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How to write a guest list for your wedding (no, you don't have to invite everyone)

I have had countless couples tell me that writing the guest list was one of the most stressful aspects of wedding planning, and in all honesty I would tend to agree. In theory writing a wedding guest list should be simple, you just write down everyone you and your partner want there and forget everyone else. Simple, right? Somehow things are never quite this straightforward in real life.

After you’ve set a budget, writing a guest list should be one of the first things you do. It will impact your choice of venue, and affect how you allocate your budget. Contrary to what some people might tell you, there are no hard and fast rules as to who you should invite, but it is important to think through your guest list and be able to explain your reasoning to avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.

If one or both sets of parents are contributing to the wedding then you should probably have a conversation with them about what their expectations are. There will probably be a certain number of people they want to invite who might not necessarily be on you and your partners list. If you are on a tight budget (even with your parents help) or you have decided to limit your numbers for another reason, you can always give your parents a certain number of invites that they can choose who to give to.

Guest list Top Tips

  • Start big! Write a list of everyone who you would consider inviting if money wasn’t an object. Remember you can always cull your list later. Start with immediate family and close friends and work out from there.

  • Decide who is on your A List. These are the people who you can’t imagine getting married without. Typically this includes:

- Parents

- Siblings

- Your own children (if you have any)

- Your closest friends

  • If you're having a micro wedding this is probably everyone you will want to invite! For everyone else, keep reading!

  • Be consistent. A lot of families have an all or nothing approach when it comes to inviting aunts and uncles and cousins, and unless you have members of your extended family you haven’t spoken to in years, I would recommend being as fair as possible here. It is a lot easier explaining that you just couldn’t afford to invite all 50 uncles/aunts/cousins than it is to try and tell people that you’re just closer to one side of the family than the other. If you’re inviting cousins on your side, then do the same on your partners.

  • Decide on a policy for plus one’s and stick to it. You absolutely do NOT have to give everyone a plus one. In fact, I generally advise against giving blanket plus ones (unless you’re comfortable with a bunch of random people you don’t know being at your wedding).

Who probably does need a plus one:

  • Members of the wedding party. They won’t necessarily want to bring one, but it’s always polite to give everyone in the wedding party a plus one.

  • People who don’t know many other guests. If you have a good friend who doesn't really know anyone apart from you and your partner it’s courteous to give them a plus one so they feel comfortable and can have fun.

  • Anyone who is married. Inviting one half of a married couple is frankly rude.

  • Anyone who is engaged/living together/in a serious long term relationship. Use your own judgement here but err on the side of caution.

Who doesn’t need a plus one:

  • Guests who are casually dating. You absolutely don’t need to invite all of your friends' new girlfriends or boyfriends, especially if things seem pretty casual. If you have the space and the budget it’s always nice to give a plus one but don’t feel like you have to.

  • Colleagues. Coworkers are a tricky category in my opinion. The easiest option is to just not invite anyone from work, that way no one feels left out. But if you are friends with some of your colleagues (you socialise outside of work etc) then of course go ahead and invite them. If you work in a small team then you should probably invite everyone or no one, just to avoid drama. If one of your coworkers gets a plus one, then they all should. Equally, if you're inviting a big group from work then you can give none of them a plus one.

  • Single guests who know other guests. Just because someone is coming to your wedding on their own doesn’t mean they necessarily need a plus one. If one of your friends/cousins is single but they get on really well with lots of other guests, there’s absolutely no need to give them a plus one, they’ll have a great time regardless.

Things to remember:

  • Be realistic about your numbers, especially if your venue has strict capacity limits. If your venue can only accommodate a maximum of 100 guests for a seated wedding reception, I would strongly advise against sending out invites to more than 100 people. Yes, typically around 10% of people will decline, but you absolutely cannot guarantee this, and the last thing you want is to be hoping some of your RSVPs come back as ‘No’. If you end up with a lot of guests declining your invitations you can always send more out to guests who didn't quite make the initial cut or add in some more plus one's. It's much better to have the flexibility to invite more guests than to have to have awkward conversations with guests explaining they no longer get a plus one because you invited too many people.

  • Consider inviting some people to the evening reception only. If you’re having an evening reception they are a great way to include people like coworkers, friends from the gym etc. As most evening receptions are standing not seated, you typically have a lot more flexibility with the numbers and will only need to provide some kind of light meal or buffet rather than a full wedding breakfast. It’s much cheaper per head to add evening guests than day guests, so if you’ve got people that you’d like to include but aren’t super close to, this is a good option, especially if they live locally. Anyone who lives far enough away that they would need to book a hotel should be given an all day invite or not invited at all.

  • Include names on the RSVP cards. I would strongly advise you include the name of every guest on the RSVP cards as this makes it clear exactly who is and isn’t invited. You’d be surprised how often people write in their own plus ones/children which results in you having to have an awkward conversation.

Hopefully you are now feeling ready to write your guest list with confidence! Ultimately, it is your wedding and you can invite who you like, so feel free to ignore any/all my advice if it doesn't resonate with you.

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