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Wedding Guest Lists 101

By: Katy Hunt

What fun is a wedding celebration if you don’t have your loved ones to share it with? Whether planning a sprawling, extravagant celebration, or a cozy, intimate affair, you definitely want your biggest cheerleaders and closest loved ones surrounding you as you tie the knot. That being said, sometimes it can be hard to decide just who those lucky chosen ones are. You don’t want anyone to feel left out, but you may also have budget or space constraints. Not to mention the fact that everyone and their mother (sometimes literally) wants a say on your guest list.

With so many factors to consider, creating your wedding guest list can take some time! But if you follow these Divas-certified tips and tricks, it might be just a bit easier.

Photo Credit: Martin Reardon

Start early!

Give yourself plenty of time, and then some, to create your list. A good majority of wedding planning is going to depend on a headcount: invitations, venue seating, catering, favors, transportation, etc. Because of this, you want to make sure you start your guest list drafts early. We’re not saying you should start the day of your engagement…but we’re not not saying that either. The earlier the better, and the rest will fall into place more smoothly!

Start big, divide & conquer

A good way to start your list is by writing out every possible person you’d want to spend your day with. This means family, family friends, close friends, kids, and possible plus ones. (We’ll get more into some tips for who to invite later on, but for now, let’s start big.) What can help is splitting it all up with your partner: they write their list of people, and you write yours. And maybe mom and dad even write theirs. This step is all about looking at the large picture and getting an idea of who is on who’s list. There will probably be overlap between lists which is fine, just remove the dupes. Maybe even color-code the list by who is the couples’ choice, bride's side, groom’s side, etc. Writing it all out and then combining it into a master list might just give you sticker shock…but gives you a better ballpark of where you are starting and where cuts need to be made!

Photo Credit: Rebecca Judd Photography

Visit venues

As I said, almost everything is going to center around your headcount, including your venue selection. This is why it’s important to start touring and figuring out your wedding venue after you’ve made your master list, and before you make the final cuts. You’ll have a rough idea to tell the venue, and still have some wiggle room to make cuts if budget or venue space is of concern. Every venue you’ll visit is bound to have a maximum capacity - smaller venues may accommodate anywhere from 50-100 heads, and some larger venues can hold upward of 350 people. Honing in on your guest count will ensure the right space is picked and your guests don’t look lost in the space.  It also ensures you are looking at the right venues that are not too big or too small.

Set a realistic budget

Although you should definitely try to set a budget before choosing a venue, actually visiting venues will give you a great idea of what you can expect to pay based on your rough headcount. Venues can assist you in working out the math at the end of your tours, and based on this, you can decide if your budget allows for the whole list, or if cuts need to be made. 

Narrow down to a list of “must haves” and “nice to haves”

You’ve looked at venues and your budget and are ready to commit to a venue…time to make cuts! Sit down with your partner, your parents, your in-laws, etc. and go through your master list. Create a system, labeling each name somehow to indicate if they are a “must have” at the wedding, or if it would just be “nice to have” them there (aka, not necessary). To help you do this, ask yourself questions like the following: Have you seen or interacted with this person in the last 2-5 years? Would you and your partner have dinner with them, or feel comfortable texting them out of the blue? If the answer is “no” to any of these, or even a hesitation, it might be a safe bet to demote them to the “nice to have” list.

Who to Invite: Some Tips

Photo Credit: Alexis Brooke Photography


Immediate family is a no brainer! Make sure to include you and your partner’s parents, step-parents, siblings, step-siblings, children, grandparents, and close aunts, uncles, and cousins. Extended family is more of a gray area…how extended do you feel like going? Bear in mind that this is your wedding and does not have to be a family reunion. If you haven’t seen your great aunt in over 5 years, and likely won’t see her for another 10…she probably doesn’t need to be invited. Save the money and give the seat to someone else.

Close friends

Another no brainer! You want your biggest supporters and buddies there to celebrate with you on your big day. This can include friends that you and your partner share together, respective best friends, close childhood friends, college friends, and more. That being said, every single person you’ve ever called a friend does not need to be on your list. Remember the “must have” and “nice to have” criteria.

Family friends

There is definitely room for some family friends on the wedding guest list. This can be old neighbors of your family, your parents’ good friends, etc. However, one thing to keep in mind is who is footing the bill. If your parents and/or in-laws are paying for some/all of the wedding, their input matters. They are choosing to pay to have certain people there. But make sure they know that you have your list of “must haves” that are non-negotiable. It is your wedding after all, and your friends shouldn't get booted off because your great aunt who you haven't seen in 17 years has to come. 

Plus ones

Here’s where we get into the nitty gritty phase of guest list making. Plus ones: who gets them and who doesn’t? Of course it would be lovely if every unmarried individual and bridal party member could have a plus one to make them feel cozy…but that’s just not always realistic for your budget or the venue capacity! Here’s our opinion on plus ones: if a guest is not in a serious relationship (like several years, not months), engaged, or married, they do not get a plus one. Do with that what you will.

Photo Credit: Elizabaeth Hasier


In recent years, we have been seeing less and less children invited to weddings, except for any relevant flower girls, ring bearers, or your own kids of course. Weddings are not always the best place for kids…weddings are loud, long, and often crowded. Something that guests can forget: kids take up a chair, are a part of the overall headcount, and cost money! If you choose to have kids at your wedding, there is a fine line. Your nieces and nephews (or your own kids) that are a part of the wedding are vastly different from, say, your little cousins. 

Creating a wedding guest list can feel daunting, and a bit like splitting hairs. But, if you follow these tips, we know you’ll end up with your people surrounding you with so much love and fun on your day!

Photo Credit:

Martin Reardon

Rebecca Judd Photography

Alexis Brooke Photography

Elizabaeth Hasier


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