Common Guest List Etiquette Questions

You’ve got guest list etiquette questions and we’ve got the answers!

Who remembers that scene in Father of the Bride where George Banks + fam are sitting around the table, whittling down their guest list amidst two heaping stacks of names, designating which first draft guests will make the cut and which will not? And who remembers George reaching a bit of a breaking point in the process? Well it certainly doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s not uncommon for couples to feel a lot of pressure in the creation of their guest list. How much of a role should traditional etiquette play? How do you make sure you don’t overcompensate for “regrets” and undercompensate for your ideal number of

This post covers a wide range of common questions, so we broke up this post into multiple pages. Click at the bottom of this post to move on to the next round of questions!

First thing’s first. Every single person accounts for a dollar amount. If you are working within a specific budget, keep that in mind as your guest list increases. Our clients spend a minimum of $500 per person on their wedding, but for more upscale weddings, that number easily increases to well above $1500 per person.

Below are a list of common guest list etiquette questions:

What are the most important things to consider as you build your guest list?
First consider the size of your venue and your budget. Once you know how many people you can invite, give your fiancé half and you take the other half. Be sure to save 10-15 spots for friends of your parents and grandparents. Compile a list of everyone that you want to invite and put them in order of importance to you. Start with immediate family, your bridal party, very close family friends, extended family and go from there. I tell all my clients to make an A-List, B-List and C-List so you can know where to cut.

Get back together with your fiancé and compare lists. You will probably have some of the same friends listed. Once you take off the duplicates, the hard part begins – cutting your list down to that magic number. Be sure that you and your fiancé are making the same amount of cuts from your respective lists. He should not have to cut 10, but you only cut 5 or vice versa. Keep going until you reach the magic number. It sounds a bit like The Hunger Games and it is not always easy! But, you want to make sure that you have the right people there on your big day!

My parents/in-laws keep adding people to the guest list even though I have told them that we cannot add anyone else because of the budget. What do I do?
Let them know that you appreciate them wanting their friends to see you get married, but that you cannot add anyone else. Be honest and firm. Tell them it is because of the budget and the money has been used already. If they still will not back down, figure out how much your wedding is costing per person and then nicely let them know that they can add someone if they want to pay that amount. It sounds harsh, but if you say it in a very nice way, they will understand. I have actually had a few couples do this when their parents wanted to add co-workers at the last minute.

What if I have a gigantic family and my fiancé has a small family. Can I invite more people than him?
You and your fiancé will have to talk through this. He might not have a big family, but maybe he has a lot of close friends that he wants to invite. It will be better to cut the guest list in half and then go from there. Or may not be able to fill his half of the list and be happy to give those spots to you. But, be sensitive, especially if he does not have a lot of family due to a divorce or other tough situation.

How do we decide who can bring dates?
If the person is engaged or has been dating the same person for years, let them bring their date. Or, if you are inviting a friend from work that might not know anyone else at your wedding, let them bring a date/friend so that they do not feel uncomfortable. Other than that, your friends that all know each other will be fine on their own!

Is it rude to have a child-free wedding? How do we convey that in the invitation?
It is not rude at all! Actually, most parents enjoy a fun, kid-free, evening out with amazing food and drinks. To convey your child-free wedding, there are a couple of options depending on the type of wedding you are having. If you are having a formal wedding, I would include the following on an RSVP or information card: Please make arrangements for our adults-only ceremony and reception. If you are having an informal wedding, I would include something a little more fun: “While we love your kids, we would like to have an adults-only celebration. So call the babysitter, grab your dancing shoes and get ready to party!

Make sure to add this information on your wedding website as well. You will always have someone that still wants to bring their kids. The only exception should be nursing babies, a flower girl or a ring bearer. When that person calls you to ask about their child attending, be firm! Let them know that there are a lot of factors that went into making this decision and that you did not take it lightly. Remember, if you give in to one person, word will get around and everyone will want to bring their kids.

We are having an adults-only reception, but we are ok with teenagers attending. How do I convey that on the invitation?
Be sure to include the teenager on the front of the invitation. For example, say you want to invite your friends John and Jane, and their son Jack. You would address a formal invitation as follows: Mr. and Mrs. John Doe with Mr. Jack Doe. And for an informal invitation, you would include first names only: John and Jane Doe with Jack Doe.

Do we have to invite someone to our wedding if they invited us to theirs?
Nope! There are lots of factors that go into your guest count; the size of your venue, your budget, etc. Your friends who just got married will understand. They went through the exact same process not too long ago. If you feel really bad about it, be honest with them and let them know that you just do not have the space/budget to invite everyone that you wanted to, but that you still value their friendship.

How do we respond to guests who ask to bring an uninvited plus one, child, etc.?
This is a great question and I actually had this happen at my own wedding. Someone crossed out two and wrote six! Handle this on a case by case basis and do not jump to conclusions. Maybe the plus one is a caregiver that needs to help an elderly person get around, or a nursing baby, etc. In our case, it was family that needed to drive an elderly grandmother in from out-of-state. Find out who the plus one is and why it is important for them to attend. If your guest is really trying to get an extra person in that does not need to be there, be honest! Let them know that you have limited space and budget, that the caterer already has your numbers, the seating chart is complete, etc. and because of that, you are unable to allow another person to attend. Most people will understand.

What do we do about guests who have not responded to the invitation by the RSVP deadline?
Just ask. People are busy and they often forget to respond. Or their invitation could have gotten lost in the mail. If the missing RSVP is from your side of the guest list, have your Maid/Matron of Honor or your mom reach out to them. If they are from your fiancés side of the guest list, talk to your mother-in-law about reaching out to them.

What is the average ratio of RSVPs to Regrets?
There is no solid formula for this and there are a lot of factors to consider. But, a good rule of thumb is: If most of your guests are local, expect 10-20% regrets. If you have a lot of out-of-town guests that are not immediate family, expect 20-30% regrets.

If we have a lot of regrets, is it ok to invite another round of people later on?
Personally, I think this is a bad idea. Someone will get their feelings hurt that they were not in the first round of invitations. There are some exceptions. A sweet lady that I used to work with was literally 1 person over our max guest count. I was bummed. I really wanted to invite her. I explained the situation to her and she understood and was so kind about the whole thing. Two weeks before the wedding, one of our friends had to cancel at the last minute so, I called her and she was delighted to attend! All of that to say, I think it depends on your relationship with the person and how you approach it.

January 21, 2021