I’ve been scrolling through Instagram a lot the last few weeks (and admittedly multiple times on Christmas Day) to see who all got engaged. I’m a sucker for romance and engagement season always gets me giddy. As an added bonus, my sister-in-law just got engaged in November, so I’ve been fully wrapped up in wedding planning round 2 with her. We’ve knocked out most of the big pieces of planning, but the one topic that keeps coming up again and again is the guest list, how to make decisions on it, and where to land with the numbers.
It has also reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my friends when she asked me how we made the final cuts in our guest list. My answer seemed super obvious to me, but she said she’d been stuck for weeks and that our solution gave her instant clarity. So, I figured that with engagement season upon us we’d tackle the one thing that everyone getting married has to consider at some point: who’s invited.
Right off the bat, I will tell you that making the guest list for your wedding is hard and there is no right answer. The Chandelier can sit up to 500 people in the hall, but we have weddings of all sizes. The thing is though, whether you’re having a small wedding or a big wedding, you still have to put thought into your guest list. I’m going to take you through the steps we took to create our guest list and some things to think about when building yours.
For the most part, I think most people get a general idea of how many people they want to have, then work from there to fine tune it. For this, we started with a master list of pretty much who we would invite if 1. there was no budget and 2. we had an unlimited amount of space. It’s (normally) not a realistic list, but it does give you a starting off point for how many people you know, who you think is important to have there with you, and what type of wedding you want. For us, we knew we wanted a somewhat bigger wedding because of our personalities and wanting to be surrounded by everyone we loved. I have a really good friend who felt faint at the idea of having that many people to talk to in one night. Use the initial list to guide your wedding vision.
Then, it’s time to decide how many people you actually want to invite. There are a lot of things to consider with the total number of people and it can definitely influence your decision. For instance:
The venue space
How many people your venue will hold can simultaneously be a limiting factor and a guiding factor. As far as limitations go, I’ve personally been to a wedding at The Chandelier with 500 people seated for a buffet dinner. There is plenty of room and The Chandelier is probably the only venue I’d say it’s okay to be at the max number and still have enough room. At any other venue, based on my experience, I’d say to try to target around 50 people under the maximum number they say they will hold. Beyond just having a max number though, venue spacing can also include things like whether you really want all round tables or all farmhouse tables, if you’ll need to rent additional tables and chairs, how you want to room laid out, whether you want lounge spaces, if there is room for everything you want room for, etc. Try to think about your venue filled with your guests and how that will look.
The overall vibe
The vibe of a wedding with 50 people is often a lot different than the vibe of a wedding with 500 people. They’re both awesome and have their own benefits, so just think about what you want as a couple and be true to yourself. The wedding is about you and you want it to be in line with your personalities.
When I say that more people = more cost, most people just say duh. But it’s something to consider on multiple facets because of how it adds up. When my sister-in-law first started talking about her guest count, we talked about the price per person with catering and how that increases the budget. While food and drinks are the most dramatic increase on a per person basis, also think about the fact that adding people also means adding more invitations & save the dates, it could mean adding more tables (which means increased rental rates on flatware and linens, plus more flowers to decorate those tables), it can mean adding more favors, or more space in your guest book. There are just a lot of little costs in weddings that add up, so I like to point them out.
Once you figure out what your target number of guests is, it’s time to figure out the discrepancy between your master list number and your actual list number. Building in around 15% for people saying no (but honestly that number is a straight up guess, because you never really know – I’ll talk about how we tackled it in a second) and you have the number of people you need to cut.
If you don’t need to make cuts, congratulations and feel free to scroll down a couple of sections. If you do need to make cuts, or you just want to make cuts, on to the next stage you go.
When it comes to making cuts, there are numerous websites that will provide you with formulas to decide or have you go through multiple step processes to figure out the best people to cut off your list. They personally didn’t work for us and felt far too impersonal to understand the people on our list. Instead we decide to make an A and a B list, swapping people to the B list or cutting them off the list all together as we went through it. We had a few different pieces of criteria, but I will say that a lot of it was just a gut instinct. Who would we be okay if they weren’t there? Who would we be not disappointed to get a “no” RSVP from? Those people got cut.
Some of the things that helped us eliminate people were:
Would we want to get invited to their wedding?
Are they someone that we want to celebrate with?
Are they actually on there because we want them to be, or because we feel like they need to be?
Are they our friends, or just our parents friends?
Are they currently a part of our lives and will they continue to be a part of our lives?
It’s not easy to make cuts, no matter how you look at it. I mentioned above that my final determiner I gave my friend helped her a lot. Whenever I’d have someone that I was going back and forth on whether to keep or nor, it was my only solid black and white question that made it easy for me to cut someone if I answered no to it:
Are they fun?
With our wedding, the most important thing to me was spending the night on the dance floor. I wanted to be surrounded by my family and friends. If there was someone I was considering potentially cutting (or questioning from one of our parents lists), I thought about whether they’d be coming for the ceremony, eating dinner, and politely exiting, or if they’d be laughing beside me on the dance floor, swinging glow sticks in the air, and stopping by the photo booth. It was easier for me to make the call because if they weren’t adding value to what I considered to be the most important part of our wedding, they probably wouldn’t be missed.
“Are they fun?” might not be the question you’ll find yourself asking, but you do have to determine what is the most important thing to you, which I know can be a hard question to answer sometimes. Maybe it’s being surrounded by people who have been instrumental in your relationship. Maybe it’s being surrounded by people you know so you don’t have random plus ones or a boyfriend of the week in your photos. Maybe it’s throwing a huge party and having people who will be really fun. Not everyone on your list has to be a “yes” to your most important thing, but the majority of the people should be because it will make your day that much more meaningful.
Let me tell you though, even with questions that created clarity, we went through our list dozens of times. We also had our list coded by type of invitee (i.e. family, friend, family friend, work friend) so we could keep straight how many people we were inviting from different areas in our lives. We when got to the true final cuts, it made it easier to spot where we could potentially make eliminations. We also had kids and plus ones separated out on our spreadsheet so we could see if that was somewhere we needed to make a major cut.
As far as keeping things organized goes, I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I would have pulled my hair out without our spreadsheet. It was a lifesaver through every step of guest listing and I don’t know how I would have kept things straight without it. One of the ways that we kept track of cuts was by having a function built into it to count highlighted boxes, that way I could highlight people I was potentially considering cutting so I had a running total of what our number would be if I actually hit delete (hi my name is Landan and I have commitment issues sometimes). We also had it count the number of people we classified as “probably nots,” aka family members or people we felt like we needed to invite but we were pretty dang confident would come in as a “not attending” RSVP. Our total number of invited guests minus our probably nots was within about 15-20 people of our goal number of guests attending, which is how we accounted for the overage of guest invited versus the number of seats we’d actually planned to have at our reception. Some of our probably nots actually ended up saying yes, but it ended up balancing with people saying no that we thought were for sure going to say yes (because hey, life happens).
I know a lot of people who utilize A and B lists by sending out two rounds of invitations, but we opted not to do that because I was able to get our A list close enough to our goal number with just a handful of people we added in as RSVPs came in. I will say that I was shocked by how close to the deadline most people waited to send in RSVPs – we got a lot right away that were yes’s, but the vast majority showed up within the last week of the RSVP window. If you are planning on sending out two rounds of invitations, be sure to give yourself plenty of time. We used a B list when making cuts because 1. it made me feel better about not eliminating someone entirely and 2. it gave me somewhere to think about who we’d add back in if room allowed, but it’s definitely not something you have to have.
Whenever it comes time to make your guest list, remember that the stress of it results in you getting to celebrate your wedding day with people you love. Whoever you decide to invite, know that it’s your decision. I won’t say to cut someone from your future mother-in-laws list just because you don’t know them or to cut the distant cousin you haven’t spoken to since you were 5, because sometimes those people make it on. I also won’t say to give yourself black and white rules for cutting people because relationships are often complicated and you might feel like you have to invite someone out of obligation, and no number of people telling you to not feel guilty about cutting someone will make you feel okay cutting them. But I will say to keep your priorities in mind. Keep your day in mind. Keep your values and what’s important to you in mind. Because at the end of the day, the only people you really have to have for a wedding is you, your spouse-to-be, and an officiant. Everyone else is just there because you chose for them to be there.