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Wedding Etiquette & My Meal Break

John Paul

7 min read

Apr 17, 2022

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Originally Published on April 17 2022


I was just reminded of a wedding where I had just finished my meal, and walked from the room where I was seated far away from the hall where the reception and dinner were taking place, to let the married couple know that I was ready for the next series of events on the schedule when the bride absolutely blew her stack! “Where were you??!!” “My sister was singing and you didn’t take any pictures of it!”.      Unfortunately, I was told to go there by the “Event Coordinator”…  at this very prestigious club in Wisconsin, who IMO, is one of the biggest %&^#! in the biz..  I have a bunch of stories about him, not all of them are mine, but told to me by other event photographers, regarding how he treated us, and or how he single-handily screwed up an event held there. It’s people like him, who I think about when it comes to ideas regarding what is and what really isn’t helpful at a wedding, and justified under the rationale of arbitrary wedding etiquette rules that some people in his position make, without any consideration of possible consequences. 


The wedding etiquette rule that is strictly enforced at this well known Wisconsin club, is that the photographer must sit in a room far out of sight and audio range when we eat our dinners, which is, of course, served to us after all the guests have had their dinners served first. 


That’s just dumb. First of all, IF anything unexpected happens, how am I supposed to know what is going on if I am seated in another room, far away from where everyone else is? Although when I find myself in a situation like this, I always inform the wedding coordinator, and perhaps someone from the wedding to make sure that they come to get me before any surprises happen..  and to inform me of any such surprises before they happen in the planning talks that I have with the couple the week of the wedding. I often tell them that if there is something they are planning that they don’t want the other to know about, to send me a text, or call me later on, so I can make note of it. Neither was done in this case and although I did tell the WC to come to get me if anything happens, he didn’t. When this bride’s sister grabbed her guitar and made her way over to the DJ, set up a chair and her iPhone on a stand, there was plenty of time to run and get me away from my dining room, to take memorable, professional photos of her sister singing, the wedding couple’s reactions, shots of the guests listening, etc.. but nobody did. After getting an earful in front of 200 guests. I see the WC and gave him the international gesture of “WTF??” He walks up to me and says. “It was your job to do that!” To which I asked.  “How was I to know when you seat me way over there when I can’t see or hear anything, especially after I told you to come to get me if anything happens!”.  He responded by telling me not to blame him for “my incompetence”…smh….!  The bride later apologized after I explained what happened, and later thanked me for all the hard work I did, and even directed her anger at the truly incompetent person in the room, who tried to weasel his way out of his responsibility. That made my day.  :-D   


Although I haven’t ever seen a book written with all the wedding etiquette rules, I do recognize that they exist as traditions, to fix a lot of problems that seem to me to become less regarded in more recent years, i.e. Waiting for the B&G to get their food at the buffet table first,  before going up in line and breaking ground on the food selections. I don’t think it is unreasonable to wait for the B&G to have its first dives on the food, after all, it is their wedding. The same goes for the dessert table. Just because there is a table full of goodies that look amazing, don’t take it upon yourself to stuff your face with cupcakes and stuff before they do, or until it is announced. Heck, I often come back from my meal break and I hope that table is still intact with everything in place, so the couple can see the full table in their photos without anything missing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen either of these things happen. That’s just wrong, and those wedding etiquette rules exist for good reasons, as do many others.  


Same WC, different wedding. To be fair, I have run into this all over the country, so I don’t want to dog-pile on him. I’ve been told many…many times, that the photographer or vendors must wait until all the guests have been served their meals before I get my meal served to me. This is what typically happens: I am seated somewhere, perhaps at a vendor table, or perhaps not seated at all, and I have to find my own place to sit for my meal because a wedding planner or coordinator totally forgot about my meal requirements according to my contract. Sometimes, even after all the guests have been served their meals, I still don’t get my meal, even if I am told to wait for it. That happens a lot too. When I do get my meal, what normally happens is that toasts begin. I might have literally 1 or 2 minutes to stuff my hungry face with whatever is on my plate and I have to get up and begin photographing the toasts. After toasts, I might be asked to take table shots, because the wedding couple is done eating their meal, and they now mingle around the tables, and they often want to have photos taken at this time. What am I to do, tell them that I must finish eating before I take any more photos? Do I miss the toasts..?  Do I miss the table shots, because I’m eating..?  Sorry, but in my line of work, refusing to do my service, because of contract stipulations, isn’t a good idea, and never goes over well… Just look at all the negative reviews out there. They have a lot in common.  Often the word ”No” came out of their mouth for some reason. 


In my contract, I state that I need to have a 30-minute meal break if I am working 6 or more hours. All the wedding agencies that I shoot for, also state the same verbiage in their contract. In addition, I may take up to an hour to find food outside of the venue if a meal is not provided. That is common with just about every wedding photography contract out there. However, in all my years, I have only left a venue 1 time, but I was back within 40ish minutes, because I packed a military-style MRE in my car, and ate that instead. (That is another story I’ll have to blog about).  I happen to like my happy clients very much and I like it when they give referrals to their friends, which generates more $ in my wallet :-)  Unfortunately, my partially eaten dinner plate is often removed from my table, and tossed in the trash, because the venue staff thinks that I am done eating, and have abandoned my dinner, even though I’d rather come back to my cold dinner and stuff, while I have a few free moments, rather than eating nothing at all. That is the case for plated dinners. I almost never have a problem with buffet dinners. I have another story about “station dinners”..  like “Pasta Tables”…  that may seem like a good idea but are often not..  But that is for another blog..(the same one when I ate an MRE in my car).    


Prior to the wedding, I ask the wedding couple if I could get my meal served to me at the same time as the head table IF it is a plated dinner. Or if I can get in line at the buffet table, after the parents’ table has gone up. Most of the time, those requests are totally understood by the couple, who appreciate the request. However, in many of the weddings where I am served a plated dinner, I have found that about 40% of the time my request is ignored. It used to be a lot higher, but many wedding planning magazine articles tell couples to feed their vendors at the same time as they do. So, I am glad to see that culture shift over the years, thanks to social media.  :-)  


In recent years I addressed the “wedding etiquette” meal issue, with a solution of my own. When I learn that I am shooting a wedding with a plated dinner, I pack two “snack cans” in my kit that contain a tin of chicken salad, crackers, and a tiny plastic spoon. Instead of waiting for a dinner entrée, and possibly not having a chance to enjoy it, I at least get to eat crappy snack food, but it is better than nothing at all. With that in my tummy, I manage to make it through the rest of the evening. I’ve had to resort to this literally dozens of times. Its a solution; not really a fix for stupidity or ignorance on the part of those who insist that “strict wedding etiquette be followed” by the guy responsible for capturing the most precious moments of the day, but…it gets me through the day, and I keep my clients happy.  Grrr...!  


That being said, I wonder why would anyone want to have the wedding photographer, videographer, or other vendors who are with you for the duration of the day, go without a good meal, if you want them to appreciate you, and perform at their top level, with plenty of energy, that you are paying for. 

John Paul

7 min read

Apr 17, 2022

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