Here’s where it starts. The inevitable drama surrounding weddings typically begins when it’s time to decide who to invite. We suggest starting your guest list very early on, as it usually determines so many other things: – Venue (what capacity does it have to hold?) – Budget (the number of guests at your wedding is […]

Wedding Planning 101: Making a Guest List

Here’s where it starts. The inevitable drama surrounding weddings typically begins when it’s time to decide who to invite. We suggest starting your guest list very early on, as it usually determines so many other things:

– Venue (what capacity does it have to hold?)

– Budget (the number of guests at your wedding is the number 1 factor on your overall budget)

– Mood of the Wedding (is it small + intimate? Is it an adult-only affair? So many of these factors are determined by who you decide to invite)

Given it’s importance, everyone will want a say. Our first piece of advice is to have a very open and frank conversation with both families to start (this will usually go along with your budget discussion). This way everyone will get to let you know what they expect, so it’s not a surprise down the line (i.e. “But why in the world are you not inviting your great aunt Helen? You know how important she is!”). If your families haven’t met yet, or are not that familiar with each other, we usually do not recommend having this discussion with them all together, but rather with each family separately so it doesn’t disintegrate into ‘who gets what’ and ‘hey, that’s not fair!’.

This will also give you and your partner a chance to clearly outline what you would like. Always envisioned a small garden wedding? Now’s the time to speak up – not after your parents have decided to invite the whole bridge club. You should go into these family discussions as a team, meaning you will have already had a real talk amongst yourselves about what you want.

In these discussions, it’s important to remember the old adage about bees and honey. Being nice, keeping calm, clearly communicating your wishes and making the experience a good one will set the stage for a better planning experience all around. While we know this is not the easiest thing to do, we promise that this is the best way to keep things stress-free and realistic down the line for all parties.


OK, that all sounds fine, but how do we figure out who to invite?

HCS firmly feels that the bottom line should be with the couple, as in: invite whoever you want to. But, we also realize that sometimes you must give a little to get a little. If what you want is your mom to be happy during the process, you may have to invite great aunt Helen to make that happen. It’s all about weighing pros and cons.

But in a perfect world, if only you were making the decision, we usually say stick to these general rules:

Invite family in tiers. Basically, if you invite one family and the first cousins, it’s going to be strange explaining to another family they aren’t invited. But of course, this will all be based on your own personal relationships: I’m not close to any of my cousins and didn’t invite them (but did invite all my aunts + uncles by my parent’s request), however my husband is very close with all his cousins having grown up with them. This is just one of the areas where we have seen some real problems arise, as the older generations seem to really take offense to the idea of the invitations not being ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ to both sides. I would say only take this seriously if it is someone who you have a close relationship with, like parents, godparents, grandparents or a very close aunt. Peripheral people getting upset about this will usually just be their own problem to deal with.

Invite Coworkers only if you are actually friends with them outside of work. And this includes people you like to have lunch with, sure. But keep in mind that just because John sits at the next desk over and hears a lot about your wedding planning, he doesn’t automatically get an invite. We also usually don’t suggest inviting your boss unless there is a friendly dynamic at play.

Feel free not to invite anyone you haven’t seen in a few years (esp. if they live close enough to do so). If you’re thinking that inviting someone to your wedding that is an old friend you have lost touch with and this will help you rekindle your friendship – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not usually the case. You will be very busy on your wedding day and everyone will want a piece of you. You will likely only get a moment (if that) with everyone, and the rest of the time these old friends will be out there by themselves at a party you are paying for. There’s most likely a reason you haven’t seen in each other for a long time, and inviting them to your wedding is not going to magically fix that.

Please don’t invite your exes. No matter what great friends you are with them now, this is just awkward. If not for you, then for everyone else who knows the background and will talk among themselves: “Isn’t that her ex? That’s kinda weird.” At a base level, it’s distracting, that’s all.

The great +1 debate.

People also get really caught up in who gets a +1 (plus one, an invite of themselves plus a date, usually listed as ‘Mr. John Doe and Guest’ on the invitation). This is where a lot of tension with the bridal party can happen.

Single friends will want to bring a date, because as mentioned above you’ll be pretty busy. Traditional thought said that if the single person didn’t really know anyone else at the wedding, it was only polite to let them bring along a date they could talk to. Here at HCS, we really don’t believe in this, as it is a great way to inflate your catering + rental budget for no reason at all. If your budget allows, fine. But if you find yourself going over your guest count with +1’s, or thinking about omitting people at the bottom of the guest list in favor of +1 people you don’t know (and frankly, will likely never see again), we suggest not.

But what about that bridesmaid who has an ‘on-again, off’again’ boyfriend she wants to invite? That’s her problem. My feeling about the bridal party is that they are there for you, more than nearly anyone else at the wedding, and that is all that should matter.

That being said, there might be people who think things don’t apply to them. Case in point: at my own wedding, my husband wanted to invite his old roommate (who he had been living with when we met). This roommate wanted to bring a date, despite the fact that he did not have a significant other, and the fact that both his sister and bother-in-law (my husbands best friend) would both be in attendance. I said absolutely not, our wedding was pretty small – only 75 people – and I definitely didn’t want someone there that I didn’t know. This was told to the roommate, and we addressed his invitation to only him and put ‘1’ on the rsvp card. Well, he sent it back with the ‘1’ crossed out and ‘2’ written in its’ place. He told my husband that he only wanted to attend with a guest. This became a real problem as my husband told me to just let it go, and I said who the @%#$% does he think he is? So, rest assured you are not alone, and even wedding planners have to deal with this kind of rude guest. I eventually relented, and as I walked down the aisle smiling at all my nearest and dearest, suddenly there was a girl I had never seen before, seated right there on the aisle, and I found myself kinda irritated as I walked in. To this day I wish I had put my foot down.

Bottom line: it might be easy to want to ignore the small inconvenience of having hard discussions about who to invite, we promise it will pay off in the long run. Be selective – these are the people who are going to be with you on the most special day of your life (up until now), and you’ll be seeing their faces in your wedding photos and video for years to come. If you don’t want to be annoyed each time you see that person you wish you hadn’t invited, maybe think about it now rather than regret it later.

A few great articles about how to decide who to invite if you need a little bit more direction:

Credits: Top Split Image: Brian Mosoff, Middle Split Image: Laura Pedrino, Bottom Split Image: Jenna Rae Photography, Bottom Full Image: Caca Santoro

October 25, 2018


Wedding Planning 101: Making a Guest List



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