For some couples, setting the guest list for their wedding is one of the first contentious issues they face. The average American wedding hosts about 140 people, and it can be surprising how quickly your “must invite” list can grow. Throw in your parents’ best friends, and your soon-to-be mother-in-law’s expectations, and your list will keep growing swiftly!
So what is fair and considered good etiquette when inviting guests to your wedding?
How to I avoid hurt feelings if I can’t invite everyone we would like to?
Be open and honest with family and friends when you are talking about your wedding plans. Simply letting them know what your restrictions are goes a long way to helping them understand and be supportive. Tell them that you either can’t afford a large group or the venue simply doesn’t have enough space to accommodate everyone. Feelings get hurt when couples are wishy-washy about their guest list “rules”. Be nice, but also be firm – once you have determined your guest list criteria, no negotiating or exceptions allowed.
Which comes first, selecting our venue or planning our guest list?
It depends on if you have your heart set on a specific location for your wedding and reception as to whether you reserve your venue before or after it’s clear how many guests you will be having. If you have your heart set on your childhood church or that special country inn where you got engaged, then secure the location first and get clear on their capacity limitations and policies before finalizing your guest list.
Some venues also have a minimum number of guests in their policy to justify their expenses hosting events, so be sure to ask about this as well when you are booking your location.
Do our parents have to have a say in our guest list?
This is a tough one! Having your child’s wedding is a big deal for many parents, something they have dreamed about as well, so they will naturally have their own guests in mind. If your parents are chipping in on the expenses for your wedding, then it is customary to let them contribute names to the guest list. It’s best to have a chat with them openly about your guest list and your restrictions, whether they be space or budget. Be fair – so if you give a maximum number of guests they are allowed to invite, give the same number to each side of the family. You may just need to be honest and either ask them to edit their list down or ask them to chip in some cash to help accommodate the added costs.
We can’t afford for everyone to bring a plus-one, what do we do?
This is a very common issue couples face. What is important is to make a decision that you can make clear and will stick strictly to so you don’t ruffle any feathers. You might draw the line at married and engaged couples only, for example. When you send out invitations, be very specific in your addressing. For anyone invited with a guest, be sure to include the guest’s name on the invitation as well (i.e., “Ms. Barbara Hall and Mr. Timothy Dunn” versus “Ms. Barbara Hall and Guest”). If a guest is being invited alone, put only their name on the envelope.
We don’t want children at our wedding, is it okay to have ‘adults only’?
Ugh, another wedding guest list etiquette doozy. Choosing whether or not to invite children to your wedding can be a stressful decision. They will obviously add to your guest numbers, and in some family circumstances you may feel that you have no option. Discuss whether or not you’ll be inviting children to your wedding early on in the process because this decision can really change the dynamics of your day as well. It is absolutely okay, however, to have an ‘adults only’ wedding, just be up front about it. If you are having children in the wedding as Flower Girls or Ring Bearers, then it is customary to have them make an appearance at the reception for the wedding party announcements. If you are having an adult only wedding, or have people with children traveling from out of town to your wedding, offer to have a babysitter lined up to watch the children as the adults attend your event.
Do I have to invite everyone at work to my wedding?
Your office mates have been listening to you talk about your wedding plans for months, so now as it approaches, are you obligated to invite all of them? If you work in a very small office (3-5 people, say), you should probably go ahead and invite the whole gang. If you are really tight on numbers, you could let them know that with your limited space you’re asking them to come together with no plus ones, as they can keep each other company. If you are in a large office, just invite your boss and one or two others whom you are particularly close to.
How do we prevent people from recording or taking pictures with their phones during our ceremony?
You don’t want your wedding appearing on Facebook before you choose what to post, but with everyone having a smart phone in their hand, how can you prevent it without confiscating phones?! Be very clear with your guests that you want all photography left to the pro you have hired. Set up a very obvious sign (or several) at the entrance to your venue explaining that you are having an “unplugged ceremony”. Also ask your officiant to announce your request to the crowd before the ceremony begins. You can’t control everyone, but you can hope, with clear instructions, your guests will respect your wishes.
Keeping your wedding guest count under control is a challenge for most couples. It is a decision mired in controversy and fraught with debate. Bottom line be open and honest about your limitations, and be fair about administering them. When you make exceptions, people get hurt. Discuss the overall guest list limits (numbers and budget) together early on and make decisions together about who you will invite, how you will set limits, and how you will involve your parents. Ultimately, it is your special day, so as long as the two of you are on the same page, do what you need to do. You won’t be able to please everyone, but with open communication and consistency, many wedding guest list conflicts can be avoided.