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10 Tips for Creating Your Guest List

Wedding Invitation Flat Lay with Bright Flowers
Photo Courtesy of Krysta Joy Photography

The guest list can sometimes be one of the biggest stressors during your planning process. Whether you are just creating your guest list or giving it that third or fourth pass trying to figure out how to narrow it down. To help you navigate through these tough moments, we are sharing our best tips. At the end of the day, this celebration is about you and your partner, and who you all want by your side on your big day.

Make your guest list before choosing a venue

Making a quick rough draft of your guest list can come in handy while you are searching for a venue.Typically one of the first questions a venue manager will ask is what your expected guest count is, and it’s always good to have an idea. This list will give you a starting point on how many guests you want to attend. Nothing could be worse than falling in love with a venue, and realizing it can only accommodate 100 max, and you have 175 non-negotiable guests on your list. This list is not set in stone, and adjustments can be made as you go through the planning process.

Determine your budget

Not only does your guest count matter when selecting your venue, but it is also the biggest factor when trying to stretch your budget. The number of guests you host will have a direct impact on your budget. More guests means more tables, more centerpieces, more food, more everything. It’s so important to keep that in mind when you are creating your list.

Decide to divide

If your parents are making a contribution to your big day, they may assume this investment includes a say in the invite list. Determine the amount of guests to give each family. Maybe the couple selects 50% of the guest list and each set of parents get 25%. It’s up to you to divide up the list as you choose. Make sure to make it clear from the very beginning, and include everyone in the conversation.

Break it down

We suggest dividing your list into two or even three sections. Start with those you can’t imagine celebrating the day without. This is your first list, and the people who will for sure be included on your guest list. Then take those social, business, and distant connections that would be fun if they were there, but you don’t share the strongest significant bond, and fill in as your budget/venue allows.

Decide where to cut off family invites

As much as you want to invite every single member of your family, there may just not be enough room. As a general rule, if you spend holidays with these family members, you will want to invite them to your wedding. Talk with your parents to see exactly how many extended family members will be invited and decide to stick with a rule. Be consistent with the guests you’re inviting. If you invite one aunt, you should invite the others too. Maybe hold off on those great-aunts and more distant cousins, unless you’re close with them. When in doubt, sometimes it’s better to invite someone than cause a rift in the family.

Coworkers: To invite or not to invite

Inviting coworkers is completely up to you. You don’t have to invite the entire office. Close work friends are always an exception to this rule. If you work on a small team, it is often nice to invite your boss, but not required. A few questions you can ask yourself is:

  1. Do I work with this person on a daily basis?

  2. Do I see this person outside of work?

  3. Would it be awkward if I didn’t invite this person?

Guests you know won’t make it

We are often asked if you should invite someone you know will probably not attend. If it would mean a lot to you if they were there or if it would mean a lot for them to receive an invitation (for example, a long distance grandparent). Send it. If you plan on live streaming your wedding, you could include an insert with the QR code or link to your stream and instructions on how to view.

Pick a plus one strategy

Picking a plus one strategy can be tricky. You want to be consistent with each guest. Let’s start with who should get a plus one. If your guest is married or in a long term relationship, you should allow a plus one. While for a single guest it is always nice to extend a plus one, but never mandatory. If the guest is a member of your bridal party and is not as familiar with others in your party or at your wedding it can make them feel more comfortable. Once you decide on your strategy, stick to it. Don’t break the rules for one but not for others. This can cause hurt feelings.

Decide on children

Some people have families with a lot of kids, while others don’t. It is definitely okay, and becoming more popular in recent years to want an adult only wedding. However, you must be careful with your wording so you don't hurt feelings. Once you have decided, be consistent with each guest. For example, maybe you’d like to invite nieces, nephews, and godchildren only, but not your second cousin’s kids. Make sure you are reflecting that across all cousins and have notified them well ahead of time so they can arrange child care.

A few ways to politely word this would be on your RSVP card and your wedding website. In the RSVP card, consider adding the line “we have saved ___ seats for you” rather than leaving it to them. On your website you could use “We love your children, and thought you could use the night off! Adults only please & thank you” or “With respect, we have decided to have our wedding be an adult only occasion. We hope this advance notice means you are still able to share our big day“.

Stick with the numbers

Every bride can tell you guest lists have a way of fluctuating on their own. Once you’ve reached your final number of guests you can invite, don’t change the list unless it’s to remove people. Make sure everyone knows the guest list has been finalized and no one else can be added. If you are receiving a lot of regrets it can be safe to add a few here and there, but you don't want to go too far above your expected guest count. We recommend leaving a few extra seats for any unexpected guests who are bound to show up.

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