Invitation Etiquette: What to do Before You Say "I Do"

Wedding invitations used to be really simple:

Wedding invitations used to be really simple: Send them about a month ahead, include an RSVP card, count RSVPs and voila you know your magical guest number. In the fast-paced, smart phone and twitter world, sometimes it seems like anything goes. However, there are still some basic etiquette expectations with regard to inviting friends and family to your big day.

NO, a Facebook event is NOT a wedding invitation. People create Facebook events for nearly everything these days, but if you expect your friends and family to travel, dress up, and bring your expensive gifts, you have to put forth some effort to let them know their presence matters. The same goes for an e-mail — not acceptable for inviting people to a wedding — unless you’re looking for a single witness to show up at a civil courthouse ceremony, and even then a telephone call is more appropriate.

So, here’s the drill: If you are planning nuptials of any size, to which you’ll be inviting guests and including a wedding party and reception, follow the steps below:

Save the date

You’re engaged! Congratulations! Once you’ve shown off the ring to everyone and started hoarding bridal magazines, it’s time to set the date. Somewhere within the year leading up to your wedding, but no later than two to four months out, you can send a Save the Date card. Information can include the venue (if you know it already), and even where you’re registered.

The invitations

Somewhere between eight and four weeks is standard, depending on several factors. If you plan a destination wedding, your invitation could be sent as early as a year out; you can’t expect your bridesmaids to fly to Hawaii if you don’t give them time to plan! Even with a more traditional wedding, people often have to travel several states to attend, so the eight week mark is a good one to shoot for. Four weeks is really only acceptable if all your guests are local, and your wedding less than fully formal.

Invitations should include the ceremony venue, the reception venue, times and date, maps and available hotel lists for out-of-towners, information on where you’re registered, whether children are permitted at the event, and what type of wedding you plan (formal, semi, garden, etc.) RSVP cards and self-addressed, stamped envelopes for their return are required.


People have gotten quite lax about RSVPing for events. Social media culture is to blame, as we’re inundated by less formal invitations to hundreds of events a year. That doesn’t excuse the rudeness of a guest not responding, but you need to be prepared for it. The RSVP cut-off date should be at least two weeks prior to your wedding; three is even better because at two weeks before you will need to call and follow up with a number of non-responders.

The other issue with RSVP’s is the number of people who may try to get you to bend your expectations for their attendance. It may seem that you’ve been clear as crystal that there will be no children, and that your ex-sister-in-law does not have a “plus one,” but you will receive calls, emails, etc. asking to bring little ones, and if your college friend can include not only her teenager, but her bff too. Yes, it is rude of them, but they aren’t thinking of it that way. They’re trying to make the most of your big day, and want to be there with you. It’s up to you, case-by-case, whether you make any changes. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence, but be prepared to salve some ruffled feathers for those who cannot understand that you’re on a strict catering budget, or don’t feel comfortable with infants at your nighttime formal event.

If you follow the tips above, the task of inviting your guests will be much less distracting from your big day!