If you’re planning a wedding in the backdrop of a global pandemic, you’ve learned a thing or two about patience, letting go of control, and how to work well with a vast group of people with different opinions. And while it’s certainly a better time to be planning than it was a year ago, we're still dealing with a complex set of circumstances.
“This year, it’s currently all systems go, with more borders opening up and allowing more weddings to happen and more guests to attend them in-person rather than via online streaming,” notes Oniki Hardtman, wedding planner and owner of Oh Niki Occasions in South Florida and New York City. “Many of my colleagues in certain states or other regions of the world are just now beginning to produce weddings of traditionally average size again, of approximately 100-150 guests and up."
This year, it’s currently all systems go, with more borders opening up and allowing more weddings to happen and more guests to attend them in-person.
And even though there's yet another threat to the viability of such large-scale events, such as weddings, experts are telling their clients to anticipate more “yes” RSVPs than ever before. Why? One of the main reasons for this is the number of weddings from 2020 that were cancelled or postponed to 2021 and 2022 coupled with all of the newly engaged couples who are eager to secure their wedding date before another unforeseen event such as a pandemic happens.
“People are getting married on any date their venue has available, so guests may find themselves invited to weddings on Friday and Saturday in the same weekend,” says Allie D. Walker, owner, and planner at Katharine Marie Weddings in Anderson, South Carolina. “Couples may even have a wedding on a weeknight—Monday and Thursday are quite popular—if that's what's available.”
Why RSVPs Are a Hot Topic Today
As a result of the increased number of weddings, the industry is seeing a number of supply and demand issues, as well as labor shortages amongst service crews. “This has led to wedding planners requesting earlier access to venues to accommodate the additional time required for set-up but this often isn’t guaranteed or necessarily available,” says Lisa Lyons, owner of Lisa Lyons Events & Etiquette in Orlando. “In addition, many couples are encountering vaccination protocols at their venues, a largely unprecedented circumstance to navigate.”
On average, between 15 and 20 percent of guests will RSVP "no" to a wedding. This year, experts are saying couples should be prepared to host 100 percent of the people they invite.
So what’s a soon-to-be-married couple to do while they’re in the thick of wedding planning and they have no clue what exact number of RSVPs to anticipate? Plan for more than you’d think, according to experts. Pre-pandemic, the normal “no” RSVP rate for weddings was about 15-20 percent, according to Hardtman, but this year she is advising her couples to be prepared to host as many people as they invite. “That advice is in relation to the budget as well as capacity restrictions which may or may not be in place for their venues due to the pandemic,” she says.
How to Properly Prep for Your RSVPs
Here are some expert tips for how to best prepare for the right amount of RSVPs to your wedding.
Know Your Maximum Capacity
Ivy Summer, wedding planner and owner of Voulez Events in San Francisco, warns against gambling on a certain percentage of “yes” RSVPs. Before even putting together your guest list, she recommends checking with your venue so that you’re well aware of your maximum capacity as well as the venue’s company policy with respect to safety protocols. “Don't forget to factor in the number of vendors, servers, and venue staff onsite,” she adds. “Everybody at the venue counts towards maximum capacity, so keep that in mind as you finalize your guest list.”
Spend According to Your Priorities
Walker always starts by asking her couples what their three main areas of focus are for their wedding: guest list, food, band, alcohol, florals, venue, photographer, dress, etc. “This is huge for determining how you spend your money and where to make cuts,” she says. “If your dream wedding includes a multi-course plated dinner, you might decide that your tablescapes (florals, chargers, flatware) are just as important and cut down on your guest list, as staffing needs increase with a plated dinner.”
Draft the Guest List ASAP
Soon after you’ve celebrated your engagement status, Hardtman suggests writing out an actual list of all of the guests you’d ideally like to invite, including singles, married or dating couples, and friends with a plus one. “It’s amazing how many engaged couples have an estimated number that is very different from the actual number once it’s written and combined with your partner’s list,” she says. “In your head does not equate to the same as on paper.”
While you’re at it, she recommends marking guests by groups such as A, B, and C. A-listers being people you absolutely must invite no matter what. “You might want to hold off on sending a ‘save the date’ to those on the B or C lists until after your As have confirmed with a precise number.”
Use a Spreadsheet With a Notes Section
Due to the unforeseen circumstances brought on by the pandemic, Hardtman suggests creating a notes section where you include information about potentially restrictive factors that you may need to consider and/or that your guests may need to consider when it comes to reasons they may or may not attend. “Important factors to note would be age, known health issues, certain children who cannot yet be vaccinated, elderly guests that may be more at risk, home fronts with travel restrictions, and any guests who have compromising professions like doctors or nurses,” she says.
Keep Your Wedding Website Up-to-Date
Well before you send out a “save the date” card or email, Hardtman recommends getting your wedding website together. “It’s very typical for many of your guests to only look at your website once they initially receive the link and then perhaps again only 1-2 times if you prompt them with an email or reminder to RSVP on the website vs mailed response,” she says. “While you have their attention, let them know that you would love an early heads up as to whether or not they plan to attend, and that will help you plan.”
Request Early Send-Ins
You can never be too prepared, especially now, so Summer recommends asking your guests to return their RSVP cards two weeks to a month earlier than your vendors need final headcounts. “Everyone is dealing with their own challenges in these tough times, and we all deserve some grace,” she says. “Take the time to plan ahead and consider passing on the RSVP-tracking task to your wedding planner.”
Be Persistent in Following Up
Guest count is an incredibly important factor when determining every other detail for your wedding. For those guests who have still yet to respond, even if the deadline was just yesterday, Walker recommends reaching out to them directly via casual text to remind them to RSVP. “Many couples are opting for online RSVPs to save time and make it easier to share the link with guests, but you may still have some guests who aren't as comfortable using online platforms,” she says. “I recommend having both options or personally calling those guests if they haven't made the due date.”