While all of your wedding-day details—from the flowers and the cake to the lighting and the music—are all memorable in their own right, what will likely remember most are the people you spent this important day with. That's why putting together your guest list can be one of the most challenging parts of wedding planning. As couples balance their wishes with those of their families and venue restrictions with budget numbers—all while trying not to offend coworkers, distant relatives, or friendly acquaintances—finalizing that guest list can turn into a monumental challenge.
“Creating a guest list is stressful because of all the obligations couples feel they have to meet, like inviting family members they aren’t really connected to, folks from work, their parent's friends—the list continues,” says wedding planner Chanda Daniels. As you create, trim, tweak, and finalize your list based on these expert tips, keep one mantra in mind: “Weddings are not a show, they are not a performance,” says wedding planner Jove Meyer. “They are a celebration of your love, and only those you love and are close to should be included.”
Meet the Expert
- Chanda Daniels is a wedding planner based in Oakland, California.
- Jove Meyer is a wedding planner based in New York City.
- Susan Norcross is the owner and wedding director of Philadelphia's The Styled Bride.
To help you navigate this incredibly important (albeit stressful) aspect of wedding planning, we asked the experts to weigh in. Here, were share their dos and don'ts to follow when creating the guest list for your big day.
Do Invite the People You Love
The pros agree: Your favorite people should be at the very top of your guest list. “To me it is simple. Does spending time with them bring you joy?” asks Meyer. “Invite the people who bring joy to your life, the people you love, and the people that will be excited to celebrate you both on your big day!” The easiest way to do that, he says, is for each partner to create a document titled “I Am So Excited to Have These People at Our Wedding.”
“Just starting writing the names down in the order they come to you—do not overthink it, just start writing,” he says. Once you’ve listed the friends and family who come to mind first, skim through your phone: “Who do you text or hang out with often, who makes you happy, who did you invite to your birthday party?” says Meyer. “Once you both have your full list, compare notes and talk about it, ensuring both of you feel good about who is on the list and who is not.”
Don't Invite People You've Lost Touch With
You may still have fond memories of summer days by the pool with your childhood neighbors or late-night college pizza runs with your floormates, but that shouldn’t guarantee them a spot on your guest list. “My guideline is if you wouldn't take that person out to a $300-plus meal—think of the cost per person for an average wedding—then they don't need to get a wedding invitation,” says Daniels. “This is an intimate time, not a BYOB party!” This holds true even if you were invited to their wedding months (or years) ago. “Sometimes people grow apart, friendships change, like seasons, and that is okay,” says Meyer. “If you have not spoken to or been in touch with someone whose wedding you were invited to five years ago, I do not think you have to invite them.”
Do Consider Your Budget and Venue
As you work on your guest list, you’ll need to take into account your budget and the type of wedding you’re planning. Susan Norcross of The Styled Bride urges her clients to set aside about half of their budget for the venue and catering; once that's done, create a guest list that works within those parameters. “That can be a quick reality check,” she says. “What’s important to me: The venue of my dreams with only 150 people, or do I really need to have 250 people, and have to be okay with what venues will be available?”
Don't Let Your Parents Add Guests You Don't Know
Parents often have their own ideas about who should end up on the final guest list—distant relatives, long-time coworkers, golf buddies—but you shouldn't have to make space those you’ve never met. “Often the parents who are hosting the wedding may feel like they get to invite whomever they want, and while they come from a good place, it is all about conversation and compromise,” says Meyer. If your father-in-law is trying to add a business associate you and your partner don’t know, or your mother is pushing for a table for her quilting club, stand your ground. “You should not have to invite anyone out of obligation,” says Meyer. “All guests should be invited because you and your family want them there and enjoy spending time together, it can be as simple as that!”
Do Account for Plus-Ones
Guests living with a significant other—even if they aren’t engaged or married—should be invited with a plus-one, says Norcross. “You can’t invite one and not the other—that’s their partner!” she says. “If you have no idea who someone is dating, then you don’t have to invite a guest.”
Plus-ones for anyone who does not have a long-term or live-in partner are more discretionary. Most couples approach this on a case-by-case basis: A former coworker who doesn’t know your friends and family may warrant a plus-one to make them more comfortable; a life-of-the-party groomsman may be perfectly happy to attend solo. “If it is a destination wedding, I think a plus-one is nice,” says Meyer, “as it can be overwhelming for a guest to travel and stay alone in a foreign place. You know these people and what they need to feel thought-of.” However, if your guest list is ballooning, trimming the plus-ones you don’t know and who aren’t in serious relationships with your guests is a no-brainer. “The couple typically will create the parameters,” says Daniels, “but it really is the first thing to cut if budget is a factor.”
Don't Feel Obligated to Invite Children
If you adore your toddler nieces and nephews, think your best friends’ tweens have some killer dance moves, or can’t imagine your day without your teenage cousins, then accommodate the under-21 set as appropriate with kid-friendly food, activities, and mocktails. But if that’s not your vision, don’t let the little ones’ parents shame you. “It can be tricky, as some parents will not travel without their kids and others cannot wait for a little time away from them,” says Meyer. “Decide if you want children at your wedding, and, if so, in what capacity, make a rule, and stand strong about it.”
At many venues, points out Norcross, young children can be a liability: Think art museums, sculpture gardens, cliffside chapels. “There are some places that are just not child-friendly,” she says. Children can also be invited on a case-by-case basis—if you want to have your goddaughter but not your neighbor’s infant, the specific names on each invitation will indicate who exactly is welcome.
Do Cut Anyone Who Doesn't Support You and Your Partner
Weddings are often family events, but if you have relatives who don’t support your relationship, you may make the difficult decision not to invite them. “Family is complicated and we are inclined to include everyone, even if they have not been, or may not be, kind,” says Meyer. “Not all families are supportive and loving, and if you have an inclination they would have anything but love and support for you and your fiancé at your wedding, then either have a conversation with them about it ahead of time or do not include them. There should be no drama, no hate, no discrimination, no negative feelings, or family drama at your wedding.”
Don't Worry About Giving Each Family the Same Number of Invitations
Traditional rules about how many invitations each side of the family could send are now more flexible: One partner may have three first cousins while the other has 12; the bride might have nine siblings while the groom is an only child; one set of parents may have tons of local friends while the other has more out-of-town invitees. Norcross has had families split the list into three equal parts—one for each set of parents and one for the bride and groom—and other clients who gave the bulk of the invitations to the people who paid for most of the wedding. Says Meyer, “Every family is different, and so is their guest list, and that should be taken into account. If you give each family a certain amount, then it could be close friends and some filler friends to make the quota—whereas if you ask for the list of people they would love to have there, it could come out differently, and you work from that place.”