Finalizing your guest list can often be a bigger challenge than many couples anticipate.  Some questions you should consider when choosing this list of individuals are: how many people can your venue fit, how many people do you want in attendance, who gets a plus one, and how you may narrow down your list. This task may seem tedious at first, but we can assure you that it is easier than you think.  This list will help you conquer these questions to make the process fun and free of stress, as it should be!

1.) How many people do you want in attendance?

This is very much a personal preference each couple will need to decide on.  Some have large families and know they can’t get away with under 300 guests, and others dream of a more intimate affair.  A good place to start is to look through your holiday card list, or ask your parents for copies of theirs.  This might remind you of some people that you should include, and also helps with the address collection!  You can also reach out to family members that have recently hosted a wedding or another event like a graduation party and ask for their list to help get things started.  Outside of that, go old school and break out the pen and pad of paper and start jotting down names!  Remember, you don’t need to invite everyone you know, try to focus on those that have played a role in your lives together and separately, and who you want to be present to celebrate the big day.   

2.)How many people can your venue fit?

While I do recommend that you create your guest list BEFORE deciding on a venue, many couples have an ideal location in mind before they start working on the details of the wedding.  If this you your case, it is very important to consider how many individuals your venue can hold prior to creating your guest list, Remember, venues have specific requirements for how many individuals the facility can hold in total, and getting too close to that number might make things tight.  

This can get tricky though, because in most cases, the number of invited guests will vary significantly from the number of guests that actually attend. So if your ideal venue holds 200 people, but you’re inviting 220, is it still an option for you?  The general rule is that about 20% of the invited guests will not be able to attend.  So for example, if you invite those 220 guests, the number of guests you can expect would be about 176.  A couple of things do impact that percentage though.  If you are having a wedding on a holiday or holiday weekend, having a destination wedding, or if a large number of guest would be coming from out of town/state, you might see that the decline rate is higher than 20%.  Alternatively, if most of the guests are local, or if your families drop everything for a good party, your decline rate might be lower than 20%.  It is a bit of a guessing game until the wedding date gets closer and people can fully commit, which is one of the most challenging things when it comes to planning a wedding. 

3.) Who gets a plus one? What about kids? 

Ah, a big question. Generally, the “plus one” rule is that any married guests invitations would include both members of the couple, and all single adults (engaged, in a serious relationship, or completely single) should be invited to bring a date.  This can get tricky though, especially if you’re limited in space and/or budget.  If you find that you have some guests that are either single, bounce around in relationships, or maybe have a significant other that you would rather not attend, choosing to invite just them and not allow them to bring someone along might create tension in your relationship with them.  If they would not know many other people at the wedding, it would be considerate to allow them to bring someone along.  I do find that most guests that are NOT in a relationship at the time the invite is sent out will apt to attend alone, as opposed to bringing a date just to bring someone along.  If you can swing it with the venue and your budget, I would recommend avoiding hurt feelings or potential rifts and allow the plus ones for all the adults across the board.    

So, what about kids?  This again is usually dependent on what you picture your wedding to be like, and the nature of both of your families.  If you both have loads of nieces and nephews or friends with little ones, it might be an obvious choice that you want to include them in the big day.  Make sure to talk to your venue/caterer about special menu selections for the little ones, and high chairs or booster seats if needed.  

If having to avoid little feet on the dance floor isn’t for you, there is nothing wrong with having an adults only reception.  In my experience, most parents are happy to have a night out with adults and will arrange for a sitter on their own.  If you do anticipate getting some push back, or have parents of little ones that will need to travel with the kids, it is a nice gesture to arrange to have childcare onsite or at a hotel close by.  Another grey area is the teens/pre-teens age group.  They hopefully aren’t going to be as distracting as the little ones if they were to attend, but might still take away from the “adult” reception that you are looking to have.  I really recommend taking these on a case by case basis, considering their maturity level as well as their relationship with their parents.  They might be the one’s in need of a night away from the kids more than parents of the little ones! 

4.) How do you narrow down your guest list?

Often when creating guest lists, couples create a List A and a List B. List A is comprised of the individuals whose attendance is essential at the wedding, including immediate family members and close friends. List B is comprised of individuals who the couple would love to invite, but might not have room to do so.  They tend to be work friends or more distant family members that you don’t get to see that often.  If a significant number of guests from List A cannot attend then the couple can send out invitations to List B and invite some from there.  

While I don’t fully recommend this approach, I do see the benefits, and offer a couple of things to make sure you keep in mind.  If you are sending out Save the Dates, DO NOT send them to the B list!  Anyone who receives a Save the Date will assume they are invited, and might start making travel arrangements as needed.  Because the B listers will most likely be getting a later invitation, I do recommend that you be honest with those on the secondary list, rather than trying to keep it a secret.  They are probably wondering if they are going to be invited, so letting them know that you would love for them to be there, but you have space restrictions puts it all out in the open.  That way they know the situation, and can plan accordingly.  

An alternative to a B list is to have a more informal celebration with those coworkers or friends that you just simply didn’t have room for, but you do want to celebrate with.  It can be an informal happy hour after work, or just a small house party after the post-wedding craziness has passed.  That way those that you maybe had to sacrifice from the list so that Great Aunt Sally could bring her Bridge Club can still celebrate with you, without needing to worry about List A and List B.