bride and groom looking at their wedding guest garden reception

One of the hardest (but most important) parts of planning your wedding is creating the guest list. It’s a little more complicated though, than simply making a list of everyone you’d like to celebrate with. There are people you’ll have to invite, others you really want to skip, and those who may or may not make the cut, depending on your venue’s capacity. So how do you decide who does—and doesn’t—get an invite to your wedding? Here are some guidelines to help you figure it out.


  1. Make a preliminary list with just your partner

Before you involve your families, sit down with your partner to start the guest list. Begin with your immediate families, then add those close family members you really want to have there. Next, move on to your closest friends—the ones you simply can’t imagine getting married without. This probably won’t be your entire guest list, but it’s a good place to start, and should cover those must-haves you and your partner will be looking for. Don’t involve your families just yet—you’ll want to get this starting point ironed out first so you can make sure everyone is equally represented down the line.


  1. Decide where you’ll cut off family invitations—and stick to it

Extended family invitations are tricky. Who really knows the difference between second cousins and first cousins, once removed anyway? The general rule of thumb is, if one uncle gets an invitation, all of your aunts and uncles need to get an invitation.The same goes for cousins or second cousins too. This isn’t much of an issue for small families, but with a large extended family, it can take up the bulk of your guest list. If you haven’t spoken to some of your relatives in years, don’t feel obligated to invite them to your wedding.

Remember, your wedding is a celebration for you and the person you’re marrying and your immediate family; it’s not a family reunion. You don’t have to extend an invite to everyone in your family tree. Start with your closest relatives first, then work your way out until you reach a number you’re comfortable with, one that  leaves room for your friends too!


  1. Give both families the same number of extra guests

After your families have been invited, determine how many extra spots you have left and divide it evenly between both of your families. Let your parents use these seats however they’d like—and make it clear that there are no more seats available. This way your mom can invite her best friend, while your father-in-law can include his business partner (you know, the same one who invited him to their son’s wedding last year).


  1. Return the favor

This one’s tricky. If a friend invited you to her wedding five years ago, but you’re not close and don’t have much contact anymore, you don’t have to invite her to yours (even if you were a bridesmaid). In saying that, if you attended a wedding in the past 18 months (and especially if you or your partner were in the wedding party), that couple should be on your guest list as well.


  1. Plus-Ones You’ve Never Met

You don’t have to give any of your guests who aren’t in a relationship a plus-one. If they are and you’ve never met the person —you are not obligated. However it is polite to discuss this with your guest before-hand, even more so if it’s a longstanding or serious relationship. It’s no fun to dance alone. A good example would be if it’s your BFF’s boyfriend or favorite cousin’s partner who lives across the country, and logistics are the only reason for the lack of meeting them.


  1. Work Friends

Just because you share an office with someone at work or have lunch with them on occasion, doesn’t mean they have to make your guest list.Nevertheless some colleagues do feel like family after a while and you might want to include them.If that’s the case, and you have space on your guest list, invite them! If you don’t and you want to keep your wedding small, plan a work happy hour or outing to celebrate with them instead.


  1. Make the call about children.

Inviting children to a wedding can be wonderful. For some couples, they add something indescribably sweet to the proceedings, as well as priceless moments that rehearsed entertainment can’t offer. For others, children equal crying, tantrums and screaming – and can completely cramp your day’s style.

If you are including children:

  • This does not mean that every single child of every guest has to be welcome. You can always choose to have just the children of close relatives, or just the pageboy and flower girl in the ceremony. Just remember, there might be animosity if some friends and family’s children are invited and others not.
  • Clarify that children are invited in your invitation – address the invite to Mr and Mrs Retief and George and Lottie. That way there’s no room for misinterpretation.
  • Make sure you organise the children at your wedding: seat the parents and children on the same tables, or have a separate kiddies table. Get some activity packs for their place settings to keep them occupied and having fun! Some venues will offer child care and entertainment services.
  • Remember to order special meals for them if they require it – you don’t want the oysters wasted on a little munchkin if all they want is a fruit kebab and some chicken.


If you are not including children:

  • Try to avoid saying “No Smelly Screaming Rug Rats!” on the invite and make a note that ‘Unfortunately children are not invited’ or something along those lines. If someone still RSVP’s with the names of their children, ring them up and politely explain why you chose not to have children at your wedding. They’ll completely understand – and if they don’t, accept the fact that they may come as a package. Should the children not be invited, they may not come either.
  • If you know you are inviting couples with young children, give them plenty of warning to make arrangements, especially if they need to hire a babysitter.
  • If you have any nursing mothers on the guest list. Their lovely little ones require different treatment, consider they may not be able to be left at home under someone else’s care. Investigate a nearby room where the baby may be able to be taken to sleep in close proximity to their parents so they’re able to check in regularly, but still enjoy the festivities.


This little flow chart might help you think through that decision:


how to decide who to invite to your wedding flowchart

Also on the blog 10 Bridal Tips to Stay Sane and Happy and Recently Engaged? Now What

Have a look at our Wedding Planning Checklist and download your own planning checklist free.


The Wedding Gateway



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