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How To: Create and Cull Your Wedding Guest List Like A Pro

wedding guest list

Hooray! It’s time to mentally gather your nearest and dearest in order to move forward and plan your wedding.

For some couples, defining a wedding guest list proves one of the biggest initial challenges in wedding planning. The nature of weddings means you can’t really invite every man and his dog, and nor should you. That would be fecking expensive. This is a day to bring together the creme de la creme of people who have impacted your lives to make it better.

So, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about wedding guest lists, along with our answers.

Featured photography by Fiona Vail Photography.

wedding guest list
Captured by Willow & Co.

How should we go about deciding on how many guests to start with?

Deciding on your guest number can be one of the trickiest parts of planning your shindig. For a few reasons really – it can get a bit complicated. First of all, if either of your parents has offered so kindly to chip in financially, this can come with some expectations that their closest mates might be added to the list. As with everything wedding planning related, we recommend an open conversation with your folks.

To get things started, we’d recommend just popping all of your closest mates and family down on a Google Sheet that’s shareable with your partner (and both your parents if you so wish). In this stage, we’d say go as broad as possible – don’t hold back and don’t consider the venue size and budget.

After you’ve finished this (fingers crossed the number isn’t shocking), it’s time to be realistic and crunch some numbers, budget-wise. It’s worthwhile considering that each guest is more than just the number of butts in seats and how many mouths you have to feed – it might also include transport (if you’re providing), wedding favours (if that’s your jam), how much alcohol you’ll need and any other hire items required for the big day.

Here, you’ll be able to begin revising your list, and hopefully get it in line with your venue capacity (if you’ve chosen a venue) and budget goals.

It’s pretty logical – the fewer guests invited, the more affordable your wedding will be, so just keep this in mind.

Any tips to go about culling our list?

As a general rule, we’d ask ourselves these four questions:

  1. When did we see this person last? Have we spoken to them in the last 1-2 years?
  2. Have we heard of and met each guest? If neither of you has heard of a particular guest before (assuming that your parents have invited them), then considering wiping them off the guest list altogether.
  3. Do we want kids at our wedding? If no, don’t feel bad about not inviting them. In fact, save this article on how to tell guests their kids aren’t invited to your wedding for reading later.
  4. Are we inviting this person just because we’re feeling guilty? If the answer is yes, don’t invite them. Simple! It’s seriously a day that’s about you and your S.O. only and only the top people should be there to witness it all go down.

Now that I’ve culled the list, how do I tell people they aren’t invited?

You don’t need to. Unless of course, you’ve got some people in your life that you know will absolutely be expecting an invite and it’ll be awks if you don’t say anything. In this case, just shoot them a quick message or call to just explain that while you value their presence in your life, you sadly won’t be able to extend an invitation to the wedding due to venue max guest numbers/budget/the fact you’re having an intimate wedding – whatever the reason may be.

In the vast majority of cases though, there’s no need to notify people who haven’t made the cut – the likelihood is that they’ll completely understand and not question it themselves.

Can I invite people to our engagement party that we’re not inviting to our wedding?

You can. There’s also no issue here. Often the nature of the timeframe between an engagement party and a wedding sometimes means that certain circles of contacts have changed/dropped off (for example, work colleagues if you’ve changed jobs).

Is there any protocol around inviting partners to a wedding if you’ve never met them before?

This is such a toughie and the answer you’ll get really depends on who you’re talking to. Of course important things like guest numbers and budget come into your decision to invite/not invite partners, but we’d say the main factor to consider here is how long-term the relationship is. If they’re already married or have been together for a long time, it’s probably nice for them to be invited. If not and you’ve never met them, then it’s probably fair to leave them off the list.

The problem with this reasoning though is that you can’t cherry-pick and let some people of a particular friend/family group bring partners and some not. So we’d say be consistent in your approach here.

What’s an appropriate RSVP date before the wedding? 

If you’re doing a sit-down meal and having a seating plan, we’d ask for RSVPs at least a month in advance so you’re not having to rush this at the end (or um, the night before like I did. Don’t recommend). Plus if you were thinking of doing a wedding favour of any sort, you might want more than two weeks before the wedding day to get this sorted too. Your caterer will need to know final numbers ideally a fortnight before the wedding too.

If you’re getting married at a DIY venue, you’ll probably want to know a couple of months out so you can reserve the right amount of chairs and tableware from a hire company. Plus there’ll always just be stragglers on the RSVP front so set the date earlier than you need it to be on the safe side.


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12th January, 2020

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