Etiquette & Planning Guide

Planning a wedding takes months of preparation, careful budgeting and the inevitable compromise. Especially if this is your first wedding, questions about what is customary inevitably arise. Should you include registry cards in your invitation? Who pays for the rehearsal dinner? Is it appropriate for your dad to lead a toast at the reception?Need answers? No, The Groom’s Family, and Yes. Need more? Read on.

  • Budgeting
  • Engagement Celebration
  • Gift Registry
  • Bridal Shower
  • Bridal Luncheon
  • Rehearsal Dinner/Party
  • Ceremony Order
  • Reception Order
  • Formal Introductions at the Reception
  • Receiving vs. Mingling
  • Receiving Lines
  • Toasting
  • First Dance as Mr. & Mrs.
  • Cake Cutting
  • The Money Dance
  • Budgeting

The first step in planning a wedding is to establish a preliminary budget and an assignment of expenses. Once established, you’ll find it easier to begin effective decision making.

Traditionally, the bride’s family has been responsible for a majority of wedding expenses, but today it is common and acceptable for the bride, groom and groom’s parents to volunteer their monetary assistance.

To gain a commitment from those involved, you must first prepare a preliminary budget; decide upon the desired style of your engagement, wedding, reception and honeymoon; list all services and supply expenses needed; make telephone calls to research price ranges (our Wedding Services section can help); and summarize your findings into a presentable format.

Schedule a meeting with family members involved to discuss your preliminary budget. Try to gain acceptance and a commitment for the items and services needed. Be prepared to compromise. If you sit down and discuss all costs openly and honestly, you’ll work quickly toward deciding a final budget.

Since it is the foundation for the many months of planning ahead, it is important to budget carefully and completely. For an example of how expenses are commonly divided today, see our Modern Etiquette section.

Engagement Celebration

Once you and your fiance have informed immediate families of your engagement, a celebration may be in order. An engagement party may be hosted by either family or yourselves. Your celebration may be informal as a backyard barbeque or formal as a ballroom banquet. Either way, you’ll find this an opportunity to announce your engagement and involve family and friends early in your planning.

Bridal Registry

A bridal registry is a gift management service provided by giftware and department stores that simplifies gift giving. Registry attendants help you pre-select and record those items you prefer as wedding gifts; such as kitchen utensils, appliances, linen, china, crystal and furniture.

Once your registry list has been compiled, it is available to guests as a shopping tool. It clearly states which gifts you prefer, associated patterns, prices and which gifts have not been purchased. Your guests are able to make purchasing decisions that meet their individual budget without wasting time, and you receive a gift that you prefer, that matches, and won’t need to be returned.

If a single store doesn’t have all the items you need, feel free to register at more than one. Choose stores that carry a wide range of items by manufacturers you prefer, have several branches for out-of-town guests, and won’t insist on sending notices informing your guests that you are registered. Registry notices included in invitations are considered in poor taste. It is more socially acceptable to have your mother, the groom’s mother and your wedding attendants verbally spread the word as to where you have registered.

Bridal Showers

Bridal showers began as a way for friends and family to help young brides of modest means raise a dowry. Today they are extremely helpful to the young couple just starting out. When else are you going to get a melon baller or coordinating kitchen towels?

Showers are often based around themes such as kitchen, bathroom, home furnishings, etc. In such cases, the bride’s registry preferences may be included in the invitations. Showers may be hosted by anyone, but are traditionally thrown by the maid of honor. Couple showers, attended by the bride as well as her groom, have also become popular.

Bridal Luncheon

This is a thank-you for your attendants and a celebration for family and friends. It is typically attended by women only: the bride, her wedding attendants, her female relatives (mother, sisters, grandmothers), and the groom’s mother and close female relations. It provides a good opportunity for the women of both families to get to know one another before the big day.

It may be a luncheon, brunch, or night-on-the-town hosted by yourself or your family. Bridal teas have also become popular; held at small coffee houses, local hotels or even hosted by an individual. It is generally scheduled one week prior to your wedding.

Rehearsal Dinner/Party

Immediately following the rehearsal of the ceremony, it is common for the wedding party and parents to meet for a celebration hosted by the groom’s family. It is typically an informal dinner party for all to celebrate the coming event. You’ll find this a time to express appreciation to attendants and families by gift giving and toasting.

Ceremony Order

Wedding ceremonies are basically similar, but your ceremony will be unique as to the number of guests, formal or semiformal arrangements and religious or ethnic specifics. Use the following as a guide to outline the order of your ceremony.

Seating of the Guests

Pre-ceremonial music as the ushers seat the guests.

Seating of the Parents

Once the guests are present and seated, the groom’s parents are escorted to their seats. The bride’s mother is escorted and seated. The bride’s father is waiting with the bride.

The Groom Takes His Place

The officiator, ushers, best man and groom take their positions.

Attendants’ Procession

The processional music for the attendants begins as they are ready to march down the aisle; bridesmaids, maid-of-honor (matron-of-honor if married), flower girl and ring bearer.

Exchange Vows

Traditional vows are very popular, but you may write your own personal vows to recite.

Musical Piece Within the Ceremony

Music is used to accent the ceremony during the candle-lighting or other non-verbal portion of the ceremony.

Exchange of the Rings

The Kiss



Reception Order

Wedding receptions are based upon traditions and protocol, but there are many variations. Number the order of your reception activities and change or add to the following as needed.

Before the Arrival of the Bride and Groom

Background music plays, refreshments, seating, gift table, guest book (from the ceremony) and decorations await the guests.

Formal Introduction

Receiving Line or Mingling Time (20 to 30 minutes will do).

Toast to the Bride and Groom

Best man: Make sure the best man is aware of his responsibilities. The newlyweds and family members may also wish to toast. Arrangements for a microphone may be necessary.


Following the toasts, you may wish to have someone offer a blessing for the meal.

Meal Service

The wedding party and families are served first.

Newlywed’s First Dance

Cutting the Cake

Bouquet Toss/Garter Toss

Money Dance (optional)

Everyone Dances!

Formal Introductions at the Reception

As the guests of honor, your entrance into the reception deserves a formal introduction and a welcoming applause from guests in attendance. Upon your arrival, before your entrance, speak with the announcer or entertainer to review the enunciation of your names. Then, just wait for your cue to enter. “Ladies and gentlemen will you please welcome the new Mr. and Mrs…”

Among a variety of introductions, the most popular is an introduction reserved solely for you and your groom; as you enter, your attendants follow, couple by couple, unannounced, amidst applause.

A more formal (and challenging) alternative is to include introductions of the entire wedding party (prepare the names for the announcer to introduce). The introductions should be in the attendants’ order of appearance at the ceremony; bridesmaids and ushers couple-by-couple, the best man and maid of honor together, ring bearer and flower girl together, and finally, you and your husband.

Adapted from the military, there is an alternative of introducing the wedding party through a tunnel of love. In the order previously described, the first couple of the wedding party, when introduced, enter just inside the entrance, stop at the beginning of what will be a human tunnel, turn to face each other, hold the other’s hands, and raise their hands together over their heads creating an altar or doorway. The next couple proceeds into the room when introduced; they walk together under the hands of the first couple and form a continuation of the tunnel.

The tunnel continues to grow as the wedding party is introduced, until finally, you and your husband are introduced. You proceed together through the tunnel and emerge into the reception for a grand entrance. You do not form part of the tunnel, but continue into the room. The wedding party may then collapse their sections in order and follow into the reception.

Your introduction should, of course, include you and your husband, but you may choose to include the wedding party, parents, and grandparents. The parents and grandparents are rarely introduced though since they are busy double checking arrangements and greeting guests. They are the hosts and hostesses, let them mingle.

If you find it necessary to introduce a lengthy list of family members, out-of-town guests, parents, and/or grandparents, do not include them in your formal introductions, present these introductions during toasting or dinner. These introductions may be presented by the fathers, the wedding party or the entertainers.

Receiving vs. Mingling

As you are formally introduced into the reception, the guests will stand and applaud. A very impressive sight. But you may find it uncomfortable if you enter not knowing what to do next.

Upon your entrance there is usually time allotted for greeting or receiving congratulations from guests. The traditional method is through the formation of a receiving line. The wedding party stands side-by-side (as if ready to hold hands) on the dance floor or other open area. The entertainers announce the formation of the receiving line and welcome guests to form a line to congratulate the bride, groom, parents, and the wedding party in turn.

The receiving line process is lengthy, inconvenient and close to extinction. The more popular, contemporary, alternative of greeting guests is through informal mingling. Upon your formal introductions into the reception, walk to the middle of the room for everyone to witness your arrival, then immediately begin mingling at the guests tables. This method allows the guests to remain in their seats or mingle socially as the bride and groom move throughout the room greeting guests. The average time allowed is usually 20 to 40 minutes.

Receiving Lines

Receiving lines were designed to facilitate introductions. Your parents introduce you and your husband to each guest, your husband introduces each guest to his parents, and his parents introduce each guest to the next person in the wedding party. In all cases the guests would begin with the bride’s parents (hosts) or the bride and groom (guests of honor).

Sample Receiving Lines:

bride’s mother     bride’s father     bride     groom     groom’s mother     groom’s father     maid of honor     best man     bridesmaids & ushers

bride’s mother     groom’s mother     bride     groom     maid of honor     bridesmaids

bride’s mother     bride’s father     bride     groom     groom’s mother     groom’s father

bride     groom     maid of honor     best man     bridesmaids


Tradition dictates that the first toast of the day be given by the best man. This is his opportunity to offer best wishes to the bride and groom.

The best man should stand, ring his glass (to gain the guests’ attention) and introduce himself. For example, “Good afternoon, my name is Tom Jones. I am the best man and I would like to propose a toast to the bride and groom. Will you please stand and join me.”

Secondly, he may wish to mention how long he has known the groom, how privileged he feels to be his best man, and possibly share an interesting story or two concerning the newlyweds’ courtship (possibly the way they met and reacted after their first date). Lastly, he would present the toast. For example, “We are here to celebrate their marriage, so let’s raise our glasses to toast Mike and Michelle. May they share a long and happy life together, as husband and wife.” The guests will toast and applaud.

Following the best man, other toasts are welcome, although optional. There may be a telegram or letter read for someone unable to attend. Parents, close family, guests, and lastly, the bride and/or groom may toast.

It is quite common for the fathers of the bride and the groom to present a toast. (It is wise to inform them a few weeks in advance so they may have time to prepare.) Rarely will there be additional toasts from the guests, but the bride or groom may know if there is someone who would care to say a few words.

The final toasts should be given by the bride and/or groom. The bride may first wish to thank everyone for being part of the ceremony and celebration. Second, recognize certain individuals for their assistance; persons who made centerpieces, cake, or gown. The groom may wish to thank his new family for a wonderful reception, his parents for assisting and special people for their role in the wedding arrangements. And of course, he may conclude by asking everyone to join him in a toast to his wife. Share the toast and share a kiss.

To avoid wasting valuable reception time, schedule champagne service to begin upon your arrival and during your mingling. When you are ready to be seated, following your mingling, champagne will be served and guests ready to toast. Verify that the parents and wedding party are in attendance, with champagne, for the pictures.

For the most effective delivery of the toast, a microphone and an amplification system may be necessary. If you have entertainment planned, there is usually a microphone and amplification available. Or, the banquet facility itself may have a “house system” usable. Inquire well in advance to avoid delays.

Plan to have the microphone reach the head table so the best man may propose the toast in the company of the entire wedding party. This arrangement produces the best pictures and allows the microphone to be passed to nearby parents or guests.

First Dance as Mr. & Mrs.

The entertainers request the guests to direct their attention to the dance floor as you make your way to the center. The music begins and the announcer presents your first dance as husband and wife. The guests respond with applause.

For your first dance you may choose to include your wedding party or be the only dancers. If you are the only dancers, you’ll dance the song in its entirety without interruption. But, plan for a second slow song for the parents, wedding party couples and guests to join in.

A more popular alternative is to allow the parents, wedding party and guests to join in about half-way into your first dance song. You continue to dance together throughout the first dance but, near the middle of the song the announcers welcome all family and friends to join the newlyweds (not cut in). They all become a part of your first dance.

Another alternative is to segment your dance for the parents and wedding party couples. In this case, the newlyweds should dance together for about the first 60 seconds. Once the guests’ applause has subsided and the photographer has taken appropriate pictures, the announcer asks for the bride’s parents to cut in (applause). The bride’s father dances with the bride. The bride’s mother dances with the groom. After approximately sixty seconds, the groom’s parents cut in (applause). The groom’s father dances with the bride. The groom’s mother dances with the groom. The bride’s parents may dance with each other or return to their seats.

Following the parents, wedding party couples (bridesmaids and ushers) may be asked to join in (not cut in). The bride and groom should rejoin in dancing. The groom’s parents may dance together, or return to their seats. Now the guests may be invited to join in as the wedding party and newlyweds are all dancing. This option takes approximately three to four minutes and allows you to share a part of your first dance with your parents and wedding attendants.

In either option of dancing, you may still choose to dance a traditional father-daughter dance later in the reception. Following the first dance, guests are welcome to cut in to dance with the bride or groom. Grandparents are generally not a part of the first dance, but if you wish to include them you may. You may dedicate a special dance later in the reception.

Cake Cutting

Traditionally a bride and groom cut and share their wedding cake together as a sign of their commitment to each other.

There are basically two methods of sharing cake — neat or messy. If you choose to be messy, some guidance may be necessary to avoid a frosting frenzy.

Tradition elects the bride to feed the groom first. For a more predictable outcome and more control over the situation, you might want to have him feed you first (make this clear with your hubby and the photographer prior to feeding).

So now, your husband is serving you first. How messy is he going to be? This is something that should be discussed in advance. Remind him of the gown, hair and makeup. That and a stern look should keep his intentions honorable. If all else fails, remind him your turn is next.

Traditionally, you are to cut the bottom layer of cake first, but the second or even the third layer may be cut to allow the photographer better poses and pictures. Never cut the top cake. This is your anniversary cake and is to be stored in your freezer for use at your first anniversary celebration.

At the cake table allow adequate space for the bride’s and groom’s toasting glasses, a cutting knife, serving knife, napkins, a cake plate and flowers.

The Money Dance

A money dance is a traditional, systematic method of allowing guests to dance with the bride or groom while offering them monetary gifts.

The guests form into two lines; one for the ladies to dance with the groom, and one for the gentlemen to dance with the bride. The person at the head of each line is to cut in approximately every 30 to 45 seconds. Upon cutting in, each guest then offers the bride or groom a monetary gift, a little spending money to start their new life.

A concern of many brides is how to store money during the money dance. There are two popular solutions: The first and most often-practiced method is to use a money bag — a small silk and lace bag that matches your gown. It can be made or purchased. A second alternative would be to hold the money in your hand. As guests cut in, accept the money and lay it flat in your left hand. When you begin dancing place your left hand on the man’s shoulder and the money is conveniently out of the way.

To facilitate the forming of lines and to assist the guests in cutting in, you may wish to assign the best man and/or maid of-honor to stand at the head of each line to remind guests to cut in. For the convenience of your guests try to keep your money dance to a limit of fifteen or twenty minutes.

Money dances are traditional, but optional. You may find that certain family members are against the idea. On the other hand, friends may wish you to have one. The choice is usually yours to make.

There are circumstances where a money dance is considered in poor taste or unnecessary. If the average age of you and your fiance is over 30 years of age, you are expected to be established. If either are settled in a successful career, or satisfactorily independent, the guests may feel a money dance is unnecessary and therefore not participate.

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