15 Critical Tips for Managing Your Wedding Guest List

Apr 18, 2018
By Wedding Spot

Creating your wedding guest list can be one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of planning. After all, you want everyone to share in your happiness! Unfortunately, inviting everyone you know and their mother isn’t a realistic option for most couples. While creating a guest list can be challenging and even emotionally trying, there are a number of different things you can do to manage your guest list without the heartache.

Explore 15 tips to help you manage your wedding guest list:

How many guests are at a wedding? Do you have to invite all the family to your wedding? We’ll answer these questions and more with these practical tips that you can use as a step by step template for your own process. 

1. Choose the best tool.

What are you most comfortable with: a wedding guest list app or a wedding guest list spreadsheet? Or maybe you’d prefer to do it by hand? Either way, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each option. And to give you an idea of what options are available, here are some highly recommended free wedding planning apps to get you started. 

Hint: An electronic wedding guest list is easy to share with your fiance, parents, and vendors. They can get the latest updates without sorting through messy email chains or having to call you up. 

2. Identify decision-makers.

Ultimately it’s up to you and fiance. But if there are other parties helping to pay for the celebration (parents, grandparents, close friends), it’s considered polite to include them in the process. Wondering how to divide up your valuable guest list real estate? Proper etiquette for a traditional gathering usually means that the couple and both sets of parents are involved. If that’s the case, you and your fiance get one-third of the guest list space. Then one set of parents gets a second third and the other set gets the final third. 

Hint: Now is the time to set kind but firm boundaries with your parents as far as who they can invite. For example, if your wedding is going to be intimate with a small list, you might create a rule that the parents can only invite people that both you and your fiance have actually met. It might feel uncomfortable, but casually mentioning your preferences and sticking to your word will help keep family drama to a minimum.

3. Discuss your wedding day goals.

What kind of wedding do you both envision as a couple? Do you imagine an intimate occasion with only your nearest and dearest by your side? Do you imagine dancing the night away surrounded by a few hundred loved ones? Perhaps you’ve always loved the idea of throwing the party of the century with your family, friends, and maybe even friends of friends (the more the merrier, after all). Talk about the wedding size that would be the most satisfying for you as a couple and keep this fact in mind moving forward.

Hint: Vision boards (in a saved collection on Instagram or Pinterest) can help communicate your hopes and dreams in a tangible way. 

4. Determine your VIPs.

Ask yourselves: Who are the “must-haves?” Who have you always imagined being by your side during this pivotal moment of your life? These people are your everything, your non-negotiables. It’s likely that cuts will have to be made toward the end of the guest list management process, but your VIPs will never be on the chopping block.

Hint: Start with your bridal party then move on to your closest family members. Go with your gut - if you even have to question whether or not they’re on the VIP list, they’re not going to make the cut this round. 

5. Brainstorm a master list.

Once you’ve determined who’s on the VIP list, make a master list of all the guests you’d like to have at your wedding. The sky’s the limit! Think of it as a brainstorming session for your guest list. Some experts suggest that couples create two separate master lists, then come together to see where there’s overlap and where the fat needs to be trimmed. This exercise is a great way to get the conversation started around who should and should not be there.

Hint: This tends to be a sensitive subject, so review these (very common and totally normal) wedding guestlist arguments ahead of time so you can be prepared to duke it out in a fair and rational way. 

6. Manage your parents’ expectations.

Some parents can be opinionated about the guest list, especially if they are picking up the tab. While it’s important to respect your parents, particularly if they are financial contributors to your big day, it’s also important to lay down boundaries. After all, it’s your wedding day and once you allow them to step over the line, the requests for changes will only keep pouring in. 

Hint: If you’re not a professional wedding planner, chances are you might not have had to collaborate with your parents on a project quite like this before. Which means you’ll have to implement some techniques for setting boundaries

We won’t lie - this part isn’t that much fun. Just look at it as a fabulous opportunity to learn a great life skill. It will serve you well as you transition into your happily ever after and have to negotiate other family-related decisions in the future. 

7. Figure out if “plus ones” are allowed.

While it’s traditionally been a given to offer wedding guests a plus one, it’s becoming more common for couples to turn away from this tried-and-true rule. Afraid to break convention? Keep in mind that once you open the doors to a plus one, it’s generally considered rude to cherry-pick who brings who. If your brother can bring his wife of 10 years, then your friend can bring their flavor of the week fling. Ask yourself: Do you really want to look at your wedding pictures and see a room full of strangers?

Hint: Take each individual’s perspective into account. For example, you may have a friend who is single traveling from across the country. If he or she has their own relationships with other people in attendance (old classmates, coworkers, or neighbors), they’ll be good on their own. Just remember to seat them with other singles and/or people they’re comfortable with. 

8. Consider an adults-only wedding.

Inviting children can increase the guest count, but it’s important to ask yourself if you’re allowing kids to satisfy your loved ones or if you actually want them to be present during this important moment of your life. If you decide to have an adults-only wedding and stick to your guns, this can keep your guest list numbers a little lower overall.

Hint: Wondering what to do with teenagers? Use the law as your ruler - 18 and over is legally considered an adult. This also means it’s considered polite to mail them their own personally addressed invitation, even if they live with their parents still. 

9. Always fall back on your wedding budget.

Long guest lists tend to make for expensive weddings. While it would be nice to invite all of your co-workers and your friend’s friends, most couples simply can’t afford to have every person in their lives attend their wedding. Keep in mind that every person that you add to the guest list is another mouth to feed and, at the end of the day, your happiness and wellbeing is all that people should want for you and your beloved.

Hint: Here are some more specific tips on how to let someone know they aren’t invited to your wedding.  

10. Run the numbers.

There are two main factors for this tip. The first is space - what is your ceremony venue’s maximum occupancy? What about the reception venue? How many vendors and staff will you have to include in that total? And don’t forget to count you and your betrothed! 

The second factor is the price per wedding guest. Outside of your full wedding budget, you can calculate the cost per person by figuring in things like catering, furniture rentals, favors, and possible travel expenses, to name a few. Also, if you plan to get insurance, the number of people attending will affect the quote. Ballpark this number and aim slightly high just in case you missed something. 

With these two factors in mind, do a final estimate of how many remaining guests you have on all your combined lists. 

Hint: Play around with wedding cost calculator to figure out approximately how many people to invite given your other expenses. If you have no idea what those are yet, use this list of average spending for each category to fill in the blanks. 

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11. Consider basic etiquette.

There are no hard and fast rules for planning a wedding but in general, you can help eliminate some more names from your guest list by using these: 

  • The only guaranteed Plus One invitations should be other married or engaged couples. Other than that, you can move on to serious couples who have been together for the anticipated length of your engagement (or longer). 

  • Draw lines on which groups each decision-maker cannot include. For example, you and your fiance might decide not to invite coworkers unless you have a personal relationship outside of the business world. You might even want to cut down on extended family invitations by saying No to anyone beyond your siblings or first cousins. 

  • You are in no way obligated to invite someone whose wedding you attended in the past if you are no longer as close to them now. 

Hint: This process involves a lot of honesty, both with yourself and your partner. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry - a new study found that being honest with oneself is more pleasant than most people expect. 

12. Administer the Twelve Month Test.

Get everyone’s lists together and ask them to put one checkmark next to the name of any person they haven’t physically spent time with in the past twelve months. If they have to think too hard, chances are they didn’t. Next, tell them to put another checkmark next to the name of anyone they don’t plan to see within the next twelve months. Any name with two checkmarks gets moved to the next step. 

Hint: If someone fudges the truth on this one, it might be better not to call them out on it. After all, if they want that person to be there so badly that they’re willing to lie, they might have a good reason for it. Although, you and your fiance should always get the final say anyway. 

13. Create your B and C Lists.

After you’ve followed these other tips, you can add the names that didn’t make it to the A list to some backup ones. Use your B list for relatives, close coworkers, people you love but don’t spend time with as much anymore, and children from couples you aren’t related to (if you put the kibosh on too many children earlier in the process). The C list will most likely have names of people you want to invite out of obligation, guilt, or respect. 

Hint: Oddly enough, this is still a taboo topic even though everyone knows people do this for weddings. So keep these lists on the down low and ask your other decision-makers to keep it private as well. 

14. Think about reception-only invites.

Yes, that’s right - you can choose to invite some people to just the reception. This allows you to choose a smaller ceremony venue, save on possible valet fees, and decrease your rental time since you’ll be dealing with fewer people coming and going. It’s also a great compromise for any A list wedding guest disputes. 

Hint: Choose your invitation wording very carefully on these ones so no one gets confused. 

15. Strategically mail your initial invitations. 

Once all your wedding decision-makers have agreed on the final A list draft, it’s time to figure out who can actually make it. Make your “RSVP by” date very clear and obvious. Then, follow up with late RSVPs right away by phone. If anyone is still on the fence because of work or other obligations, let them know they’re still invited but you will be sending out your next round of invitations on whatever date you choose. If they can’t respond by then, let them know you regretfully may have to offer it to someone else. 

Here’s where the strategy comes in. Once you see how many people actually checked “Yes”, it’s time to send out all of your B list invitations. Resist the temptation to send them out one at a time as the regrets come in. Instead, stick to your timeline and batch mail them. It’s easier to keep track of and gives your A list a little more wiggle room in case something drastically changes. 

Again, put a firm “RSVP by” date on the card. Then rinse and repeat for your C list. And, throughout the mailing process, don’t tell anyone that the invitations have gone out yet unless they ask. That way they won’t figure out which list they ended up on and no one can get offended! 

You’re well on your way to creating an (almost) stress-free wedding guest list!  

If you’re still wondering how to deal with guest questions or the right way to tell guests there will be no children at the wedding, we’ve got you covered!

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Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.