Making the Cut: Creating Your Guest List
Nov 1, 2020
Each and every wedding choice is huge, but there’s typically only one that has the potential for significant drama – the guest list. If you want anyone to show up at all, it’s unavoidable, and the earlier you make it, the better.
The first thing you need to decide is if you’re going to make your guest list before or after you choose a venue. There’s pros and cons to both tactics. If you make your guest list first, you ensure that you won’t get attached to a venue with a headcount limit that would put you in a difficult position. If you book a venue first, you can end up with more or less space than you need. Imagine booking a venue that can seat five hundred and finding out that you’re only inviting seventy-five, or putting a deposit down on a fifty-seat venue only to realize that just your immediate family is thirty people.
Personally, I recommend creating a three-tiered, flexible guest list before you start venue shopping. Having this list in-hand will let you look at venue options and picture who would be able to be there based on its advertised capacity. Start by sitting down with your fiance and making a list of absolutely everyone you can think of – from your mom to your next-door neighbor to the high school teacher that really made an impact on you. Don’t think about the budget at this point and just keep listing until you can’t think of anyone else. Make sure you add a line for each person that you know is married or in a serious relationship.
When you’re creating this list, the most important thing to remember is that it’s your wedding, so the only people there should be the ones that you want to celebrate with. Don’t feel obligated to include your great aunt Myrtle that you haven’t spoken to since you were ten years old just because she’s family. It’s also not necessary to ask your parents and future in-laws for their requested guests unless they’re footing the bill.
Once you have your list, now you get to choose where they rank – A, B, or C. Your A-list is immediate family and close friends – crucial people for whom you would consider moving your wedding date. The B-list are casual friends and family that’s not immediate but not distant – people that you would love to have, but could do without if they couldn’t make it. The C-list are co-workers, friends you haven’t spoken to in over six months, and distant family – people that you could take or leave, and who probably wouldn’t be offended if they didn’t receive an invitation.
Try not to put a lot of thought into the rankings themselves and instead just go with your gut. You can always change the rankings later if you need to. You can place plus-ones a rank lower than the invited guest, but if you need to make that cut, expect some push-back. This should also go without saying, but it’s probably best not to tell anyone which rank they made. That needs to stay between you and your fiance.
Once you have your ranked guest list in hand, you’ll have a good estimate of what your intimate (A-list only), standard (A & B), and blowout (A, B & C and all the plus ones) wedding versions would look like. I would also recommend using this same spreadsheet to mark how many out-of-town guests you’re inviting, as those tend to have a lower chance of being able to attend. This will also come in handy later if you plan on doing welcome bags.
Most sites will tell you that you can expect around 80% of those guests to actually RSVP and show up, but in the early stages, plan for 100% attendance. Your final head count won’t be due to the caterer until after your RSVP’s are in anyways, and it’s always better to have more space than not enough.
If it comes down to it and you need to make cuts to your guest list for budget or space constraints, here’s a few tips on where to trim the fat:
- Reconsider plus-ones. If you know a guest doesn’t have a serious partner when you’re sending out invitations (6-10 weeks before your wedding), don’t offer them a plus-one. You can also reconsider the plus-one of guests with a spouse or partner that you haven’t met in person.
- Reconsider inviting children. It’s becoming more and more common to have weddings be strictly adults-only. Consider the time of day of your wedding, whether guests will be traveling a long distance, and whether the setting is appropriate or safe for children.
- Reconsider friends that aren’t super close. When we created our guest list, my husband and I had a very firm rule about inviting friends that the other hadn’t met in person. The only exceptions to this rule were guests on the A-list.
- Reconsider distant family members. If you haven’t spoken to or seen a family member in over a year, think hard about whether they need an invitation at all. This is where holding your ground against pushy moms is most important.
If you fall in love with a venue that can only seat a few dozen people, prepare yourself for some difficult choices and uncomfortable conversations. If you make an exception for one friend, another friend’s feelings may be hurt. It’s your wedding and your choice, but people will still ask why they didn’t make the cut.
If you want to avoid making a guest list at all, consider eloping! It won’t save you from uncomfortable conversations, but it will save you money and make a very convenient excuse for why someone didn’t get an invitation.