How to Strategize Your Wedding Guest List

Let’s talk about guest lists. More importantly, let’s talk about all the ways how carefully planning your guest list affects everything from the experience on the day-of, budgeting, and even avoiding awkward encounters and conversations.

Jessica Thomas Photography


So you just got engaged. YAYYYY! Your mind is whirling, and you immediately develop a superhuman 6th sense to perfectly imagine the day-of, like a vision into the future. You want to say “I Do” surrounded by ALL of your people.


But who are your people exactly? Your friends from work, your friends from school, your friends from Mrs. Smith’s kindergarten class where you have all been together since you were 5 and your future children are best friends, they just don’t exist yet. Is Mrs. Smith still teaching? She should probably be invited too. Your family, your partner’s family, your partner’s mom’s great aunt Marge that is a little judgey but HAS to be included otherwise it will start the next family feud.


And exhale.


This all sounds great in theory, but you know the saying “be careful what you wish for”? There are some very important logistics to keep in mind that will take this fantasy and create a perfect reality for the day of the wedding.


So let’s take a look at some basic steps that will help keep you on track and make sure your day is as perfect as you deserve:


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Create a Budget

This is step one for ALL of your wedding planning. Not just guest list planning.


Did you know you have to feed all these people? 500 guests sounds like the party of the century until you remember that humans need food. And food is a necessary budgetary item, mainly when Uncle Dave can’t let his blood sugar get too low with those signature cocktails being pumped out at the bar. That’s just asking for a bad time.


Your guest count is one of the biggest items that impact your budget. From the food to the number of chairs and tables you will need, everybody added is an addition to the budget. Not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely an important item to remember.


Does Your Venue Have Capacity Limits?

This should be something you do very early in the planning process because if you NEED 250 people there, you need to find a venue that can accommodate that. The same goes for if you fall in love with a venue that has a limited capacity, you will need to keep your guest list to that certain number. Fire codes are a thing. Don’t hope that a venue can magically allow 50 people over capacity, because they won’t. Spare yourself the headache and heartache and plan your venue search and guest count accordingly.


Outline Your Guest List and Organize

This seems obvious given the name of this blog, but when faced with the hard task of “making cuts”, your life will be significantly easier if you get everyone you could possibly want written down on paper and organized into three main groups:

  1. A List: These are the guests you 100% CANNOT get married without.

  2. B List: Guests who you would love if they came, but if they aren’t there it won’t put a damper on your day. Looking at you, mom’s work bestie.

  3. C List: These are the friends-of-friends. Great for brunch dates, but might not need to be there on your special day, but might be great additions to have there if the budget and vision allow.


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Consider Travel Requirements

This might help you determine who is on your A, B, and C list. Do you have a few people who will have to travel really far to get to the wedding? That childhood friend who now lives 3000 miles away might understand that they don’t receive an invite if you guys don’t still talk as much as you did in middle school.


Where are your guests traveling from? Is it a destination to them, even if it's not one for you? For example, a lot of our Orlando brides have family coming to make it a full theme park vacation! This is awesome, but might mean that you will need to help with some extra coordination, hotel reservations, and shuttling people. Going back to the budget, if your entire guest list is traveling you may need to account for some extra expenses.


Determine who gets a plus one.

We can write a whole blog on this. Believe it or not, not everyone needs a plus one. This is a personal decision, but one that should be addressed. Your brother’s special friend who he met last weekend might not be a necessary guest if you are tight on the amount of people you have coming (see budget and venue restrictions). But your cousin’s girlfriend that he has been dating since high school and does Christmas with your family might be an important offer as a plus one. Decide early and be clear with your guests on your preference.


Talk your guest list through with your parents or other influential people in your life

Sometimes the people closest to you get excited. Make sure you have upfront conversations with anyone who may try to add last minute guests. If you decide they have a say in the guest list, great! Have an early say, like 6 months ahead of your wedding date, not 3 months before you walk down the aisle. Consider giving those adding guests to your list a pre-rsvp date for additions so that it’s set in stone. Once the guest list is finalized, the budget and your vendors are counting on it, so any last minute changes or additions can be tricky.


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Pro Tips: Invitations and Guest Lists

A few key tips to make your life even easier with invitations:

  1. Did you know you don’t need an invitation for each person? This is important when budgeting. For example, couples and families invited will just need one invitation to the household, but make sure you specify on the invite that everyone can come! This is especially if they have kids included in your guest count (or not included). List on the invitation the exact number of guests invited with that invitation. Make it very clear so that there’s no question about who is invited.

  2. Knowing your guest count early on will help you decide on your invitations budget, which in turn will help you decide how all-out you want to/can go with custom invitations. Wax seal optional.

  3. Back to the plus-one point, make sure you specify on the invite if there is a plus one allowed. This can be done with a “Check here if you are bringing a plus one” or making it clear on the addressed envelope if they have a plus one allocated to them. If you’re not including plus ones make it very clear. For example, you can say, “Please note, due to venue capacity restrictions, invitations are only applicable to the specified names on the envelope.”


Olive and Co Photography


BONUS: Kids or No Kids?


Kids at weddings are very controversial. Some people love them, some people absolutely cannot have them. There may be pressure from family members to bring their children but remember this is your wedding and you get to decide who is there and who isn’t. If you are including kids in your guest list consider having something for them to do - little activity bags with coloring books and small toys, or even a designated kids room complete with childcare service. No matter what, it’s always great to have a something to keep them entertained during the more official parts of the party (i.e. speeches and dances).



Jessica Thomas Photography


Whoever you decide to invite to your wedding remember that you will want people there who support you, your fiancé, and most importantly, your marriage!


Need help crunching the numbers for your guest list? Schedule a consultation call with us and we can do a budget analysis with you to determine just how big, or small, your wedding can be!


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