Without a doubt, one of the trickiest tasks for a couple is creating the wedding guest list. It's a little more complicated than simply making a list of everyone you'd like to celebrate with. There are plenty of people you definitely want to be there, others you'd might prefer to skip, and those who may or may not make the cut.
So how do you create your perfect guest list? The best way to put together your guest list is to take into account not only your and your partner's favorite people, but also guests your families might wish to have there, as well. So before you dive into making your list, follow our guide below to help navigate the process smoothly and figure out who your party people will be.
Photo: Sara Weir
5 STEPS TO CREATE YOUR WEDDING GUEST LIST
Stressed out about putting your guest list together? Follow the five key steps below to make the guest-list process smooth and drama-free.
Figure out the max capacity of your wedding venue.
If you haven't picked your wedding ceremony and reception venues yet, we recommend drafting a very rough guest list (using the steps below) before you visit any potential locations. This will help you narrow down the options so that you're only looking at spaces that can accommodate your party size. However, it's certainly fine to work the other way around—to book your dream venue first, and then work your guest-list size around the venue's capacity.
If you already have your wedding venue nailed down, then make sure you know your venue's maximum capacity. When finalizing your guestlist be sure to stick to that number. Some sources will tell you to expect anywhere from 15% to 25% of your invited guests to decline, but it's best to err on the conservative side and not count on that happening. It's fine to invite a few more guests than your location can accommodate, but inviting 175 guests when the capacity is 150 is going to create a major headache later on if everyone RSVPs "yes."
Be realistic about your budget.
The size of your guest list will likely have the biggest impact on your wedding budget compared to anything else. The more guests you invite, the more money you'll spend. So if you're on a tight budget, keeping your guest list as small as possible will help you save on all aspects of the wedding, from the food and bar tab to the stationery and flowers.
Talk to your partner to figure out roughly how many guests will your wedding budget allow you to invite. 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. If your budget is tight, you may want to consider an elegant micro wedding with your closest friends and family.
Photo: Amanda K. Photography
Decide on how you'll divvy up the guest list.
The next step is to have a conversation with both sets of parents and collectively figure out how you'll divide up the guest list. This step could potentially be a little tricky. Some parents might feel entitled to a significant portion of the guest list, especially if they're paying for some or all of the wedding, but it's important to have this conversation with them. And even if you and your partner are paying for the wedding yourselves, it's still a good idea to talk with your families about the guest list so everyone is on the same page.
One approach is to take the number of total guest-list spots available and divide it up so that the couple gets half the guest list, with each set of parents getting a quarter of the guest list (if both families are contributing to the wedding). But, of course, all family dynamics are different, so have this conversation early with your families to arrive at a resolution that sits well with everyone.
Determine your A-List and B-List.
Have everyone involved in the guest selection process—you, your partner, your parents—compile a list of the people they'd like to attend. They should rank the names in order of importance. We suggest making an A-List and B-List.
To begin figuring out your A-List and B-List, sit down with your partner and write down the names of everyone you're considering inviting to your wedding. Once you and your partner have compiled your master guest list, go down the list and star the names you'd like to be on your A-List. Keep in mind that in order to make the A-List, the person should be important enough that neither you or your partner could imagine the wedding day without them. These people are your non-negotiables and will receive your first round of invitations. From there, you can strategize on the rest of your potential attendees.
Your B-List is made up of guests you still really want to be there, so be just as thoughtful about who you put on it. If you start getting RSVPs and it turns out you have enough "regrets," then send out a batch of invites at a slightly later date to your B-List (in order of importance).
For more on who to invite to your wedding, see the next section "Who Should I Invite to My Wedding?" below.
Photo: Kurt Boomer
Trim the guest list, if needed.
Collect the A-Lists from both sets of parents and combine them with your A-List; compare the names and cross off any duplications. Tally the names up and compare that number with your guest-list goal.
If your count is over the limit, you'll need to figure out how many names you'll need to cut. Here's our stress-free guide to cutting your wedding guest list in order to condense your headcount.
- Make it adults only. A quick way to shrink your guest list is to make your wedding adults only. You might have to break the news gently to the moms and dads in your crew, but chances are they'll be pumped to have a kid-free night.
- Cut whole groups. Another way to cut down on guests is to eliminate whole "groups." That is, divide your guest list into groups like "elementary school friends," "college friends," and "softball team" and try eliminating a whole group, rather than individual people. This might be easier, or at least more "fair" (one coworker won't feel snubbed that a different coworker got invited, but they didn't).
- Try the "one year" test. If you and your partner are on the fence about some potential invitees, give the "one year" test a try. Like the name suggests, it's a gauge to see how close you are with a person. Have you seen them in the past year? If it weren't for the wedding, would you expect to see them in the upcoming year? If the answer is no, then you have your answer.
- You don't always have to reciprocate. A common question we get: "A friend invited me to her wedding, so do I have to invite them to mine?" While it's a tricky question, the most important detail to consider is your relationship with this friend. If you attended her wedding in the past 18 months and your friendship hasn't changed much, that couple should be on your guest list, as well (especially if you or your partner were in the wedding party!). Were they married three or four years ago, and you've fallen out of touch? You're not obligated to invite them. Save spots on your guest list for someone you're really close with.
Photo: Sally Pinera
WHO SHOULD I INVITE TO MY WEDDING?
How do you decide who does—and doesn't—get an invitation to your wedding? Here's our guide to help you and your families figure it out.
Start with your parents, grandparents, siblings, their partners, and their children.
If you’ve got extended family members that you're close with and would like at your wedding, be sure to add them to the list. Think about your aunts, uncles, and cousins that you see regularly. How far through the extended family do you go before friends start becoming more important than a family connection? Ultimately, it’s up to you and your specific family dynamics.
Start with your closest pals and put them on the list; next, think about friends you see or speak to on a regular basis or are significant in your life. These could be friends from school, activity groups, neighbors, and just those pals in your life who would be a great addition to your guest list.
A good rule of thumb is to only invite co-workers that you spend time with outside of the office or feel especially close with.
Adding a plus-one to your single friends' invitations can increase your overall wedding guest list numbers. Here's our best advice to navigating plus-ones:
- Married, engaged, and cohabitating guests should get a plus-one.
- Give your wedding-party members a plus-one.
- Also, guests who’ve been with their significant other for so long that it’d be awkward not to invite them.
- For everyone else, make a blanket rule, such as “only immediate or close family can bring a date” and stick to it.
Choosing whether or not to invite kids to your wedding can be a stressful decision. They will obviously add to your guest numbers and in some family circumstances you may have no choice. Discuss with your partner whether or not you’ll be inviting children to the wedding. Do this early on in the process of creating your guest list, as this could change the dynamics of your day.
Family Friends (Parent’s Friends)
Now's the time to bring your parents into the conversation. Keep in mind that some parents might feel a sense of ownership over the guest list, especially if they're contributing to some, if not all, of the cost of the wedding. A good solution to navigating this potentially tricky conversation is to give both families the same number of extra guests. This way your parents can use these seats however they'd like.
Photo: Jessica Blex
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR GUEST LIST
Keep track and stay on top of your wedding RSVPs by following these pro tips.
Use a tool to collect guests' mailing addresses.
Congrats, you have finalized your list of who to invite to your wedding! The hard part is done right? Well, you still need to have up-to-date address information for each guest so you can send them an invitation they will receive. Rather than emailing or calling guests individually to ask for their mailing address, save time by letting an online tool do the work for you. This way, you'll have all of your guests' contact info in one place. This will become a handy mailing list for future holiday cards, anniversary party invitations, birthday party invitations, and other occasions. We encourage you to read through our step-by-step guide on how to collect addresses for wedding invitations.
With Minted's digital address collection cards, you can easily request mailing addresses from wedding guests (guests will receive an email from you requesting their mailing address). Your guest list details and their addresses are saved in your online address book. Minted will then print address information on the envelopes of all your wedding stationery, from your save the dates and invitations to your thank-you cards.
Photo: Jose Villa
Include the invited guest's name on the response card.
To avoid situations where guests add uninvited guests to their response cards (sadly it does happen), print (or hand-write) the invited guest's name onto the RSVP card before mailing. That way, there's no way anyone can sneak an extra invite on you.
Avoid last-minute additions.
Inevitably, you're probably going to hear something along the lines of, "I can't wait to come to your wedding!" from someone not on your invite list. Rather than blurting out, "Me too!" and hastily mailing an invitation, stick to your guns. An easy out is to blame it on venue space limitations ("I'm so sorry, I wish we could invite everyone but unfortunately our venue is really tight on space."). Otherwise, you'll wind up with a bloated guest list and a giant headache later down the road when you're forced to cut the guest list.
And there you have it! We hope all these tips were helpful in gaining a better understanding of wedding guest list etiquette. Next up you just need to figure out where to seat everyone! For that, we recommend reading through our stress-free guide to making your wedding seating chart.