How to Plan Your Wedding Guest List

Written by    Last updated: October 6, 2012

Make a list of all your friends and extended family, add to it all your fiancé’s, and some of yours and his parents’ oldest friends, who saw you both growing up. Don’t forget those aunties to whom you haven’t spoken in years, but who will never forgive you if you don’t invite them, and all your cousins who want to bring whoever they are currently dating. Then add a few favourite work mates and your next door neighbours, everyone’s children and you have the basis for your wedding guest list. Making your guest list fit your budget and keeping everyone happy is an art!

Jemma & Harry Real Wedding at South Farm

Image by Annamarie Stepney, courtesy of the South Farm

Putting together a guest list sounds like a fun task, because it’s exciting to think about happy people sharing your wedding day with you! Fun as it may be, you will likely have to make some unexpected or even tough decisions when challenges appear. Most commonly, you will find that everyone has an opinion on who you should and shouldn’t invite – the parents are especially known for this! Be prepared to listen and consider their input, but always keep in mind your budget and your own wishes first and foremost. You will also find that, upon receipt of invitations, some of your guests will be asking if they can bring extra people. A firm but polite (and regretful!) response prepared in advance will help you handle these questions. You may also find that some guests who are only invited to the evening reception will also want to come to the wedding breakfast – and vice versa! Last but not least – it’s very likely that people you haven’t heard from in years will contact you out of the blue asking to be invited to your wedding. The golden rule of all guest list planning is – it’s your day, and you should be surrounded by people who truly love you, care about you, and you cannot imagine spending that day without them. Unless your budget and seating are unlimited, your guest list will need careful consideration.

Guest list dilemmas and solutions

‘Compromise’ is the name of the game when it comes to agreeing your wedding guest list together, though you may find there are some people you would desperately love to invite, but who your fiancé would rather you didn’t. By the same token, your fiancé might insist on inviting his ex girlfriend/alcoholic mate/long-lost love child, and you might find yourselves at loggerheads over this. There are solutions to the most difficult of wedding guest list dilemmas and the important thing to keep in mind is that this is your wedding day, so both of you should feel comfortable with all the names on the list.

Confetti Place Cards

Above, at the Confetti shop, left: love bird card holder | laser cut leaf place cards

The uneven guestlist

One of the commonest problems is where one of you has a very small family and the other has a large extended family which can make the guest list very uneven. You will need to decide who you invite from the larger family and whether you ask more friends to make up the smaller family side or streamline the guest list so only a small number is invited from each side.

The wedding host’s prerogative

If you and your fiancé are hosting your wedding and paying for the majority of it then you should have the final say - together - on who you invite. If, however, your wedding is being hosted and funded by your parents, they will likely want to have a say on who is invited and who is not. They might, for instance, insist on asking old friends of the family who your fiancé has never even met, in place of your work mates who they don’t know. You will need to reach a compromise together – the most usual one being that you invite any excess guests only to the evening reception – your B List!

Confetti Table Plan & Guest Book

Above, at the Confetti shop, left: enchanted garden table plan kit, right: calla lily traditional guest book

The unwanted guests

Almost every wedding has some sort of a dilemma over ‘the unwanted guest’ – the names on your list that your partner does not want to invite and vice versa. These are most commonly exes – former boyfriends of the bride and girlfriends of the groom, ex husbands and wives, workmates of your partner you have never met, feuding family members, new partners of divorced parents and the daddy of all dilemmas –whether to include everyone’s children. Mind your guest list (and your budget!) and remember – is it worth upsetting your partner over that person’s attendance at your wedding? In the end, what matters most is that people who truly care about you share this day with you.

Whether you invite your ex-partner has to be your current partner’s decision. You might see no issue in your ex-girlfriend or even ex-husband coming along to share in your celebrations, especially if she or he is now a good friend, but the bottom line is that your partner needs to feel comfortable on the day you take your vows to each other and if an ex being there makes him or her feel bad then it’s not appropriate. Again, on this day, you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and most exes will actually understand this!

Managing RSVPs

The key to organising a stress-free guest list is in drawing up an A list and a B list. The A list is for guests who are to be invited to the ceremony and the reception; the B list will be evening reception only. Your A list should include everyone you really feel must be at your wedding - from your parents to your bridesmaids to your grandma. Your B list will feature more distant friends and family you would like to invite to the day but can’t fit in, and so their names can be added to your B list or evening reception only. When you send out invitations to your A list, make sure you add an ‘RSVP by date’ on the end to ensure they let you know whether or not they can make it. If anyone from your A list then declines your invitation, you still have time to move someone from your B list to your A list!

RSVPs are generally one of the big planning issues that couples have to tackle. In many cases, the guests don’t reply in time, or they may ask questions like ‘is it ok if I bring my girlfriend’ when the invitation is clearly just for one person. Be prepared to chase the RSVPs all the way until the due date, and keep a clear record of who has replied and who hasn’t – this way when the due date passes you can contact the missing guests to ask if they will attend. One way to manage this is to include all possible ways of contacting you on the RSVP card – a pre-stamped envelope with your address, an email address, a mobile phone number, and even your Facebook address! This way the guests can reply in the most efficient way.

Confetti Guest Book & Wishing Garland

Above, at the Confetti shop, left: seaside allure satin ribbon pen set, right: something in the air wedding wishes garland pack

Feuding families

When there is tension around divorced parents and their new partners it can put even more pressure on you, especially if one parent is insisting the other is not invited, or at least not with their new partner! The only way to work this out is by talking with both parents and coming to some sort of a compromise, whether that’s by only inviting your parents and not their partners, or agreeing to seat them as far apart from each other as possible. Generally it’s a good idea to avoid favouritism, so the rule of ‘no partners’ should apply to both sets of parents. Also, make sure to ask the parents for their suggestions on how to solve this problem – this way they will feel like their wishes matter and they may actually have a workable solution that you may not have previously considered.

Whether to invite children

Children – they’re sweet and small and everyone has some children in their extended family, so why do some couples decide to have a child-free guest list? The main reasons for not inviting children are financial (extra mouths to feed) and childless couples may be concerned that babies or children will be noisy and disruptive, particularly during the ceremony and the speeches. It’s worth noting that small children eat small amounts and don’t drink alcohol, so when it comes to the budget they will barely make a dent and babes in arms won’t make a dent at all, except in their mother’s breast. You may not realise that mothers of babies and young children might not be able to come if their kids are not invited, and it can be quite upsetting to feel left out of a family or close friend’s marriage celebrations for this reason. Children will be on best behaviour and a crèche is an option you may want to consider. In general, children’s quiet snacks and toys for the ceremony, and then activity packs for the reception will be all you need!

Older children and teenagers require separate consideration, as the venue will most likely charge them for an adult meal, and they may not want to partake in the activity packs for entertainment. If you decide to invite children, this means ALL children, the younger and the older, so do give a careful consideration to the numbers on your guest list – can you accommodate the extra cost? If not, be prepared for someone to ask if they can bring the kids anyway – and politely advise that you are restricted by your budget/seating at the venue and while you really wish they could come, you just won’t be able to accommodate this.

Confetti Favours

Above, at the Confetti shop, left: vintage style favour wrapping kit | love bug candle set

Work mates

It’s very likely that some of your work colleagues will be interested in your wedding plans, and some may hint (or even be quite straightforward!) at their wish to attend your wedding. To put it simply – you have no obligation to invite your office colleagues or even your boss at all, unless you actually want to – perhaps one of your work mates is now a close friend? Or she/he is helping with the wedding plans in some way (for example, her sister is making your wedding cake?). Your boss has very generously allowed you to take heaps of time off at short notice for your wedding planning? There is no rule that says – if you invite one person from the office, you have to invite them all. You must remember that most people understand that the couple want only those dearest and closest to them to be present on their wedding day, first and foremost. If you really feel an obligation towards your colleagues – think of something you could do for them either before or after the wedding (especially if you received an office wedding gift). As a token gesture, you could bring some muffins or even one tier of your wedding cake to work to share among them, or if you truly want to go all out (and if your budget allows), you could arrange an office lunch upon your return to work!

When your guest list is finally agreed, it’s time to send out your Save The Date cards if there’s more than a year to the wedding, and then those all-important wedding invitations. Just don’t forget to add those reply cards or at least an ‘RSVP by’ date – it will make your guest list so much easier to manage! And remember – on this most special of days, it matters most that only the people who love and cherish you are present to watch you say ‘I do”!

Get more great advice in our Wedding Planning section!

This article was written by

Kate Thompson
Kate Thompson is Confetti's features editor and wedding expert, and has worked in the wedding industry for 15 years. A widely published lifestyle writer, she has made BBC television and radio appearances discussing wedding trends in the UK.

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