7 Secrets to Conquering the Guest List

We’ve all heard that the guest list is the number one place to cut wedding costs.  Allow me to add that the guest list is often the first wedding-related argument you may have with your family.  It contributes to the number of kiddos running around the dance floor, the number of people ON the dance floor, and basically, the mood for your whole wedding.  Let’s face it– a tent-full of frat boys makes for quite a different party than mom and dad’s co-workers.

But before you freak out from guest list stress, learn how to conquer your guest list woes before they even begin.  Ready?  (I mean, who isn’t?)

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1.  Break it on down.  
You’ve got your venue, and you know the cost-per-plate.  Your reception takes up approximately half of your wedding budget, so take your budget and chop it in half.  Ta-da!  Here’s the money you have to spend on the reception food and drink.  Divide this number by the cost-per-plate, and you’ve got the number of wedding guests you can comfortably afford to accommodate.

2.  Add 20%.
And I don’t mean a tip.  The typical guest list has a 20% decline rate.  I know you can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t come to your wedding, but trust me… life happens.  Some people won’t make it.  So feel free to add some people to your guest list, assuming some will decline.  As a disclaimer, I feel inclined to mention that I have seen exceptions to this rule.  I know of one wedding that only had a decline rate of 5%, and my own wedding had a decline rate of 30%.  You never do know.  Just keep this in mind if you just can’t narrow it down… you’ve got some cushion.

3.  Share the wealth.
Welcome to being a team player.  If your parents are helping with the wedding (and even if they’re not), it’s polite to give them a chunk of the guest list.  You and your fiance create 50% of the guest list.  Your parents create 25%, and his parents create 25%.  All is fair in love and war.  I’m not sure if that really applies here, but I’m saying it anyway.

4.  One year, or no beer.
(I totally just needed a word that rhymed with year.  No beer is involved in this tip, whatsoever.)  If you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in a year, only add that person if you have wiggle room in the guest list.  Facebook doesn’t count.  I’m talking a meaningful, you-make-my-life-better conversation.  Elementary and high-school friends should meet this criteria, too.  Think ahead; not backwards.  You’re marrying ‘from this day forward’, right?

5.  Tiers (not tears).
Categorize your guests.  Tier A = the VIPs (grandparents, siblings, first cousins, wedding party).  Tier B = close friends.  Tier C = co-workers, other friends, and randoms (your BFF hair stylist, your neighbors).  If you need to eliminate people for any reason, start from the bottom.  Also, you need to eliminate a whole group.  Don’t invite one co-worker without inviting the others (unless you’re super close to that one person, of course).

6.  To Plus-One, or not Plus-One?
This is where I disagree with etiquette.  (It rarely happens.)  It is considered by some acceptable to give people an ‘and guest’ if you’re close to them, and no ‘and guest’ if you’re not.  I disagree.  I say make a rule.  For our own wedding, we used the ‘everyone over the age of 18 gets a plus one’ rule.  And guess what?  Everyone was happy.  Not letting more ‘distant’ friends bring a guest is a double diss: Imagine being invited to a wedding where you basically knew no one… and then saw you were invited ALONE.  That hypothetical party balloon just went pffffft, didn’t it?

7.  Don’t give in to the people who invite themselves.
Remember that ‘one year’ rule we just talked about?  Stick to it.  I had people post on my Facebook wall that they ‘couldn’t wait’ until my wedding.  Awkward, since they weren’t invited.  I thought up a canned (admittedly) response for those people: “Thanks for being excited for us!  I wish we could invite everyone, but we’ve had to keep the guest list small to include family and a few friends only.”  That’s it.  And guess what?  It worked.

Have any guest list tips to share?  Feel free to share in the comment section!