Work Out Your Guest List (Without Offending Anyone)

Just when you thought the budget was the most difficult part of planning a wedding… you have to begin to work out your guest list – and ideally do so without offending anyone. For a comprehensive guide to your guest list, budget, venue and more, subscribe to the little white e-book.

Many of us would love to invite all our friends, family and colleagues, but logistics often make that impossible. Once you have an estimated budget, to be able to choose your wedding venue, you need to work out how many guests will be attending.

If you already know that your budget is going to be tight, one of the the easiest solutions is to reduce the number of invited guests, which immediately affects the venue size and simplifies logistics.

Rather than starting by trying to immediately narrow down invitees to the magic number, I recommend beginning an excel spreadsheet of all the people you would like to invite – if budget and capacity were no object.

You may wish to do family lists each, and then go through your friend groups together.

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Wedding Guest List Template

Consider how your Budget works with your Guest List

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 catering, 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 beverages.

Shorten your Guest List, or Change your Venue?

If you’ve already begun searching for, or have found, your wedding venue, you may have a target guest list to work to. If you fall in love with a particular venue even after starting your guest list, you may wish to shorten your guest list to fit, rather than change your venue. Personally, we began with a list of over 100 people, but cut it down to 75, to fit the venue we chose.

They may be tough calls to make, but you’ll have to work out which comes first, the guest list or the venue, and what is more important, the number of guests or the budget.

Overcome Guest List Issues Without Offending Anyone

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
  • Anxiety about pressure of having to invite colleagues, old school friends, or reciprocate invitations for other weddings you’ve attended
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 you could consider to reduce your guest list, without offending anyone.
  • 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!

Remember, 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.

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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. To avoid hurt feelings, many couples like to narrow down their list with a few rules, like ‘no ring, no bring’, no children, or not inviting certain groups, like coworkers. 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.

Figure out Who May Not Come and Have a ‘B’ Guest List

We all have those relatives, friends or just out-of-town guests who we invite knowing they either will not come, can’t come or won’t be able to afford the trip. It’s unlikely that 100% of your invited guests will be able to make it, which may end up helping to reduce your guest list.

For this reason, it is also completely acceptable to have a ‘B list’ or back-up list of people to invite if the first ones can’t attend. 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.

Stay Organised

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 designed the pages of the little white book to tick all these boxes, as well as designing an excel spreadsheet for organising your guests. They’re available together as part of the wedding planning bundle, or for sale individually in the Shop.

To stay on track with your guest list and the rest of your wedding planning, make sure to subscribe.

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