How to Determine Your Wedding Guest List?

wedding guests

How to Determine Your Wedding Guest List?

The question of how to determine your wedding guest list without stirring up any tension remains one of the great modern wedding conundrums. 

Understandably, you want to keep catering and seating costs to a minimum, but you also don’t want to cause beef with your mother-in-law after nixing her former coworker’s boyfriend from the final tally. 

And speaking of headcount, you and your future spouse probably know a lot more people combined than you realised.

So, how exactly do you cut your guest list to a reasonable (and affordable) number? Good news—there are a few techniques you can use to do this quickly, sans drama.

Drafting and cutting your guest list might not be quite as fun as tasting cake flavours, but follow these essential tips (then keep track of everyone on your list, including RSVPs and menu preferences), and it’ll go way more smoothly than you think. 

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The Categories

Wedding guests will come from all aspects and times of your life. Here is a system to pull your lifetime of friends and family into one guest list.

Family

List them ALL, down the second cousins you see only at the family reunion.

Close Friends

These are the people you see or speak to regularly or are significant in your life.

Professional Friends

Coworkers, clients-turned-friends, mentors, or other people who are significant to your professional life.

Significant Relationships

The people who remain significant in your life can include friends from childhood, college, sports organisations, or any other group in your life that was meaningful.

List Creation

You and your future spouse should create your lists that will be combined into one at the end. Take notes on the number of people associated with each name, including spouses, significant others, and children (if you are considering a child-friendly affair).

If appropriate, have your parents also prepare a list to avoid last-minute invitation requests.

Prioritising

Give each guest on the list a priority of A, B, or C.

  • A – Close family and friends that must be at the ceremony.
  • B – Additional friends, extended family, and professional friends that you are planning to invite.
  • C – Guests that would be nice to have at your wedding if your budget allows.

You now have your wedding list ready to go! Based on your budget and venue, start refining the list and adding addresses in preparation for your big day.

Essential Tips for Making Your Guest List

If you’re overwhelmed by the excellent guest-list-making task, here are a few tips to simplify the decision-making process.

Divide and Conquer

Start by setting your total guest count, then divide it up among you, your parents, and your future in-laws. 

Split it in two ways: one, give equal thirds to you and your groom, your parents, and his parents. 

Or, two, keep 50 per cent as a couple and assign 25 per cent to each set of parents (with multiple locations, each side gets 25 per cent total). If you’re footing the bill, you may want to increase your stake, and that’s okay.

Decide how you’ll divide up the list—before accepting financial help.

We won’t tiptoe around the truth: Making a guest list can get messy, especially if one or both parents are involved in the planning or contributing financially. 

That’s why you should be clear about your expectations before you accept help from them. 

Even if you’re paying for the wedding yourselves, it’s a good idea to get the families together and talk about the guest list, so there are no surprises. 

Once you’ve started putting down deposits with someone else’s money, you’re in a bind, whereas before you start spending, you can still negotiate or choose to decline. 

Tip: Traditionally, the couple gets half the guest list, and each set of parents gets a quarter of the guest list. 

So if you’re planning to invite 200 people, you’d get 100 guests, your parents would get 50, and your fiancé’s parents would also get 50. 

The most drama-free approach is to split the list evenly three ways.

Use a System That’s Collaborative.

There are many different ways you can build your guest list, but it’s best to use a collaborative system, so anyone with input can make edits in real-time and see the most up-to-date version. 

Tip: Don’t delete any names once you get going. When the time comes to start dividing the yeses from the maybes (and the nos), you can use several colour-coded tabs or make a separate document for names you’re unsure about. 

You might discover that you do have extra space, but you’ll have no idea who you might want to invite if you erase the names.

Create a Kid Policy

The same goes for kids. If you’re asking parents to leave their children at home, be consistent. We recommend an age cutoff, like only children over 14 are invited. 

Note: any exception to this rule must be explained to the included parties before the big day.

Remember Reciprocity

If you attended a friend’s wedding within the last 12 months, you should ask her if your event is a similar size (and especially if you’re asking mutual friends). Are you having a more intimate affair? Explain your situation; she’ll understand.

Forget the B-List

You’ve seen it done, but trust us, don’t—it’s not a good idea. Your friends will know they’re the second tier, and feelings will be hurt. 

Plus, there’s no reason to add to your headcount for a number’s sake; that drives up your bill.

Set a Deadline

If you don’t hear back from someone by the date indicated on your invitation, call. Your caterer needs to know—you need to know!

Be Realistic About the Number of Guests to Avoid Stress Later On.

Crunching the numbers isn’t the most glamorous part of wedding planning, but there is a figure you really can’t avoid: your guest list count. 

Your budget and the venue size are the main factors that should play into this decision. Each guest adds to the number of plates your caterer will prepare, favours, chair rentals and how much cake you’ll need. 

Choose a number that’s larger than your venue’s capacity, and you’ll be holding your breath every time you open an RSVP. 

It’s much better to keep your number on the conservative side. If there’s room in the budget, or you end up having more space than you thought you would add later on. 

Make Some Cutting Rules (and Follow Them).

It’s time to return to reality and start trimming that dream list until you reach your actual number. 

The easiest way to cut the list is to come up with rules and stick to them. We promise it’ll be easier in the long run, and you’ll avoid potential drama down the line. What do we mean by “rules”? 

Here are a few common ones:

  • Rule 1: If neither of you has spoken to or met them or heard their name before, don’t invite them.
  • Rule 2: Not crazy about inviting children to your party? Don’t feel bad about having an adults-only wedding.
  • Rule 3: If neither of you has spoken to them in three years and they’re not related to you, don’t invite them.
  • Rule 4: If there’s anyone who’s on the list because you feel guilty about leaving them off (maybe because you were invited to their wedding or they’re friends with lots of people who are invited), don’t invite them.

Tip: We’ve heard just about every guest list horror story, and through experience, we know the only way to make this process go smoothly is to be as fair as possible when you’re making edits. 

It’ll be difficult at first, but for each person, you take off your in-laws’ or parents’ list, take one off your own as well.

Make an A-List and a B-List.

We’ll keep this little secret between us. Having two lists is how you’ll be able to invite the most people without raising your budget or having to find a larger venue. 

Here’s how it works: Your A-list consists of the must-have invites you couldn’t imagine not having at your wedding, like your family and close friends. They’ll receive your first round of invitations. Your B-list is made up of guests you still really want to be there, so don’t put just anyone on it. 

If you start getting RSVPs and it turns out you have enough “regrets,” then you’ll start sending invites to your B-list (in order of importance). 

Tip: If you send your B-list invites too close to the wedding (within a week or two), you might as well tell those guests they’re second best. 

Do it without being obvious. Send your A-list invites ten weeks in advance (a little earlier than usual), which will give you time to send invites to your B-list six to eight weeks before your wedding

Don’t forget to print a second set of reply cards with a later RSVP date (sending RSVPs with a date that has passed is a dead giveaway that the recipients were on your B-list).

Include Names on the Response Cards.

Yours wouldn’t be the first wedding where a guest crams two (or three or four) names onto one line, even though the invitation was made out to one person. 

The way to avoid this problem is to print the guests’ names onto the RSVP card. Do this, and there’s almost no way anyone can force an invite on you.

Tip: If for some reason, you still get an extra write-in, it could just be that the guest doesn’t know the protocol. 

So don’t take their faux pas personally. Instead, politely call and tell them the deal: You’d love to have everyone, but budget and space mean it’s just not possible.

Don’t Let the Parents (yours and Your In-Laws) Wear You Down.

Boundaries—set them and stick to them. When it comes down to it, this is your wedding. If budget is the issue, then the solution could be as simple as having whoever wants more guests chip in extra to pay for the overflow. In many cases, the venue caps the guest list. 

That means if your mom insists on inviting her entire spin class, either you or your fiancé’s family will have to forfeit some of your guests. 

First, try to compromise. Why not invite just one and put the rest on the B-list? If that doesn’t work, don’t waver. It won’t be easy but bend now, and you’re going to end up with even more requests down the line.

Tip: Have any hard conversations face to face. You want to make sure you’re sending the right signals, and when there are emotions involved, you want your point of view to be heard and understood.

Avoid Last-Minute Add-Ons.

Whether or not you spread the word yourself, you’re probably going to get one or two awkward comments along the lines of, “I can’t wait to come to your wedding!” from someone you’re not so sure about inviting

At the moment, it can seem like an easy out to respond, “Me too!” But do this, and you’ll either end up having to add them to the list or having an even more uncomfortable conversation that’s akin to disinviting them. 

The best thing you can do is steer clear of wedding specifics while you’re still in the early planning stages. 

Tip: Prepare yourself for potentially awkward conversations by coming up with a polite but firm response that can’t be misinterpreted. 

Something along the lines of, “Of course, we’d love to invite everyone, but unfortunately, with the venue space and our budget, we aren’t able to.” Then take the conversation in a different direction.

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People to Cross Off Your Guest List

Need to get that guest list down? Here are a few people you can cut now. Could you not give it another thought?

Mia Family Members

If you haven’t spoken to some of your relatives in years, don’t feel obligated to invite them to your wedding. 

Remember, your wedding is a celebration for you and the person you’re marrying and your immediate family; it’s not a family reunion. Don’t feel required to extend an invite to everyone in your family tree.

Friends You Haven’t Heard from in Years.

If you’re hoping to rectify some of your friendships with people you’ve grown apart from or no longer speak to frequently, you may feel inclined to invite them to your wedding to make this happen. 

But between mingling with all your other guests and squeezing in some one-on-one time with your new spouse, your wedding is far too busy an event to attempt to rekindle your relationship.

Work Friends

Just because you share a cubicle with a person at work or you eat lunch with them on occasion doesn’t mean they have to make your guest list—especially if you’re keeping your wedding on the smaller side. Instead, plan a work happy hour to celebrate.

Wedding Invites from a Long Time Ago

If you have anyone on your guest list you’re inviting just because they invited you to their wedding years ago, do yourself a favour and cross them off. 

Unless they’re still good friends of yours, there’s no obligation to invite them to your celebration.

Neighbours

They may live next to you, but your proximity doesn’t mean buying them dinner on your big day. 

Unless you’re super-friendly with them on the regular, don’t feel obligated. 

If you’re worried it may get awkward not to invite them, or you feel you need to acknowledge the elephant in the room in passing, inform them that you wanted to keep the celebration small.

Friends With a Track Record

If you have that one friend who’s infamous as an unruly wedding guest or is constantly getting kicked out of bars and clubs, you may want to consider cutting them from your list.

If they’re a non-negotiable on the invite list, make sure to discuss pre-wedding ground rules with them (or hire extra security who can swoop in if assistance is needed).

Kids of Family and Friends

A quick way to minimise your guest list is to make your wedding adults only. 

You’ll have to break the news gently to the moms and dads in your crew, but if anything, they may look at your wedding as a time when they can kick up their heels and enjoy a kid-free night.

Plus-Ones You’ve Never Met.

You don’t have to give any of your guests a plus-one who isn’t in a relationship. 

And if they are—and you’ve never met the person—you shouldn’t feel obligated, unless, of course, it’s your BFF’s boyfriend who lives across the country, and logistics are the only reason for the lack of meeting.

Friends of Your Parents or In-Laws You’ve Never Met.

You can’t dodge the fact that both sets of ‘rents will want to pencil in their guest list requests (especially if they’re helping foot the bill), but draw the line if it’s a member of their social circle you’ve never encountered before. 

Just know that some circumstances, say your father-in-law’s business partner, may warrant an exception based on the nature of the relationship.

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