– Ask a Real Bride – Planning Your Wedding Guest List

Deciding who to invite to your wedding can be more complicated than you think — here’s a step-by-step guide with helpful tips from real brides who have been there!

family-style tables for your wedding
Choosing long, family-style tables for your wedding reception can help to make fast friends out of strangers! Image via Helena and Laurent Photography

When I got engaged, I just about instantly began planning my wedding: the venue, the atmosphere, the music, and of course, the guests. Little did I know, I’d be accommodating the wishes of my in-laws, my own parents, and managing expectations from extended family and opinionated friends. Planning my guest list was more overwhelming than I expected—and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that!

If you’re planning your own wedding and have gotten to the tricky part of whittling down your guest list, trust me when I say: there is no single right way to do it. You’ve got to sit down and ask yourself important questions, figure out what works for you (and whoever’s footing the bill, let’s be honest), and try to enjoy the process.

To help you navigate the not-always-smooth waters of guest list planning, I’ve surveyed married friends and brides-to-be to compile the best tips that will get you through it, regardless of venue, budget, and wedding style. Take a look below for our step-by-step guide for building your perfect guest list:

your wedding is about celebrating the first day of the rest of your lives together
At the end of the day, your wedding is about celebrating the first day of the rest of your lives together, regardless of who gets invited. Image via Ashlee Sullivan.

Step One: Determine Your Budget and the Level of Intimacy You Desire

Before you start naming names, it’s a good idea to discuss your wedding budget and the level of intimacy you want for your ceremony. From there, you’ll know your venue options and their capacities that will ultimately steer your final head count.

Cheryl’s Tip

“I recommend that you determine your budget first and then immediately start creating your guest list. (Probably the two most stressful discussions.) In a perfect world, you would figure out who you wanted or needed to invite and then pick a venue that can accommodate that number within your budget.

However, I realize that the venue is very important to many couples and sometimes picked before the guest list is created. If this is the case then read on for help in creating your best guest list.”

Real Bride Tips

“We didn’t have a large budget, so we only invited family, no friends at all, so we didn’t offend anyone. We decided our headcount based on the venue and on how many people we could budget plates for, winding up at around 80 guests.” — Ashlee S.

“We chose a venue that could only hold a certain amount of people, so we made a list including both of our families and the bridal party, then assigned each parent a certain amount of guests they could invite, with those paying for the wedding getting more guests.” — Francesca L.

“We paid for the wedding ourselves, so the guest list was 100 percent money motivated. Once we decided to keep things small, we committed hard with no exceptions. If we didn’t hold back, we would have had at least 175 guests, but we ultimately ended up inviting about 30 people.” — Sarah C.

Think about your personal wedding style and vision
Think about your personal wedding style and vision — those gorgeous centerpieces and place settings will take up less of your budget with fewer guests! Image via Jeff Kolodny Photography.

Step Two: Establish the Division of Guests Between Bride, Groom & Families

Much like I didn’t expect to be contending with my in-laws’ guest list wishes, plenty of other brides can feel out of control when it comes to keeping headcounts down and family happy. An easy way to keep the peace: give everyone a set number of guests they have a say over, and stick with it.

While there’s no one right way to divide up your guest list, it’s good to have some sort of system.

Here are a few ways you could do it:

  1. The couple gets to invite 50 percent and each set of parents gets 25 percent.
  2. Divide it equally between the three parties.
  3. Split it down the middle between the bride and the groom.
  4. Each party comes up with an A, B & C list. A (must invite), B (would like to invite) & C (probably should invite if there is room) list. Combine the lists to see how many guests the blended A list includes and go from there.

Check out our blog post, Is It Ok to Have a Wedding B-List? or read on below to find out how a few real brides have done it.

Real Bride Tips

“We invited 300 people to our wedding, so my now-husband and I got to invite 100, my parents invited 100, and my husband’s family got to invite 100.” — Jessie M.

“Since my parents were paying for the wedding, they got to invite 30 percent of the total, my husband’s parents got 20, and my husband and I each got 25.” — Samantha H.

Cheryl’s Tip

“For my daughter’s wedding we all created our A, B & C lists (like mentioned above). Everyone added their list to one google doc and then the negotiations started from there. Guests in question were discussed and moved around accordingly. My daughter had no venue restrictions, but she and her fiancé wanted to keep her wedding under 100 guests. When all was said and done, we invited 140 guests with 112 attending. Even though it was more than she originally wanted, I reminded her that people are more important than a number, and in the end, she was very happy with the outcome.”

wedding outside
Image via Cardona Foto.
outdoor wedding
Keeping your guest list small can create a beautifully intimate atmosphere for your closest friends and loved ones. Image via Cardona Foto.

Step Three: Remember the Easy-to-Forget Things

In addition to deciding who gets a plus-one, those people that you’re including in your wedding (the officiant, the photographer, the DJ) should also be considered in your total headcount. You might offer them a seat and plate at dinner (which means telling the caterer). Not to mention, members of your bridal party, like the ring bearer or flower girl, will likely require a parent in attendance.

The people most often overlooked when a couple starts planning their guest list are: spouses, fiances, or live-in partners of guests; the officiant and their significant other; and the parents of the flower girl, ring bearer, or any young ushers in the bridal party. Including them in your head count early can save headaches down the road.

Cheryl’s Tips

“When inviting someone that is married or engaged, you should always invite them as a couple, even if you only have a relationship with one of them. The same is now true of someone that lives with their significant other or is in a long term committed relationship. However, don’t feel as if you must include a “plus one” for your single friends or relatives. That is entirely up to you.”

Real Bride Tips

“We only included a plus-one for guests who were living with their significant other at the time.” — Francesca L.

“When it came to determining who would get a plus-one, we really only allotted them to those who were in a serious relationship. We didn’t want strangers at our wedding, or to look back at our photos and wonder ‘Who is that?’” — Lindsay D.

“My best friend still holds it over my head that her boyfriend wasn’t invited, but only one of our friends got a plus-one because they were married.” — Sarah C.

Check out our blog post The Etiquette of Plus Ones for more of Cheryl’s tips for determining your guest list.

Step Four: Count on Regrets & Have a Backup Plan

I’ve never heard of a wedding that didn’t get at least a handful of “Will not attend” replies. If you’ve got a hard-set number of guests you can fit into your venue or budget, it’s good to have a backup list of people you want to include on your big day once you start getting RSVPs. It’s hard to make those cuts, so creating a tiered system or multiple guest lists can save you in the long run.

When you’re creating your guest list it’s usually safe to build in a buffer in case of regrets. On average you can count on a 10-15 percent margin—so if your capacity is 100 guests, you can invite 10-15 more to account for guests who can’t make it.

Real Bride Tips

“I made an A, B, and C list. If I had room after the A list, then I’d work through the B and C lists, like a tiered system. It kept things even.” — Jessie M.

“We went through a few rounds. First was the VERY large list—our wish list. Then we made cuts and created a B list that included people we hadn’t spoken to in three months or longer. We came up with a number we are all comfortable with—then increased it by 10 percent to account for people who couldn’t make it. If after two weeks, we had some wiggle room, we invited guests on the B list.” — Samantha H.

wedding kiss
My own wedding venue was on the large side, but the space for our ceremony was on the smaller side. Luckily, our guests didn’t mind cozying up to one another for 20 minutes or so. Image via Helena and Laurent Photography

Step Five: Create Across-the-Board Rules to Make Things Easier

Not everyone is going to have the same opinions on who should and shouldn’t be invited to a wedding (evidenced by our Real Brides’ tips so far!), so it’s fair to say that some might resonate more than others. But, when you apply a few hard-and-fast rules to your guest list strategy, it can take a whole lot of stress out of the process. Because let’s be real: this is just one piece of the entire wedding planning puzzle, and there will be plenty more decisions to make before the big day.

It’s easier to cut out an entire category of guests than it is to decide individually who to include or exclude. Think about whether you want to include children, coworkers, and every aunt, uncle, and cousin.

Real Bride Tips

“My husband and I both have large, close-knit families, so we decided from the get-go that we wouldn’t invite any coworkers or friends we didn’t both know as a couple. It wasn’t always easy, but we were happy we made a hard-and-fast rule we stuck to.” — Danielle S.

“We decided on no kids and no plus-ones for anyone that wasn’t in a committed relationship to help keep the numbers down.” — Haley S.

While it’s (almost) never a walk in the park, wedding planning can be a lot easier with some help from us (and all our married friends!) here at RegistryFinder.com. We hope that these tips from real brides can help you when it comes time to narrow down that guest list.

Looking for more wedding planning tips? Check out the Give It blog for all your marriage-related questions!

Featured image via @inspiredbythis, photo by @heirlumephotography 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected

Keep up with our latest news, tips and advice. Sign up today!
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.