How to Downsize Your Wedding Guest List in Light of COVID-19

Experts on how to handle the hard yet necessary task.

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Signage by Made by Wood and Wood; Floral Design by Monstera Floral Design; Planning by Natalie Ellen Weddings; Styling by Fleur & Fig

If you’re dealing with wedding drama as a result of COVID-19, you’re far from alone in your struggle to create (or recreate) your special day. Couples getting married in 2020 or 2021 are faced with a wide array of guidelines and regulations that soon-to-be spouses before they never had to deal with. 

Some COVID-related restrictions placed on the wedding industry include the requirement to wear masks and have temperatures being taken in order to enter certain venues, vendors submitting negative test results within a certain timeframe of the wedding, 14-day quarantines for guests traveling from high-risk areas, and social distancing of tables, explains Oniki Hardtman, wedding planner and owner of Oh Niki Occasions in South Florida and New York City.

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In addition to these guidelines, there are special amendments made for food service, including cocktail hour bites and wedding cakes as well as stations and buffets, and the number of people allowed to gather. “Weddings must have an absolute cap of 100 people (guests and staff combined) in an unenclosed space outside and 25 people (guests and staff combined) if inside for the foreseeable future,” says Alexis Eliopoulos O'Mara of Unique Weddings by Alexis of the regulations in Boston at this time. While it is possible that this number could increase to 125 or 150 in the next step or two of phase three, there’s no guarantee that circumstances don’t get worse, O’Mara notes. Either way, she says it’s unlikely that this will change the capacity of a fair number of mid-sized wedding venues.

Rules and regulations vary by city and state so be sure to follow the latest news in your area. We also recommend maintaining contact with your wedding planner (if you have one) and/or point-of-contact on your venue to stay up-to-date on their current protocols as well.

As a result of all of these rules, regulations, and guidelines, couples are opting to downsize their wedding guest list. While it might seem less than ideal to have to cut down on the friends and family members you have at your wedding, downsizing does come with its share of upsides. 

For starters, you save money. “Splurging for upgraded table settings such as chargers, gold flatware, unique designer plates, specialty glassware, and luxury linens can really add up when you have a guest list of a few hundred people, but for 30 or so guests, providing everyone with an upgraded experience is a lot more tolerable,” says Hardtman. And if you do this now for your intimate wedding, Hardtman adds that you can always throw a huge party later on in a more fun and relaxed setting without many of the formalities that come with the traditional wedding day.

With a smaller guest list, you can also focus your time and attention on more of your wedding guests. When you have a larger wedding of, say, 150 or more guests, it’s almost impossible to do the rounds and make conversation with each and every individual, let alone snap a picture with each guest. A smaller guest list will also make your guests who are attending feel more comfortable given the current state of affairs. 

Wedding planners agree, however, that cutting down a wedding guest list is much easier said than done. If you’re faced with this difficult task in preparation for your big day, here are some pointers worth considering to help you get the job done.

Consider hiring a wedding planner.

Navigating wedding planning in the era of COVID is a whole new ballgame. To make sure that you properly adhere to restrictions, especially in regards to the party size, it’s a wise decision to hire a wedding planner. “Whether it is someone who can quickly work their connections to create an amazing intimate wedding for you and/or someone to pick up the pieces and replan and reschedule all your vendors for your new date, you don't need to take on all this stress yourself!” says Hardtman. “An experienced problem solver who can stay calm in the face of adversity is exactly who you need on your team during times like these when some couples are having to postpone more than once.”

Start with the people you cannot imagine your wedding day without.

These are the people that you absolutely want to have at your wedding, no matter how small of a guest list you’re working with. “Think about those people that were the very first ones you couldn't wait to tell about your engagement,” says Hardtman. “They are likely the same ones that you have very regular (text) conversations with, so they are the ones you should add to your list first.” It’s wise to reach out to these individuals (over text or email or on the phone!) to confirm that they’re available on the date you intend to get married. Doing so will help you determine how many additional guests you can still invite.

Cut anyone you don’t talk to on a regular basis.

This may not be easy, but it’s one of the most cut-and-dry tactics for limiting your wedding guest list. O’Mara recommends only inviting those guests that you have had very recent and regular communication with. “Leave off the long lost cousins, college buddies you haven’t heard from in a decade, your previous neighbors from three years ago,” she suggests. Most guests understand that you’re dealing with extenuating circumstances and may even be relieved to not be on your invite list at this current point in time. 

Eliminate plus ones.

In your effort to keep your guest list as small as possible, it makes sense to eliminate the offering of allowing guests to bring a plus one. Most guests will completely understand your need to cut down on your guest list and, if you’re someone they truly care about deeply, will still be in attendance without their significant other. If they decide not to attend without a plus one, you were doubly successful in cutting down your guest list.

Give guests the option to attend virtually.

Ivy Summer, owner of Voulez Events in San Francisco, California, recommends brainstorming ways to incorporate your virtual guests into your big day. “Ask your wedding planner about ways to incorporate your virtual guests into your cocktail hour to mingle with in-person guests, virtual photo booths with entertaining backdrops, the dance floor when it's time for the Macarena, cha-cha slide, the cupid shuffle, or another fun group dance,” she says. “Make sure that your key virtual guests know how to submit a request for a song to the DJ or can make a toast when it's time for speeches.” These small details can create unforgettable moments on the wedding day.

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