The big question finally was asked and it was accompanied by a resounding “YES!” You posted that beautiful engagement ring picture on social media. You’re both basking in the glow of fiancee-dom, when the comments start coming in. And, we’re not talking about the “OMGs” or the congratulatory emojis. We’re talking about:
“So, are the kids invited?” “Can I bring this guy I met on Tinder? I think he’ll last!” “When’s the date? I want to make sure your third cousin Ali’s knee surgery doesn’t conflict.”
Almost as soon as you get engaged, friends and loved ones want to know if they’re invited to the wedding. But, before you start making that guest list, you’re going to have to decide how long that list is going to be. So, who gets a wedding invitation? We'll help you decide how many wedding guests you should invite for your big day.
So, take a breath, put both of your notifications on mute, and let’s figure out how many people to invite to a wedding together.
The amount of people you should invite to your wedding will depend on a few factors: your budget, venue, and vibe. Generally, it’s best to split the guest list between both you and your partner. For example, if you want to invite a total of 100 people to your wedding, plan on splitting 50 invitations each between you and your partner.
With that in mind, below are a few factors to consider when building your guest list.
The first order of business is deciding what factors are most important to you. Why? Because this is going to directly influence how many guests you’re inviting. So, when it comes to wedding guests, here’s the question:
What’s most important to you and your partner on your wedding day? Is it the budget, venue, or vibe?
If sticking to a wedding budget is what’s most important to you both, then how much you’re willing to spend will determine the number of people you can invite. Consider invitation costs - as your guest list grows, so does the average cost of wedding invitations.
And, the most important piece of the budget when it comes to your guests is the food. Start by calculating the price of food per guest. According to Bustle, the average catered wedding meal costs about $250 a head.
If you’re imagining a wedding with a multi-course catered meal, this number will probably go up. If you’re imagining a fun buffet or food truck, the number will probably go down. Go from there and do the math to figure out if your wedding guests fit into your budget—and not the other way around.
Wedding Guest List Tip: The budget-first approach is a great way to get yourselves out of inviting cousins you’ve only met once and coworkers you don’t really want there. However, if you don’t have a large budget, you both may have to make some tough calls on who gets a wedding invite and who doesn’t. At the end of the day, this is your day, your money, and your moment. Don’t feel guilty about not being able to invite everyone.
Your hearts might be set on your favorite winery, the museum where you first met, or even in a lochside castle in Scotland. If this sounds like you and your partner, then we’ve got good news. Thanks to your state’s (or local fief’s) fire marshal, your wedding venue has a set number of people allowed.
This lets you build your list within the venue’s parameters, and gives you an understandable reason to limit extra guests. “Sorry, Sal from accounting! My destination wedding venue is a historically accurate 18th-century Spanish galleon replica that only fits 30 people. You would not believe how much room the functional cannons take up on the deck!”
Wedding Guest List Tip: If you need to squeeze in a third cousin or your mom’s new friend from Zumba class, ask the manager about the capacity. Sometimes the maximum guests that the venue states on their website is just their estimate for the best possible experience. If that’s the case, you could probably negotiate your guest count and add a couple of chairs.
The number of people you invite to the wedding will affect the overall vibe or atmosphere of your special day. Do you want to have a private wedding ceremony with only your nearest and dearest loved ones, or do you want a large wedding that feels like a city-wide carnival? Perhaps you’d like something in-between. Whatever ambiance you’re going for, we’ve broken down how numbers will affect the atmosphere of your wedding, and created our own categories.
The Elopement (4-10 guests) - This is you, your partner, a few lucky witnesses (maybe your parents, siblings, or best friends), and the officiant. It’s romantic, memorable, and you’ll save money on stamps for the “Save the Dates.”
The Intimate (6-20 guests) - Think of this option as the “Elopement Premium.” Your guest list will include you and your partner’s immediate families, plus a few extremely close friends. Most likely you could fit your reception dinner at your favorite restaurant or even in one of your family member’s large backyards.
The Family Reunion (20-80 guests) - The “Family Reunion” option means you’re expanding off of the “Intimate” list into your aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friend groups. However,your version of a family reunion might be the close friend groups from all aspects of your life. Call your old Girl Scout troop, your high school AV club, and a list of favorite venues. Once you exceed 20 guests, a venue can offer you support and a bigger space to celebrate.
The American 100 (100-200 guests) - The Brides American Wedding Study found that wedding guests in the US range between 100 and 200 with an average of 167. This includes immediate and extended family, kids, and one or two tables of friends and their plus ones. This probably syncs up with most of the weddings you’ve attended. It’s fun, lively, and definitely a celebration.
The Block Party Wedding (200-500 guests) - For a “Block Party Wedding” vibe, pretty much anyone who shares a last name with you or your soon-to-be spouse gets the invite (unless your last name is Jones or Smith, that’s a whole other ball game). You can also include friends, co-workers, college roommates, old teachers, neighbors, and the people who you see every day who don’t quite make the cut on typical guest lists. You do lose some of the intimacy in a large wedding and you might be so busy saying hello to everyone that you won’t get a chance to have more than a bite of your wedding cake. But, this kind of wedding has a strong community atmosphere and gives your guests the freedom to mix and mingle with everyone from all parts of your lives.
The Harry and Meghan:
(500-2,000 guests) - While you might not be marrying royalty, you may want your wedding to feel like an entire town is celebrating with you. If you have the wedding budget and ability to invite that many people, here’s who’s often left off a guestlist.
(You get the picture.)
Once you’ve learned a little bit more about the kind of wedding you and your partner want, you’ll have a strong start to forming your guest list. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind as you decide who you want to attend your wedding.
Below, you’ll find a list of tips on how to build a guest list that makes sense to you and your fiance.
Start With the Essentials – Start with listing the people you can’t imagine celebrating your wedding day without. You might start with your closest relatives and then move up and out on the family tree. Or, you might start with your found-family, the parents who raised you, and the people you’ve known so long that you introduce them as your siblings. Whatever essential means to both of you, start there.
Kids or No Kids – Kids can bring a beautiful energy to a wedding, but you also have to consider the parents. When you know a little more about the kind of wedding you want to have and who you want there, you can decide how kids factor in.
Make the Call on Plus-Ones – Deciding whether or not to have plus-ones can help you both curate your wedding guest list number. However, be wary of the “no ring, no bring” rule. That rule might’ve worked for our parents, but more and more often, serious couples decide to wait a while before putting a ring on it.
The Invite-Back Rule– Let’s say your sorority sister Maeve invited you and your partner to her wedding a few years ago. Are you expected to invite her to yours? Ask yourself the following:
If the answers to all of these questions are yes, then the general rule is that you invite him or her to your wedding. If these potential guests aren’t blood-related and you haven’t seen him or her since their wedding, things get a little more flexible. Just talk with your partner and go with your gut.
On the one hand, expert wedding planners estimate between 25-40 percent of guests invited to a wedding can’t make it. And, wouldn’t it be a waste of venue space to not invite everyone who can come to celebrate? On the other hand, you have to assume that people will find out which list they’re on.
If you’re transparent about your guest list restrictions to the B-listers, you may have an easier time. Keep in mind that some people might be hurt knowing they didn’t make round one. And, that may invite more wedding stress into your life. Our advice is to make the best choice you can for you and your partner’s day, and just stay honest.
So, how many people should you invite to a wedding? There’s no perfect answer. You can be budget-friendly and just invite the essentials. Or, you can let your venue make the decision for you. Or, you can even lean into whatever atmosphere you want at your wedding and go from there.
The most important thing is that you’re making a choice that you both feel good about. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many, it’s about who will be there celebrating with you.
For wedding parties both big and small, you’ll need to set up your wedding registry (regardless of who’s coming). For this, for planning your celebration, and for taking care of all the little details, the team at Zola is here for you.
As one last tidbit of advice, remember this: The more you invite, the bigger your registry can be. Wink, wink.