Event: Arriving Etiquette

Photograph Credit: Flickr (Nate42)

Have you ever received an invitation with the time listed and wondered when to arrive at the event? Just because the time is listed does not necessarily mean that is the time to arrive. Let’s consider four different events:


As you open a wedding invitation and read about the happy couple’s intention to marry on a predetermined day, you will find that the ceremony will be at said church at 5:00 p.m.  The time indicated is when the bride is scheduled to walk down the aisle. Since you will need to be seated prior to the bride’s descent, plan to arrive 15-30 minutes prior to the listed time. If you arrive at or after the listed time, you may not be granted entrance into the ceremony.

Remembering back to one ceremony Paul and I attended, we arrived 30 minutes early to find decorations still being placed and no attendees. At first, I thought I had misread the invitation. Locating the invitation in my purse, I consulted the time. The wedding was to begin in less than 30 minutes. So, Paul and I took a seat and waited. At the time listed on the invitation, the lights were dimmed and the preliminary elements began.

That event was the only wedding I have ever attended that truly began at the appointed hour. The bride made her entrance 30 minutes after the time listed on the invitation. Though it happens, this scenario is not the standard. My recommendation is to arrive between 15 – 30 minutes prior to the listed time.

Dinner Party

When you are invited to a dinner party at 6:00 p.m., plan to arrive between 6:00 – 6:05 p.m. Your host or hostess is preparing for your visit. If you have made arrangements to arrive earlier to help, then assist your hostess at the appointed time. If you have offered to help, but the hostess has not accepted your offer, then please do not arrive early.

Most hostesses have scheduled their time to have the meal prepared at the set time. If you arrive early, your hostess may not be ready and will feel the need to entertain you rather than complete her preparations. Please be considerate of your host by arriving at or a little after the time given.

Open House

Receiving an invitation to an open house event, you will notice the parameters for the time: 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Your host or hostess is offering this event where you are welcome to arrive between 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to interact with your host and hostess and enjoy the benefits of the event they planned.

Please do not arrive 5 minutes before the end of the event (without extenuating circumstances). Not only is this behavior rude, it is also disrespectful to your host and hostess. Since your host has taken the time to invite and prepare for your attendance, your lateness ignores the kindness extended to you. Please plan and arrive no later than 30 minutes before the end of the event.

I have attended many baby showers with an open house time frame and have found arriving too early means sitting around waiting for others. Usually I plan to arrive around the middle of the time frame. In this case, I would arrive around 3:00 p.m., allowing time to visit, participate, and exit within the framework of the event.

Birthday Party

In the invitation, the host usually sets a framework for the party. If so, then please arrive within 5-8 minutes of the scheduled time. If this party is for children, then the host or hostess probably has a planned schedule. Arriving late may cause the host or hostess to adjust the schedule to accommodate you. If you get lost or know you will be late, please inform the host or hostess of your situation.

If the invitation only lists the start time, then plan to arrive within 5-8 minutes of that time. Your host or hostess is expecting your arrival before commencing the activities.

These are just four types of events where knowing when to arrive will help the attendees as well as the host and hostess in executing a successful event. The window of time to arrive at these events is between 30 minutes prior to the appointed time and up to 8 minutes after the scheduled time. Taking note of the type of event and the etiquette associated with that event will keep you arriving within the allotted time to fully enjoy the planned activities.

For more information on party etiquette, you can visit Syndi Seid’s Advanced Etiquette. She even has an Etiquette Tip of the Month. Come back next week for etiquette on departing from these same four events.

Question:  What do you do when you arrive early to an event? To add your answer, please click on Leave your Comment at the end of this post.

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