Saturday, December 10th, 2011 by Faye

Guest List 101

There may only be two of you getting married, but a wedding is never just about the bride and the groom. Your wedding guests play a major role, and we urge you to consider them in every decision you make. The very first, and most important, step is deciding who makes the list.

Remember this—the number of guests you invite is the single largest contributing factor to your overall wedding cost. You can skip welcome cocktails and use your 13-year-old cousin’s band for entertainment, but no matter what you do, a large guests list means more money.

But you’re in good hands! Read on to learn a simple ways to tackle the wedding guest list.

Priorities are key
The first step is making sure you and your soon-to-be are on the same page with the size of wedding you want. Include your families in the discussion, especially if they’re contributing financially.

Next, have each person write down a list with ideal guests divided into three tiers: essential family, close friends and extended family, and colleagues and friends. You can further divide friends by how you know them, like college, book group, soccer league, etc.

From this point, there are a few methods with which to whittle down your lists:

1. Percentage
Groom’s family, bride’s family, and angaed couple get a specified percentage of the total guest list spots.
Upsides: Everyone feels equal and included.
Downsides: Doesn’t account for one side of the family having more obligatory guests to invite or more guests to invite overall.

2. Have I seen them recently?
It’s a pretty simple question really—have you seen everyone on the guest list in the past year? If not, cut them!
Upsides: Extremely quick and effective way to reduce the guest count in a major way.
Downsides: Ignores those very special people you rarely see.

3. “Would I invite this person to dinner?”
While not as easy of a question to answer as the above, thinking about who you would really like to sit down at a table with gets to the heart of a wedding.
Upsides: Gets straight to the heart of the matter and forces you to think of your wedding as an intimate affair, not just as another party.
Downsides: Ignores obligatory invites.

4. Divide then cut
Categorize your friends and family by how you know them or how they are related to you. Cut entire segments such as second cousins, work friends, or intramural sports friends.
Upside: Telling non-invitees is much easier—well, we just didn’t invite anyone from work, which keeps resentment low.
Downsides: Doesn’t allow for levels of closeness within a cut category, and can be unequal especially if a bride or groom is new to an area and finds most of their friends fall into one cut category.

Financial factors
No matter what method you choose to craft the ideal guest list, the first draft is always too large, regardless of your budget. So the next step is to get an exact, budget-appropriate number down on paper.

If you book your wedding venue ahead of time, then the size of your list is limited by the venue’s max capacity. If you’re setting the guest list before booking your venue, then consider the typical guidelines for wedding size: a large wedding is usually over 200 guests, medium between 100-200 guests, and small is under 100 guests. Now cost comes into play. Write down your fixed costs such as wedding attire, wedding vendor fees, wedding bands, etc. Now you need to calculate the fluctuating cost per guest for food, drinks, invitations, and seating. If your wedding venue has an on-site event planner, he or she can usually give you an estimate of cost per guest. If you are getting married off site ask around and get estimates from caterers.  At this point you might need to consider the menu and style of your wedding. Ultimately plenty of back and forth will happen, so expect to do the math a few times!

The final step is totaling up the costs, dividing it out amongst the number of guests and seeing if it fits your budget. The price of food and beverage will only go up with more guests, so you can see how the guest list becomes the most important factor in your budget.

Expect at least ten percent of invited guests to regretfully decline your invite. Destination weddings can expect a rate of 20 percent or higher.

Secret weapons to refine your lists
Limiting the plus ones

Only allow plus ones for couples living together or dating for more than one year. This might sound a bit harsh, but it’ll do wonders for keeping your guest list count under control.

No children
This method may or may not be right for you, and you do run the risk of offending family members with kids.  But remember… it’s YOUR wedding and you deserve to get what you want! Limiting the guest list, especially for the reception, to those 16, 18 or 21 and older can drastically cut the size (and spend) of your event.

Destination weddings
The mere distance and travel expense of a destination wedding will automatically eliminate a good chunk of potential wedding guests from attending.

Worried about hurt feelings?
Consider holding a cocktail hour or second celebratory reception for those who couldn’t attend or were not invited to your actual I Do’s. A second reception is also appropriate when you have a small first wedding or a destination wedding, and is a wonderful option if you have two large groups of potential guests living in different locations. And if you want a very traditional wedding with close friends and family and a wild party after, hosting a second wedding reception gives you the best of both worlds!