Wedding Guest List 101

The Wedding Guest List is probably one of the most notorious wedding planning to-dos out there. Depending on the complexities of you and your partner’s family situations trying to determine who to invite and who to leave off the list can be a huge stressor for the happy couple. That’s why I’m bringing you Wedding Guest List 101: your ultimate guide to figuring out your wedding guest list!

To be honest, I was actually hesitant to write this post because our Save-the-Dates haven’t even gone out yet. However, one of the first things Justin and I did once we got into the thick of wedding planning was get our guest list figured out. We made the guest list a priority for a few of reasons. One, our wedding is a destination wedding for almost everyone we would be inviting. The travel cost alone for some of the guest list would be a huge factor in who could and couldn’t attend so we knew we needed to give people as much time as possible to save money and lock in affordable accommodations. Two, we needed to nail down our budget. In The Only 4 Steps You Need to Set Your Wedding Budget I go into a little more detail about why knowing your guest list is important for budgeting so I won’t dwell too much more on that here. Three, because we had already nailed down our wedding budget, I knew picking the guest list was going to be stressful for both of us. We knew going in that the cost of the venue we chose and the logistics of travel was going to mean that our wedding guest list would be small but that didn’t make coming up with the final list any easier. Pretty much, we just sucked it up and got it done, that way we could move on with the planning process.

There is a lot more that actually goes into determining your guest list than just putting names and addresses in an excel spreadsheet. Here are a few answers you might want to answer with your fiance and parents before diving into creating a guest list:

  1. What is the maximum number your venue can hold?

  2. What is the maximum number of guests you can afford?

  3. Will you be allowing children at the wedding?

  4. Will family and friends be able to bring plus-one’s?

These four questions are important for a number of reasons. The importance of your venue size and budget are pretty self explanatory but determining whether or not to invite children and allow for plus one’s can lead to some uncomfortable conversations later on down the road. Because of the fact that not many of our family and friends have young children, Justin and I are pretty much having a no child wedding. We aren’t even doing the flower girls and ring bearers that you would traditionally see. While we didn’t consciously make this decision, it’s worked out well because we didn’t have to worry about accommodating children as well as adults. Along that line, we are also not allowing for plus one’s. Our guest list could have easily spiraled out of control with the addition of plus one’s. Rather than extending plus one’s to everyone on our guest list, we chose to discuss plus one’s on a case-by-case basis. Once you’ve answered these and any other basic questions that come up, it’s time to move on to the phase of actually coming up with your guest list. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you actually sit down to do your guest list:

The majority of your guest list is going to come

You’ve decided on a number and a budget before you sit down to iron out your guest list. Now is not the time to gamble and invite more people than you can afford or that your venue can hold. The general rule of thumb from what I’ve read is that typically 80% of the people you invite will come.

Don’t forget to add yourselves to the list

The first pass at our guest list, Justin and I forgot ourselves. This seems counter intuitive but the bride and the groom actually count as part of the total number of guests. The same rule of thumb goes for the bridal party so make sure everyone is accounted for before you start moving on through the family.

Create an A and B list

The A and B list method is somewhat controversial in the wedding planning world from what I’ve heard but it’s honestly one of the most effective ways to edit your guest list.  The A list being the people you’re going to invite first and the B list being those who will be invited anytime someone declines. The A and B list will basically help you determine who you HAVE to have there versus who will be nice to have there. The best part? No one ever has to know which list they were on. It goes without saying that you want to make sure to capture who goes on each list but if you follow the method Justin and I did, that’ll already be done for you (basically)!

So how did we do determine our final guest list?

Justin and I dedicated an entire evening to getting our guest list figured out. I know that might sound crazy at first but it can be a very drawn out process once you start getting into the justifications of why this aunt is on the A list versus that one and why your fiance has half a dozen more people on the A list than you. You’re going to want time blocked out where you can figure all of your guest list out in one sitting with as little stress as possible. We chose a Saturday evening because that’s what worked best with our schedule.

Next, we determined how we were going to approach the guest list creation. Most people probably would have stuck to a simple spreadsheet method but I’m a very visual person so I came up with a rather unique way of coming up with our guest list. I got the idea after seeing a pin on Pinterest about seating charts and we went with it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Poster board

  • Different color sticky notes (at least three)

  • Sharpie/Pen

  • Laptop or phone

  • Alcohol (or your favorite drinks)

  • Snacks

Step One: Separate the Poster Board

This entire process is fairly simple but basically you just want to draw a line down the center of the posterboard (hamburger style) so that there are essentially two columns. The first pass at your guest list, one column will be for you and the other for your partner. For the second pass at the guest list, you’ll be using one column as the A list and one as the B list.

Step Two: Assign Colors

You’re going to need different color post it notes or pens for this exercise. One color will be for you and the other color will be for you fiance. These two colors are going to be reserved strictly for family. The third color (or four if you choose) can be used for friends.

Step Three: Write out Names

This is the part that’s going to take some time. Each of you is going to write out names on sticky notes of the people you want to invite. Because of the way invitations are addressed, each sticky note should be reserved for entire families. For example, Justin and I went on one sticky note while his parents and brothers went on another. For this step, we’re not worried about who probably won’t come or anything like that. You’re simply writing out all of the people you would invite if you could onto sticky notes and placing them on your part of the poster board.

Step Four: Determine A and B List

Once you’ve written out all the names, now comes the hard part. You and your partner are going to now have to take both of your separate lists and combine them. Don’t forget to keep your agreed upon number in mind. This is the part of the process that definitely took us the longest to get done just because there are so many decisions actually being made. Remember to take breaks if any conversations get too heated. A few things to consider when you reach this stage are who actually has to be there (bridal party, grandparents, etc.), who you can’t imagine not being there, etc. Be prepared to  have some serious conversations at this portion of the night (this is where the alcohol and snacks come in handy). Don’t forget to take a break if things get to stressful!

Step Five: Write Everything Down

The last thing you want to have happen when you go through this process is to forget what you talked about. Write down any questions that come to mind while you’re creating the guest list and make sure to actually keep track of who goes on what list. Justin and I wrote things down and took a picture of the final poster board before calling it a night.

Alright, is this post long enough yet or what? Please let me know if you found this post helpful and share any other guest list tips you have! Wedding posts happen here every Wednesday so I hope to see you next time! Check out the related posts section for more Wedding Planning tips!