How to Cut Your Guest List, According to Real Couples

It's a hard job but somebody's got to do it.

guest list change

Photo & Design by Ivory and Noir; Paper & Printing by Peterkin Paper

This past year, one of the most difficult decisions that so many soon-to-be partners had to make as they planned their wedding was how to pare down their guest list.

With state mandates and restrictions changing all of the time, and an immense emphasis being placed on social distance guidelines and safety protocol, it only made sense for many to carry out their wedding with a smaller number of loved ones in attendance. (In fact, 47 percent of our followers are now planning on downsizing their guest lists.)

Due to the pandemic, 47 percent of our followers are now planning on downsizing their guest lists.

For most couples, this decision, as difficult as it was to make, was a no-brainer—an attempt to protect their loved ones from potentially exposing them to this horrible disease. Still, whittling down a guest list full of the most important people in your life was challenging.

Here, eight real couples share how they pulled off the task of downsizing their guest list as well as their advice for couples planning a wedding.

01 of 08

Lauren and Adam, Hoboken, New Jersey

After their June 2019 engagement, Lauren and Adam got right down to planning a destination wedding in Tuscany. They set a date for September 5, 2020, sent out save the date cards in November 2019, and mailed wedding invitations to 100 guests in March 2020. Quickly, they realized they’d need to send a postponement announcement to reschedule for September 2021.

“As we started to look at dates, vendors were requiring additional deposits and the virus wasn't showing any signs of letting up in Italy or the U.S," Lauren admits. "It was in July that we realized we wanted to get married in September no matter what because the future was so uncertain. We flipped back-and-forth for what felt like a lifetime trying to decide whether we to do a courthouse ceremony and save our big celebration or go forward with a micro wedding and get creative with a smaller guest list and health and safety guidelines.” 

How They Downsized: Since the couple didn't want to get married at a traditional venue, they decided to rent a private lake house and have everyone stay on the property. The house slept 50 people, but they wanted everyone to be comfortable and also be able to social distance, so they settled on inviting 30 guests. “It just worked out that we could meet that number exactly with just our immediate families and bridal party," says the bride.

Who Made the Cut: Immediate family, which included parents, siblings, grandparents, and bridal party members, who each got a plus one.

Advice for Couples Planning: “It's best to focus on some of the advantages of a smaller wedding, rather than what you're giving up with a larger wedding,” says Lauren. “With an intimate guest list, there is much more opportunity to customize every aspect of the wedding—the table settings and stationery, the food and drink, the accommodations, etc.”

02 of 08

Kate-Madonna and Eric, St. Paul, Minnesota

After understandable hesitation over whether or not to pick a wedding date during a pandemic, Kate-Madonna and Eric settled on New Year's Eve, figuring they’d be able to have a small wedding ceremony and reception. However, with Minnesota in lockdown, they decided to have just their immediate family on-site and host a virtual wedding, utilizing Zoom and Facebook Live to allow extended family to tune in. 

How They Downsized: The couple wanted to be intentional and respectful of the virus from day one. “I'm recovering from cancer and couldn't risk getting sick or (god forbid!) being the reason someone else was sick,” says Kate-Madonna. “My heart wasn't set on a particular wedding as much as it was on Eric, so I reframed any expectations I had and used my newly-found patience to really think through what was important.” 

Who Made the Cut: The couple’s immediate bubble—everyone else will be there online or in spirit.

Advice for Couples Planning: “This virus only wins if we give it that power,” says Kate-Madonna. “We can remove its power by being strategic about our gatherings and love our family and friends from afar to protect them.” 

03 of 08

Nikki and David, Los Angeles, California

Everything was set and ready to go for Nikki and David's at-home wedding on August 22, 2020. That is until the pandemic hit in March. Save the dates for all 200 of their guests had been sent out and deposits placed on all vendors, so they decided not to change their original date. Instead, the couple ended up reducing the guest list significantly and made the backyard wedding more socially distanced and safe.

“The whole experience from March until we got married was honestly really devastating and a lot of tears were shed,” admits Nikki. “It took me a very long time to accept that the wedding would look different than planned and the hardest part was accepting that a lot of people that we would have really loved to be there in person wouldn’t be able to be there.” 

How They Downsized: On their first round of cutting, they subtracted all of the people they had added that were “maybes,” which included work colleagues, old bosses, fringe friendships, and their parents’ invite lists. Next, they made lists for whichever size wedding they would hope to have because they didn’t yet know what the protocols would be for California until the last minute. “Recognizing that having a 150-plus person wedding would be a shot in the dark we came up with three lists: 100 guests, 50 guests, and 25 guests,” Nikki says. “We actually worked from the smallest to the biggest adding people to each list.” 

Who Made the Cut: Fifty very close friends and family. 

Advice for Couples Planning: “My advice would be to find a way to accept the change and find the positive in having a smaller wedding—you get more time, you don’t have to worry as much about people-pleasing, etc.,” she says. “The circumstances give an excuse to not have to invite people you don’t like, you get to focus on your partner which is the point of the whole wedding anyway, and it's going to cost a lot less!”

04 of 08

Alexa and Ted, New York, New York

Alexa and Ted were engaged in May 2018 and had planned to get married in June 2019. Unfortunately, in October of 2018, Alexa was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the next year going through surgery and treatment. Because of this, the couple pushed their wedding back to September 2020.

“I remember thinking that my friends who moved their weddings in May and June were crazy; however, little did I know that we would be in November and things would still not be over with this virus,” she says. “I believe it was June when we finally realized that September was not looking likely and we had to move fast into moving our date into 2021 as all 2020 spring/summer couples were looking into 2021.”

In the end, the couple landed on July 2021 wedding date in the hopes that by then everything would be "OK." They also got officially married in August. “One of my biggest reasons for doing so was so my Grandma could see me get married,” Alexa says. “It was all she and my Grandpa wanted and it was devastating when he passed away in February 2020, so I knew I could not go through that again.”

How They Downsized: The couple says that cutting the list down "wasn’t so complicated" since they knew they only wanted their immediate family present. “Once we started going beyond that it just became too complicated with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.,” says Alexa. “While I thought we would miss not having the rest of our family and friends there it couldn’t have been a more perfect day and we were able to spend quality time with each family member.”

Who Made the Cut: Parents, siblings, and grandparents.

Advice for Couples Planning: “I would try making a couple of different guest lists and scaling from there,” says Alexa. “We will (hopefully) be having a larger wedding next year, so for us, we didn’t feel that we were missing anything by just having a small wedding this year.”

05 of 08

Tiesha and Nick, Columbus, Georgia

The couple opted for a virtual wedding in November. “I was so sad that my closest friends and the entire family would not be attending our wedding, however, I knew the risks of their health and ours was not something I wanted to change,” says Tiesha. “Nick and I discussed this with our parents and they both agreed virtual would be best.” 

How They Downsized: The couple decided to be straightforward with their guests and let them all know personally. “We told them we love them, but plans have changed, and we look forward to seeing them virtually,” says Tiesha.

Who Made the Cut: Parents, siblings, and a small bridal party. 

Advice for Couples Planning: “Just breathe! Remember everything that is going right and be thankful for that,” she says. “Also, downsizing your wedding guest list helps your pockets! No one has ever complained about saving thousands of dollars.” 

06 of 08

Amy and Lawrence, Jersey City, New Jersey

Amy and Lawrence were originally supposed to have an 80-person destination wedding in Scotland in August 2020. Of course, the pandemic derailed their plans and, as the summer neared, it became more and more apparent that they wouldn't be able to have their dream Scotland wedding.

They decided to get married a month sooner, in July, in the front yard of their apartment in New Jersey. When New Jersey’s governor gave the executive order to allow weddings via Zoom, the couple found a rabbi and had only neighbors present in-person. Friends and family joined virtually.

“We had an engaging reception with a four-hour playlist, MC, and lots of planned activities,” recalls the bride. “I made our cake and our guests joined us in eating the foods we outlined in our menu and drinking our signature cocktail (Hendrick’s gin with elderflower Fever-Tree tonic water).”

How They Downsized: For their destination wedding, the couple started with a list of their bridal party and family and determined how many friends they could invite beyond that, based on the number of spots they had left. For their virtual wedding, it was a little easier. “We invited everyone who was invited to our original wedding, plus a handful of other friends who we really wanted to be there, as well,” says Amy. “That invite process was kind of rushed and last minute, and if we had to do it all over again, there are probably some other people we would have really liked to invite.”

Who Made the Cut: Family, close family friends, bridal party, and close friends. 

Advice for Couples Planning: “It’s really difficult and can be a source of tension during an exciting time, but try your best to make the process as fun and relaxed as possible,” she says. “It’s also best to give up the idea of things being 50/50 with invites—I have way more family and family friends than my husband.”

07 of 08

Monika and Ryan, Astoria, New York

Monika and Ryan’s original wedding date was set for September 26, 2020, but their originally planned 175-person wedding had to be reimagined. “Although it was a very difficult decision with many conflicting feelings of disappointment and concern, we knew it was the right decision for the safety of our guests,” says Monika. They came to the difficult decision to downsize their wedding due to the state-mandated limitations on gatherings, which helped determine what kind of celebration they could have in lieu of their original plans.

“With two months out from the wedding date, our wedding coordinator at The Garrison accurately predicted the slim chances of the restrictions lifting in time and presented us with an alternate, intimate wedding with a virtual celebration option,” she says. “Although we ultimately ended up having our ceremony elsewhere this year, we were so appreciative for her help, guidance, and cooperation during this difficult time.” 

How They Downsized: The couple first had to decide whether to have the wedding this year or postpone it altogether. Ultimately, they decided not to postpone but knew they had to downsize. “We had a large bridal party—10 on each side,” says Monika. “We eventually decided to just have our immediate families involved this year and have our reception next year on our one year anniversary, with a vow renewal so that we still have a ceremony with everyone in attendance (hopefully!).” 

Who Made the Cut: Their parents, siblings, and their significant others, Monika’s grandmother, uncle, and godparents. 

Advice for Couples Planning: “Remember what the wedding is all about: your marriage, love, and commitment to one another,” she says. “A party can always happen at a later date, but to get married, you just need who is most important to you, by your side.”

08 of 08

Emma and Landon, Salt Lake City, Utah

Emma and Landon planned to marry in Sun Valley, Idaho wedding in August with 120 guests, but as the pandemic evolved, it became more apparent that their original plan was no longer feasible. “During quarantine, we were staying with Landon's parents and I woke up early one morning as the sun was rising and walked into the backyard and immediately thought 'this is it:' A simple backyard wedding!” she says.

How They Downsized: “We felt that we couldn't include some extended family and not others so we made the difficult decision to stick with just the immediate family and Landon's grandparents,” says Emma. “Our parents have been so incredibly supportive of us, so we let them invite one couple.” The couple wanted to curate the evening so social dynamics weren’t an issue and everyone could just have fun. “It was important for us that we could relax and enjoy the moment with all of our loved ones,” Emma says. 

Who Made the Cut: Immediate family and a few close friends for a total of 30 guests. 

Advice for Couples Planning: “Be ready to roll up your sleeves,” says Emma. “You can make an incredible, unforgettable experience by getting more involved in the process and having more control in the decision making.” 

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