When couples know an engagement is on the horizon, thoughts naturally turn to the big day. They envision who will be in the wedding party and imagine relatives getting emotional as the couple says, “I do.” There’s a lot of wedding planning involved in making that special day perfect. However, before starting your wedding website, venue tours, and wedding vendors search, there’s one thing to keep in mind: the guest count.
As you formulate your list, there will be certain folks that jump out at you immediately. Possibly, they’re on your must-have wedding guest list, such as parents, friends, and close relatives. Alternately, there are probably folks already on the chopping block. Before you cut—or feel obligated to include—those on your “maybe” list, here are things to consider when weighing who not to invite to your wedding.
Part 1: Factors That Are Influenced by Guest Count Part 2: Points to Ponder Before Deciding Who Not to Invite Part 3: Whom You Should and Shouldn’t Invite to Your Wedding Part 4: How to Deal With Fallout from Those Not Invited
Who Should Decide the Wedding Guest List? Of course, the couple should have frank conversations with each other about the wedding guest list. Both partners need to be aware of prioritizing who is essential and who shouldn’t attend the wedding day. However, if someone else is helping to pay for a significant portion of the wedding, consult with them. They may have people that they feel the need to invite, such as a second cousin or close friend.
“Keep in mind that whoever is paying gets the final say on who is invited,” says Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates in Atlanta, Georgia.” If everyone is splitting costs evenly, then, of course, you should all have a say in these matters.” No matter what, remember that it’s your day and you should feel comfortable about who attends your wedding. Therefore have frank discussions about the guest list when necessary.
Before you select a location, you should have an approximate number of people in mind. For example, you can’t consider a small wedding venue that holds a maximum of 40 if your guest list will be 200. Conversely, if you have 20 people at a site that holds 400, your wedding may seem dwarfed. Of course, if you have your heart set on a particular location and it only holds 50, you will have to adjust your guest list accordingly. Just remember that you won’t have an exact number until you send out wedding invitations and receive RSVPs.
Many couples think that the number of people only impacts your catering costs. However, the truth is that your entire bottom line will be affected by each guest you invite. More people equals more seating, which will influence your setup and tear down costs. You will need more invitations, favors, drinks, cake, and the list goes on. “When you start to add up how much money each individual invite costs, it becomes very easy to say that Aunt Sally’s boyfriend, who’s been around for two months, is not invited,” advises Maddox. Once you see the cost per guest, culling the list becomes easier.
Do you want a big party, or do you prefer something more intimate? Also, consider whether one or both partners is shy or has anxiety about being up in front of a large crowd. It’s your day, and you want to look back on it fondly. Unwanted nervousness due to an influx of people won’t do you or your partner any good. Also, if you want an intimate, micro-wedding with 30 people, you have every right to plan what you envision.
Photographer Meredith Ryncarz, owner of Meredith Ryncarz Photography in Savannah, Georgia, has a specific set of questions that she feels couples need to ask before formulating the guest list. Consider things like whether you’ve talked to them in the past year and if you see a continuing post-wedding friendship. In addition, ask yourself if there is a family or other deep connection. Also, evaluate whether or not they’re supportive of your union.
“If you answered yes to any or all of these, then you should be inviting them,” suggests Ryncarz. “This will help keep your guest count down to a reasonable list and weed out acquaintances that, while you might feel obligated to invite, really are not vital to being part of the guest count or the story of your day.”
“Formulating a guest list should come easily for the large majority, but there will be some people that come to mind, which raises the question if an invite should be extended or not,” says Kelley Nudo, client manager at Momental Designs in Wyoming, Pennsylvania. Setting parameters will help in these situations. For example, have you seen them in the past five years? If not, then they may need to get cut.
“Ultimately, the couple should first prioritize their list by adding up the people they deem as being highly important to have with them on their special day and then carefully add any additional groups of people (co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc.) while trying not to leave anyone out within those social circles,” Nudo suggests.
“Think about the people you have genuinely spent time with within the last year,” advises Maddox. “These are the people that should be invited to your wedding celebration.” Of course, time, distance, and pandemics may have altered that timeline, so make exceptions in those circumstances. Also, Maddox says don’t feel like you have to reciprocate if you scored an invite to their event. “Just because someone invited you to their wedding 10 years ago does not mean [that] you need to feel obligated to invite them to yours.”
It’s ultimately up to you, your spouse, and the people covering the cost of your wedding to decide. No one besides the members of that group of people can come up with a list that is perfect for you. Only you know each individual’s dynamics, relationships, and situations, so keep that in mind. The list below is just a suggestion, so feel free to do as you wish for your big day.
“In general, when considering who[m] not to invite, I always suggest avoiding those that cause family drama or seek to make situations about themselves,” says Ryncarz. The wedding day can already be stressful as you think about timelines and the emotions surrounding the commitment itself. Therefore, avoid drama and conflict at all costs.
If the pandemic has taught folks anything, it’s to check on spikes, no matter the disease. Whether it’s flu season or there is another COVID-19 spike on the horizon, your guest count could fluctuate. As a result, there may be cause not to invite immunocompromised family members or to lessen your guest count altogether.
None of these situations are easy. However, someone with alcohol addiction can change the tone of an event—especially if they’re overconsuming. “Considering someone who struggles with alcohol addiction, and you are planning an open bar? Depending on who you are, you may want to exclude them as well for the health of both your guest and your event,” advises Nora Sheils, founder of Bridal Bliss in Portland, Oregon. Talking with this type of guest is challenging, yet it’s easier than dealing with situations while someone is under the influence.
Whether or not to invite children can be touchy, especially for parents who need to plan. However, giving parents ample advance notice ensures that they can find a sitter. “A big sticking point for some couples is the question of whether or not to include children,” reminds Nudo. “Of course, some weddings offer a wonderful time for both adults and children to celebrate together.”
Also, think about the time and style of your event. Kids may do ok at a casual afternoon event. Conversely, a late-night open bar dance party may not be conducive to littles. “Still, there are some weddings that are not quite appropriate for children to attend, so determining this early on and making it clear to all guests that the celebration is for adults only is important,” suggests Nudo.
“Couples should not invite anyone that they wouldn’t even care if they RSVPd no,” says Shannon Tarrant, co-founder of Wedding Venue Map. “This is a clear indicator that they shouldn’t be on the guest list at all.” So, if you’re questioning it or feel obligated about inviting them, consider culling them from the list.
Offering an online component to your wedding allows for an unlimited amount of virtual guests. “A nice way to allow people to celebrate your marriage without actually attending is to allow them to join in via live stream,” offers Nudo. “With modern technology, there are so many ways to help people feel included without having your guest list get too out of control.”
“If someone finds out they are not invited to your wedding, and you know ahead of time that it may possibly create fallout, have the conversation first before they find out,” suggests Ryncarz. “Let them know gently that you have a limited amount of guest count. It is as simple as that. Remind them that they are important to you and that you had to factor in your list of guests and your partners.” Having a chat instead of leaving them to wonder or hear from someone else is such sage advice.
When you’re questioning whether or not to invite a guest, chances are they are probably wondering whether or not they’ll make the cut. “Most people honestly will understand if they are not invited. Especially when you explain that you had a finite amount of space or finances and were unable to extend the invite,” says Maddox. “The reality is that you are likely not cutting your most important people off your list but instead those that you are friendly with but not the closest to.”
When in doubt, the best you can do is tell the truth. “It’s really important just to be honest with someone if they ask why they weren’t invited,” says Tarrant. “Of course, the goal is not to hurt their feelings. But you can always blame the wedding budget or venue size if that makes it easier.”
“If you are excluding someone that you know will become aware of the exclusion, you must be prepared for fall out,” warns Sheils. “People take offense when left out of larger events, so be prepared to answer questions or potentially lose a friend.” Weigh the cost, but also have frank conversations if they press you for a reason.
Need more advice about how to make your guest list? Zola has you covered! From basics on creating your guest list to when you need to finalize your list, Zola has the tips you need. On a short timeline? Learn how to cull your guest list in less than 10 minutes. Also, keep track of your guest list and let people RSVP through your Zola website. Zola makes it simple to keep everything organized and plan with ease so that you can have a big day surrounded by those closest to you.