How to Manage Your Guest List

Posted August 18, 2015

Don’t all brides and grooms WISH they were diving into their wedding planning process with a sky’s the limit wedding budget? But really, how many of them actually ARE?! Giant gala or intimate event, every dollar counts when planning your big day. Every bride faces tough choices about how to work their dream wedding into a manageable reality when it comes to the budget, no matter how big or small the bottom line may be.

One of the single biggest factors that affects a wedding budget is the size of the guest list. Not only does the number of guests affect obvious costs such as food and beverage choices, it has ripple effects to almost every aspect of the day: seating, tables and various other rentals; the size/cost of the reception venue; the number of invitations sent out; the amount of floral arrangements and even the ceremony location are all indirectly tied to the size of the crowd that needs to be accommodated. In fact, the quick and easiest way to determine a rough cost per person is to take a couple’s total budget and divide by number of guests. It can give instant perspective to see an estimated per person cost when a potential guest is on the line of making it to the invite list—because nobody wants to pay to feed their cousin’s on-again, off-again loser boyfriend at $150 per person!

So Who Makes “The Cut”?
The most important thing to remember before you start creating a list is that this is YOUR wedding. As much as you may want to include everyone in your big day, it’s not a family reunion or a high school reunion. There are several strategies for coming up with a manageable list of names. Ask yourself questions like these:

• When did you last see or talk with this person? Do I have plans of seeing this person again after the wedding socially? Only invite current friends who are special to you as a couple. If you haven’t talked to somebody in more than a year, or don’t stay in current contact via email/text, skip them. Being Facebook friends does not qualify them for a wedding invitation.

• Are you including them just for “backsies”? Just because you were invited to a friend’s wedding does not automatically require you to put that friend on your guest list. Traditional etiquette would suggest to send an invitation only to a couple whose wedding you actually attended within the past calendar year.

• What about the company crowd? A general rule of thumb is not to invite anyone from work unless they’re a good friend, or someone you have spent personal time with hanging out outside of work. Guest lists are often plumped up by well-meaning couples who don’t want to leave out any of the seven partners they report to, all of whom would probably have preferred not to receive the invite in the first place.

• What role should parents play in creating the guest list?  Mom & Dad will certainly have their own list to bring to the table—and if they are financing your day, it’s especially important to hear out their ideas. But if your parents are driving you bonkers with excess numbers (do you really have to invite your dad’s ten favorite golf buddies?), get creative. Maybe they’ll be willing to whittle down their bridge club from the guest list if you agree to let them host an engagement party for you with those guests instead. It is also important to keep things fair on both sides of the family: if you invite your great aunt Edna, you need to be sure to make a spot for your fiance’s great aunt Gertrude.

Pare down your guest list using the “tiers of priority” trick. Have everyone involved (most likely you and your finance, and both sets of parents) make a wish list of everyone they’d really like to include. Compile the lists. Place immediate family, the bridal party, and best friends/closest family friends on top of the list in tier 1; follow with aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends you couldn’t imagine not being there. Under that, list your parents’ friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so on in tier 2 and 3, according to the agreed upon level of importance for their attendance. If you can invite everyone, lucky you! If you need to make some cuts, start from the bottom until you reach your ideal number. No matter how carefully you plan, at some point you’ll likely be faced with having to make tough cuts. Before you get out the scalpel and attempt a precise surgical maneuver that might result in seriously hurt feelings, take another look at the list. Chances are, you’ll find pockets of guests―for example, your mom’s book club―who can be deleted as a group.

Plus Ones
It is extremely helpful to predetermine (as a couple) firm rules about who gets to bring a date. It can be agonizing figuring out how to make the cut off point seem fair for everyone. The general rule is that you must invite any significant others who live together or who have been a known couple for a long time. Even if neither of you have ever met your college roommate’s boyfriend, if they’ve been together four years, it’s tacky not to “and guest” him. On the other end, you can tell all your friends up front that you’re not inviting any significant others that aren’t already engaged unless they get a ring before your wedding date. You could instead nix adding an “and guest” to any guest who has been dating someone less than a year/six months (you determine how long); or decide that everyone will get a plus one regardless of their couple status or how long they have been in a relationship. No matter what you and your fiance determine, make it a blanket rule and apply it to everyone across the board.

Children As Guests
We recently wrote an entire blog devoted to helping brides navigate including children in their wedding day; you can find that here. It is important to note that if you are on “Team Kiddos” and choose to include children in your guest list, that generally children aged 12 and over are counted as “adults” for catering purposes, so be sure to remember that when estimating costs.

We hope these suggestions prove helpful in creating the perfect guest list for your special day!

Photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla via