Wedding Planning

The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Wedding Guest List

The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Guest List

Does the thought of sitting down to create your wedding guest list give you a serious headache?

We totally get it! The guest list can often be one of the trickiest elements of the wedding planning process altogether.

From figuring out how many guests you can actually afford, to creating a guest list that won’t cause offence, there are so many different things to consider before crossing this task off your to-do list.

Truthfully though, your wedding guest list should be one of your top priorities. Not only will it play a big role in your budget, catering, seating plan and venue selection, but more importantly – these are the people who will be joining you for one of the most memorable days of your entire life! And that’s a pretty big deal if you ask us.

Often the best way to get clear on your guest list is to go through the process step-by-step. So, here it is – the ultimate guide to creating your wedding guest list, minus the stress!

the-ultimate-guide-to-creating-your-wedding-guest-list
Photo by Brett Heidebrecht

Step 1: Create your Guest List Draft

Let’s start by creating an ideal list of everyone you’d love to join you at your wedding. This will become your dream guest list “draft”, and you can work backwards from here. Remember, you’ll likely be trimming this list later (so don’t get too attached!), but taking some time to create a draft first will ensure you don’t forget anyone.

Sit down with your partner and make a list of your nearest and dearest, working from your closest friends and family through to your more casual acquaintances.

You might want to create your list in this order:

  • Immediate family – parents, siblings, in-laws and grandparents
  • Close friends – your BFFs, the kind of people you’d ask to join you in your bridal party
  • Extended family – cousins, aunts and uncles
  • Extended friends – acquaintances, colleagues

Next, you’ll need to factor in any partners and/or kids of any guests on your list, unless you’ve already made a decision to host a child-free wedding.

Finally, consider your parents and future in-laws. Are they contributing to your wedding bill? If so, this traditionally means they’ll have some influence over your guest list. Ultimately, it’s your day, but if your parents are covering your wedding costs then the correct etiquette is to allow them some space on your guest list.

Have an upfront chat with your parents to determine what their expectations are, and if they have any additional guests in mind for your day. Make sure you update your draft guest list accordingly based on their input.

the-ultimate-guide-to-creating-your-wedding-guest-list
Photo by Jenna Bechtholt

Step 2: Figure Out How Many Guests you Can Actually Afford

Now that you have your guest list draft sorted, you’ll need to figure out how many guests you can actually afford. If you haven’t already determined a realistic budget for your wedding, get this done first!

Next, source some quotes from your venue and other suppliers to determine a rough “per person” cost. Remember, each guest means an additional cost for food, drink, invitations, place settings, chairs and cake, so you’ll want to determine pricing for each of these elements.

After removing any non-guest related costs from your budget (such as your photographer, celebrant, wedding dress, hair and makeup), divide your remaining budget by your rough “per person” cost. This should give you a good indication on how many guests you can realistically afford at your day.

You’ll also want to check the capacity limitations at your wedding venue itself. Some venues may have restrictions in terms of how many guests can actually fit into the space, particularly for sit-down weddings requiring tables and chairs. Your venue will likely have different capacity numbers for a sit-down dinner compared to a cocktail style wedding. If your guest list is on the larger size, you may want to consider a stand-up wedding to allow for more people.

the-ultimate-guide-to-creating-your-wedding-guest-list
Photo by Chelsea Diane

Step 3: Figure Out How Many Guests you Actually Want

Budget aside for a moment, how many people do you actually want there with you on the day, on a more personal note?

If you haven’t already clarified your wedding vision and priorities for the day, do this now. Are you picturing a super small, cosy and intimate affair with just a handful of your very best friends and family? Or do you want to throw the ultimate party to remember with absolutely everyone you know and love?

Using your budget and wedding vision as a guideline, try to find the sweet spot between how many guests you can afford, and how many guests you actually want. If you’re struggling to find a number that aligns with both, you may need to adjust your priorities.

For example, if you want more guests than your budget can afford, consider cutting down on your wedding expenses, or pushing your wedding date back so you have more time to save.

Realistically, it’s unlikely that the number of guests you both want and can afford will match up perfectly with the numbers on your draft guest list. So now it’s time to revisit your draft list and start trimming!

Step 4. Trim your Guest List

Cutting people from your ideal guest list is never easy, so you might want to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I spent time with this person in the last 5 years?
  • Would I catch up with this person for a coffee?
  • Is this person just on my list because I feel obliged?
  • Can I see this person being part of my life in the next 5 years?

Be critical here, and don’t feel guilty or pressured. Remember, this is your wedding day, and your guest list should only include the most important people in your lives.

You might also want to create some “blanket rules” when it comes to kids and plus ones to keep things fair, and to make trimming your list easier. For example, no plus ones allowed, or plus ones allowed for relationships only. No kids allowed, or newborns and family members only.

These questions and blanket rules should help you cut a significant chunk out of your guest list draft, leaving you with a revised version that better suits your budget, venue and vision for the day!

creating-your-wedding-guest-list
Photo by Mel Boulden

Step 5: Create an A + B List

Is your guest list still a little over capacity? If so, consider creating an A and B-list. This is pretty common practice for wedding invitations, and basically allows you to prioritise your list to send a second round of invites if you receive any declined RSVPs.

Go over your guest list draft and separate this into your A-list (your non-negotiable attendees and closest friends and family) and your B-list (people you’d ideally love to have there, but it’s not absolutely crucial). Your A-list gets first priority when it comes to sending your wedding invitations.

Now, remember, you don’t want your B-list to know that they’ve been sent a second round of invitations, so it’s important to consider your invitation etiquette. You’ll want to send your first round of invitations to your A-list a little earlier than usual – say, the 10-week mark. Responses should begin to filter in over the next couple of weeks to give you a better indication of numbers.

Then, send your B-list invitations at the 6-8 week mark depending on the responses you’ve received from your first round. Try to organise your B-list according to priority, so you can easily see who’s next in line for an invitation pending any declined RSVPs.

Remember, if you’re planning a destination wedding, you’ll need to adjust these timelines accordingly to allow your guests to plan and prepare for their trip. In this case, you’ll want to send your A-list invitations at around the 6-month mark, with your B-list invitations to follow 2-3 weeks later.

Step 6: Stick To It

Finally, once you’ve created your wedding guest list and sent off your wedding invitations – stick to it! Saying “yes” to an extra guest here and there can actually throw off your budget altogether if you’re not careful.

If somebody asks for a plus one but you’ve made a blanket rule not to allow plus ones, be honest and let them know (politely, of course!). It may feel a little awkward, but in most cases, guests will totally understand and appreciate the costs involved in planning a wedding.

You might want to communicate these expectations upfront via your wedding website to avoid any awkwardness (feel free to copy our wedding website wording examples for tricky situations just like this!).

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Photo by Mary Dougherty

Guest List Worksheet

We completely understand that planning your wedding guest list can be stressful, to say the least. But, it’s a crucial part of the wedding planning process, so it’s important to take some time to get it right.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about getting your guest list sorted, grab your free printable wedding guest list worksheet to help you save time and stress as you create the perfect guest list for your big day. This handy printable will walk you through the process step-by-step, allowing you to tick “guest list” off your to-do list once and for all!

Happy planning!