left to focus on their task at hand: getting married.

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