Wedding Guest List 101: How To Decide Who Gets Invited

Who should be invited to your wedding? This may seem pretty straightforward: simply invite your closest relatives and friends! Yet, when the time comes, determining who falls into this category can become a bit difficult, especially when trying to keep the headcount down to a specific number. Here is a guide to help you through the process of finalizing your wedding guest list.   

Wedding Size and Theme

A good starting point is to determine how large of a wedding you want to have. Are you envisioning a smaller, intimate gathering or a bigger, festive celebration? Are you picturing a romantic garden or a grand ballroom in terms of the physical setting? Try to be open minded and flexible if the venue you had in mind is too small or too big for the number of guests you plan to invite.

Wedding Budget

The primary factor in determining the number of guests is usually the wedding budget. Most caterers will charge per head, so when you decide on a final number for the guest list, set a maximum budget for the wedding reception. If you are aiming to entertain a crowd but have limited resources, consider having a buffet, which will cost less per person than having a formal seated meal.

Creating a Preliminary List

Here’s how to go about creating the first draft of your guest list.

  1. First, write a list of close family members and attendants in the bridal party (don’t forget their spouses).
  2. Second, you and your spouse-to-be should write individual list of friends, and make sure that the lists are equal in length.
  3. Next, write one collaborative list of mutual friends.
  4. Parents of both sides should add their own guest wish lists of close family members, friends, and colleagues. If your parents are divorced and remarried, you could have as many as four additional lists to accommodate.
  5. It is customary that the parents who are paying for the wedding be allowed to invite more guests. If you and your spouse-to-be are paying for the wedding but may need financial assistance, it is within reason to ask the parents for a contribution that covers the cost of their guests. If your budget cannot accommodate the parents’ entire guest wish list, then it is also within reason to ask them to limit their guest list to people that you personally know.

Finalizing the Guest List

Once you have the first draft of names, edit down the list to a number that your wedding budget will be able to accommodate.

  1. Family

    Naturally, your closest family members will be the first to be invited. If space permits, you can choose to expand your list and include more distant family members.

  2. Friends

    The names that automatically come to the top of your head are clearly your must-invite guests. If you still have space, you can move onto other friends who you’d love to include; they may be great college friends you haven’t seen in years or social acquaintances.

    You might consider making a draft of “A-list guests” and “B-list guests.” When someone from the A-list is unable to make it to your wedding, you can send an invitation to someone on the B-list. Just be sure to send out your B-list invitations at least three weeks before your wedding date!

  3. Work Colleagues

    If you are only inviting a few people from your office, be discreet about your wedding plans and ask your invited colleagues to be as well.

  4. Significant Others

    The protocol is to automatically invite the spouse of each married guest and to address both of them on the wedding invitations. If a non-wedded couple is living together, the two are still invited in the manner of a married couple. For couples that do not live together, each person should receive his or her own invitation. There is no invite rule in regards to including girlfriends and boyfriends, but if space permits, it is always an appreciated gesture to include the significant other.

  5. Children

    It’s great to include children in your wedding festivities, but sometimes, the formality of the event or simply space constraints may make it difficult to accommodate them. If you choose to exclude children, 16-18 years of age are typically the cutoff points. You should avoid printing “no children” on the wedding invitation, and strictly speaking, parents should not bring children unless their names are specified on the envelope.

    To be safe, you can include a little note with the invitation or have family members spread the word that you’re trying to keep the numbers down. Also, if you decide on a no-children policy, then stay firm and stick to it. If you make one exception for a young, favorite cousin, then your other relatives may feel left out.

  6. Guests Who Won’t Be Able To Make It To The Wedding

    What should you do about guests who are unable to attend your wedding, due to traveling obstacles, busy work schedules, and so forth? The general rule is to still send an invitation. Some couples worry that the invitation may pressure guests in feeling obligated to send a gift, but keep in mind that most guests will be more than happy to send a congratulatory present. Also, friends and family would probably find it more offensive to be not invited at all.

  7. Surprises

    Even after receiving all the responses, you still won’t have an exact idea of who will come and who will not. There is always a possibility of last minute no-shows due to work, illness, or travel obstacles.

    If a guest fails to show by the time that the first course is served, the setting should be removed. If a guest arrives with an unexpected date, a chair should be found fairly quickly. Consider appointing one person to be responsible for overseeing these situations that may arise.

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