Is It Ever Okay to Invoice No-Show Wedding Guests?

Planners and etiquette experts weigh in.

ceremony decor with no guests

Photo by Justine Milton Photography

Picture this: You are just days away from your wedding when a friend or family member informs you that they’ll no longer be able to attend your wedding. Worse yet, imagine someone who previously RSVPed "yes" simply doesn't turn up for the wedding and fails to share an explanation for their absense. Though it’s completely understandable to prioritize a medical or family emergency over a wedding, it’s definitely disappointing to have some guests rescind their attendance at the last minute—especially because you're paying for food and beverages (as well as rentals) based on the final attendance numbers you gathered. So, what can you do about guests who RSVP "yes" but don't attend the wedding? In recent years, couples have made headlines by invoicing no-show guests.  

“I think this is happening because of the speed and spread of information—and people are looking for recourse when they’re disappointed,” explains Elaine Swann, a former wedding coordinator-turned-etiquette expert. “In this modern day, we’re seeing a lot more retaliatory behavior. You can post and share [your situation] on social media, and you will get feedback that supports or encourages your choices.” Invoicing no-show guests might be having a moment, but not everyone’s on board with the growing trend. Turns out, it’s a not-so surprisingly polarizing sensation in the wedding industry. So, to get to the bottom of it, we chatted with a few experts to answer the most burning question of the moment: to invoice or not to invoice?

Be a Gracious (Not Greedy) Host

According to Swann, hosts should never invoice no-show guests. After all, that’s what being a host is all about. “There are certain qualities that come along with being a host—and that includes bearing the cost of your event,” she explains. “When you host an event, there is a certain risk that is tied to it, whether it’s a dinner party or a wedding.” 

Instead of charging your would-be guests a fee, Swann says hosts will have to eat the sunk cost. In fact, that’s exactly why it’s so important to create a budget and stick with it. “Look at your wedding from the perspective of if no one shows up, can I still afford to pay for this instead of putting it on the guests,” Swann shares. “Don't look at it from the perspective of if this person or these folks would have shown up, I would've saved a certain amount of money. Just look at the overall cost of your wedding and chalk it up and say, this is what it cost me for my wedding.”

Finances aside, invoicing a no-show guests can drive a wedge in your relationship. Whether your loved one was feeling under the weather or had a personal emergency to tend to, not attending a wedding is a decision that most people don’t take lightly. So, why add insult to injury with a steep fee? “You don’t want to ruin a relationship over a $50 or $60 plate of food,” Swann adds. “It’s not worth it.”

It’s understandable to be frustrated by a friend or family member backing out of your special day. However, Swann encourages couples to tell the no-show they’re disappointed they won’t be able to make it, wish them the best, and move on.

“It's important for folks to really practice being gracious and thoughtful towards others, and not vindictive in nature,” she explains. “Take that same approach into all the other wonderful celebrations that you will have as a married couple. There are so many other things that you have to look forward to than to put your focus on this one little moment in time.”

Double Down On Destination Weddings

Though Swann says hosts shouldn’t invoice their guests under any circumstance, Retno Dwinika says destination weddings can be the exception to the rule. “For a destination wedding, I am pretty much pro-invoicing no-show guests,” the founder and lead planner of Amora Bali Weddings explains. “This is because inviting other guests to replace the ‘flaky’ ones would be a lot more difficult. It would be close to impossible to invite another person to take their place since they’ll have to take days off and plan their trip at the last minute.”

The key, according to Dwinika, is to be transparent about your policy. “It might be a better idea to mention this upfront inside the RSVP,” she says. “This way, invitees are more likely to respond to the RSVP with a ‘yes’ when they are 100-percent sure they are going to attend the wedding and really want to.” Before you give everyone who changes their RSVP status a bill, you might want to enforce your policy on a case-by-case basis. For example, there is no reason to invoice guests who changed their RSVP months in advance and gave you ample time to allocate their spot to someone on your backup list

“The wedding couple should always ask for the reason for the cancellation as well,” Dwinika adds. “ Of course, life can bear unforeseen circumstances. When it’s a true emergency, a sincere couple would pardon their friends or family.” 

So, how much should you invoice your guests? Though Dwinika believes the fairest way to invoice is the food and beverage cost per person, she says a $50 fee can create a sense of commitment and avoid last-minute cancellations.

Rack Up Your Room Rate

Of course, there are more expenses than a food and beverage fee. Jason Wright of Paradise Weddings points out that a no-show guest can wreak havoc on your room block. “Couples will bet on how many guests they will have for their resort wedding,” he explains. “[They] sign a contract that reserves rooms at a discounted room rate. If the guests don't show up, the couples are responsible for filling those rooms.”  

Though Wright says that date changes are possible, cancellations with refunds are not, which might incentivize some couples to charge for the canceled room. On the flip side, Swann says that couples should factor no-shows into their agreement with a hotel. “Underestimate the amount of guests who will attend because it’s always easier to add more than to subtract from it,” she explains. “Once you sign that contract with the hotel, you are in essence saying that you are financially responsible for that guarantee.”

What No-Show Guests Should Do If They Get Billed? 

The verdict on couples invoicing no-shows might be up for debate, but your opinion might change if you’re the guest who is charged a fee. Though Swann says it’s your decision to pay or refute the invoice, there’s a chance either choice will put a strain on your relationship. “If you feel as though it's put a crack in your relationship, be very clear about this and let them know,” she says. “If you don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to pay a fee, recognize that your relationship with that individual might shift and they may hold it against you.” 

While sending or paying an invoice might offer some instant gratification or appeasement, think long and hard about this sticky situation. Swann puts it best when she says, “Sending that invoice is not just sending a message, but you can really negatively impact your relationship.”

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