The guest list is one of the toughest parts of planning a wedding because there comes a time when you’ll have to decide who makes the cut—and who doesn’t. One of the easiest ways to shorten your guest list is to decide your wedding will be adults-only and to stick to that rule across the board.
“When couples say adult-only weddings more often than not they’re referencing the actual reception itself," says wedding etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of The Swann School of Protocol. "What [couples] are looking at is the location of the venue itself, the style, the theme, all of the activities that will take place." Whether you don’t have the space for a kids’ table, don't have a budget that would allow hiring on-site babysitters, or simply just don’t like children (which is a totally valid reason, FYI), deciding whether or not to include kids at your wedding is a choice every couple has to make.
Meet the Expert
Elaine Swann is a lifestyle and wedding etiquette expert and the founder of The Swann School of Protocol. She is also the author of Let Crazy Be Crazy.
You might be worried that guests with kids will be offended about being invited without the rest of their brood (which, of course, can happen), but you’d be surprised by how many will actually love the chance to have a grown-ups’ night out where they can have their own fun. And if you opt to exclude anyone who doesn’t meet your “adult” criteria, you have to let your guests know! So what’s the most polite, tactful, and effective way to communicate this to your nearest and dearest? We compiled a list of tips and wording samples to help you navigate these murky waters.
If a couple includes ring bearers and flower girls as part of the ceremony and decides to keep their reception adults-only, the couple has to choose between allowing only those children who were part of the wedding party to join the reception or limiting the kids' attendance to only the ceremony.
Adults-Only Wedding Etiquette
Don't Make Exceptions
Decide exactly what qualifies someone as an “adult.” Do they have to be over 21? Out of college? Paying their own rent? Stick to your guns here. Unless a guest is nursing an infant (which we think merits a free pass), draw the line and be firm. That means no exceptions for your favorite niece or younger cousin, which is guaranteed to ruffle feathers with parents whose kids didn’t make the cut.
Be Clear Right Away
The best way to make sure your guests know that the wedding will be adults-only is to be as clear as possible from the very beginning—especially for the benefit of guests who have kids who have to book childcare services in advance. This starts with how you address your save-the-dates and invitations. Make sure only the guests invited are named on the invitation. If you are inviting parents who do have children, be sure to use only the parents’ names on the envelope. “Mr. and Mrs. Luis Chavez” means only the couple are invited, while “The Chavez Family” means Mom, Dad, and the kiddos, too.
If you’re worried some guests won’t get the hint, you can definitely include "Adults Only" on the wedding invitations. You can even add a count on the RSVP cards. Beneath the line where guests can write their names, add “___ of ___ guests” and fill in that second line with the number of guests included in each invitation to avoid any confusion or instances of a couple trying to RSVP for their entire family.
Say It on Your Website
Most couples have wedding websites that contain a comprehensive list of details for their upcoming wedding. On your site, be sure to include an FAQ page. Include the question "Can we bring kids?” and clearly state that, while you love all those little ones in your lives, you really want your family and friends to be able to have a fantastic time without worrying about their kids. Some may still be traveling with their children, so consider including information for a local babysitting agency that they could hire for the evening.
Spread the Word
"You can ask your bridal party and the family of the bride to help spread the word," says Swann. So tell your families, wedding party, and other close friends and relatives that you’re going kid-free for your wedding. They don’t need to shout it from the rooftops on your behalf, but if they know what you’ve decided, they’ll be better informed to answer questions from other guests.
Be Ready to Have a Difficult Conversation
If you do have guests RSVPing for the entire family, hop on the phone as soon as the card comes in. Let them know that the invitation is actually only for the parents and that their children aren’t invited. You can say why it's adults-only—maybe it's the activities or the venue that's adult-centric. Or you can totally cite "budget constraints" as the reason for doing so. Even if the budget isn’t the reason, that’s a much more understandable excuse than “Well, we think kids will be noisy or distracting,” right? Stick to your guns, even if they are upset or push back. It’s your wedding and your guest list, and they should respect your decision.
Accept a Possible Fallout
Unfortunately, there will be times when guests will be offended by your request. "It's going to happen," Swann says. Just be firm and loving in the way you approach the situation. "If someone declares that they’re just not going to come, you have to respect their decision whether they’re doing it out of spite or whether they cannot find any other option," she says. "The couple has to be ready and willing for their relationship to weather that uncomfortable moment."
If you want to go the extra mile for your guests with kids, Swann suggests considering booking a care provider and setting aside a room just for the kids—especially if the reception is at a hotel. This will enable more of your loved ones to attend!
Adults-Only Wedding Invitation Wording
On the Invitation
Though some people avoid it, Swann says there's absolutely nothing wrong with stating clearly that the occasion is adults-only. You can include this on the main invite or the RSVP card.
“This is an adult-only occasion."
On the Website
Include the announcement on the FAQ page under "Can guests bring kids?" or on the information page.
“While we love all of the children in our lives, we have decided to keep our wedding and reception an adults-only event.”
For Guests Who Ask for an Exception
If a guest explains that there is no option to leave the kid/s, Swann recommends being firm but compassionate in your approach.
"In this particular instance, you would not be able to bring little Johnny as we are requesting for this to be an adult-only occasion. We’d love to have you there but we are not going to have children.'"
For Guests Who Ask to Switch Invitees
Sometimes, in situations where two or more guests are invited but one of them can't attend, the other asks if they can bring their kid instead since it wouldn't make a difference in the guest count. "Just be clear this isn’t necessarily about the guest count, it’s more so the type of event that you’re hosting," Swann says.
"We’re hosting an event that’s very adult-driven and so we would have to ask you to make other arrangements for your children/child."