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How to Create a Wedding Guest List That Makes (Almost) Everyone Happy

by Aubrey Bach
How to Create a Wedding Guest List That Makes (Almost) Everyone Happy

Wedding planning is all fun and games until you sit down to tackle your wedding guest list. You’ll never work, re-work, and re-re-work anything more times in your entire life than your wedding guest list. Chances are, you and your partner will get pressure to invite someone who you isn’t on your list of favorite people, but there are a few tricks to the trade that will help make it a win-win situation for everyone, especially for you and your soon-to-be spouse. Here are some wedding guest list tips to help you navigate planning so that you can have your wedding cake and eat it too.


  1. Think big or small. For starters, you can’t do much wedding planning without a headcount, so decide whether your wedding is a 25, 50, or 200 person event. Once you have a ballpark figure, stick with it or else your guest list will surely get out of hand.
  1. Look at your holiday card mailing list. A great place to start is your holiday card list, because, typically, those are the people you care enough about to include in your festive updates at year-end. (Note: If you aren’t actually organized to send holiday cards every year, imagine who you would send on to if you were that person.)
  1. Categorize guests by importance. Instead of lumping everyone into one giant pool, break up your guest list into three tiers: varsity, junior varsity, and benchwarmers. This way, if you need to make cuts to your list, you know where to start. (And by the way, Joy’s guest list manager makes this easy by allowing you to add custom labels!)
  1. Ask your parents to repeat steps 1 – 3. If any of your parental units are involved in the wedding at all, it’s pretty likely that they will want to have some input on the guest list. And since that usually translates into them inviting guests who don’t make your “must-have” list, it’s a smart idea to ask them to start with a nicely prioritized list that fits the size and priorities of the wedding you are planning.


  1. Venue size and location. If you have a venue secured, verify what the maximum capacity is and use that as a guideline before you finalize your list. It’s never fun to decide somebody isn’t coming to your party, but the venue’s capacity can be the ultimate excuse excuse as to why you can’t invite unwanted guests who swear they’re shoo-ins at your wedding.
  1. Your budget. On average, couples spend about $68 per wedding guest for catering, so take into consideration your per head figure when planning out your guest list. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the little things add up and wind up cutting into your honeymoon budget.
  1. Decide if you’re going to have kids. No, we aren’t referring to your reproductive future, but deciding if children are invited to the wedding is often tough, because no matter what the final decision is, someone is going to be unhappy about it. Kids take up seats, add to the total cost and change the mood of a wedding, so you need to come to a decision. (But they also look adorable in tiny tuxedos.) Try to stick with an all-inclusive policy — allowing only certain guests to bring their kids, then you’re in for some drama for ya’ mama. Don’t be surprised if guests completely ignore the “no kids policy” and bring their kids in tow — it’s annoying but surprisingly common. 
  1. Consider reception-only invitations. If you have your heart set on a super-intimate ceremony, or if your ceremony’s venue can’t accommodate your entire guest list, then consider inviting only your nearest and dearest to the ceremony, and then including everyone in the reception. This option is likely to come with some social stumbling blocks, but once the lights go out and the booze runneth over, you (and most likely your guests) won’t care who is and isn’t at your reception.
  1. Define your plus one policy. In a perfect world, you could issue plus ones to anybody and everybody, but when your guest count is limited, you probably don’t want to waste a seat on somebody’s flavor of the month (you know who they are). Decide on a general rule of thumb to go by and check out this post to feel more confident about your final decision.


Now that you’ve compiled the first round of your guest list, it’s time to make some cuts. You can’t make everyone happy, but it’s important to understand that your wedding is about you and your partner and the people you choose to share it with. Still struggling? Here are some key questions to help you trim your guest list to a more manageable number:

  1. Would you be offended if you weren’t invited to this person’s wedding?
  1. Have you talked to this person in the past year?
  1. Would not inviting this person do more harm than good?
  1. Are you inviting this person just to make someone else happy? (And is that someone else worth it?)
  1. What will the long-term repercussions be if you don’t invite this person?

At the end of the day, your wedding will be about you and your boo, regardless of who is or isn’t in attendance. Yeah, you’ll probably have to invite a few people you don’t don’t love, and you might have to exclude a few people you’d rather have attend, but if you think through the invitations carefully, you’ll be able to say “I do” surrounded by people who love you and are likely going to part of your new life together forever.


Do you have any wedding guest list planning tips and tricks that you’d like to add to the list? Share your advice on Facebook or Twitter, and tell us how you tackled your guest list.

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