Making the Guest List

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.

4 Themes for a Family Reunion

Using a theme can make party planning easier, especially if you’re struggling to come up with a decorating scheme. Family reunions can be a lot of fun for kids and adults alike if it’s planned well and the wide range of ages is taken into account in food choices, activities, and venue. For example, an outdoor reunion in the middle of summer’s heat and humidity might make it difficult for older members of the family to attend and be comfortable, while a completely indoor event might make it harder for children to find play space.

Take a look at four theme ideas for your next family reunion to help you get the ball rolling on your plans.

Simple and Easy

If budget is a concern, or if your family isn’t really interested in something more complicated, then keep it simple and easy. Make it potluck and ask everyone to bring their favorite dish. If your family members are particularly chatty or live very far away, you may not need many activities – they might just want to talk and catch up with each other over some good food. Make sure there are plenty of chairs, tables, and food, and you’re set!

Games

Who doesn’t like to play games? This is a great theme if you have a lot of young children in the family. The kids will be engaged through most of the event, and the adults can chat or play games as they like.

You could ask each family or person to name their favorite game and then provide it at the reunion or ask them to bring it along to share. Make sure there’s adequate table space for tabletop games and card games, and available open space for games like tag or hide and seek. You could also have new games for door prizes.

Children playing table games at a family reunion

Family Tree

A family reunion might seem like it would naturally lend itself to genealogy and family history, and it does – but your guests might need help to get the ball rolling. Making family history or some aspect of your heritage the main focus of the event and then designing things to do around that helps to get things moving.

Provide a large blank book and plenty of pens and ask members of the family to share a favorite memory or family story. This is something you could repeat each year regardless of the theme as well, particularly if you’re trying to collect family history stories, and you could use a new book each year or reuse the old one until it’s full.

If someone in your family is the main genealogist, ask them if they could help you showcase your family tree, either in a printed form that everyone could take home at the end or in a digital format that could be shared at the event.

Family photos are also a great way to introduce the family tree theme. Ask each family to send you a certain number of photos and then display them in a slideshow throughout the event. It gives everyone something to look at and chat about while eating or mingling.

Decades

This could be a really fun theme to work with! Choose a decade, let’s say the 1980s, and highlight that decade at your event. You could play ‘80s music, wear clothes from the decade, play games popular in the ‘80s, and more.

For the more recent decades, you could showcase different family members who were born in that span of years. Maybe they could be the only people to win a door prize, or they could receive a special dessert. Everyone could share a favorite thing they enjoyed about the decade, or what their favorite movie was from that time.

Emphasizing a decade as your theme gives you a host of options to play with!

5 Ideas for Hosting a Launch Party

A launch party is a fantastic tool to create buzz for a new company, new product, or other celebratory event. Everyone from small businesses, authors, artists, musicians, and large companies can use a launch party to announce themselves to the world and invite people to celebrate in their success. It can also be a great way to make new contacts and network with guests who come to learn more about what you have to offer. Here are 5 ideas to consider when putting together a launch party.

Location

Location, location, location! You hear it all the time in real estate – it’s just as true for hosting a party. You want a venue that will meet your needs and still be cost effective. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive venue in the area to be a great party. Hotel conference rooms are always an option, but you could also consider a restaurant with a private room (which has the benefit of built-in food and drink), a park, a theater, or other such unusual space. Depending on the size of your party, you could ask partner businesses if they have space to rent in their offices or buildings that would be appropriate as well.

Free Food

We all love free things. Offer to feed people and they will come. There are multiple options for providing food for guests, depending on your venue and budget. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Catering. Having your event catered is perhaps the most stress-free option, but it doesn’t come without cost. Carefully consider your budget and get quotes from local catering companies to explore your options.
  • Food trucks. If your event is outdoors or on a street that allows food trucks, you could consider booking one or two food trucks to be at your event for 2-3 hours.
  • Local restaurants or vendors. Involving local businesses in your event not only supports your local economy, it can create goodwill and networking opportunities among fellow business owners. Get in touch with some local small businesses and ask if they would be willing to sponsor or contribute to your event, and offer to promote their restaurant or company at the event itself and on social media.
  • Friends and family. If you’re holding a truly small event—as in, less than 50 people—then you may be able to make enough food and drink yourself and with the help of family and friends. However, think very carefully before going this route. Consider how much stress this could add to your pre-event organization, and consider how much your loved ones will actually be able to help in the days leading up to your party. If it’s going to create too much havoc, you may want to consider another option.

Giveaways or Door Prizes

Who doesn’t like to win a prize? Especially if it’s something useful, fun, or unique. A popular door prize is Amazon gift cards, or gift cards in general. However, you can also give away free tickets to an event, coupons or discounts for a product or service, centerpieces, or items from partners and sponsors who have volunteered something for the occasion. I encourage you to think creatively with door prizes, as it’s a great opportunity to provide something memorable or fun.

Backdrop

Provide a backdrop or banner for guests to take pictures in front of. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Depending on the size, you can get a relatively inexpensive banner from online print sites like Vistaprint, some of which will provide designs that you can use. Guests can take pictures of themselves with your product, with other guests, etc., and post their photos on social media. Ask guests to tag you in their posts or use a hashtag to help spread the word about your event.

You may even want to hire a professional photographer for an hour or two to take photos so you have quality images to share on your company’s website or social media. Combined with your guests’ photos, you’ll have a comprehensive view of your event that you can share.

Be You

The most important tip: Be you. Be genuine. People are there to learn more about you and celebrate you. Host an event that showcases your business, your product, or your brand, and let people get to know you in a fun, low-key way. It’s tempting to try to go over the top with a fancy party, expensive catering or location, or swanky prizes. But if that’s not your brand, it’s likely going to fall flat.