How to Start Your Wedding Guest List

Starting your wedding guest list may not sound too difficult. You choose the people you want to spend your special day with, include the requisite family members, and hope at least 90% of the guests accept your invitations and show up at the wedding.

However, unless you have an unlimited wedding budget (and sometimes even when you do), your guest list can’t include every person you know, are related to, and work with. It’s time to make some tough calls.

If you’ve been reading this a while, you’ll know I had a little stress about the wedding guest list and invitations.  I know exactly what you’re going through: We had a wedding venue with capacity of 75 and a list of 105! Now, I’ve navigated the who’s and how-to’s of the guest list.

how to work out your wedding guest list

I’ve talked about the venue before, and suggested that the number of guests will be part of your decision, but you may also (like me) fall in love with a venue that doesn’t cater to your entire friend group, but either way, follow these steps to narrow down the list.

1. Sit down with your fiancé and make a list of everyone that you would consider inviting: colleagues, friends, family, neighbours, etc.

2. With List #1 in front of you, start 3 more in a separate row (Excel spreadsheets are ideal), divide it into three columns.

3. The first column is Definite Attendees – this includes those you will definitely invite, and can be 90% sure will actually attend (that’s close family, best friends, and very reliable extended family and friends that you will definitely send an invite to and who will almost definitely attend).  If this number is 25, work on the basis that 23-24 will attend (90%).

4. The second column is Probable Invitees – this is the list of family and friends that you would like to invite.  Include in this list all the people you will invite that may not be coming (elderly family, overseas friends, etc – though don’t presume they won’t come!) and all the people your parents are expecting to invite if they’re contributing (clarify this early!).  If this number is 75, it’s likely only 60-65 will come (80%).

5. Have a third list of Possibles – those it would be nice to invite if you have the capacity to do so, which you will be able to determine based on the numbers of Definite and Probables which don’t come, which is an additional 15 based on the numbers above (90% of DAs and 80% of PIs).

If you have a venue: Step 6 is to count the numbers down through DIs, PIs and then Possibles.

If you don’t have a venue: Step 6 is to add the DAs and PIs (knowing the number of Possibles too) and take that number to the venues you’re attending, keeping in mind both the smaller and larger numbers, and allowing that to assist with your decision.

If the numbers are out of control, consider the following options for reducing the list:
– Don’t just mindlessly give guests a “plus one“.  Your friends need not be joined-at-the-hip to their boyfriend or girlfriend, and if the relationship is within its first year or so, and the couple are not yet ‘de-facto’, living together, or have each other in their own ‘definite’ futures, don’t feel like you have to invite them to celebrate your definite future.  Your true friends will understand, and why are you bothering to worry about those that wouldn’t?  Personally, with work colleagues, I’d suggest that unless you know their significant other, you can invite a group of colleagues without their spouses – those people aren’t a part of your relationship.  N.B. Do be thoughtful if your friend won’t know anyone else there otherwise, or is coming from overseas.
– If you’ve got a large list of colleagues, rethink whether you would be friends with these people out of work (if one of you moved jobs, for instance).  Be discreet at work, but only invite those workmates you’d spend time with outside work.
– If you can (we could), exclude children from the wedding reception itself, but keep in mind options for babysitters and be aware that this could discourage those with children from attending (or having a big night).  Subtly let them know it’s adults-only.
– If you’re only inviting some couples because you went to their wedding (or were invited) years ago, consider whether you’re being polite for the sake of it, or whether they really are essential to your day.  You don’t know what their thinking was in inviting you (you may very well have been from a back-up list too!).
– Exclude ex-partners/girlfriends, etc. It’s a personal decision whether to include them anyway, but you can potentially cut a few by making this rule.
– If it’s possible, renegotiate with your parents if they’re intending to invite a small army.

We have guest list templates in the little white wedding planning pack, if you need a little extra help working out your list, and then your list of final invited guests can be filled into the little white book wedding organizer and diary (buy both in a discounted bundle here).  You’ll include guest addresses and return to the guest list pages many times, so this is a really useful wedding guest resource for when you’re sending save-the-dates, wedding invitations and ultimately thank you cards.  You’ll also tick off once you receive an RSVP, make a note of what the wedding gifts were in case you later forget, and include the total guest numbers at the end too.

how many wedding guests

If any (potential!) guests cause any issues with your decisions, (I would) reconsider them entirely, and/or stick to my guns.  It’s YOUR day, and they need to respect that. 

If I can leave one lasting message, I’d suggest that you won’t regret (slightly) going over budget to invite more people, but you might regret being tight at this stage, and later having an awkwardness with friends you wish had been there.

Head to the wedding planning page for an index of our content, and if you haven’t already seen our wedding organiser and diary, take a little look at the little white book.


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