Use These Tips to Help You Narrow Down Your Wedding Guest List

February 8, 2018 | juliette

photo by Jonnie + Garrett Wedding Photographers

Choosing your wedding size and creating a wedding guest list can be one of the most stressful parts of planning. There are so many factors to consider: your and your fiancé’s vision, your families’ expectations, and your friends’ feelings. It seems impossible to please everyone because it is! Unless you have an unlimited budget, unlimited resources, and family and friends who think exactly the way you do, you will never please everyone…and that’s okay! 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 pro tips to help you narrow down that long guest list.

photo by Shadi Garman Photography

Pick a venue that aligns with your vision and your budget

Your vision and your budget are arguably the two most important pieces of the wedding planning puzzle. Once you get those to connect, everything else will fall into place around them. That includes your guest list! If you envision a cozy ceremony in a greenhouse and a dinner-party style reception at your favorite restaurant that only holds 20 people, then you have a non-negotiable cap for your guest list. Even if your dream venue can accommodate more people but you envision a more intimate gathering, book the venue and set a cap yourselves. This is your special day and you want to get married somewhere that is meaningful and/or that captivates you. Don’t let an inflated guest list, of all things, dictate where you get married!

Divide and cut by tiered categories

Trying to cut people from one long list can be both intimidating and down-right impossible. 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. You might have someone that fits into two different categories, such as a coworker that you would be friends with even if you left your job, so we recommend putting that person in the highest category you feel comfortable with. Using this divide-and-conquer method allows you to cut more people at once while also decreasing the risk of hurting people’s feelings once they realize you cut entire groups and not just certain individuals.

Consider the present and the future

Take it from someone who has been there: you don’t want to look back at your wedding photos and wonder, “Who is that?” A good rule of thumb is to only invite people who you and your fiancé have both met. Your wedding day is not the time for introductions — you’ll be dividing your time between so many things and people as it is! While taking 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 you guest list on the people who mean the most to you now and who you want by your side in the future.

photo by Leeann Funk Photography

Allocate a percentage of invites for your parents’ friends

One of the hardest issues to navigate when creating the guest list is dealing with your and your fiancé’s parents’ expectations. You want to make sure both families are happy while also sticking to your vision. If your 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 two sets of parents, or a smaller percentage for multiple sets of parents. If one set of parents is paying for the majority of (or the entire) wedding, they should definitely get a larger percentage. But, if you are paying for the wedding yourselves, it would be fair to allocate even 80% to yourselves and 20% to your parents. However you decide to split it, make sure you and your fiancé don’t give up more than 50% of the guest list. This is your day and your guests are the top priority!

Limit or eliminate the “plus one” option

This is one of the easiest ways to cut your guest list almost in half. You can either make plus ones exclusive for your wedding party and immediate family, or you can make a general “no plus ones” rule for everyone. It should be enough to address your invitations to just the person/people who are invited. (For example, “Mrs. Jane Smith and Guest” vs “Mrs. Jane Smith”.) However, some guests might assume a plus one is included. If that’s the case and you receive an RSVP with a plus one that wasn’t accounted for, simply call up your guest and be honest about your decision. When it comes time to create your reception seating chart, consider putting your single friends together so they have people to talk to and don’t feel left out of the couple crowd.

photo by Victoria Gold Photography

Make it adults-only

It is perfectly acceptable to have an adults-only wedding, especially if budget or venue constraints mean you have to choose between inviting your friends or inviting your friends’ children. While it would be great to invite everyone’s families, sometimes that’s just 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 you realize there are too many children in your friend circle or family for an adult-only wedding to be a viable option, hire a babysitter instead to take care of all the children at the venue so they are nearby but don’t require an extra seat.

Stagger the invites

If all else fails and you can’t quite get the guest list down to the number you and your fiancé set, you can always send your invitations in waves. Break up your final list into two groups: the people you can’t imagine your day without and the people who would be missed but wouldn’t necessarily make or break your day. Send invitations to the first group 4-5 months before the wedding. As you begin to get regrets, send out invitations to the next group of guests in an agreed-upon order. Just make sure you give the second wave of guests enough time to RSVP and make travel plans — we recommend having all the invitations sent at around the 6- to 8-week mark.

Now that you’ve got the wedding guest list under control, continue checking off your planning checklist with these helpful resources:

6 Ways to Get Your Groom Involved in the Wedding Planning Process

Why You Really Should Write Your Own Vows

13 Unexpected Wedding Ceremony Readings

Keep Tradition With One of These Sweet First Look Alternatives

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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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