How to Start Your Wedding Guest List

Choosing who to invite, and writing your wedding guest list shouldn’t be 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… right?

Well, now that you’ve started your wedding budget, you’ll know that however many people you choose to invite will also have a bearing on the type of venue you choose. Unless you have an unlimited 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.

Rather than trying to choose your favourite 70 people and write down all their names, I recommend beginning an excel spreadsheet of all the people you would possibly consider inviting, if budget and capacity were no object. You may wish to do family lists each, and then go through your friend groups together.

how to work out your wedding guest list

Guest List / Budget

However many you come up with on this list, do a quick calculation with your budget to work out how much that would allocate, per person, to cover things like food, drink and hireage. This will give you an indication of how much you actually need, and perhaps want, to cut down the list. For an all-inclusive wedding venue with a full-service dinner, you can expect to pay around $100-$200 per guest, excluding wine.

Guest List / Venue

If you’ve already begun searching for your wedding venue, you may have a target guest list to work to, and/or if you fall in love with a particular venue even after starting your guest list, you may wish to reduce the guest numbers to fit. We began with a list of over 100 people, but ended up with just 75, to fit the venue we chose.

Guests / Balancing Expectations, Family and Friends

The guest list is often the hardest thing for many couples to tackle, common issues arising being:

  • Having large numbers of extended (or even immediate) family they have to invite
  • One person having a much larger family or friend group than the other
  • Expectations from family about inviting parents’ close friends
  • Expectations from friends to invite significant others (+1’s), their children, or reciprocate an invitation to their wedding

Guest List: What to Consider

Here’s the thing… the more people you have, the less time you will have with any of them, the more it will cost, and the more you have to organise (stationery, seating plans, hireage, meals, transport). There is a growing trend to instead opt for a small wedding, with even ‘pop-up’ weddings of 30 guests, or even smaller elopements, gaining popularity.

When it comes to the guest list, it can be really tempting to avoid any potential awkwardness by inviting everybody, but if you really don’t want to have a large wedding, there are a couple of alternatives:

  • Have a larger engagement party, and explain to guests that you will be having a very intimate wedding;
  • Have an informal reception a couple of months after your small wedding, and invite others to join you to celebrate there;
  • Do whatever the hell you like and stop feeling guilty, because it’s your wedding, and those that really care about you will understand and respect your decision.

Need to Narrow down your guest list?

Once you have a target number that fits your budget, expectations and desires, even if you are having a large wedding, you may need to cut it down. Many couples like to narrow down their list with a few rules, like ‘no ring, no bring’, no workmates, or no children. They may be right for you, but you don’t need rules to work out who you want to share your special day with. It’s not always as easy as excluding all those people.

Instead, I suggest you think about whose company you most enjoy, and who you expect to be part of your lives in the future, and invite them to spend this once-in-a-lifetime day with you.

How to actually narrow down your guest list…

If you fall in love with a venue that doesn’t cater to your entire guest list, head back to excel (you have the guest list spreadsheet, right?) armed with the list of everyone you’ve considered inviting, and put them in order.

  • Three columns: Definites, Probables, Maybes.
  • Definites/Non-negotiables – those you WILL NOT get married without. 100% attendance required.
  • Probables: If you can make it work, you’ll have them all… if they can all make it, that is. Put this list in order of absolute importance, from your ride-or-dies that’ve been with you since high school to the colleague that gets you through Monday morning, get them in some semblance of an order.
  • Maybes: Extended family, friends you haven’t seen in a while, girls who weren’t actually that nice in high school but are vaguely in your friend circle, colleague you can’t deal with til Tuesday…

Okay, are you ready for this. Don’t skip past the photo until you have that list in front of you. Let’s pretend your desk is this tidy too…

If the number of guests in the first column match your venue capacity/budget/desires, you’ve won. Congratulations, you are getting married with all the most important people in your lives, and you get to do so in the venue you love. Too many on list one? You need to find a bigger venue, reallocate your budget, or save for longer. People are everything, you need those people there (you said so yourself).

If there’s fewer guests than the capacity of the venue/your budget allows, bonus! You can invite even more lovely people, I suggest you do so from list two. Okay, so you can’t get all the way through list two, but you get to marry the person of your dreams in a dream location, you’re winning! The more people you have, the less time you’ll have with each of them, the fewer memories of your time with them to look back on (also, the more complicated the seating plan…). Only 80-90% of those you invite are likely to be able to make it, so you’ll probably be able to add a couple more along the way.

If there’s enough room for all of list one, and all of list two, and you still have room for those in the third column, think hard. You put them on list three. Are you sure you really, really want them there? Unsure? You don’t have to make a decision immediately, as your wedding is likely to be 12 months away. But seriously, don’t be in a rush to invite every Tom, Dick and Harry – especially if they’re ex-boyfriends ;).

 

 

Back to those Guest List Rules

If the numbers are out of control, consider the following options/rules/guidelines for reducing the guest 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, don’t invite their spouses – those people aren’t a part of your relationship with them. 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), and whether you’re going to be friends in the long term.  Be discreet at work, but only invite those workmates you’d spend time with outside work.
– If you can, and want to (we could), you can of course exclude children from the wedding reception itself, but keep in mind locality and availability 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!).
Renegotiate with your parents if they’re intending to invite a small army.
– Return to the step above and really, only invite those you absolutely must, definitely, non-negotiably cannot get married without!

 

Like your wedding budget, your guest list isn’t static either, and it’s very useful to have a single place to refer to for the guest names and addresses, RSVPs, any dietary requirements, and then even to go back to after the wedding, to make a note of the gift from each couple, and refer to the address, so that you can send a thoughtful and personal thank you note.

I 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

Back-up plan

Because it’s unlikely that 100% of your invited guests will be able to make it, it is completely acceptable to have a ‘B list’ or back-up list of people to invite if the first ones can’t attend. For this reason, you may even wish to stagger your invites, so that those on the B list aren’t all invited at the same time. Hand the invitations out in person – you save on postage, and it will make you very aware if you no longer catch up with a certain couple.

Invite those coming from overseas as early as possible, to give them the best chance of being able to make it.

 

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. 

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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