The guest list is one of the most stressful parts of wedding planning. It determines so many other details, and the more guests you add to your list, the more everything costs. Making sure your head count includes everyone important, without blowing your budget can be a balancing act.
It doesn’t matter if you’re having an intimate gathering or a giant affair, there are still people who’ll expect to be invited who you really don’t want or need to be there. Especially in this day and age of social media, how do you decide which of your several hundred “friends” to invite after you’ve posted your engagement photos online? Here is a comprehensive list of rules that to help generate the best and most appropriate wedding guest list.
First, start with a master list. This includes everyone. All the people you think you should invite, are thinking about inviting or whose wedding you attended within the past two years. Then you start cutting. Here are our tips to keep in mind as you decide who makes the cut.
1. If you live in the same city as the potential guests but you don’t ever see them outside of events organized by mutual friends, then they do not get an invitation. These are not your friends; these are your friends’ friends.
2. If when you visit the town where the potential guests live, you don’t call them or plan to see them, then they shouldn’t be insulted when you don’t invite them to your wedding.
3. If you wonder “What do they want?” when a person calls you, then they should not be at your wedding.
4. Even if you’ve successfully managed to negotiate the rocky road of friendship after you’ve had an intense relationship with somebody, it’s usually best if you don’t automatically assume that you’re inviting them to your wedding. Your fiancee comes first in your life, ahead of anybody else. Even if they say that they don’t mind you’re friends with somebody you’ve had a significant past with, there’s probably just a tiny part of them that is a bit unsettled by that. They are part of your past, not your future.
5. Co-workers are tricky, so we suggest you apply the “except for” test: If the company went out of business tomorrow and you were no longer working together, would you continue to be friends with them once you both found employment elsewhere? In other words, except for your job, do you have anything in common?
6. Your boss is also another invite that need not be sent. He or she is almost certain to know that you’re getting married, particularly if you’ve received a wedding gift from your colleagues at the office. In the past it was a given that you invited your employer but thankfully this custom is no longer required; and to be honest, how comfortable would you feel if your boss was there? Do they really want to come anyway? Even if you’re having a large wedding, it’s still an intimate occasion and you need to feel relaxed among your guests.
7. If you’re the boss, then you shouldn’t feel you have to invite your colleagues, employees or even your secretary. In business it’s best to maintain a little distance and your wedding is certainly a personal occasion. We believe it is best to keep it that way.
8. If the potential guest has never met your fiancee, and especially if they don’t even know who they are, then they don’t need to receive an invite. There is no reason that they should meet your spouse for the first time at your the wedding.
9. Family matters: If your parents or your fiancee’s parents want to invite friends of theirs that neither of you know, or barely remember, then they should help offset the costs. It isn’t fair for them to ask you to play without helping to pay. If the bride’s family is paying for the wedding, she gets more invites than her future spouse. If the happy couple is paying for the wedding themselves, they should share invites equally.
10. When it comes to “plus ones” or guests of guests, “no ring, no bring” is a nice goal, but it isn’t always realistic. People in your wedding party get to bring a guest, but for everyone else, if you haven’t met the person’s significant other then you shouldn’t feel obligated to extend an invitation. “Plus ones” can drive the number of guests and the cost of your wedding sky-high. Unless somebody is engaged to somebody or living with them in a committed relationship, you really don’t have to invite boyfriends and girlfriends of friends to your wedding. So if you’re tight on numbers and/or budget don’t feel guilty about not inviting them. It’s really up to you and what your budget can handle.
11. A Listers and B Listers…The A list are people you must have at your wedding; close family members and wedding party members. The B list are people you’d like to be there but whose attendance isn’t absolutely crucial. Who qualifies for the B list? Someone you worked with a few years ago or someone haven’t kept in constant touch with, for example, are people you shouldn’t feel you have to invite to your big day. Your wedding day isn’t a reunion – it’s about you celebrating your union with your significant other.
12. Embarrassing relatives are good people to avoid as well. For example, if you’ve got an uncle who always gets roaring drunk at weddings and makes inappropriate comments don’t invite him. You don’t want to feel on edge and on the lookout for what he’s up to.
13. In the same vein, you might want to avoid inviting your badly behaved friends. Some of your friends from college might have been the life of the party then but the trouble is that they still are living the party life and that behavior is now quickly losing its charm. You don’t really want somebody being outrageous at your wedding and causing a scene. Think very carefully before you send a friend like this an invitation.
14. Don’t feel obligated to invite relatives you never see. By this we are referring to your second cousin once removed on your father’s side of the family. Just because somebody is family doesn’t mean they’re automatically on the guest list. Your friends know you, these people don’t and if all you share is a last name they don’t have to share your special day as well.
15. Neighbors, back in the day, might have been a big part of family life and it was a given to be invited to a wedding. However, these days we recommend that unless you’re really good friends with your neighbors you can leave them off the guest list.
16. Not crazy about inviting kids to the party? Don't feel bad about having an adults-only wedding. Many couples decide to go this route, whether it’s a budget and spacial issue or more a matter of atmosphere. It's also perfectly okay to have children in your wedding party and still have an adults-only wedding. Just be careful to not make exceptions and let other family members or close friends bring their kids to the reception. Otherwise some guests might be offended. Inviting children to the ceremony only isn't fair either, since it's not fun for them to have to go home and see the other children going to the party. If you hear that family members aren't happy your little cousins, nieces and nephews aren't allowed to come, that's expected. But remember, it's completely fair for you to want a child-free wedding especially if it will help you stay within budget and venue limitations. If you need to, call and explain that you’re sorry, but due to budget constraints you can only invite adults or refer to our previous post “How to politely say ‘NO KIDS ALLOWED’.”
17. If you are having a large number of guests 10 and under, we recommend you hire a babysitter to watch the kids them during the ceremony. Have them sit with small kids in a separate room to avoid disruption. At the reception, set up a children's table or separate room complete with favors, crayons, coloring books, small toys, and games and even consider hiring special children's entertainment, such as face painting, a balloon artist, magician or clown. Don’t forget to ask your caterer to prepare kid meals so they don't have to eat -- and you don't have to pay for -- grown-up meals.
18. Pick your priorities. If you have your heart set on a small country inn but plan to invite 200 people, it's simply not going to happen. Decide which is more important to you: more guests or a specific venue and go from there.
19. For any potential invites still on the fence, think about your relationship with this person five years from now. Is there a chance you will look at wedding pictures and say, “Who is that? I cannot believe they were at my wedding!”
20. For any other potential invitees on the margins, one final factor to consider is what kind of guest they would make. In particular, can they carry a table? Table carriers are those people who can play the role of MC/host because nobody knows each other, which is particularly good at a “leftovers” or “scrubs” table. Incredibly, many people just won’t bother to talk to fellow wedding guests at their table for hours unless they are prompted.
If you are still having trouble, we recommend creating an A-List and a B-List. Your A-list consists of the must-have invites you can’t imagine not being at your wedding, like your family members and close friends. They'll receive your first round of invitations. Anyone not essential, and no, we don't mean people you don't like, but rather people might otherwise be able to skip, should be added to the B-list. These are people you’d enjoy having at your wedding but who cannot be extended an invite in the first round. That said, it’s completely fine to add plus-ones to your B list too, and if it turns out you do have the budget for your nephew’s new girlfriend to come, you can always invite her at a later date. If you start getting RSVPs and it turns out you have enough "regrets," (on average between 10% and 20% of those invited will likely decline) then start sending invites to your B-list in order of importance.
Like any set of rules, there are always exceptions, so use your best judgment. Finally, you need to be prepared for that incredibly painful moment when someone says, “Congratulations! Am I invited?” Here’s a wonderful opportunity to deploy a phrase that you’ll use countless times after you have said your vows: “Let me check with my future spouse/partner and get back to you.”