Ask Kate: How do I manage invitations and RSVPs?

February 20, 2013

Kate Thompson has been offering heart-felt advice and sparklingly different wedding inspiration for ten years. She is married with two children, and often features in the national press. With her warm and caring nature and off-beat sense of humour, she'll answer every question with knowledgable insight and understanding to help and inspire or simply restore your peace of mind.

Q.

I’m getting married in September, in New York where my fiance and I live. The wedding is out of state for both our families and a lot of my extended family will be flying in for the wedding. 

I have a large family and there’s about 180 people total on the guest list. My parents expect that the count is more like 120 (elderly, people who may not want to travel, people they feel like they had to invite and so on).

Our ceremony site is a place that’s very special to my fiance and me, at Yaddo, an artist’s community. It’s a small garden and the place of my dreams but the venue is very strict that only 100 people are allowed. I was fine with inviting the majority to the reception but not everyone to the ceremony.

My parents thought that we should invite everyone and in the event that we’re over the 100 allotted people (which we will be!) eat our words and tell some people that due to space they can come to the reception. We brainstormed a great idea – when we send out ‘Save the Dates’ to send a reply card with them, saying when the wedding is and the town and with some diplomatic, “because of space issues” without actually saying “because of space issues” asking them to  send an early reply… Formal invitation to follow. That would give us a much better idea of who actually plans on coming as opposed to guessing and hoping and then when we know how over we are I can make cuts where appropriate for the ceremony. Help – how do I do this?

A.

Wedding invitations…  what a tricky stuation it becomes when you want to invite everyone, but can only fit in some of your total guest list. And knowing  that some guests won’t be able to come makes it all seem such hard work just trying to decide who to invite and how.

Relax, you can do this quite  easily if you go about it in the right way and you still have enough time to ensure it all goes to plan.  You could send out a note to warn people about the ‘lack of space issues’ but it may end up backfiring on you and some people could feel offended so be careful.

Save the Date cards are a very good way of casually letting guests know the date of your wedding in advance. They are a signal of an actual invitation though so I would be careful about sending out Save the Date cards to everyone on your 180 strong guest list. Instead I would send these cards to the 100 or so you definitely want to be at your wedding ceremony and reception.

Here’s what I would do and in fact did at my own wedding. It worked a treat!

I am a firm believer in breaking the rules if it helps you so please don’t feel that you need to adhere to the traditonal rules of etiquette by sending invitations just 6-8  weeks in advance of your wedding. My advice is to create 2 guest lists – an A list of your close family and friends who very much want to be there, and a B list of extended family and newer friends, work colleagues and friends of the family.  You should have around 100 or  up to 110 guests  on your A list as it is expected that 10-20% of those invited will not be able to come. Include additional info on travel and accommodation for out of town guests too.

Send your Save the Date cards to everyone on your A list as early as you can and then send your formal invitations to the A list around 4-5 months before the wedding, or more if you prefer.

When you send your A list invitations out,  also send each of them a stamped-addressed reply card inside with an ‘RSVP by’ date as this is by far the best way to make sure your guests reply by the date you give them.  Allow a month for them to reply as this will give you enough time to work out who can and who can’t come. 

So if you invite 110 on your A list and ask them to send back their replies within 3 months of the wedding, if 20 people say they can’t come you can then move 10 people up from your B list onto the A list and still have enough time to handle the second round of RSVPs. The beauty of the A and B list idea is that if you allow enough time, no one on the B list who gets ‘upgraded’ will even know they didn’t make it onto your A list from the outset!

If you had enough space at the reception but not at the ceremony you could send out ‘reception only’ cards but in your case that’s the issue.

The other option to consider, is for you to have 2 celebrations – one for 100 of your closest friends and family and another reception only –  a day, a week or a month later with all your extended family and friends who didn’t make it onto your A list.

I hope that helps and you have a wonderful wedding.

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