So, you’ve figured out what you want your wedding to be like (kind of), and now you’ve got to get down to the business of making a guest list. But… when it comes to a wedding guest list, where do you even begin? Friends, now is the time to start talking about numbers. Specifically, two sets of numbers. First, how many people you think you’ll realistically have at your wedding. And second, how much cash you think you’ll have to spend. You might not realize it now, but these two numbers will drive most of your wedding planning decisions.
how to make a guest list
First of all, don’t start by cutting your guest list immediately. Most of the wedding industry will tell you that if you have a limited wedding budget (and really, who doesn’t?), the first thing you should do is cut your guest list, so you can afford more things. I’m going to give you the opposite advice, because I think most of us throw weddings so we can celebrate our people (the glitter and flowers and tulle are just really nice side effects of that celebrating). Because of that, I think you should start with your loved ones and work backward.
In her book Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, etiquette sage Miss Manners wisely suggests that you should start by figuring out how many people you want to invite, and then figure out what you can feed them. When you and your partner sit down for a heart-to-heart, you might decide to have only your nearest and dearest around you, or that you have two huge families and a lot of friends you want to celebrate with. Whatever you decide, try not to let budget worries deter you too much. No matter what the wedding industry tells you, guests don’t come to your wedding for the fancy meal or the perfect decorations; they come to the wedding for the two of you. And if what you can afford to feed them is cake and punch… well, who doesn’t like cake and punch?
guest list questions to discuss with your partner
Putting together a guest list is an odd mix of logic, philosophy, and family dynamics. Before you jump in, flailing a pen around and assuming everyone is on exactly the same page, here are some questions to talk through with your partner and your loved ones:
- What are your goals? What are your goals for your wedding? Tiny and intimate? Huge and intimate? A celebration of community? What does that mean for your guest list?
- How many people are coming? Realistically, for each of you, roughly how many people do you have to invite? How many people will each of your parents want to invite?
- Is there a guest list limit? Will you be setting limits on how many guests your parents can invite? (Related: Are your parents paying for the wedding? How much of the wedding are they paying for?)
- What else should you be thinking about? Will you be including plus ones for single guests? Will you be including kids? How many of your guests are local? How many of your guests will be traveling for the wedding?
Once you get through these questions, you should have a rough idea of the number you’re looking at. This number might be exactly what you expected, or it may be a bit of a shock. If you find yourself staring at at three-hundred-person guest list, and you know that simply doesn’t meet your goals for what you want your wedding to feel like (or what you can honestly afford, even if you are only feeding the hungry hordes cake), now is the time to reevaluate. If you had to make A, B, and C lists, what would that look like? If you had to tell your parents (or yourself) that there are limits on who they could invite, how would that go? Of the variety of plans and compromises available to you, which seems the most palatable?
the guest list spreadsheet
As you’re starting the process of creating a guest list, you also want to start a spreadsheet (and hey: we have a free wedding guest list spreadsheet right here!). Your guest list spreadsheet should contain all of the obvious facts, but it’s also a great place to collect as much information as you can. Think of this as your one-stop shop for all information wedding-guest related. You’ll want your guest list spreadsheet to include a variety of information, including the following:
- Name (and honorifics, if you’re using them)
- Email and phone number if you can get them (Chances are you’ll need that later when people forget to RSVP)
- A number for each invitee (You’ll include this as a tiny pencil mark on their RSVP cards, for when people forget to include their names)
- Likelihood of attendance (Yes, you’re inviting your great aunt who lives across the country, but we both know she’s not going to come)
- Events guests are invited to (Bridal shower? Rehearsal dinner? Just the wedding?) and a number of people from their parties attending each event
- Dietary restrictions and food choices
- Anything else you might need to track (Guest hotel accommodations? Dates of arrival? What you need to know will vary depending on your wedding.)
wedding rsvps and why they matter to your guest list
The final logical question to consider is how many of those on your guest list will actually come to the wedding—don’t fool yourself into thinking that because everyone loves you, your RSVP rate will be nearly 100 percent. Everyone does love you, but there are also things like travel costs and babysitters and unchangeable plans to consider. So how do you guestimate an RSVP rate? The best way to do this is simply by knowing your crowd. You know if your family always turns up for everything, or if your grad school friends are kind of flaky and broke.
That said, it never hurts to have some hard estimates in your pocket… so let’s do the numbers. Here are average RSVP rates that wedding planners use for back of the envelope calculations (and we made it an image so you can pin it for easy access!). Construct equations as you will, remembering to exclude people who were only invited as honorary guests and will not be attending:
This post is an excerpt from the #APWPlanner
how did you put together your wedding guest list? how did you decide who to add to your guest list—and who to leave off? what advice would you give couples who are making their own wedding guest lists?
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