Use These Tips to Narrow Down the Wedding Guest List

February 8, 2018 | juliette

photo by Jonnie + Garrett Wedding Photographers

Choosing your wedding size and creating a wedding guest list with or without a wedding guest template can be one of the most stressful parts of planning. There are many factors to consider like your and your fiancé’s vision, your families’ expectations, and your friends’ feelings. It seems impossible to please everyone—because it is! After creating an all-inclusive list it’s time to do the dirty work: narrow down the wedding guest list.

Unless you have an unlimited budget and unlimited resources you will never please everyone. When all is said and done, your guests will affect how you and your fiancé feel on your wedding day and be part of your precious memories forever. Since it’s much easier to stay firm in your decisions when you have a plan in place, here are some tips to help you narrow down that your wedding guest list.

photo by Shadi Garman Photography

Pick a Venue That Aligns with Your Vision and Your Budget

Vision and budget are arguably the two most important pieces of the wedding planning puzzle. Once those connect, everything else can begin to fall into place around them—including your guest list. If visions of a cozy ceremony in a greenhouse and a dinner-party style reception at a local restaurant fill your wedding mood board there will be a natural cap for your guest list.

Even if your dream venue can accommodate hundreds of people, a more intimate gathering might be all you’re looking for. In this case, book the venue and set a cap yourselves. This is your special day and you want to get married somewhere that is meaningful that captivates you. Don’t let an inflated guest list, of all things, dictate where!

Divide and Narrow Down the Wedding Guest List by Tiered Categories

Trying to cut people from one long list can be both intimidating and down-right uncomfortable. One way to make the process easier is to divide everyone into categories: immediate family, close relatives, extended relatives, close friends, family friends, coworkers, acquaintances, children, and so on. Then rank those categories in order of importance and start cutting from the bottom.

There may be potential guests that fit into two different categories, such as a close coworker that consider a friend. We recommend putting people in the highest category you feel comfortable with. Using this divide-and-cut method allows you to cut more people at once while also decreasing the risk of hurting anyone’s feelings once they realize they were not singled out.

Consider the Present and the Future

Keep from looking back at wedding photos and wondering, “who is that?” by only inviting people known to both you and your fiancé. A wedding day is not the time for introductions—couples divide their time and need to find ways to stay present as it is. While taking personal relationships into account, also identify people you haven’t talked to in the last year or people you don’t see yourself keeping in touch with 5 years from now. This will help focus the guest list on the people who mean the most now and who likely will in the future.

photo by Leeann Funk Photography

Allocate a Percentage of Invites for Your Parents’ Friends

It seems to go against the last tip, we know. One of the hardest issues to navigate when creating the guest list is dealing with parents’ expectations. Keeping both families happy and sticking to a vision is easier said than done. There are a few ways to handle this split, and the conversation. If you are paying for the wedding yourselves, up to 20% of the invites can be allocated to your parents.

Parents Who Pay Should Get a Percentage of Invites

If parents are helping pay for the wedding, a fair split could be 50% for you and your fiancé and 50% for your parents combined—whether that means 25% and 25% for either set of parents, or a smaller percentage for multiple sets of parents. If one parent is paying for the majority of—or the entire—wedding, they might get a larger percentage. However you decide to split it, make sure not to give up more than 50% of the guest list. Your guests are the top priority.

Limit or Eliminate the “Plus One” Option

This is one of the easiest ways to cut a guest list almost in half. Either make plus ones exclusive for the wedding party and immediate family or make a general “no plus ones” rule for everyone. It should be enough to address your invitations to just the people who are invited. For example, “Mrs. Jane Smith and Guest” vs “Mrs. Jane Smith.”

Guests may assume a plus one is included. If you receive an RSVP with a plus one that wasn’t offered simply call your guest—yes, call don’t text or email—and be honest about your decision. When it comes time to create your reception seating chart, consider putting single friends together so don’t feel left out of the couple crowd.

photo by Victoria Gold Photography

Make it Adults-Only

Adults-only weddings will never go out of style, especially if budget or venue constraints mean choosing between inviting friends or inviting children. While it would be great to invite everyone’s families, often it’s not realistic. If you decide to have an adults-only wedding, make it clear on the invitation and on your wedding website so there’s no confusion. If there are too many children in your circle for an adult-only wedding, consider hiring a babysitting service to take care of the children at the venue so they are nearby but don’t require an extra seat.

Stagger the Invites

If all else fails and the guest list isn’t quite down to the number you set, be sure to send invitations in waves. Break up the final list into two groups: people who must attend and people who would be missed. Send invitations to the first group 5-6 months before the wedding. As you begin to get RSVPs, send out invitations to the next group of guests in an agreed-upon order. Make sure you give the second wave of guests enough time to RSVP and make travel plans. Make sure all the invitations sent no later than 8 weeks out.

Turning folks away from your joyous day will never be fun, there’s no getting around it. We hope these tips helped cut through some of the noise and made those tough decisions a little easier. Once you’re able to narrow down the wedding guest list the next step is invitations. Luckily, our vendor list includes the world’s best custom wedding invitations. Check them out, you’ll be glad you did.


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  1. Wow! This is such a great list of suggestions for brides! What a good resource!

  2. Very good tips ! This is very helpful.

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