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.

I Just Got Engaged! What’s Next?

Photo by Pearly Kate Photography.

This is the first 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.

You’re getting married! Congratulations! You’re probably feeling excited and happy, but you may also feel a sense of being overwhelmed, and maybe a tiny bit panicked. You can head off those negative emotions with a few tips.

You don’t have to take every tip that’s offered, either here or from anyone else—more about this later. But I hope some of these tips will be useful to help you get started.

Take a Break and Breathe

It’s very, very tempting to start wedding planning right away.

DON’T.

The wedding planning process is often stressful, despite all the best efforts, and there will be plenty to plan and stress over later. Take a couple of weeks to enjoy your engaged status. Bask in the glow of that excitement and love with your fiancé. Take some time for you two and just enjoy this initial headiness. There will be plenty of time for planning and questions afterward. Remember to breathe and rest.

Tell Your Loved Ones First

Use the two-week break to call or visit your loved ones and tell them your big news personally, BEFORE you put it out on social media! Many parents have been surprised by seeing an engagement announcement on social media before they heard it directly from their child, and it can really be a cause for hurt feelings. And it’s not just parents—make sure you call all the important people in your life. This can include grandparents, siblings, other relatives with whom you are close, best friends, and your future spouse’s family members. Just because you’ve told everyone on your side and want to put it out there, it doesn’t mean your fiancé’s side has been fully informed.

Once you have ensured that the important people in both your lives have been updated directly, feel free to use social media to announce it to a broader audience.

Decide on an Engagement Party

Generally, your first act after both of the above tips will be to decide if you want to have an engagement party. If you do, who will host it? Will it be the happy couple to host with a few family and friends? Will the parents host something? Or could you give it to the future maid of honor or best man to organize as their first official duty? Ponder over whether you want a party and how, when, where, and who to invite.

During the pandemic crisis, you may not be able to hold an in-person engagement party at all, depending on the regulations in your state or county. If this is the case, you could always consider hosting a virtual party. Gather your friends and family on a private online forum, open a bottle of wine, and be prepared to chat! You could also pick a few games to play, such as trivia, bingo, or pictionary, or take turns with other attendees to organize the games between you so one person isn’t always having to lead.

Also keep in mind that you don’t have to throw a party at all. If you know you need to keep your budget small, then you may decide to skip the engagement party completely. And that’s fine! You are not obligated to have any parties, especially if it will break your budget. Which leads into the final tip…

Practice Saying NO

As a newly engaged person, you’re likely to receive a lot of advice. So many people have been married that it feels like everyone is an expert, and some folks are more insistent in offering advice than others. However well-intentioned that advice may be, it’s often overwhelming. You’re going to get advice from parents, family, friends—really, just about anyone—whether you ask for it or not. Be prepared, remember to breathe, and practice saying one or more of the following statements:

  • “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
  • “We’ll consider it.”
  • “I’ll check with my coordinator.”
  • “It’s not really what I’m looking for, but I appreciate your advice.”
  • “We’d really like to keep it small.”
  • “No.”

That last word will come in handy should anyone start insisting that you “need” to have items that are not what you want or are outside of your budget. It’s OK to say no, and to repeat it as often as is necessary. You may want to practice saying it until you’re comfortable, especially if you’re not normally an assertive person or if you’ve been taken by surprise. Ask your coordinator for help if you need it.

Also lumped in with this tip is: Don’t ask for wedding help on social media unless you really want it. One bride was astonished to find that a single post on Facebook expressing surprise at wedding costs brought out every female member of her family and many of her friends to add tips, advice, and “you should do…”—all of which wasn’t really solicited or helpful in that moment.

Keep in mind that your family and friends likely are just wanting to be helpful to you, especially if this is a process they’ve already been through themselves, and they want to be part of your special day. If it would be helpful to you to save their advice for later, you could always ask them to email their tips and then filter those messages aside for a later time when you’re ready to look at them.

You and your fiancé will need to decide what you want in a wedding, and what you can afford. A good coordinator can help with this. Once you decide, make sure you stand firm, say no as necessary—and remember to breathe!