This is the second post in a year-long series chronicling the process from engagement to wedding. We will share tips, ideas, and real-world experiences that may help you through your own planning process.
It’s tempting to add everyone you know to your guest list, regardless of what kind of event you’re holding. For weddings and engagements, you probably want all the people you know and love to celebrate with you. And that’s great! But sometimes it’s just not feasible, for space, time, or money reasons. So how do you make a guest list that works for you? Here are a few tips to consider.
Say “No” to A, B, and C Lists
It’s common wedding advice to have the couple create an “A” list of folks who absolutely are invited, without question. This could be parents, grandparents, siblings, close relatives and friends, etc. The “B” list might be people you would like to invite but aren’t sure you will have the space or aren’t sure they will accept the invitation. These might be people who live out of the area, distant relations, or friends you aren’t as close to. And the “C” list are folks you will invite if other people don’t come, such as business friends, coworkers, or distant relatives.
I typically don’t advise my clients to use tiered lists. They can get the couple into trouble trying to tally their head count with catering and the venue. It’s easy to lose track of the count like this, and sometimes you under- or overestimate who will accept or come to the event. My advice is to create one list. A common rule of thumb is that only 70% of your guest list will accept the invite or arrive and someone will always cancel last-minute, but it’s wiser to plan for the full number you have invited.
My advice generally is to create one list and, until you hear otherwise, plan as if everyone you invite will accept. This gives you a consistent idea of what to expect for numbers and also helps you narrow down who you really want to come to your event.
Account for the Space
You likely selected your wedding venue before you started on your guest list. You probably have a general idea in mind of roughly how many people you want to invite. Now it’s time to solidify that rough idea into a more stable list. If you have a long list of people you want to invite, you probably considered the maximum capacity of the venue. But even if no one arrives unexpectedly or accepts last-minute, you don’t want your guests to feel crowded, and you will need room for a dance floor. I suggest looking at wedding floor plans for your venue to see what size tables are typical and how many will fit comfortably. Consider the number of guests per table and the number of tables you will need.
However, although a five-foot round table comfortably seats 8 guests, room for 20 tables of 8 doesn’t automatically mean room for 160 guests. Although you won’t make the seating chart until the RSVPs are back, you should assume that there will be groups of 5, 6, or 7 guests that you will want to seat together. This means leaving room for one or two extra tables. So, I suggest subtracting two tables to calculate the number of guests the room will comfortably accommodate. In this case, I recommend using a maximum capacity of 144, not 160.
If you are having a smaller, more intimate wedding with close friends and family, you will need to consider the venue’s minimum, if they have one.
Account for the Budget
Involve a wedding planner to create your budget, if possible, or talk to friends who have been recently married and do your research to see what your “must have” items will realistically cost. The easiest way to stay within your wedding budget is to limit the number of guests, but the cost per guest goes way beyond what your catering and beverage package will charge per person. You will also need to consider the number of tables, chairs, linens, and centerpieces, and it can all change based on the head count you communicate to your vendors.
Once you have an idea of the cost per person, you need to determine how many guests you can afford without breaking the bank. You might want 100 people at your wedding, but your budget can only accommodate 75. That’s fine, but you need to plan accordingly. If you really want that 76th person to be there, you might have to expand your budget somewhat to account for the increase.
Account for Relationships
If you have a large family, it might feel like you have to invite everyone you’re related to. Or your parents or grandparents might insist on having that distant cousin receive an invite because that person is important to them.
If your budget allows for a large wedding, then that’s fantastic. You may be able to invite everyone in the family and then some. But the reality for many couples these days is that they just can’t afford to invite everyone.
It’s time to consider your relationships with people. If it’s a work associate you’re not that close to, or a distant relative you barely know, you may not want to invite them. If you would be absolutely heartbroken if someone didn’t come, then you know they definitely need to have an invite.
These are hard choices, but if you start with the people you know for certain you want to be there and work down the list from there, you can create a guest list that is “just right” for the two of you.