Guest List: How to Make Your Wedding Guest List

Tips to help you with the hardest part of wedding planning -- who to invite.

by Liz Zack

Creating a guest list can cause complete chaos. Whether it’s your mum pushing you to invite all her neighbours or your fiance insisting to cut your coworkers from the list, you’re bound to come across some angst in your guest list planning. But not to worry. There is hope. If you follow these top tips, you’ll minimise the madness and whittle down your list to the best-case scenario.

Write the guest list

Stay Mum

Of course you’re going to announce your engagement to close friends and family members, but because they’re the first ones who’ll be invited, they’re safe territory. Beyond your immediate clan, don’t personally call anyone else until you know the wedding’s approximate size and scope, because the first thing people are likely to ask is “When is the wedding?” That way, you can set expectations when you finally announce your news: “We’re so excited — it’ll be a tiny ceremony somewhere exotic,” or “My parents are springing for a blowout with everyone under the sun, so start watching airfares now!” If people know from the start that they’re not likely to be invited because it’s a family-only or far-flung affair, they won’t be miffed when they don’t find a fancy envelope in their mailbox.

Divide Seats Equally

All of the immediate family with input should be given the same number of people to invite, regardless of who’s paying. What that means is that if you’re having 200 guests and you and your fiance take 100 of the invites, his family should get 50 of the remaining invites and your family should get the final 50. If her folks are divorced, then each of her parents split the 50 evenly. If things work out that smoothly for you, you’re lucky, but sticking with that strategy gives you a bulletproof defense against accusations of favouritism. Of course, if one of you is an only child and the other comes from a family of 20, you can reevaluate how to divvy up the numbers. If people grumble, see the next strategy about standing up to bullies.
To minimise confusion, wait to request your parents and in-law’s guest lists until you’ve given them their target number.

Don’t Be Bullied By Parents and Soon-to-be In-laws

Set and stick to boundaries. This can be tricky if one set of parents is footing the bill and demands a greater slice of the guest list. But when it comes down to it, this is your event. Sometimes it’s just a matter of increasing the size of the guest list, and the parent who goes over their number of invites can pay for the overflow. But often your site caps the guest count. That means if his mum wants to invite more people (say, all of her neighbours), either your family or you two will have to invite fewer guests. Be resolute. Explain to his mum that even though she is generously paying for the extra seats, this is a celebration for everyone involved, and everyone must participate on an equal footing. It may not be easy or pleasant, but if you start to bend, you’re in for a tidal wave of last-minute requests.


Get Organised Early and Online

Add-on guests can be annoying, but with the number of people contributing to the average wedding guest list, there are sure to be a few. As soon as you figure out your first partial list, add the names and addresses into an Excel spreadsheet or, even better, a guest list manager (like the one we’ve built for you). Having your entire list online means you always have access to it whether you happen to be at home, work, your parent’s house, or the invitation store. The sooner you get your list organised and finalised, the better. You’ll use those names and addresses a gazillion times, from meal selection and seat assignments to the many thank-you notes you’ll write along the way.

Create A- and B-lists

While you’re pretty safe assuming that 10–20 percent of your final list will not attend, it pays to be ready with a second string in case you dip far below your target number or if there’s a group of guests you want to invite — like more cousins — but as of now don’t have the room. If you’re shooting for 200 guests, for example, identify 240 guests as your A-list. These are the folks who will get the first round of invites. The rest, in order of importance, become the B-list. Once you get more than 40 A-list regrets, you can start working down your B-list, sending out a few invites at a time until you get 200 acceptances. Don’t wait too long getting your B-list out — no one wants an invitation the week before an event. If you have a big B-list, print a second set of reply cards with a later RSVP date.

Include Names on the Response Card

It’s happened to the most organised of brides: The invite is made out to one person and one person only, but the RSVP comes back with two names crammed onto one line. Avoid the dreaded “and guest” quandry and annoyance (your ex-roommate’s boyfriend of three weeks should not be at your wedding) and ask your calligrapher to write the full names of the invited guests on the RSVP card. After their names, have her include a blank line where they can indicate whether they are attending or sending regrets. That way, there’s almost no way for guests to force an unwanted invite on you.

Many couples complain that they can’t read who has signed the RSVP or people forget to put their names. To avoid these snafus, number the backs of your reply cards in pencil and key them into your guest list.

Work Around Coworkers

Unless you have a clear best friend at work, subscribe to the all-or-nothing rule. If you plan to invite one member of your team, you should invite all of them. The exception: you can just invite your boss. On the other hand, it’s totally acceptable to invite no one from work (and still gab about your wedding at lunch). Practice expectation management (see our tip about staying mum) and you won’t hurt any feelings. Of course, if you have a true buddy at work, someone you see socially even outside of your fluorescent-lit lunchroom, then you should absolutely invite her to the wedding. If your coworkers find out that particular person got the nod, it will make sense to them, and probably won’t rub them the wrong way.

Create Criteria for Cutting

At some point between the free-form list of names you jotted down and the engraved envelopes you sent out, inevitably you will need to trim your list. Make it easier by creating a set of criteria that makes sense to both of you. Here are a few suggestions to start you off.

Rule #1 If you have never spoken to, met, or heard the name of a particular guest, he gets cut, even if dad swears they’re two peas in a pod.

Rule #2 Anyone whose bedtime occurs before 9 p.m. will miss the cake cutting, so don’t feel bad about nixing all the under-12-year-olds.

Rule #3 Single friends who want to bring a significant other only get an “and guest” if they’ve been in the relationship for a year or more (or live with the person).

Rule #4 It’s your party — if you don’t want them there, don’t feel guilted into sending an invite, even if you were invited to their wedding or they are friends with lots of people who will be invited. With a little bit of forethought, you can master your guest list!


by Liz Zack


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