The Complete Guide to Making Your Wedding Guest List

The best tips for indecisive couples

wedding party & guests

PHOTO BY JENNY FU / Design by Julie Bang

The question of how to cut your wedding guest list without stirring up any tension remains one of the great modern wedding conundrums. Understandably, you want to keep catering and seating costs to a minimum, but you also don't want to cause an altercation with your mother-in-law after nixing her former coworker's boyfriend from the final tally. And speaking of headcount, you and your future spouse probably know a lot more people combined than you realized.

So, how exactly do you cut your guest list to a reasonable (and affordable) number? Good news—there are a few techniques you can use to do this quickly, sans drama. To help you get started, we consulted with expert Lizzie Post for tips—plus, people you can easily eliminate from your save-the-date pile.

Meet the Expert

  • Lizzie Post is president of the Emily Post Institute, a five-generation family business that teaches the standards of etiquette.

Tips for Making Your Guest List

If you're overwhelmed by the great guest-list-making task, here are a few tips to simplify the decision-making process.

Divide and Conquer

Start by setting your total guest count, then divvy it up among you, your parents, and your future in-laws. Post suggests splitting it in one of two ways: one, give equal thirds to you and your groom, your parents, and his parents. Or, two, keep 50 percent as a couple and assign 25 percent to each set of parents (with multiple sets, each side gets 25 percent total). If you're paying for the wedding, you may want to increase your stake, and that's okay.

Account for Package Deals

You have to ask your officiant's spouse, the parents of children in your wedding party, and the spouse or live-in partner of each invited guest.

Add Plus-Ones Consistently

Your friends are in various stages of relationships, so where do you draw the line? Post suggests making a clear and fast rule. For instance, if a couple has been dating for six months or more, the SO gets an invite, and if not, he or she doesn't; and you have to stick to whatever rule you make up.

Create a Kid Policy

The same goes for kids. If you're asking parents to leave their children at home, be consistent. "I recommend an age cutoff, like only children over 14 are invited," says Post. Note: any exception to this rule must be explained to the included parties prior to the big day.

Remember Reciprocity

If you attended a friend's wedding within the last 12 months, you should ask her to yours if your event is a similar size (and especially if you're asking mutual friends). Having a more intimate affair? Explain your situation; she'll understand.

Forget the B-List

You've seen it done but trust us, don't—it's not a good idea. Your friends will know they're the second tier, and feelings will be hurt. Plus, there's no reason to add to your headcount for a number's sake; that drives up your bill.

Set a Deadline

If you don't hear back from someone by the date indicated on your invitation, call. Your caterer needs to know—you need to know!

People to Cross Off Your Guest List

Need to get that guest list down? Here are a few people you can cut now. Don't give it another thought!

MIA Family Members

If you haven't spoken to some of your relatives in years, don't feel obligated to invite them to your wedding. Remember, your wedding is a celebration for you and the person you're marrying and your immediate family; it's not a family reunion. Don't feel required to extend an invite to everyone in your family tree.

Friends You Haven't Heard From in Years

If you're hoping to rectify some of your friendships with people you've grown apart from or no longer speak to frequently, you may feel inclined to invite them to your wedding to make this happen. But between mingling with all your other guests and squeezing in some one-on-one time with your new spouse, your wedding is far too busy an event to attempt to rekindle your relationship.

Work Friends

Just because you share a cubicle with a person at work or you eat lunch with them on occasion doesn't mean they have to make your guest list—especially if you're keeping your wedding on the smaller side. Instead, plan a work happy hour to celebrate.

Wedding Invites From a Long Time Ago

If you have anyone on your guest list you're inviting just because they invited you to their own wedding years ago, do yourself a favor and cross them off. Unless they're still good friends of yours, there's no obligation to invite them to your celebration.


They may live next to you, but your close proximity doesn't mean buying them dinner on your big day. Unless you're super-friendly with them on the regular, don't feel obligated. If you're worried it may get awkward not to invite them, or you feel you need to acknowledge the elephant in the room in passing, just inform them that you want a small celebration.

Friends With a Track Record

If you have that one friend who's infamous as an unruly wedding guest or is always getting kicked out of bars and clubs, you may want to consider cutting them from your list.

If they're a non-negotiable on the invite list, make sure to discuss pre-wedding ground rules with them (or hire extra security who can swoop in if assistance is needed).

Kids of Family and Friends

A quick way to minimize your guest list is to make your wedding adults only. You'll have to break the news gently to the moms and dads in your crew, but if anything, they may look to your wedding as a time when they can kick up their heels and enjoy a kid-free night.

Plus-Ones You've Never Met

You don't have to give any of your guests a plus-one who aren't in a relationship. And if they are—and you've never met the person—you shouldn't feel obligated, unless, of course, it's your best friend's boyfriend who lives across the country and logistics are the only reason for the lack of meeting.

Friends of Your Parents or in-Laws You've Never Met

You can't dodge the fact that both sets of parents will want to pencil in their own guest list requests (especially if they're helping foot the bill), but draw the line if it's a member of their social circle you've never encountered before. Just know that some circumstances, say your father-in-law's business partner, may warrant an exception based on the nature of the relationship.

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