Narrowing down the guest list is one of the most stressful parts of planning a wedding. It’s a little more complicated than simply making a list of everyone you’d like to celebrate with. There are people you’ll have to invite, others you really want to skip, and those who may or may not make the cut, depending on your venue’s capacity.
But when a couple is asking themselves whom to invite to their wedding, they shouldn't feel obligated to add someone they've never met to their list. To help you decide who to invite to your wedding, we're sharing wedding guest list etiquette, plus questions you should ask yourself to decide who to invite to your wedding straight from the experts.
Wedding Guest List Etiquette
1. Make a preliminary list with just your partner.
Before you involve your families, sit down with your partner to start the guest list. Begin with your immediate families, then add those close family members you really want to have there. Next, move on to your closest friends—the ones you simply can’t imagine getting married without.
This probably won’t be your entire guest list, but it’s a good place to start and should cover those must-haves your parents will be looking for. But don’t involve your families just yet—you’ll want to get this starting point ironed out first so you can make sure everyone is equally represented down the line.
2. Decide where you’ll cut off family invitations—and stick to it.
Extended family invitations are tricky. Who even knows the difference between second cousins and first cousins, once removed, anyway? The general rule of thumb is that, if one uncle gets an invitation, all of your aunts and uncles need to get an invitation—the same goes for cousins or second cousins too. This isn’t much of an issue for small families, but with a large extended family, this can take up the bulk of your guest list.
3. Give both families the same number of extra guests.
After your families have been invited, determine how many extra spots you have left and divide it evenly between both of your families. Let your parents use these seats however they’d like—and make it clear that there are no more seats available. This way your mom can invite her best friend, while your father-in-law can include his business partners (you know, the same ones who invited him to their son’s wedding last year).
4. Make the call about children.
It’s entirely up to the couple whether or not children are invited to the wedding. Decide whether you want little ones there or would prefer an adults-only celebration, and then put your foot down. That means no exceptions. Not sure what counts as a “kid”?
Most caterers consider children guests under 12, so you can definitely skip your cousin’s teenage kids but still include your college bestie’s toddler—just make sure you’re applying that age rule across the board. And if someone calls to ask if they can bring their kids along, let them know what you’ve decided, and stick to your guns.
5. Return the favor.
This one’s tricky. If a friend invited you to her wedding five years ago, there’s no need to invite her to yours—even if you were a bridesmaid. However, if you attended a wedding in the past 18 months (and especially if you or your partner was in the wedding party), that couple should be on your guest list as well.
6. Follow modern plus-one protocol.
You’re not obligated to offer every one of your guests a plus-one to your wedding, but if they’re in a serious relationship of any sort (dating, living together, engaged, etc.), their partner should be included. Buh-bye, “no ring, no bring” rule.
Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Have I met this person?
Believe it or not, brides and grooms are frequently introduced to people for the first time at their own wedding. This is usually the case with distant relatives and business associates of parents. Stephanie Sica, the founder of Orchard and Broome, knows that curbing family guest lists can be tricky. "Sure, Mom may want her co-worker who hears so many stories about you to see you tie the knot, but if you don't know that woman, is it realistic [to invite her]?" Sica asks.
2. When was the last time I saw this person?
Lindsey Nickel, owner and event planner at Lovely Day Events, says if you haven't laid eyes on a person in 12 to 18 months—or at least had a nice, long phone conversation if they live far away—then you probably shouldn't invite them.
3. Am I aware of this person's day-to-day life?
You should only be surrounded by people who have a vested interest in your life and your relationship, and vice versa, according to Andrea Eppolito of Andrea Eppolito Weddings & Events. This goes for who you are today and who you will be 10 years from now, not who you were 10 years ago.
4. Did I attend this person's wedding?
If you were at their wedding years ago but have lost contact since you may not need to invite them. Emily Starr Alfano of mStarr Event Design sees no need to reciprocate if you're no longer close. Only invite them if you really want the person back in your life.
5. For co-workers, what kind of connection would I have with this person if we weren't working together?
It can be hard to distinguish the present from the future. People who you see every single day for at least eight hours right now may not be in your life long term. Alfano urges against inviting a co-worker simply due to proximity.
6. Do I spend holidays and birthdays with this person?
Seeing someone for big life events means they should be included in your wedding—end of story.
7. Are we inviting the rest of their family?
Eppolito says if you have three cousins but you're only close with two, you should keep the peace and invite all of them.
8. Am I comfortable being around this person?
"Your wedding is a party, yes, but a very personal experience," Alfano says. That said, do you want your boss there to witness your open-bar-plus-dance-floor hijinks?
9. Is this person a positive influence in my life?
Nobody wants a Debbie Downer at their wedding. But think twice before crossing all Negative Nancys off your list.
10. If we moved away, would we keep in touch?
Nickel thinks this is a pretty good litmus test for whether or not the friendship is deep enough to merit a wedding invite.
11. Would you change the date of your wedding if this person couldn't come?
If the answer is "yes," then that speaks for itself. "They are pretty important to you in that case," Nickel says.