The right mix of guests makes your wedding go from fantastic to unforgettable. But, how do you decide which family, friends, and important people in your life to invite to your wedding?
From venue capacity to budget and more, here’s our guide to finalizing a wedding guest list that completes your wedding vision.
What is the average guest list for a wedding?
While the average guest list size can fluctuate from year to year, the average wedding size for 2022 was 117 guests according to The Knot’s annual Real Weddings Study. Diving a little deeper into the same study, more than half of the respondents invited 100 or more guests. Destination weddings, on the other hand, have a cozier guest count, averaging around 80 attendees for domestic events.
Do these numbers mean that’s how many guests you need to invite to your wedding? Absolutely not! An average is just that — many couples hold weddings with far more or far fewer guests. Consider all the different factors and hone in on a guest list size that fits your budget, location, and personality.
How do I manage my wedding guest list?
Once you’ve set your wedding planning into motion, it’s time to take charge of your guest list. Starting with a big picture, you’ll eventually end up with a carefully curated list that ensures your wedding is perfection.
How do I make a list of people to invite to my wedding?
Your wedding is a group effort, celebrating the union between you and your partner. To start the process of making a guest list, sit down with your partner, each jotting down an idea of whom you think you’d like to invite. It helps to visualize, so creating a master list, spreadsheet, or even index cards can help you sort through the possibilities as you eventually work through a final invite count.
Do you count the bride and groom in the guest list?
While you don’t need to send yourselves an official invitation, you should definitely include yourself and your spouse on the guest list. As you get closer to the wedding date, you’ll need to provide the venue and/or caterer with a final guest count. And if you’re having a plated dinner, don’t forget to include your meal choices, as well!
Compromise is key
You and your partner likely have a group of shared friends to add to the list, but you might each also have special people on each side that you want to include. Find a fair way to split up the percentage of guests you’re each allowed. If you have a big family, for example, and your spouse has a smaller one, consider allowing them more friends and acquaintances so the wedding doesn’t feel overwhelmingly one-sided.
Depending on parental involvement, you may need to offer up some space on the guest list for them, as well. They may have a group of lifelong friends who attend the weddings of each other's children, or other close relationships that are important for them. Ultimately, you get the final say on the guest list, but be willing to compromise a bit to keep everyone happy.
How to decide who to invite to your wedding
Think of crafting your wedding guest list like making a delicious soup. You want to find the perfect combination of spices and ingredients to complete the recipe. A little from the bride’s side, a little from the groom’s side, blended for the right mix of wedding fun.
Once you have a raw collection of everyone you, your spouse, or your parents would consider including in your wedding day guest list, follow these steps to shape it into a workable list that fulfills your wedding needs.
Use your budget as a guide
Budget considerations should be top of the list when figuring out a final count. At this point in your wedding planning, you’ve likely already negotiated costs with the venue and vendors so have an idea of per-head cost. Know your numbers, and don’t exceed what you have allotted for an all-in cost.
More guests can mean more expenses elsewhere, as well. Depending on what you are supplying, it could mean more rental items like chairs, tables, place settings, and even additional decor and table centerpieces.
Venue capacity limitations
Alternatively, even if your guest list isn’t blowing the budget, your venue might have a maximum capacity they legally aren’t allowed to exceed. While this might make you trim more of the list than you like, ultimately, you’ll end up with the right amount of guests for your wedding day.
For example, Ling’s couple Maria and Dylan chose a romantic micro-wedding cruise with a limited capacity of just 50 people — including themselves and the ship’s crew. While having a set number of guests meant making some difficult decisions, the closeness and the ability to connect with every guest in attendance made their wedding day feel that much more special.
Photo by @imfg.photography
Read More: How to Pick a Wedding Venue You’ll Love
Other rule of thumb for wedding guest list
Other than outside influences like budgets and vendor restrictions, it’s up to you and your partner to narrow your guest list into something workable. Here are other things to keep in mind when you’re planning a wedding guest list:
PRIORITIZE YOUR LOVED ONES
When you close your eyes and picture your wedding, who do you see as an essential part of your day? Aside from small elopements and courthouse weddings, you’ll likely have a small group of family and lifelong friends that are non-negotiable for witnessing your vows.
INCLUDE YOUR WEDDING PARTY IN THE COUNT
While you already have commitments from your bridesmaids and groomsmen, remember that they (and their partners) should also be part of your final guest count.
As a previous guest, you might feel obligated to invite the couple who welcomed you to their special day. If they’re still important parts of your lives, by all means, make including the other couples a priority — it’s their turn to celebrate you!
Don’t feel like you’re being forced to include someone just because you were a part of their wedding, though. Sometimes friendships drift apart, and wedding capacities are incredibly different. While they might have had a guest list of hundreds, your micro wedding combined with a long list of relatives might mean they won’t make the final cut. Use your best judgment when making the call.
DO YOU NEED TO INVITE WORK COLLEAGUES OR SUPERVISORS?
For some, keeping work and home life separate is important. For others, work friends can become like family, remaining close even after you’re no longer colleagues. Most coworkers will totally understand if you’d prefer to share photos and have a celebratory drink when you return, especially if you’re having a wedding on the smaller side.
NEIGHBORS, ACQUAINTANCES, AND FAMILY FRIENDS
Your initial guest list brainstorming might find you including anyone and everyone you know, and usually with a good reason behind it. People like neighbors whom you’re friendly with, friends from extracurricular activity groups, godparents, and more might come up when you first start planning.
Narrow down your wedding party guest list
Once you’ve thrown all the potential guest names in the proverbial hat, take the next steps to trim your list of potential attendees to a manageable number.
TRY A RANKING SYSTEM FOR YOUR WEDDING GUEST LIST
When you’re starting to sort through a potential guest list, it can sometimes help to separate people into different groups. Try making different columns or piles for must-haves, maybes, and “only if there’s room.”
Some guests, like parents, siblings, and best friends, might be non-negotiable. Other potential guests such as coworkers, gym buddies, or a great aunt you’ve only met once or twice can be put into a “maybe” list. Make room for the ones you most need to have at your wedding and fill in with the others until you reach your maximum guest count.
WHO GETS A PLUS ONE?
Generally, if a guest is in a long-term relationship or has a live-in partner, they should be allowed a plus-one on the wedding invite. For others, you can use discretion, like if you have friends who would be more comfortable if they had someone they know accompanying them.
KID-FRIENDLY OR CHILD-FREE?
Kids can add extra layers of cuteness and fun to your wedding day, but remember that they also multiply the guest list quickly, especially if you have loads of adorable nieces and nephews.
You might be envisioning a more adult evening for your wedding, and that’s perfectly fine, as well! However, if you’re requesting a child-free wedding, be prepared for some people on your guest list to decline the invitation if they can’t secure childcare or aren’t able to leave small children to travel for a destination wedding.
HOW FAR OUTSIDE YOUR CIRCLE SHOULD YOU GO?
Think about the part a potential guest plays in your life and if you see them being a part of your circle in the future. As you get farther out in your circle, you’ll find guests who are more distant family members or individuals you haven’t really interacted with in years. When you need to trim your guest list down, start with the farthest reaches of your circle and work your way in.
BE READY TO MAKE HARD CHOICES FOR THE WEDDING YOU WANT
Ling’s couple Emily and Jackson have some sage advice, suggesting that venue and guest list come first when you start wedding planning. For their romantic terracotta-hued vineyard wedding, they had just six months to create a guest list, send invites, plan, and execute the whole affair.
Photo by RachaelKreidPhotography
Emily says: “If your guest list has 500 people and your venue can only hold 250, you need to figure out who you want to invite, and if you have to cut people, who you're willing to cut in order to get the wedding that you want.”
Sending the wedding invites
The earlier you notify guests with a save-the-date or official invitation, the better the chance they’ll be able to manage their schedules to make attending your wedding a priority. Not only is it good for the guests, but it’s also good for you, too — you’ll be giving yourself ample time to work out seating, meals, and other logistics when you know far in advance who will be there.
Word your invitations carefully
If you’re counting on guests’ responses for an accurate count, be sure to word invitations clearly and carefully to leave out any chance for a gray area. Use specific names and the option for a guest of their choice if there is one. Also, note any restrictions you might have up front like a child-free reception or only kids over a certain age are welcome.
Organize your guest list for wedding RSVPs
Some essential info to consider for a master guest list to keep you organized, help with seating assignments, and easily share details with vendors:
- Full names of guests and their plus-ones (if provided)
- Preferred names or nicknames
- Meal selections
- Dietary restrictions
- Relationship to the couple (bride, groom, parents, etc.)
Be ready with a wedding guest B-list
If you’ve given yourself enough leeway in RSVP time, you’ll be able to access the B-list to fill any empty spots you have from declining guests. And, if you’ve kept all your info organized, you can easily adjust the master list with a quick swap for the new additions.
What percentage of wedding guests will attend?
On average, expect around 80% of invitees to attend. The day of the week and time of the year can affect how many invited guests don’t make it to your big day. Here’s how some of these factor into your final guest count:
Local vs. out-of-town guests
Friends and family members who live a plane ride away have a lot more planning involved when it comes to attending your wedding, like clearing time off from work, paying for transportation, finding a hotel or Airbnb, and securing care for pets or kids. Guests who live locally are more likely to attend due to the convenience of being close to home.
The day of the week
While you might get a great deal on a Wednesday wedding, keep in mind that it could limit how many of your invitees can make it to the ceremony. With busy work schedules, limited paid time off, and rising travel costs in the mix, having a wedding date outside of a typical weekend affair means your percentage of attending guests might be a little lower than the average 85%.
Holidays and other seasonal wedding dates
Holiday weekends mean built-in days off from work and school, but also can mean increased travel and hotel costs. While holiday weddings have their benefits, people often have other obligations.
Ling’s couple Abby and Nick, for example, held their sunflower and lavender vintage-inspired vineyard wedding over the long Memorial weekend. For this duo, their original list of 175 turned into a slightly smaller group of around 140 for the big day, which they say actually worked out perfectly for their event.
Read More: How to Pick a Wedding Date
Finalize your wedding guest list and focus on the fun stuff
Once you’ve got your guest list under control, you can devote your wedding planning time to the important things — namely, the decorations!
Explore our collection of designer artificial flowers and find stunning curated color collections that will impress your wedding guests. And once you’ve said “I do,” share your wedding decor style with us on Instagram @lingsmoment.