Brides and grooms aren’t the only ones trying to decode virtual weddings. Guests also have to figure out new technology, gifting guidelines, at-home dress codes and more. “There’s going to be a little more that you have to do as a guest in terms of still keeping engaged with the process and finding a way to support the couple,” says Hasti Maloufi, owner and lead planner of La Vista Events in Vancouver.
To help you ace your attendance, we asked the experts for their best tips. The one golden rule? “The spirit behind guest etiquette is always remembering to keep the focus on the couple that you’re celebrating,” says Toronto-based etiquette expert Lisa Orr. “When you keep that in the forefront, it makes it really easy to make the right decisions.”
1. Make Space for Their Grief
For many couples, a wedding comes after years of dreaming and months of planning, so to have that ripped away is understandably devastating. “There’s a good chance they’re grieving for the wedding that they were hoping to have,” says Orr, who recommends you keep that in mind when talking to a bride or groom about the situation. “It’s important not to dismiss their feelings or impose your own.” Instead of pointing out a silver lining, listen to them and ask how you can help, says Orr. “You don’t need to make them feel happy about it; your job is to make them feel supported.”
2. Don’t Be Offended if You Got Uninvited
When plans change, so too do guestlists. There are the obvious limits of group gatherings right now, but even couples getting married over Zoom might prefer a more intimate affair (consider how intimidating broadcasting your vows over the Internet could be). “Give the couple the benefit of the doubt that they’re managing their event the best way they can,” says Orr. “If you’re really someone who is important to them, you’ll know that and will support them anyway.” You can mail them a special note or memory in a hand-written card, send a gift basket if you can, or reach out to them in the coming months for a virtual coffee or glass of wine.
3. Read Your Invitation Carefully
Invitations will likely be packed with way more information than what we’re used to, so be sure to take a close look at all the instructions in terms of how to participate. Do you need to download an app? Dress a certain way? Have a prop on hand? If you’re unsure, figure it out in advance – ideally by asking other guests or the bridal party, as the couple themselves are likely busy reworking all of their plans. Then, make sure you’re willing and able to fulfill any requests that may have been made. “Whatever it says on the invitation, you should either be comfortable complying or you should send regrets,” says Orr.
4. Lend a Hand
When you send your RSVP, it’s a great opportunity to offer assistance to the couple. “If you were at a wedding, you might help hand out programs if the person didn’t show up—and there are elements of that on the Zoom day,” says Orr. Let the couple know not only that you’re willing to help, but also how you can. “You might reach out and say, ‘Hey, do you need help? I know a florist,’” offers Orr.
5. Don’t Slack on the Dress Code
There’s no doubt that quarantine life has changed our day-to-day outfits, but a wedding day calls for more than your go-to T-shirt. “A wedding is such a big milestone in a couple’s lives, and it’s a sign of respect to show that you’re still making an effort to dress up,” says Maloufi, who suggests following the dress code notes on the invitation. Unsure what they mean? “It never hurts to be overdressed,” she adds. “It’s as much for you as it is for the couple – to shift your energy and make the experience memorable.”
6. Set Your Scene
“Be conscious of your surroundings,” says Maloufi. “Make sure it’s well lit, that they can clearly see your face and that there’s no disruptive noise.” For both your own enjoyment and the couple’s consideration, move your laptop away from your desk and into a spot that feels more celebratory, whether that’s in your living room or out on your patio.
7. Get There Early
Not only should you log in early on the day of the wedding, but you also need to make sure you figure out your tech setup well in advance. “Make sure you’ve educated yourself on the platform ahead of time so you know how to use it, how the features work and aren’t struggling to get on in time or looking confused,” says Maloufi. She also recommends muting yourself quickly after signing in so you don’t delay the start of the ceremony.
8. Show Your Support
Want to go above and beyond? Find ways to share your enthusiasm, says Maloufi, whose suggestions include a confetti-themed virtual background, a congratulations sign to hold up when the couple is announced, pom poms to wave or bubbly to cheers. “Your energy is contagious, so it’s nice to come together collectively for the couple so they can see everyone participating and having a great time.”
9. Respect the Mute Button
If there isn’t a moderator controlling audio for the whole group, take it upon yourself to proactively hit your mute button, because even quiet background noise can be overpowering during a group video chat. You might consider unmuting to clap when the couple is announced as newlyweds, says Maloufi, but then go back to mute. “The takeaway here is you don’t have to voice yourself for the couple to know you’re there,” she adds. “Seeing your smiling faces, a sign or a toast with a glass of champagne is special enough.”
10. Yes, Give a Gift (if You Can)
It’s common for guests to equate the value of a gift with the cost of their dinner plate at the wedding, but Orr firmly disagrees with that approach. “It was never meant to be that way,” she says. A gift is supposed to be a symbol of support for the newlyweds, so the fact that you’re no longer being fed a meal shouldn’t change that. “Whatever you would have given before, I would still send that, taking into consideration the financial impacts you may be facing,” Orr says. “Every couple is going to understand that people might be financially constrained.” She also points out that, even though it might seem like a freebie wedding, many couples are struggling with lost deposits. If you can’t afford to send a gift or e-transfer, put a thoughtful card in the mail or send something you made – a gesture that Orr also recommends for would-be guests who weren’t able to be included in the reworked event.
11. Cut the Distractions
“When your camera is on, remember that your visual can be distracting for other guests,” says Orr. Avoid having people (or pets!) walk in and out of the frame during the ceremony and speeches, and above all else, don’t try to multitask. “One of my pet peeves on Zoom is someone doing 10 other things,” says Orr. “Set aside the block of time and really commit to that. It’s likely the event will be recorded, so if you’re doing things like checking your phone, the couple will see that in their memories of their day.”
12. Let the Couple Break the News
Sitting in front of your device might tempt you to snap and share the celebrations, but hold off. “If you take a screenshot during the event, the couple may not want you to post it online before they have,” says Orr. “It’s a special day and they likely want to curate the images that they have first.”
13. Stay in Touch
Often in a ceremony, the officiant will call on guests to support the couple in their life together, and that commitment remains true no matter how different the wedding itself is. “Reaching out to the couple later is a really nice touch as a wedding guest,” says Orr, who recommends marking their anniversary in your calendar. “A wedding is the first day of a marriage for a lifetime.”
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