A Wedding Guest List Guide

wedding guest list guide

Your wedding day will likely be one of the most joyous days in your entire life. But in order to get to the joyous part, you have to do a lot of planning. All the decisions leading up to your big day can be incredibly stressful, and one of the most stressful parts of it all is making your guest list.

Between family politics, friend group dynamics, and budget concerns, creating a wedding guest list is fraught with traps and pitfalls. Everyone could use a comprehensive wedding guest list guide to help make their tough choices a little easier.

Lucky for you—this is that guide.

Identify Decision Makers

The people getting married should have final decision making power on who is on the guest list. However, if parents or grandparents or some other benefactor is helping to foot the bill for the event, you need to give them input into who goes on the list.

It can be difficult to give up that bit of control to someone outside the central couple, but it is only fair. Weddings can be hugely expensive. If someone is dropping thousands of dollars on an event to celebrate your love, they are entitled to have input on who gets to be there.

If you are paying for the whole event yourself, you may still want to ask your parents who they think you should invite. This can help your parents feel like valued parts of your life and circumvent any potential hurt feelings that will express themselves as passive aggressive comments that pop up for the rest of your life.

While it is important to keep your parents and/or other financial contributors in the loop on your list, it is not a breach of wedding guest list etiquette to establish firm boundaries about who has the absolute final say. It is still your day.

Create a Master List

Once you know who will have input on names for your guest list, you can start making one. This is a list where you include everyone that you like even a little bit or feel even slightly obligated towards.

This can include people who invited you to their weddings that you don’t talk to that much anymore, third or fourth cousins that you’ve only met a few times in your life, or people that you’re friendly with but wouldn’t necessarily call friends.

This wouldn’t be a good wedding guest list guide if it didn’t come with a few pieces of advice on how to do this. And there are several good ways to compile your master list. 

Using a wedding guest list app or making a wedding guest list spreadsheet is an absolute must. These tools help ensure that you don’t double up on the same names and make it easy to share your list with your decision making group for their input.

They also make it easy to move names from your A-list invitees to your B- or C-lists as you make cuts. Making a pencil-and-paper list is difficult to share with people who are not in your immediate area and can lead to some names getting lost in the shuffle.

To actually make your master list, you can either work together or separately from your fiance to start. Map out your immediate families and closest friends first, then radiate outwards to include more extended family members and good friends. Then go another degree further out, and so on and so forth, until you have everyone you can think of.

At this point, if you are accepting input from parents and financial helpers, share your list with them and let them add names you may have forgotten. Remember: this is a list that is unburdened by the realities of venue size and budget. There are no bad ideas at this stage of the game.

how to make guest list for wedding

Plus Ones and Children

At this stage, you’re not quite done with your master list. You need to decide if you will be allowing your guests to bring plus ones or children. This may seem like an odd thing to consider, but it will help you figure out final guest numbers later in the process.

After all, you can’t really ask, “how many people should I invite to my wedding” without factoring in the additional people that those invitees may want to bring. But can you really justify telling people to leave their kids and/or significant others at home?

Yes! It is your day. If you don’t want children underfoot, you can make that clear. If you don’t want your cousin’s boyfriend whom no one in the family has met yet to be in the pictures of your wedding and reception, you can say so.

If you will be allowing kids and plus ones, just make some marks on your master list to account for those additional people. That way, when you are making cuts, you won’t get to a point where you think you’re done only to realize that you have to keep going because you forgot about the additional people attached to your guests.

Venue and Budget

At this point in our wedding guest list guide, you have your master list and you’ve factored in potential plus ones and kids. That sets you up for success as you continue this process. Because this is when the tough decisions start.

When you look at how to make a guest list for a wedding, the size of your venue and the room in your budget make all the difference in the world. This includes the size of your reception venue, as well.

Let’s look at venues first. If you have 200 people on your master guest list, but your venue has a maximum capacity of 100, you need to cut out a little over half the people on your master list. So figure out who needs to be there for the ceremony (like you and your fiance, the officiant, the photographer, etc.) and then start cutting down the guest list until you’re under max capacity.

If your reception venue is larger than your ceremony venue, you could send out reception only invitations to include more people in your special day. If you do this, make sure you are very clear about the distinction because reception only guests showing up to your ceremony could get awkward if there is extremely limited seating.

Your budget affects your guest list because you only have so much money to spend on this event. With catering, favors for guests, the cost of reserving a block of hotel rooms, and all the other costs that add up, you can calculate an average cost per guest.

If you invite more guests than your budget allows, you will not be happy when the bill comes due. So calculate the average cost per guest for your wedding and see how many you can invite without going over budget.

Wedding Guest List Guide to Making Cuts

Once you know how many people you can invite, it is time to start making cuts. This isn’t necessarily as brutal as it might seem. One of the best wedding guest list tips is to make an A-list and B-list of potential guests.

That way, if someone on your A-list can’t make it, you can extend an invitation to someone who had barely missed the cut. If you do this, make sure you factor in plenty of time for RSVPs. After all, you don’t want people on your B-list to feel like they weren’t on the A-list.

As far as tips for cutting wedding guest lists go, this is where having an app or spreadsheet once again really comes in handy. These tools allow you to mark the people that you definitely will have there, such as your bridal party and family.

Keep in mind the people that were suggested to you by the other decision makers you identified earlier in the process and keep them on your A-list as long as possible. Reverse the process you used to create your master list to trim down your guests.

If the final cuts are getting difficult, you can have your decision committee vote on who to keep or who to drop and go with majority rule. Keep going like this, and you will have your guest list trimmed down in no time.

Get Ready for a Great Day

The last part of this wedding guest list guide is a simple suggestion— get ready to enjoy your wedding. When your list is finalized and the invites are out, some of the toughest decisions of the whole wedding process are over and done with.

There are always other stresses that pop up in the lead up to a wedding day, but once you’ve finalized your guest list, you’ve gotten past one of the hardest parts of the whole thing. And that means it’s time to get ready to party with your favorite people in the whole world. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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