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How to write the Perfect Wedding Guest List



Creating the guest list may come as the first big challenge on your journey towards marriage.  A wedding is a joyous opportunity for two families to come together. To make it happen, there will be a lot of balancing of budgets, logistics and wills, and pulling it all together (hopefully without falling out with anyone) starts with a guest list. This article has been created to help you as a couple and family to compose the perfect wedding guest list by sharing tips on how to decide who is going to see you get married – and why they should.


Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding
photo by Benj Haisch

Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

Looking around the wedding web, you will soon discover that there are many, many ways to establish a guest list. Why? Because there are so many different wedding couples with a different set of priorities.
The truth is that whichever way you choose to make your guest list decisions, the two of you (and parents) needs to first of all agree on how you are going to choose your guests.

The average wedding has around 130 guests. If you invite half of that, you will still have a great wedding. Inviting twice as many, doesn’t guarantee twice the fun. The ability to invite everyone you know is a rare luxury and most of us end up having to draw the line somewhere.

This guide has 5 steps:

  1. Designing the structure of your guest list
  2. Deciding How Many People To Invite
  3. Defining Who To Invite
  4. Dividing your list
  5. Refining your dream guest list

And a section on how to manage your RSVP’s.

This is how you create your perfect wedding guest list

1. Deciding Guest list size and structure

The four likely scenarios you might encounter when structuring the list:

Budget first. You know your budget, you figure out what the venue costs and everything else you want your wedding to include, and then set the number of guests your budget allows.
Guests first. For you, it is most important to have everyone you know around you when you get married. Then you’d choose all the people first, and make all other expenses work around that.
Desired Ambiance. It also comes down to preference in terms of ambiance. You and your Groom are perhaps the kind of people who prefer a more intimate gathering with family and and a few close friends only. Or – your wedding ambition might be to have the party of the century with a large dance floor packed with everyone you know. A small or large wedding have very different energy and atmosphere. None is better than the other!
Venue restrictions. You have got your eyes of the venue of your dreams, and need to make sure it is filled up, at the same time doesn’t exceed its capacity.

You will naturally have to answer these questions sooner rather than later in your engagement, so that you can proceed with planning the rest of your wedding around this structure. There is no right or wrong way, but you’ll have a more straight forward time shaping the guest list if you understand and agree on a method of composing it.

2. Deciding How Many People To Invite

When you decide on size, take these two factors in firstly:
Your Budget and Venue Capacity, and also to some extent what your parents have in mind for the wedding, if they are involved. It is important to know that if you are totally realistic from the beginning about the number of guests, you will avoid stress later on.

It makes sense that  you will have an idea of the number guests are feasible with the budget you have before you write the preliminary list. Either you choose the guest list first and find a venue accordingly. Or, you first find the venue of your dreams, thus your choice will determine how many guests your remaining budget can handle.

The average cost  of a wedding guest  is R1000 / $80 . As you can guess, reducing your guest list is the surest and fastest way to decrease your overall expenses, without doubt. Each guest adds to the amount of food to serve, furniture rentals and how much cake, flowers  and centerpieces you’ll need. It adds up quickly.
With a smaller wedding, you’d be able to afford a more luxurious atmosphere, your dream venue or your dream honey moon. You and your Groom need to first of all figure out your priorities. Dream wedding set up or ideal number of guests –  few could (or should!) accommodate both. It is not wise to overspend on your wedding – there is  a long married life afterwards with new dreams to fulfill.

If you have chosen venue already, you will have to consider the minimum and maximum number of guests that you’re allowed. Your dream venue might have a maximum of guests to make their profit, as well as a minimum to ensure that they don’t have more guests than they can accommodate. Their maximum is made up by restrictions such as space limits, fire exits or serving staff capacity. Some venues have a flexible option where you can either have a lower max amount of guests with dance floor, and a higher max amount of guests, without dance floor.

Have a straight up talk about guest list with parents 
involved and helping out financially. Decide together and allocate a number for their friends. The fact is that they will have an even better time if some of their people are there too, and if their financial input means you can have the wedding of your dreams, it is only fair they should have a little bit of say.
Ideally have this already figured out even before accepting financial help from them. If they are traditionally minded they might think they should be completely in charge. Get all expectations and boundaries clear before you begin, and have any possibly hard conversations in person. Once you have defined the structure of parents invitations, try to stick to your guns. In the end of the day, you are getting married and not them.


Cap the numbers early and keep your number realistic to begin with, and if you have more space after the first round of RSVP’s, you can add guests from the maybe list later on.

Don’t verbally invite guests before the mechanics of your guest list is decided. Not only will you might invite people you later realized you can’t, you will also give your guests a nice surprise when they receive your beautiful invitation card.

Set parental boundaries and stick to them. If budget is the limiting factor, suggest that whoever wants more guests pays the extra.

Create rules and be ruthless – it will save you time, money and headache. The easiest way to manage the list is to come up with the rules early, and stick to them throughout.

Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

3. Defining who to invite

When you have the maximum number of guests figured out, it is then time to sit down with a pen and paper (or directly in a spreadsheet) and jot down names of people you’d like to invite.

One method could be to first allocate a number of for you both, then each fill a list separately. Then you will add the numbers together when comparing lists and give or take if need be. Also make one list together for separate list for friends in common.

As strange as it may sound, 100% fairness should not necessarily be the biggest factor. If Groom has a huge family and Bride only a small, it makes more sense than the Groom is allowed more guests than splitting the list 50/50, Bride inviting work colleagues partners and Groom having to leave out 1st cousins. One of the biggest skills you will develop as a married couple is how to compromise – well how about starting right here!

A traditional guideline is that the one who is paying decides the biggest part, or if costs are covered equally, that the numbers are split evenly between the sides, with a percentage being parents guests.

Ultimately it’s up to you and your specific circumstances. You might do it completely your own way, but before starting to write names, make sure everyone involved is following the same rule book.

Getting started with preliminary list:
Jot down the names of everyone you would invite if there were no restrictions, although, dont add names just to add numbers. You will trim this later on, but now just get the names down.
Start with immediately family: your parents, grandparents, siblings, their partners and their children. Then move down a step to add your extended family such as aunts and cousins that you are in regular contact with and their partners and children.
Distant family members should be ones that you really want to be there. There is no need to invite distant cousins or grandmothers siblings unless you want to.
Stop writing down extended family when friends become more important than them.

Family friends and friends of parents may or may not be included. Work this out with parents before guest list planning commences.

Write down you closest friends, those whom you see regularly. Check which friends from your school years, neighbors that you are friends with, or friends that you feel could be a great addition to your wedding guest list. Some people are just really nice to be around and great party starters.
You and your Groom should work out between you how many friends each to invite, and then it is up to you to establish the closeness.

If you have worked with them for a long time, you may want to  invite work colleagues. However, you are not obliged to. It can be a tricky decision  if you can’t invite some colleagues without inviting others – but how about inviting them all to the ceremony but not the reception?

Adding a plus one to your invitations will unsurprisingly increase your numbers. In this instance, feel free to be ruthless: “No ring? No bring!” –  meaning that your friends who aren’t engaged or married wouldn’t bring a plus one, BUT if your guest doesn’t know anyone at the wedding and might not come otherwise, you could allow them to bring a date. An option is to have a single table. Could be a fun idea, but it can also make some people cringe…
Whether you include plus ones or not might also depend on closeness: maybe you’ll allow your bridesmaid to bring her boyfriend, but not your book club member to bring her fiancé.

The children question

Aside from capacity, this also depends on the kind of wedding you want to have. Do you want it to be a family and close friend affair? Do you want complete silence during the ceremony? This could also depend on your chosen venue: a rustic barn farm wedding is definitely more child appropriate than a black tie minimal wedding in a warehouse.

Choosing whether or not to invite small kids or teenagers to your wedding is a decision you will have to make soon. In family circumstances you probably won’t have an option, but perhaps you will draw the line at your distant cousins five children.
Discuss whether or not you’ll be inviting children as a rule, or if you’ll decide case by case. Including kids will change the dynamics of your day – having busy bodies running around is a delightful scene, however you may not want crying babies during the Grooms speech.

Quite obviously, include all children attending when you give a head count to the venue, as they will need their own chair and meal. Are you not inviting children, don’t forget to indicate this at your wedding invitations so they have a chance to arrange baby sitters. If you feel you have time in amongst your wedding planning, you could offer to help to find nanny’s, or incorporate a creché in your wedding.

Running in to budget issues before invites are sent out (such as finding the above-budget dream dress)? Yes you are allowed – just cut the list!
Don’t feel guilty – the line needs to be drawn somewhere and you are the one who has to draw it. People will understand that this is your wedding and your budget, and you must set the boundaries. Just assume that people will be OK.

Tips you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding SheerEverAfter.comHow to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

4. Dividing the preliminary list

You got 200 names on the combined lists and your venue max is 120. What next?

It’s time to start trimming that dream list until you reach your perfect number. Look at the list and scrutinize it. Really consider who you want to spend this special day with you. Invite the people you can still see being in your life in 15 years to come.
When you start dividing the Definites from the Maybes  and no’s, use 3 different color codes and separate the maybes from the definites on a new paper or document. Employ the must-have and could-have approach. Don’t erase any names, just put them in a different category. If you end up with extra space, you’ll have this spare list to add from.

(Should you be temped to add people that weren’t on the Preliminary list later on, ask yourself if the people there shouldn’t have priority).


Immediate family, and partners of = yes

If you can’t imagine yourself marry without them there = yes

If you don’t like them = maybe/ no

If they would be upset if you didn’t invite them = maybe

If neither of you has spoken to them before = no

If they are friends you see regularly = yes

Long term friends you haven’t spoken to in 5 years = maybe/ no

Co-worker you spend time with outside of work = maybe

Other co-worker = no

Ex= no

If neither of you has spoken to them in two years, and they’re not relatives = no

If there’s anyone who’s on the list because you feel guilty about leaving them off = maybe/ no

Everyone else = no

The Maybe’s and the No’s will be moved to your Reserve list.

When you take out people, do so fairly evenly, i e not only from Bride’s side.

5. Refining the dream list

Your Definites should consist of the must-have guests you couldn’t imagine getting married without, such as family and close friends. Your Reserve list is made up of guests you still would like to be there, but less importantly so. If you start getting RSVPs and it turns out you have enough “regrets,” then you’ll start sending invites to your Reserves i. e your maybes, in order of the importance you decide on.

Send your Definite invites earlier – this will give you more time to invite your Maybes six to eight weeks before your wedding, which is the  normal time. You’ll need to different sets of RSVP’s dead line dates, one for each group. One earlier and one closer to the wedding,


The bride and groom count as guest number too, so don’t leave yourselves off the list when it comes to your final figure.

Prepare yourself for potentially awkward conversations by coming up with a response that can’t be misinterpreted, such as “Of course we’d love to have everyone there, however with the venue space  we aren’t able to, unfortunately”

Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

Managing RSVP’s

Give early notification that you want people to come to your wedding by sending Save the Date’s 6-8 months before. Not only will you give them a chance to plan to be there, you may get an early idea of who can make it.

Don’t be surprised if guests with a newborn baby or small children can’t attend. Likewise, guests from other cities or countries who has to make special arrangements, which might not be practical for them at the time.
Some people might have a big trip booked or can’t make it for other circumstances. Even though it is a pity, it is not personal and you will still be friends!

Some guests may be able to attend the ceremony but not the reception, or vice versa. Make sure to keep a tab on these guests so that enough seats are available, or that someone doesn’t have to sit next to an empty chair during dinner.

You might want to make a wedding website to manage wedding day information and RSVP’s. Indicate the website address in your RSVP section and encourage guests to notify directly to the web. This means you will have a much easier time when tallying up the final head count, keeping track of dietary restrictions and making sure everyone knows the directions and nearby hotels.
Many wedding website also have a function to include your registry, add your engagement photos and write your proposal story.


Remember to include a date on your RSVP cards that guests need to respond by. Even so, expect to have to phone/ email people to follow up from people you didn’t hear from in time.

Expect to receive responses via email, phone, card or sms/ whatsapp, so you will need to update your guest list daily when the RSVPs start to flood in.

Make sure to keep all contact details and addresses, because soon after the wedding the time will come to write thank you cards!

Everything you need to know to write the perfect guest list for your wedding

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