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Alexandra Messervy founded The English Manner in 2001 after a career working in the Master of the Household’s department for the Royal Household of Queen Elizabeth II.

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Published

24 July 2023

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The modern wedding is a minefield, and with it a new modern wedding etiquette is developing.

The old tried and tested methods work, but it is understandable that when celebrations are so costly and often now hosted by the happy couple themselves, there is a desire for something different. 

Remember, it is probably a proud day for the parents of the couple, so don’t cut them out completely and do listen to tradition and advice – if you know the correct way to do it, then you can consider how to tweak that without causing offence or doing anything too ghastly.

Consider the destination

You may desire hibiscus cocktails in Hawaii but don’t expect guests to pay thousands to join you unless you know they’ve got the budget to do so (and even so, are happy to).  If the venue is closer to home, make sure it is accessible and be helpful with listing plenty of accommodation across the budgets and transport links.

The flowers and decoration

Modern couples often want a  more monochromatic décor and a pale, pared-down colour palette than perhaps their parents may have hankered after – go to town on the flowers and add little touches but try not to have too many fluttering paper butterflies or garlands unless you are opting for a garden party.

Family dynamics and guest considerations

Family dynamics are a key part of modern wedding etiquette and often mean the inclusion of a step-parent or additional partner: make sure they feel included and, if possible, give them a role (being a witness or delivering a reading, for example).

Ensure everyone has a good view but don’t ask them to be seated too early unless it is a Royal or very aristocratic wedding, for which you might be asked to arrive at least 2 hours in advance so that the protocol of seating precedence can be properly observed.

Be thoughtful with seating plans; common interests – or perhaps matchmaking!  But make sure you triple-check it – we don’t want anyone without a seat.

Ensure guests have a drink on arrival at the reception and (especially for older guests) somewhere to sit.

Receiving lines have gone out of fashion but are the best way for every guest to meet the main wedding hosts.

Timings

Brevity doesn’t mean hurried, but it should help efficiency: ceremony, reception and wedding breakfast, cake, bouquet and take-your-leave.  If a longer party is desired, consider an afternoon ceremony, drinks reception whilst photos are sorted efficiently, then an evening meal and dancing with well-organised efficiency and a running order you stick to.

Older guests, long-distance travellers and young children don’t want to hang around, and everyone will enjoy it much more if it is well-executed and efficient.

The wedding party

Make sure your ushers understand their role and actually usher.  They are not there just to have a good time! When selecting ushers or groomsmen, remember they have a duty on the day to perform and are often the first people guests see and, thus, give that vital first impression of the whole wedding.

Speeches and cake

Consider pacing the speeches between courses. This is a good contemporary idea, as it allows the speakers to relax a bit when their ‘ordeal’ is over, rather than wait until the cake is cut!

If there is a cake, it is quite a good new idea to utilise it as the pudding, thus cutting costs and time. 

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