One of the toughest hurdles to get through at the beginning of your planning process is finalizing your guest list.  It can be a source of disagreement between you and your fiancé, your parents and his.  Nevertheless, it must be addressed before you can finalize a location for your wedding.


Trust me on this. I cannot stress enough the importance of completing your guest list. It affects everything from selecting your location to budget distribution. Guest lists have a tendency to grow during the course of the planning process when they are thrown together too quickly at the beginning. You don’t want to end up with the unhappy dilemma of too many guests and not enough room, or worse yet, over budget.

Destination weddings offer an opportunity to reduce a guest list considerably which can be helpful and necessary depending on the size of your venue and budget. If possible, invite your “B” list to a local, casual cocktail party to celebrate your upcoming nuptials a few weeks before the actual wedding.  It’s a great way to satisfy obligations and make everyone feel included while limiting your actual wedding guest list.

Who to Include

When couples ask me for advice on who to invite, I always recommend they surround themselves with people they love.  And while social obligations are, unfortunately, a necessary evil, there are ways to keep your list from becoming unmanageable.

Work Associates: When considering which work associates to invite, a great deal depends on the size of your office.  If you or your fiancé work in a small office of 12 people or less, consider inviting everyone without spouses and seating them together at the same table. This does not mean you need to extend the invitation to your mailroom and security guards unless you spend time with them socially as well. If you work in a large office, it gets trickier. My rule of thumb is to invite your boss and anyone who reports directly to you, regardless of how you feel about them. It is not necessary to extend your work invitations to significant others, but it’s a gracious gesture if you can afford it.

Another tactic is to create a “no work colleagues” policy.  No exceptions.

And Guest: If you have single friends who are not dating anyone seriously (I use six months as a benchmark), then it’s perfectly okay to invite them solo. At my own wedding, I invited everyone with a guest because there were very few single people.  If you can afford it and you have the room, do it.

SIDE NOTE: If you are planning a bouquet toss, take into consideration how many singles ladies are attending.  If it’s less than five, reconsider.  It’s awkward for a handful of single women to stand in the center of a room full of couples, waiting to catch the bouquet. Ditto for the garter toss.

Some friends might ask permission to bring a date. Bravo!  Better than showing up with an uninvited guest. If you’re uncomfortable, be honest.  Tell them you have a limited budget and had to cut people you’ve known for years. Most friends and family will understand. Occasionally, individuals show up with an uninvited guest anyway.  In that case, smile, add a chair and try to adopt a “more is merrier” attitude.  Don’t let it ruin your day.

Distant Relatives: This can get tricky because it feels like a chain reaction.  If you invite Aunt Anita, you have to invite Uncle Joe, right?  Not necessarily.  If no one in the family has spoken to Uncle Joe in years, but you see Aunt Anita every Thanksgiving, then it’s perfectly okay to be selective.

Here’s an example of creative thinking. At a traditional Syrian Jewish wedding, there can be thousands of guests.  One groom limited his family by only inviting the oldest first cousins on his side and ended up with a guest list which was cut from 600 to 250.

Children: When it comes to children, it’s all or nothing. You can’t invite one family with children unless you’re prepared to invite everyone with children.

Consider placing age appropriate activity books at each child’s place setting.  Don’t forget to discuss food options with parents ahead of time.  Rent highchairs for children 2 and younger.  If you have the budget, create a Fun Zone in a different room and hire local babysitters to keep them entertained so your friends can enjoy themselves too.

Parents Payback: Your parents (or his) may use your wedding as an opportunity to get a little payback.  After all, they’ve been going to weddings and giving presents for years.  Just remember that, more often than not, the value of a wedding gift is half the cost per guest. Moral of the story – never invite someone to get a gift.

Wedding reciprocation can be particularly challenging if your parents are paying for the wedding.  Remember, in planning and in life, pick your battles and compromise whenever possible. If your parents or future in-laws want to invite 20 extra people, consider yourself lucky that they are excited and enthusiastic about your wedding.  Imagine how you would feel if they disapproved or if they were too embarrassed by your choice to invite friends? Trust me. It’s happened. You’re better off compromising on the guest list if you have room and they’re willing to pay for the extra people. Otherwise, consider an engagement party or pre-wedding celebration to satisfy obligations.

How to Format

There are a number of online guest list managers which can give effective formats for your list (just Google Wedding Guest List Managers to see what I mean) or you can create a simple template on your computer. I recommend breaking your list into four categories; yours, your fiancés and both sets of parents.

When typing, remember to avoid abbreviations. States should be spelled out (New York, not NY). Same rule applies to Street, Avenue and Boulevard. You get the idea. Numerals are usually used for street addresses and apartments.  Numbers one through twenty can be written out.  Numbered streets should be written out up to 99. If you take the time to do it right, your list can be sorted and send it to the calligrapher (or printed yourself if that’s the route you’re taking) with minimal effort.

Once your list is complete, send it to everyone involved for proof reading before it goes to the calligrapher.

Tips and Tricks:

Refer to your wedding as “a small family gathering” at work and among aquaintances you do not plan to invite.  It’s a simple way to manage expectations.

If you haven’t spoken to someone for a year, don’t invite them.

Reuniting with long lost friends on Facebook does not constitute an invitation to your wedding.

Don’t invite someone just because you were invited to their wedding. Every couple has a different set of circumstances.

And the simplest piece of advice when cutting a guest list….only invite people you like.  Be honest.

Good luck!

How to cut your guest list