As much fun as weddings can be, it isn’t a given that every wedding is going to present you with your idea of a good time, or even a good meal (we’ve all heard or experienced a catering horror story or two). The truth is, there is only so much a wedding guest can control. This is as it should be — you are there, after all, to support and celebrate a couple in love (we hope). But even if the next wedding you attend isn’t your kind of party, you can — nay, should — still maximize your enjoyment of the day. It’s what the couple wants. And so, in that spirit, Eater staffers have some strategies for making the most of your next invite, plus a bonus tip for being a good guest, and not just a good-time guest.
Take it easy at the rehearsal dinner
Martinis may be all the rage at the moment, but I find it necessary to note: Under no circumstances should you order martinis at a wedding rehearsal dinner. This should be a no-brainer for most people, but ordering a martini, or multiples, the night before a wedding at which you are likely playing an important role is a very bad idea. A classic vodka martini can equate to about 30 percent ABV, or 60 proof. Having more than one is for sure going to impact your morning.
I am speaking from experience. I made a very bad decision at my best friend’s wedding and had three or four martinis during the rehearsal dinner. I was her man of honor, so I had a lot to do on wedding day. Dehydrated and miserable (it was also over 100 degrees on this summer night), I struggled through standing at the altar and taking dozens of photos where I definitely looked tired. You want to be your best self on the wedding day for whomever you’re there to support, so don’t order a martini. Don’t even order a variation on a martini. Just don’t. Save your martini for burger night with friends. — Stephen Pelletteri, executive producer
Tip big and tip early
We all know that bartenders get slammed at weddings and that the madness only gets worse as the night goes on. So bring cash to the reception and put at least $20 in the tip jar upon ordering your first drink. If there are multiple bars, you can divvy tips out among them. (In the rare case that the venue or catering service doesn’t make tipping an option, just be extra kind and courteous.) Likely, your gesture will be remembered, which means you’ll get speedy service for the rest of the night and, most of all, gratuity is taken care of early, ensuring that you won’t forget to leave a tip after one too many cocktails. — Jess Mayhugh, managing editor
Fill up at cocktail hour
I’ve been to enough weddings to know that the food is highly unpredictable. The standard mains — fish, chicken, and steak — are easy to overcook, and usually the safest bet is the side of mashed potatoes (if you’re lucky, served in a martini glass). So I’ve shifted my wedding food strategy from merely hoping for the best when my dinner plate arrives to filling up during the cocktail hour. It’s where you often find more of the fun party food: sliders, mac and cheese balls, mini grilled cheeses, and the like. Once in a while, there’s some kind of showstopping centerpiece, like a cheese table, a raw bar, or in the case of one Puerto Rico wedding I attended, a gorgeous suckling pig (yes, at the cocktail hour). Truthfully, even a no-frills, low-key cocktail hour menu of charcuterie, raw veggies, and dip is hard to mess up. A few plates of these snack-y foods gives me a solid base for drinking, ensures that my stomach doesn’t grumble throughout the pre-dinner speeches, and sets me up so that even if the entrees are disappointing, I’m decently satiated until the cake is served. — Stephanie Wu, editor-in-chief
Order a G&T
If you find yourself at a wedding with an open bar, stick with a gin and tonic. It’s classic, refreshing, and, most importantly, there’s really no way to screw it up. Sure, it might not meet your exact preferences — they might have only one specific kind of gin, the bartender might over- or underdo it on the tonic — but the bottom is pretty high. You can also speak up about your preferred ratio. At a wedding, best to stick with 50-50 or less, so that no one glass is too boozy. Pace yourself and have fun. — Hillary Dixler Canavan, restaurant editor
Get two different entrees
When it comes time to check that box on the invitation — meat, chicken, fish, or veg — collude with your plus-one (if you’re allotted one) and pick different dishes. Maybe you take the prime rib and mark them down for the chicken; either way, make sure one of you selects the most expensive-looking option. (It must be good to be worth the splurge, right?) Then either go halfsies on your portions of salmon piccata and steak kebabs or graciously claim the winning meal for yourself and let your plus-one reckon with their too-dry chicken breast. — Janna Karel, Eater Vegas editor
Chat with the randoms at your table
Not at the fun table where everyone knows one another? Take it as a compliment. Chances are, the wedding couple put time and energy into these seat assignments, and your placement at the stranger table means they recognize you as a singular, mass-appeal pal and a top-notch conversationalist. They’re counting on you to make Random Cousin and One-Off Coworker feel comfortable. Instead of pulling up an extra chair with your besties, own your status, do your job, and help everyone have a good time. — Lesley Suter, special projects editor
Always go to (and eat at) the after-party
Giant burritos, pepperoni pizzas, and fried chicken sandwiches aren’t typical wedding foods, but these comfort foods do tend to show up at the after-party, which is why you should always go to the after-party. The post-reception fete is usually far more casual (grandmother and aunties are finally in bed), and it’s time to really let loose. Plus, you’ll get more face time with the couple. But more importantly, you’re probably hungry from dancing all night and that dry chicken from the sit-down dinner isn’t cutting it. Or maybe you had too many gin and tonics. Regardless, your morning self will thank you for housing a few tacos at 1 a.m. — Erin Perkins, Eater Carolinas editor
Gift a food experience
Years before honeymoon registries were an established thing, I was surreptitiously finding out where couples were going on their honeymoon so I could give them a gift certificate to a restaurant in that location, whether a critically acclaimed hot spot or just one that was a particular fit for their tastes. But a fabulous dinner in their hometown works just as well. I still remember the date-night meal my husband and I had right after our wedding at the (sadly, now-shuttered) tasting-menu restaurant we couldn’t easily afford to go to ourselves — and exactly which friends had chipped in to send us there as a special gift. — Missy Frederick, cities director
Ria Osborne is a Brooklyn-based food photographer by way of London.
Liberty Fennell is a London-born, New York City-based food stylist and recipe developer.
Sonny Ross is an illustrator based in Manchester, U.K. They love drawing food as much as cooking it but not as much as eating it. They work across editorial, publishing, textiles and packaging and in their downtime enjoys such hobbies as: sleeping.
Copy edited by Leilah Bernstein