Making your wedding guest list is simple and straightforward . . . says almost no-one!

For most of us, working out who is (and isn’t!) going to get an invitation is a tricky – and stressful – process.  Many a bride has fallen into the trap of trying to please everybody except herself and her partner, and feeling downright miserable as a result.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In this no-frills practical guide, you’ll learn how to set some simple yet powerful rules to decide who’s invited, and who doesn’t make the cut.  

But first, let’s get clear about why sorting out your wedding guest list is something that’s best tackled right at the start of your wedding planning journey.

Why Making Your Wedding Guest List Is The Second Thing You Should Do

You’ve probably been told already, “Make sure you work out how much you’re going to spend before you do anything!” And warned, “It’s really important to book your venue, because there’s huge competition for the best places.”

Nevertheless, making your wedding guest list before you nail down either budget or venue is guaranteed to make your bridal path run more smoothly.

How so?

Well quite simply, the number of people you’re going to invite has make-or-break implications for the venue and the budget alike.

All venues have maximum number limits and many also specify a minimum number of wedding guests.  

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And while you might already have an idea of how much you’re thinking of spending on your wedding, once you’re clear about who’s coming, you’ll know immediately whether you’re going to need to dig financially deeper, scale back, or make some reluctant compromises.

You’ll always have options.  

But every Boss Bride will agree that ultimately, the most important thing is to make sure the right names appear on your wedding guest list:  the people you love, the people who will truly make your day unforgettable. 

Equally important (and this is usually the hard bit) you absolutely don’t want to end up with a bunch of people you’ve invited only out of a sense of obligation, or because someone else forced you to add their names to the list.

Before You Get Stuck In

So before you get cracking on your wedding guest list and start to put names to the numbers, a quick reminder about the one thing you really should do first.  

Make your Wedding Vision Board!  It’s something you and your partner can do while you enjoy a glass or three of wine.  I promise you, it’s helpful and fun. It’s also a big overall time-saver.

Incidentally, if you’re a regular reader of Boss Bride Guide, you’ll know I rarely say you ‘should’ do anything – it’s your wedding, not mine!

Nevertheless, I honestly believe a Wedding Vision Board is by far the best way to get your wedding planning underway, because creating it helps you to clearly visualise the type of wedding you want.

It’s your blueprint for all that lies ahead.  

And by getting it done before you start putting your wedding guest list together, you’ll know already if you want a small and intimate occasion, or a huge three-day event.

Having said that – and speaking from experience – plenty of brides who are looking forward to small-and-intimate, discover their initial wedding guest list has the names of 150 people who absolutely-definitely have to be there.

Red Warning Sign reading There May Be Trouble Ahead in relation to the difficulties of making a wedding guest list

Which is where the stress begins. 

Looking at your everyone-we-can-think-of wedding guest list is usually the moment when you wish you had the tact of a diplomat, the persuasive superpowers of a hostage negotiator, and a heart of stone. 

You know tough decisions need to be taken.  But which names are you going to cross out?

Here are some proven tips to help you navigate a successful path through the do’s, don’ts, dilemmas, discussions and debates that lie ahead.

Getting The Right Names On Your Wedding Guest List Starts Like This

Step One: Your VIP Wedding Guest List

There are worse ways for the two of you to begin than by simply grabbing pens and a piece of paper to write down the names of everyone you absolutely DO want to come to your wedding.

The people you can’t imagine NOT being there.  The very most important people in both your lives, including your immediate families and the friends you see and speak to every day or week, including the VVIPs, who you want as your bridesmaids and best man.

This is the bit where you play Fantasy Guest List, and I urge you to write down every single name you can think of.  These are the people whose faces you want want to be looking at when you show off your wedding photos on your Golden Wedding Anniversary.  

Vintage black and white photograph of young people whose names were put on a wedding guest list fifty years ago
Your VIP Wedding Guest List: Choose friends who’ll still be around to laugh at ‘The Way We Were’ many years into the future

Well that’s the easy bit done!

Step Two: The ‘Ought To Invite Them’ Wedding Guest List

This is where you add the names of your aunts and uncles.  And probably your cousins.  And perhaps your cousins’ children, too.  

Then again, cousin Angela has four sons.  All under the age of eleven.  Judging from the way they wreck every room you’ve ever seen them in, they’re going to form a rock supergroup when they grow up.  You shudder as you remember why you’ve avoided visiting this branch of the family for the past three years.

Already, it’s starting to get more complicated.  Especially as your mum loves her sister, who is – of course – Angela’s mother.  And you know, you just know, Mum’s going to take it for granted that everyone’s automatically invited.

Then it gets worse.

Your partner’s dad is one of seven children, so his extended family is much bigger than yours.  Hmm, looks like you could easily have 75 people on his side, versus 41 on yours. And that’s if you include Angela’s brood of mini Mick Jaggers.

Does it matter?  Um, well yes.  Especially if your Wedding Vision Board clearly shows that what you want – what you really, really want – is to share your day with a maximum of 100 people.  

Are you really going to sacrifice two of your besties to make way for his Uncle Hugh and Aunty Barbara?  Especially considering you’ve never met them . . . and your partner hasn’t seen them since the age of fourteen.

Tricky, isn’t it.  

In a moment, I’ll suggest solutions to some of the wedding guest list dilemmas you now realise you’re facing.

But before we get to these, I’m sad truth is. . . 

It gets worse.

Quick break before you advance to the difficulties of Step Three? See how real life couple Chris and Cali wrestle with their Who-To-Invite dilemmas. There’s a couple of great tips towards the end!

Step Three: The ‘Maybe We Should  Invite Them’ Wedding Guest List

Just as you’re staring gloomily at a list of names that’s either too long or includes people you don’t really want at your wedding – and frequently both – you realise you’ve forgotten to cruise the names of your Facebook friends.  And the people in your email contacts list.  And what about the neighbours?

While you’re going through these, you come across a photo of  that great girls’ night out you had three years ago.  The one that lasted most of the weekend.  But does that mean you need to invite all five of your heavy-drinking pals?  People you haven’t heard from since that fateful night?  Or can you get away with just Suzi, who you bumped into a few months ago, and seems to hit the like button every single time you post on your Instagram account?

You add Suzi’s name.  

Only to discover that while you’ve been wrestling with your conscience, your partner’s scribbled down a dozen new names.  You know he hasn’t seen nine of these peoeple since he left Uni, but keeps in touch over social media. But if you’re inviting Suzi, then surely he’s entitled.

Wait!  What fresh hell is this? 

“You hate your boss!” you wail. And your partner looks sheepish.  

“Yes, I know I snuck his name in, but remember he was at Dan and Suzi’s wedding, so I thought I’d better include him.  Oh, and that means we have to invite Dan and Suzi, too.”

Probably better to have a drink this stage, rather than continue the conversation. But eventually, you’ll have a good enough list of Maybes.

Photograph of relatives who were included on the wedding guest list
Getting to the final wedding guest list is usually a tricky process – here’s proof it can be done!

Once your Maybe list finished, look at all the names you’ve collected, and ask yourself these six key questions:

  1. Job done?  
  2. Does the list reflect of your Wedding Vision Board in terms of the size of wedding you want?
  3. On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with this list?  
  4. Do you honestly want all these people at your wedding?
  5. Is removing people going to cause you problems?
  6. Are you worried there are still some names you’ve forgotten?

It’s at this stage that almost everyone reaches for a red pen and starts crossing names off their list.  

Start with the Maybes.  Read their names – out loud – one by one and ask one another telling questions such as:

  • Do we honestly want this person at our wedding?
  • Do we both know this person?
  • Have we seen them in the past year?

As you narrow down the names on your list, you’ll inevitably see patterns – and potential problems – emerging.  

Let’s see how many of these apply to you.

Nine Wedding Gust List Dilemmas And How To Resolve Them

1. PARENTS:  How To Set Boss Bride Boundaries

Are some of the names on your wedding guest list there because you know both sets of parents will be disappointed if you leave them off?  And what’s the betting that sooner or later they’re going to ‘suggest’ – or worse, insist – you invite a bunch of their friends so they can show you off on the day, and bask in reflected glory.  

When this happens, and in my experience, it happens a lot, there’s more in play than just the numbers. 

If your parents are helping to pay for your wedding, they will almost inevitably feel entitled to have a some say in the guest list, so it’s a question of negotiation.  

By the time you’ve broken down your list into broad categories – say friends, family and others (keep reading!) – you’ll know if there’s a risk of sharing your wedding day with a big bunch of strangers.

Overcoming Stranger Danger At Your Wedding

Parental over-enthusiasm is best handled by saying you’ll have a think about the numbers and then giving them a firm number of people you’ll allow them to invite, along with a heartfelt request that they pick guests you’ve actually met.

If you’re paying for the wedding yourselves, the Parent Dilemma is easier.  You can say something along the lines of, “So we’ve sorted out the guest list and there’s going to be 80 of us in all.”

Before you can count to three – make that two – you’ll be asked if so-and-so is invited.  If they’re not, you explain you’ve had to make some tough decisions, based on affordability.  

If you can see your parents are genuinely upset, you can offer, “It’s working out to £95 a head, so if you’d be happy to cover the cost of your own extra guests, we can do that, yes.”  

It’s an act of generosity on your part, and you can be firm about the number of guests you permit, making the point about not wanting strangers at your wedding again, if necessary.

2.  PARENTS: What to do when you’ve got more than four of them!

Fractured and blended families are a fact of life, and weddings have a way of magnifying the fact that you feel your family is more like the Mitchells than the Waltons.

It’s often particularly difficult if you’ve been brought up a loving stepfather but remain close to your dad.  And all the more so if your mum and dad aren’t exactly on good terms.  

Who do you ask to walk you down the aisle? If you ‘choose’ one over the other, will the anxiety you feel ruin the day?  

Potential solutions:

  1. Have your dad on one arm and your stepfather on the other
  2. Have one walk you down the aisle and the other make the Father of the Bride speech
  3. Ask your mum or brother to do the honours 
  4. Walk down the aisle with your husband-to-be . . . or your dog . . . or on your own

In other words, your wedding day is absolutely personal to you. So above all else, do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. 

And should there be an unconventional parental intervention, I hope it makes you every bit as joyful as it made this bride!

Talking about multiple parents, I was once at a wedding where there was a grand total of SEVEN of them, all of whom – fortunately – got along. The bride and groom had briefed the photographer in advance, and the taking of the ‘traditional’ photographs turned out to be one of the most entertaining interludes of the entire event, given the various pairings and photo combination opportunities!

3.  FAMILY FEUDS:  Make Them Promise To Behave Like Grown Ups

But what about less civilised divorces, and estrangements that have resulted in family fallouts?  How do you make sure other people’s differences don’t come between you and your wedding day?

If your situation is complicated, it can gnaw away at you from the moment you start planning your wedding.  Please, please, take charge, and don’t allow that to happen. 

Wedding guests posing for photo at wedding reception
One big HAPPY family photograph!

Another solution might be to write a heartfelt letter to those who you fear might upset the apple cart. Tell them how much you want to invite them them both (or all), and that while you understand it might be difficult for them, you need them to promise there will be no drama.

4.  CHILDREN:  How To Avoid Upsetting Your Guests

What If You Don’t Want Children At Your Wedding?

For many couples – especially those who already have children – there’s no dilemma at all.  

Their names are already on your guest list, and you possibly imagine getting married without them.  

Other brides take a distinctly opposite point of view.

“No children screaming at my wedding, thank you. Or crying during the vows.  I’ll leave the tears to my exes!   Julia

And if you decide children are a big no-no, you’re stepping directly into wedding guest list minefield territory.  Brace yourself, because someone is almost certainly going to tell you you’re selfish.  

But does choosing an adults-only wedding really qualify as Bridezilla behaviour?  Not in my book.  It’s your wedding, so on this of all days, you get to call the shots.  

Nevertheless, it’s a brave bride who boldly states, “We just don’t want children at our wedding!” It might be an idea to dress up your choice just a little in order to avoid direct confrontation.  

You could explain – and this is probably true – that your budget won’t stretch to include everyone’s children among the guests.  Or (and again this is often the case) say the venue isn’t child friendly, with lots of rules and restrictions. 

Another version of the truth is explaining you think the day would simply be too long for children, especially with the need for them to sit still and keep quiet during the ceremony, the reception, and the speeches. 

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It’s not all doom and gloom though. You’ll find some parents will be incredibly supportive of your decision. They’ll relish the opportunity for a mini-holiday, where they can enjoy themselves late into the night and take a welcome break from  their usual day-in-day-out childcare duties and responsibilities. 

What If You Want To Invite Some Children But Not Others?

This is trickier still.

What’s going to happen when the family members who are obviously unhappy their three children didn’t make it onto the guest list spot your best friend’s adorable daughter at your wedding

One rule for some children, but not others?

A boy and girl, dressed in wedding clothes, whose names were included on the guest list
Remember, we’re not allowed to tell our cousins we made it onto the wedding guest list!

Before anyone can mutter, “It’s so unfair!” or you crumple like Mary Poppins after a night on the tiles, pause to remind yourself there’s a whole world of difference between distant relatives and children you know well.  

Most brides in the some-but-not-others position ensure the children they want at their ‘adults-only’ wedding have some role in the ceremonials, for example, as  flower girls or mini groomsmen.

Another common exception is if one of your guests has a newborn who can’t possibly be left at home.  If anyone thinks that’s unfair . . . well, too bad!

5.  WORK:  Picking And Choosing

You almost certainly have colleagues on your Ought and Maybe lists.  After all, they’re the people with whom you spend many hours of your life, week in, week out.  But are they real friends, or just work friends?  And are you obliged to invite them to your wedding?

There’s a world of difference between people you enjoy spending time with out of the office, and those you occasionally share a sarnie at Pret with.  But in a small office – or a small team – inviting some but not others can ruffle feathers.  

If you decide to be selective, it’s best to make this clear before anyone has time to ask you when they’ll be receiving their invitation.  

All you need say is,  “If only we could afford to invite everyone!”  because saying it’s friends and family only might make things worse if your colleagues consider themselves ‘proper’ friends.

And while on the subject of tact, try not to allow the stresses and excitement of planning your wedding become an everyday topic of office conversation. That’s just rubbing it in!

Should you invite the boss?  Only if you’re friends outside the office.  And if you are the boss?  The same thing goes.

6.  EXES:  Trust Your Gut Feeling

Your partner’s added their ex to the provisional wedding guest list.  If that’s okay with you, we’re all good.  

But what if you’re trying to be cool about it, when really you’re not?  Well there’s no reason why you should be saddled with the equivalent of the Ghost of Christmas Past at your wedding.  

Just

Say

NO.

And should it prove necessary, explain that while you understand the two of them are still on good terms, the thought of the ex getting an invite would make you feel more than just uncomfortable.  It would overshadow the day.  (And if, having said that, you still encounter resistance, you might want to seriously consider if the two of you should be getting married at all.)

Incidentally, this works both ways.  

7. PLUS ONES:  What To Do About Wedding Crashers

As for the Plus One dilemma.  Let’s say you’ve decided to invite some of your real friends from work.  But if you’ve never met their other halves, why on earth would you want to meet them for the first time on your wedding day? 

You can also use the same rule of thumb – if you’ve never met them, they’re not coming – when considering which of your guests gets a plus one invitation.  

So that’s sorted.  At least until the moment you discover your brother-in-law-to-be has invited his girlfriend of three weeks to your wedding, with a cheery, “But she’s family, so she’s my plus one!” when he didn’t have a plus one in the first place. 

This actually happened to someone in one of the Facebook groups I belong to.  Most other members were quick to establish Boss Bride boundaries, advising a firm, “NO!” or, “There’s obviously been a misunderstanding,” but a few were more conciliatory, and suggested allowing New Girlfriend to come to the evening reception.

BOSS BRIDE TOP TIPWhen you send Save The Date Cards and Wedding Invitations make it crystal clear who is (and isn’t) invited.  For example, the invitation to your adults-only wedding to friends with three children reads:  Mark & Zoe, two seats have been reserved in your honour and we hope you can join us.

8. PAYBACKS:  You’re Allowed To Say No

Just because you attended someone’s wedding a few years ago, if you haven’t seen them since that day, it doesn’t mean you’re under an obligation to invite them to yours.  

9.  EGGSHELL GUESTS: People Who Scare You 

Is there someone on your list who you’re nervous about inviting because of how they might behave?  A relative who’s prone to judging people and infamous for her inappropriate remarks.  Or that guy who’s almost guaranteed to hit on one of your bridesmaids in front of his wife?  If you can’t quietly drop them from the guest list, then ask whoever has most influence to have a quiet word ahead of time – and do their best to keep a watchful eye on them during the day.  

Still Not Sure If You Want Them At Your Wedding?  Ask Yourself This Killer Question

Would we be happy to take this person to our favourite restaurant and pay for dinner, and how much would that cost us?

Hopefully, my suggested solutions to these dilemmas will help you agree your ground rules.  Once your list of Oughts and Maybes contains a reassuring amount of red ink, and you’ve made an initial cull of the numbers, congratulations!

You now have a provisional list consisting of your VIPs, plus those you’ve decide you really would like to come to your wedding.  Which means it’s time to do some arithmetic.

How Your Wedding Guest List Affects Your Budget And Your Venue

First of all, the budget. 

It’s a simple truth that the bigger your guest list, the more expensive your wedding will be.

So try this:

Multiply the number of people on your provisional guest list by the amount you had in mind to take someone to dinner.

For example, you’ve now got 62 potential wedding guests and the cost per head at your favourite restaurant is £40.  Which means that – for now – and based on these numbers, you could usefully pencil in a spend of £2,480 for your wedding day catering.  

a few coins on a plate with a pair of hands holding a knife and fork trying to 'eat' them to signal that every guest at your wedding adds to the total cost

How does the number you’ve just calculated make you feel?  Bearing in mind that £40 at a wedding venue usually stretches less far than in a restaurant, do you reckon it’s realistic for the sort of wedding food you’ve been imagining?  Would you expect that sum of money to include drinks?  Or is it beginning to look like you’ll need either to spend more, or prune the guest list further still?

About the venue:

When it comes to choosing your wedding venue, size really is important! 

Before you start visiting potential places it’s vital to know how many people you want at your wedding.  Maybe not every final name etched in stone, but you definitely need to be able to say something along the lines of, “At least 45 people and a maximum of 60,” or, “We’ll be having between 125 and 140 guests.” 

By taking an educated guess – rather than just a wild stab – at your numbers, you’ll avoid wasting time (and heartache) falling in love with places that are either too big or too small.  

And remember, by the way, if you’re eager to have children at your wedding, to find a place where they are every bit as welcome as your adult guests.

Once you’ve got a shortlist of venues and chatted through your catering options, you’ll know whether your budget is realistic. 

And if it’s not, you can quietly reduce the guest list to something affordable without offending anyone who was close to getting an invitation but sadly didn’t make the final cut.

In any event, most of the couples I meet prefer to mull over their  ‘finished’ wedding guest lists for a week or two.  

As my friend Chloe wryly observed, “We spent hours agonising over the guest list and made our final, final choices.  But once we found out what things were going to cost, it was amazing how much, and how fast, we were both willing to compromise.

“After we’d thought about it, we kept to our first choice venue, but scrapped the formal lunch we’d envisaged in favour of having more people and a self-service buffet.  It all worked out in the end, but doing the guest list was one of the most stressful tasks of them all!”

And if you’re finding this part of planning your wedding especially tough, try thinking back to the regulations that were in place during Covid.  If you could absolutely have only 15 wedding guests, who would they be?  What if you could have 30 people present?  

A 'don't save the date' card, jokingly suggesting readers should send it to the people whose names have been removed from the wedding guest list

Keep going, adding 15 at a time, until you get to an affordable, venue-friendly number. And remember, those who don’t receive a Save The Date card will never have to know how close they came! (And you can always send them an Official Wedding Invitation later on, if any of those who DO make the guest list have the temerity to turn you down!)

Evening-Only Invitations?

Still struggling?  You could always invite your borderline guests to join you for the evening reception. 

It’s a popular way to include extra people without breaking the bank, and it works particularly well if your event – and your evening-only guests – are local.  

Put yourself in their shoes.  If the venue is down the road, it’s easy to attend.  But if it’s at a faraway venue, they might well say thanks-but-no-thanks to an invite that necessitates a long drive, or hotel costs. 

As with any decision you make to limit numbers, you run the risk of disappointing someone.  But I think people prefer to be included by way of a partial invitation they’re free to decline, rather than feeling hurt that they were left off your list altogether.

How Many Of Those Who Make It Onto Your Wedding Guest List Will Actually Want To Come?

Most brides will send out a few courtesy invitations to those who are too fragile to make it to the wedding, or who live too far away, without it affecting the final number.

Because after all, everyone likes to be asked to a wedding, even when it’s impossible for them to come.  

And then finally . . . 

All the hard work has been done and the torturous decisions made.  

You’re looking at your final wedding guest list with an overwhelming feeling of relief.  

But one more thing.

Hard though it is to believe, some of the people you thought would be coming to your wedding – people whose names you have agonised over – will say, ‘Sorry, but we can’t make it.’  

As a rule of thumb, expect to have ten per cent of your guests turn you down.  

You’ll have a better idea once you send your Save The Date cards, but won’t know for sure until you’ve had replies to your wedding invitations.

For now though, congratulate yourself for being in possession of a wedding guest list that makes you feel happy and comfortable.  You’re ready to take the next steps on your personal bridal path.

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