Updated: Aug 23
Ask any bride what their favourite part is of planning their wedding, and you can guarantee it would not be creating their guest list! In fact, this all-important task is probably going to be one of the most stressful moments in the lead up to your day.
Your guest list is a huge contributing factor to the overall cost, experience, and life-long memories of your wedding. After all, these are the people who will be a part of the most special (and expensive!) day of your life.
Deciding who makes the cut is not a task to be taken lightly. You will need to consider a few different variables before sending out those invites. Luckily, I have some helpful tips when it comes to creating your wedding guest list, and avoiding any unwanted drama, family politics or budget woes along the way!
1.The magic number
Before you even start debating whether great uncle Bob should be there on your wedding day, you will want to figure out exactly how many guests you can realistically invite in the first place. There is no point drafting up your guest list without setting a limit (and sticking to it!) when it comes to numbers.
How to find that ideal number of guests is going to depend on a few different things. You will need to think about your personal preferences as well as practical considerations like budget and venue restrictions. It is important to look at the big picture first before getting into the specifics.
2.Intimate affairs vs all-out extravaganzas
First things first, what do you picture when you envisage your dream day? Are you imagining a close-knit, intimate affair with just a handful of your nearest and dearest? Or does your wedding vision look more like one big party with hundreds of loved ones celebrating together?
There are definitely pros and cons to both options, so think about what feels right to you and your partner. Remember this is YOUR wedding, so think carefully about how you want the day to feel and the kind of experience you want to remember. This will be your first indication as to whether your guest list is going to be on the small side, or if you want a larger group.
Have you locked in your dream venue for your wedding? Your venue capacity is going to be one of the most important factors when it comes to guest numbers.
Before you even think about starting your guest list, make sure you are aware of the restrictions when it comes to how many guests the venue space can physically hold.
Most venues will have a strictly capped number of guests. This will vary depending on whether you are planning a cocktail reception or a sit-down dinner. You will find that a cocktail style wedding will allow for more guests, due to the floor space being freed up from tables and chairs. It can be a good tip to consider a cocktail style wedding if your venue space is limiting you from the number of guests you would ideally love to invite.
Ask your venue for their guest capacities at the very beginning so that there are no nasty surprises along the way. If your venue specifies that the space can hold 100 guests maximum, then it goes without saying that you should not invite more than 100 guests to begin with. No exceptions!
Even if you are expecting some overseas relatives to decline or you know friends might have other commitments, it is better to be safe than sorry. An easy way to work around this is by creating A and B guest lists so that you can invite more guests at a later date if your RSVPs allow, but more on that later.
Another non-negotiable factor when it comes to deciding on your guest numbers is that dreaded B-word – your budget! Your guest list and your budget go hand in hand. As much as you might dream of having an unlimited amount of loved ones there to celebrate with you, the harsh truth is that every single guest means an additional cost to your wedding.
Think about the individual costs that correlate to each guest. The most obvious considerations are their meals and drinks, but even the smaller details like wedding stationery and rentals like cutlery, napkins, plates, and glassware (these depends on the venue to whether they are extra cost, always double check with your venue) can really start to add up. Once you tally up these individual costs, you will be able to see exactly how much each guest is going to affect your budget.
It is likely you and your partner have set yourselves a wedding budget already – it was probably the very first thing you did! Use this budget to figure out the maximum number of guests you can realistically afford based on their individual costs. Make sure you take a firm stance with this number too, especially if you know you have a strict budget with no wiggle room.
5.Dividing up your guest list
So now you have decided that you can logistically and financially invite X number of guests. Here comes the not so fun part – putting names to those numbers and deciding who does or does not make the cut. It is important to come up with a streamlined process for this before you get started. This is where emotions can come into play and you might need to diffuse some awkward situations!
Ultimately, deciding who you want to spend your wedding day with will come down to you and your partner. But before you sit down and put pen to paper, you might want to consider who else might be expecting an input. Usually, this will be family members who are contributing financially to the wedding like your parents or future in-laws. If this is the case and you have family footing the bill or covering certain costs, it is only fair to be mindful of this and return the favour by allowing them to have a say in your guest list.
This is where you might need to be delicate and set some ground rules. Ideally, you should do this before anything gets paid, to avoid feeling stuck or obligated due to financial input. If you are tight with numbers due to venue restrictions but your in-laws are insisting on having their distant cousins there on the day, this might be an issue.
The easiest way to combat any conflict is to divide your numbers upfront and allocate a prearranged amount of guest invites per family. A traditional idea is to divide your guest list into thirds – with one-third for your family, one-third for the groom’s family, and one-third for you and your fiancé’s close friends and acquaintances.
Though saying this there is no cut and dry formula, so the best solution is simply to have an honest and open conversation before any decisions get made to outline your expectations. It is important to be grateful for the financial contributions being made to your wedding, but you might need to (respectfully) put your foot down if your family is insisting on full control of the guest list.
Make sure you verbalise your appreciation of their input but let them know how important it is to have your most cherished loved ones there on the day.
6.A + B lists
With any family politics now in check, it is time to start drafting up your list. But how do you decide who makes the cut if your guest list exceeds the number limitations you have set in place?
This is where prioritising comes into play and creating an A and B guest list is going to be extremely helpful. Your A-list guests are those who will receive your first round of invitations. If any of your A-list guests decline, you can then start inviting guests from your B-list.
It might seem unpleasant to have to rank your guests according to priority. Realistically, though, it is the easiest way to ensure you can celebrate your wedding with the most important people in your life – without going over your budget or venue capacity.
Sit down with your partner and start by jotting down all the people you would love to have to celebrate with you on the day. Do not forget to include any input from your family if necessary. This will become your wedding ‘wish list’.
To make sure you do not forget anyone, sort your list into different categories so that you can easily identify where the guests are coming from. Common groups include close family members, extended family members, close friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.
Once you have jotted down your wish list, you can go back and mark an ‘A’ or ‘B’ next to the names in order of priority. Your A-list is reserved only for those people you absolutely cannot imagine celebrating without – your closest family members and most treasured friends. These guests get priority when it comes to sending out your invitations.
Guests marked with a ‘B’ are the people that you would love to have at your wedding if numbers allow. Make sure you implement blanket rules when it comes to marking your guests either A or B. If the numbers are starting to creep up, then you might want to delegate all extended family members or work colleagues to the B-list for both the bride and groom. Having blanket rules that apply to both you and your partner is the easiest way to diffuse any tension and to keep the process fair.
Do not forget to consider plus-ones and children before finalising your A and B lists. You might want to implement some blanket rules for this too. For example, A-list guests can invite plus-ones only if they are in a serious long-term relationship, or if you have met their partner before.
Creating your guest list can definitely be a time-consuming process, especially if you have significant people in your life from multiple different areas, or a large extended family.
7.Trimming your B-list
This is a huge, momentous, and incredibly special day for you and your partner. It is important not to let invitation guilt sink in when you are creating your guest list. Every single person on your list, even your B-list, should be someone that you would be overjoyed to have at your wedding.
If your guest list is spiralling out of control, you might need to start trimming your B-list. Do not fall into the trap of feeling like every person you have ever crossed paths with needs to be on your list. Go through each possible guest and think honestly about how you would feel if they could not be there on the day. Would you notice? Would you really care? If not, cross them off your list.
Whether it is old school friends who have drifted from your life or work colleagues who you see every day, do not feel obliged to keep anyone on your list out of guilt. If you would not catch up with them for coffee or take them out for dinner, then they shouldn’t be on your list!
Once you have confidently trimmed your B-list, make sure the names are also ordered in priority. This way, if an A-list guest declines, you and your partner will know instantly who is next in line for an invite.
8.Get your tech on
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed with managing your guest list and keeping track of your RSVP’s, you might want to investigate a digital system to simplify the process for you. Using an online tool means you can easily access all your guest information in the one place, as well as communicate with your guests via email. It is a total win-win!
Now for the fun part!
It might seem daunting at first, but we promise that once this massive task has been ticked off your to-do list, the rest of the wedding planning process will be a piece of cake.
Let us be honest, you really just want to get that guest list sorted as soon as possible so that you can start focusing on the fun part of wedding planning like cake tasting!
By following these tips to create your wedding guest list, you will ensure that your wedding day is filled with the people that make your heart happy while avoiding any emotional conflicts along the way.
For information about sorting out those invitations now you have sorted that guest list out, check out my blogs to help you on those invitations
What you should have on your invitation
All about wedding invitations suites