Perfect manners on formal occasions

If you’re invited to a formal occasion, such as a wedding,  there are a few extra things to remember. This page gives you the basics; for much more detail and guidance on what is currently “accepted” behaviour at formal British social functions, have a look at Debretts on-line.

Although the website may look offputtingly traditional, the advice is surprisingly sensible and well-balanced; and if you can’t find the answer there, you probably don’t need to know it.


  • Big celebrations require a lot of organisation and often cost a lot of money. If you are invited to one of these, make sure you reply promptly; the organiser will need to know the numbers of guests in good time to make arrangements properly. (Sometimes the invitation will give a specific deadline for reply; make sure you comply.)
  • The letters “RSVP” on an invitation is the accepted standard way of asking people to reply to an invitation. You can use any method of reply listed next to “RSVP” on the invitation – post, e-mail, text or telephone.
  • If no e-mail or phone number is given, you should send a handwritten reply. (You can buy special “Wedding acceptance” cards, or use nice note-cards, but you do not need to –decent normal paper will be fine.)
  • The invitation should normally make it clear who is invited; if it does not specify “Ms Y plus guest”, the invitation is just for you, and it is bad manners to ask if you can bring a guest (still worse, of course, to bring one without any warning).


  • Many formal events, especially weddings, will involve an official ceremony. Don’t worry if the venue and the rituals or rules are completely unfamiliar; the person leading the ceremony will normally expect this , and will normally make every effort to explain what is happening and what if anything you need to do.
  • The main thing is to be respectful; follow any instructions and the example of people around you.

Introductions and polite conversation

  • If it’s a small party, your host should introduce you to everyone; if it’s a bigger party (such as a wedding) this might not be possible and you may have to introduce yourself.
  • Etiquette guides are full of instructions on introductions; it can be a very tricky area, but the main thing is to show interest in the people around you and smile; if you are one of the younger guests, other people should be making the effort to include you and make you feel at home; normally they will start the conversation.
  • Making conversation with new people can also be quite challenging, though you will get better with time and practice. Find some basic advice here.
  • Try to avoid subjects like religion and politics, which might lead to argument and offence (not ideal at a celebration). If someone says something which offends you, see if you can ignore it or change the subject (you are unlikely to change the person’s mind or attitude at this party); but if you feel that you must say something about the offensive remark, try to keep it as low-key as possible (“That’s not what most people think”, “That doesn’t sound very tolerant”) – and then move on.