Let’s be honest: figuring out how to put together a wedding guest list that makes everyone happy can get more political than the actual Houses of Parliament. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, making a list that works for you and your partner should be simple: write down everyone who you want to be with you on your wedding day, and disregard the rest. Sounds easy, right? But somehow, in practice, things are never quite this straightforward. Fear not, newly-engaged reader, we’re here to help.
Here’s everything you need to know about building your wedding guest list from start to finish, and plenty of tips to keep everyone happy along the way.
How to Put Together a Wedding Guest List in 7 Steps
Putting together your wedding guest list is one of the first jobs on your wedding checklist, usually before you’ve even thought about booking a venue. You’ll need to know rough numbers, you see, to start thinking about your budget and looking for a venue that’s the right size.
Initially, it seems fun – what could be bad about the thought of everyone you love joining you to celebrate your big day? But phrases like ‘well, we did go to their wedding’ and ‘she’ll be so upset if I don’t ask him’ start creeping into the conversation and, all too soon, things descend into chaos.
If this sounds like you right now, know this: you are not alone, and other couples have faced the same dilemmas for decades. Don’t know where to start? Don’t panic – because we do…
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1. Write a List of Everyone You’d Even Consider Inviting
Sometimes, you have to go big to get smaller. Sit down with your partner and compile a list of every single person who you would invite to your wedding if money and space were infinite – spreadsheet, pen and paper, however it makes sense to you most.
Start with immediate family and really close friends and work outwards, including colleagues, school mates and distant relatives, down to fairweather acquaintances, their partners, children, the lot. This is your master list; but now it’s time to start trimming it down.
2. Separate Out Your Top Tier Guests
Call them whatever you want to: the A-list, the non-negotiables, the must-haves. However you shape it, the message is the same: you simply wouldn’t get married without these people there. You know who they are. Highlight them somehow and know that no matter how the list goes from here, they stay very firmly on it, no exceptions. Everyone else gets an invite if space and budget allows – and don’t be afraid to allocate some as evening guests only.
3. Work Out How Many Guests You Can Realistically Afford
Deciding on a venue and a guest list go hand in hand – you can’t fully figure out the latter if the vision for the former isn’t set. Even if you don’t have an exact location locked down, you probably know what kind of day you want – will you be at a big country house, a cosy barn, on the beach? How many people can your dream setting feasibly hold? Can your budget stretch to that many?
If you’re having an intimate ceremony or a destination wedding, maybe the answer to that question is just the A-list, and that’s okay – it’s your day, and your choice. Where possible, start mentioning to those who might think they’re getting an invite that your wedding will a very small one as early as possible, before their expectations get out of hand. Try not to feel guilty – remember that every guest is an extra chair, dinner, slice of cake and favour that you’ll have to pay for. To soften the blow, you could arrange a more relaxed dinner or a low-key party after the main event so that everyone who wants to celebrate with you gets the chance (but be sure to ask your bridal party and groomsmen to help organise it so you’re not stuck with yet more planning).
4. Consider Your Parents’ Input
Traditionally, both sets of parents get a say on who is invited to a wedding – particularly if they are contributing to the wedding fund. It goes without saying that when it comes down to it, it’s your decision and not theirs, but to avoid unnecessary friction, it usually makes sense to loop mum and dad in early, and certainly before you consider posting any save the dates.
The best way to approach the conversation is to be upfront: once you and your partner are in agreement, show the parents the plan, and let them air any concerns in a respectful way. It may be that you can resolve them between you, or you’ve already thought of the same issue but worked it out yourselves. Alternatively, some couples reserve a portion of their guest lists for their parents to allocate themselves – they can ask whoever they like, as long as you all get on, but it’s a set number of seats that works for your venue and budget, and no more.
5. Be Fair With Family
If four of your cousins are coming, the fifth will probably be upset if they’re not, and if your partner’s great grandma gets a front-row seat for the vows, yours might be miffed to have been dropped altogether. It’s not obligatory (or indeed, foolproof), but one effective way to avoid hurt feelings is to ensure you treat members of different families in the same way. Even if they’re disappointed, they’re much more likely to understand an all or nothing approach – ‘sadly we haven’t had space to invite any of the aunts and uncles’ – than an uncomfortable explanation of how you’re closer to one side of the family than the other.
6. Stagger Your Invites
Your first draft of the ‘final’ list probably won’t actually be final. Etiquette dictates that you should send your invitations at least eight weeks in advance (or ten, if your ceremony is taking place out of town and guests will need to travel). When you start posting them and the RSVPs start trickling in, you will probably get a handful of regretful nos.
This doesn’t mean you’ve been snubbed, it means life got in the way somehow – and the silver lining is that you now have space to ask the people you would have loved to have included if you’d had room the first time around. Consult your original master list and work with your partner to fill these spots – just be sure to send this next round of invites ASAP, because no one wants to feel like a second thought.
7. Remember How You Feel When You Aren’t Invited to a Wedding
This point is mainly to help you maintain a healthy perspective during what can be one of the most stressful times of your life. If you don’t get an invite to someone else’s wedding, how does it affect you, and for how long? Even if you think you’re definitely on the list, you might be a bit let down for a day or two, but you’d do your best to understand and move on, and it’s very likely your potential attendees will do the same.
A wedding is one day, and anyone who truly cares about you will be there for you well after it takes place, whatever you decide. Take a deep breath, a step back and remember: it will all work out in the end.
…And Five People You Really Don’t Need To Put On Your Wedding Guest List (If You Don’t Want to)
1. Other People’s Children
If you want a child-free wedding, have a child-free wedding. There is no law that says you must have little ones as part of your big day. Okay, some parents may have hoped for their pride and joy to be bridesmaid or pageboy, and there’s the question of finding childcare while mum and dad let their hair down at the reception – but realistically, there’s nothing more boring for most kids than sitting through vows they don’t really understand and have no interest in. However, if someone either can’t or simply won’t come because they can’t bring their child, you have to respect their decision, just like they’ve respected your decision to have an adults-only affair – it works both ways.
2. Plus Ones You Don’t Really Know
Plus ones are typically the most controversial element of any wedding guest list, but don’t feel you have to send them to everyone, especially if it’s a new relationship and you’ve never spent time with them before.
Decide where you’ll draw your line – maybe you send them out only to those who are married or engaged, or anyone who’s been in a relationship for over a year. The possible exception here is a friend who is coming from a different town or city and doesn’t really know anyone else at the ceremony, as having a plus one may put them more at ease. But it’s totally your call – if you seat them at a table with a group you know are friendly and welcoming from the get-go, they’ll likely feel comfortable regardless.
3. People Who Invited You to Their Wedding…
…but who you haven’t really hung out with since. If you attended a beautiful ceremony five years ago, but the friendship has since tapered off, you don’t have to offer a like-for-like invitation. Circumstances have changed, and if they were getting married again now, they probably wouldn’t invite you either. Some experts suggest the ‘one-year rule’ – if you’ve not spoken in the last 12 months, are you really as close as you remember? Try reaching out and suggesting meeting up casually before you send any invites out. If they’re evasive about catching up over coffee, they probably won’t mind not being on the list for your big day.
4. Your Co-Workers
You share a workspace and go for group lunches, but that doesn’t automatically equate to the entire office crashing your reception and eating all of the expensive canapés. Unless you’ve known them a long time and they’re super close pals that you spend time with in and out of the workplace, you can scratch colleagues off the invite list and it’s highly likely that no one will bat an eye. If your office girl gang still wants to throw you a bash, a work hen do or after-hours cocktail happy hour will always go down a treat.
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5. Anyone You’re Only Inviting Out of Guilt
A wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of your life – do not feel pressured by other people’s opinions or emotions, because it’s not their day, it’s yours. When it happens, most brides and grooms find that they barely have enough time to talk to and party with everyone that they do actually want there, so the last thing you need is to fill even more seats with extra people just because they’ve made you feel bad. Be kind but upfront, and stand your ground – it might make for a slightly awkward moment now, but you’ll never regret going with your gut.
Not sure yet whether you definitely do or don’t want kids at your wedding? Our two writers weigh up the pros and cons.