If we look to the past, weddings were once a tick-sheet of etiquette. There was a right, and supposedly ‘wrong’ way of doing things. Moving into the 21st century and beyond, modern couples have thrown this sense of propriety in the air. Falling in love, planning your life together and deciding to make that forever bond. These things should always happen off of your own accord and in a way that makes them meaningful to you. In today’s guide, we’re looking at the ways that modern couples are redefining traditional wedding etiquette and creating days that are entirely their own.

The Ceremony

What tradition says

Traditionally, the groom and his best man were required to arrive at the venue early with the bride travelling in with her father. There was a structured tiered list of how the wedding party should enter and exit the venue. And, alongside these, the ceremonies themselves were strictly governed with time frames and specific requirements for every minute.

The modern couple way

In 2020, brides and grooms are choosing to entirely reinvent the meaning of a ceremony. While churches still remain a popular choice, stately homes, hotels and even zoos are now becoming favourable for having a day to never forget. Wedding parties have moved on from the traditional allocations and now spread further. Gender no longer restricts access to the bride or groom party. Bride’s can choose to walk up the aisle on their own, flanked by both parents or alongside someone that means the most to them.

Cocktail Hour

What tradition says

The cocktail hour has long been an optional part of the wedding day – a way to lead people between the gap before the reception.

The modern couple way

This is perhaps one of the sections of a wedding day that has never been strictly governed. The only suggested rule, which applies to both traditional and modern weddings, is to be mindful of the time frame. Too short and guests may feel rushed before they’ve finished their drinks. Too long and guests will likely become distracted and fall out of that ‘romantic’ feeling. Where modern couples can truly make their mark is location and food.

A smaller marquee is the ideal setting for a cocktail hour. Pagodas and Chinese Hat marquees are ideal for this – especially if your special day is during the summer. Guests can still enjoy the beauty of your surroundings with the option of shade too if required. They can be dressed up to fit your wedding theme and have a relaxed feel that perfectly transitions between the ‘I do’ to the dance floor.

With food, be as creative as you can. Vegan wedding hors d’oeuvre are becoming a popular choice in 2020 with our continued drive towards eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives. Some couples choose this time to introduce a cocktail inspired by a moment in their relationship. Or create bespoke sweet offerings that bring a smile to every guest’s face. The chance for personalisation here is vast.


What tradition says

Traditionally, weddings had a formal receiving line at the beginning of the reception. This is where the bride and groom stand to one side and greet every single guest. In this instance, it is the role of the groom to introduce his bride to everyone she hasn’t met. Right after the entrance, it is tradition for the bride and groom to have their first dance, followed by the bride and her father-in-law.

There have also been strict protocols as to how the wedding party should sit and the order in which the speeches can take place. If you do enough research, you’ll find rules governing what the Father-of-the-Bride and Best Man ‘need’ to include in their speeches as well as when the cake should be cut and how.

The modern couple way

The reception, which is essentially a party in your honour, should be a chance to let your hair down. It’s an opportunity, after the stresses of planning your big day, to truly enjoy everything that you’ve created. Which is why couples in 2020 are entirely throwing in the manual. Very few couples choose to have a receiving line these days. This is largely due to the time implications – can you imagine welcoming 200 guests individually? Instead, many choose to make a speech before or after the first dance to thank everyone for celebrating with them. And, if you’re looking for something more personal, thank you cards sent in the post is a beautiful reminder.

When it comes to seating, anything goes. Some couples adore the idea of having a wedding party facing the rest of their guests. Others opt for circular tables instead and nestle themselves in alongside family and friends. This way, you’ll be able to move around and interact easier, and you can prevent the awkwardness of forcing family members next to each other.

The first dance is still a popular feature but has been reinvented over the years. Some couples stage extravagant dance routines, including their bridesmaids and grooms in this too. Others choose to do away with the formalities and invite wedding guests on to the dance floor straight away. And, don’t feel restricted by who has to dance with who. As we said above, this is your time to switch off and enjoy.

The Meal

What tradition says

Wedding meals or wedding breakfasts were traditionally 3-courses. The head table was served first and the serving concierge moved down the tables in order of importance. Only one the starter had been eaten could there be any consideration of speeches. And even these were strict, with the groom, Father-of-the-Bride and best man being deemed the only suitable speakers.

The modern couple way

The meal at a wedding can be whatever you want it to be. For some, a sit-down three-course setting just doesn’t fit with their theme. Instead, couples opt for BBQ’s, hog roasts and buffets where guests are free to choose their own food. This eliminates the complex task of requesting, collating and relaying everyone’s menu choice to your caterers and allows the meal to become a more relaxed affair.

When it comes to speeches, couples have also found ways to add their own edge. In some weddings, the Maid Of Honours speech is as highly anticipated as the Best Man’s. And, for some wedding parties, everyone gets involved from bridesmaids through to ushers. The Mother-of-The-Bride may also choose to give a speech as can anyone else attending your wedding that you’d love to hear from. And many Bride’s choose to thank their family and friends too during this time.

Seat people where you want. Choose to put old school friends together. Pop grandparents on a table where they can sit back or dance the night away. Consider a children’s table with activities to keep the youngest guests entertained. Be as flexible and playful with it as you like – it’s your big day after all.

Cake Cutting

What tradition says

Wedding cakes were traditionally fruit-based with white marzipan covering. The bride and groom topper sat on top with floral accents as needed. Cutting the cake was seen as symbolic and is followed by the bride and groom feeling themselves. Many couples choose to save to the top tier of their cake for the christening of their first child or for their first wedding anniversary.

The modern couple way

Today’s couple steers away from traditional fruit cakes in favour of something lighter or more unique. The most popular cake flavour of 2019 was said to be chocolate while using fresh flowers or metallic details has also risen in popularity. Vegan wedding cakes are creating a storm, as is turning away from traditional cakes altogether. Some couples opt for cupcake towers, doughnut cakes or macaroon cakes which eliminates the need for cutting.

Modern-day Wedding Etiquette

Your wedding day should be unique, just like your love. While tradition has its place in many areas of our life, it certainly does not have to dictate the way you say ‘I do’. Here at South West Marquees, we have helped hundreds of couples find and plan marquee weddings that tick every single box. If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please feel free to get in contact today.