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Wedding Guests - Who to Invite, How to Decide


The wedding guest list is a funny thing. Every wedding planning checklist has this task list as one of the first things to decide and yet the 'finalization" much later. In between you have a huge number of decisions on other items that ultimately relate directly back to the guest list - how many people you have impacts where you have your ceremony, wedding reception, how many tables you need (and all the decor on the tables), how much food you need (per per costs), and then lets not forget the ultimate zinger: just who is going to be part of your big day? How much should your parents be able to insist on inviting certain people? Does it relate to who is paying for the wedding or are there perhaps bigger stakes that require careful thought?


There are categories of people below but keep in mind this list may apply to:


  • EVERY core stakeholder of the wedding (which we at The First Dance would consider the bride, groom, her parents and his parents.) Some categories are more fitting for the bride and groom than the parents but putting people in a context can greatly help narrow down a guest list from all the stakeholders.


  • Marriages are not split upeven if you only know one of the people! This means you may be doubling a category because they are all married.


Categories of wedding guests:

  • Family - immediate
  • Family - extended
  • Friends which can be broken down even further
  • High school
  • College / graduate school
  • Neighborhood based (grew up with them or live near them now)
  • Friends of friends. we all socialize with people who we may not actually have their phone number or been to their house but we genuinely like them and would enjoy having them at our wedding.
  • Co-Workers
  • "Religious friendships" if you go to a house of worship and are connected to people there, especially if you are getting married in that institution
  • Hobbist friends - do you play sports, poker, scrapbook or do other things with another group of friends?
  • CHILDREN OF ALL OF THE ABOVE! This is a hot issue!


Wedding Guest List Decision Making


Here are the most common ways you will read about and their pros and cons. We will then give our recommended approach and will await your input on what worked for you!


  • Only invite people you have seen in the last year


  • pros:

    • keeps you from inviting people who, frankly, might not want to go to your wedding anyway!
    • it also may reduce a huge number of people in one easy swoop



    • life gets busy and unfortunately many of us see the least important people in our lives on a daily basis (random coworkers and the same cashier at the supermarket!) and not the ones we love dearly
    • you could actually reverse the guest list from the most important people to 'the most convenient', maybe those who live locally or to just friends in town.
    • we are a mobile society and many of us have out of town friends and family that we don't see often but are really important to us.

Divide up the guest list by bride, groom, and parents.

Do an even split and everyone gets to decide within their number of alloted spots



    • keeps things very equal and makes everyone par down their own list without someone else looking over their shoulder, questioning who is on the list.
    • ensures that each stakeholder "group" feel respected because they get some choice and power in their alloted spaces



    • there are many, many cons including the fact that few of us have the same number of people in each category of friends.
    • It can mean that one person gets to invite all their family, friends and former coworkers while the other person has to slice up their family and has no room for anyone else
    • It doesn't acknowledge the "non-negotiables" who need to be invited and makes every person of equal value within the alloted spaces.
    • It can completely backfire when you do not invite special people because of space and money issues and a parent choses to invite a neighbor they barely know but feel 'socially obligated' to invite or they really just want to fill up their alloted spaces.

Remove entire categories from the wedding



    • this keeps things very equal and it makes it easier, socially, to tell people you'd love to invite them but due to space ALL people (at work, at church, in the volleyball team) are not invited
    • It gives you an easy 'out' when people ask about the wedding.
    • It can also keep resentment down because everyone is 'missing' that category of people - you don't have to say a nice hello to your grooms high school buddies when you weren't able to squeeze yours into the guest list and are envious or annoyed.



    • We each have distinct levels of closeness with individuals.
    • It is easy to say "no coworkers" but it may be that you're developing best friendships with a few people and since you see them every day you feel closer to them then your old high school friends
    • if one of you is local and the other is not from the area, it may also feel unequal since the local person may socialize a lot more with that group than the out of towner does with their equal group.

Ask yourself, "would I invite this person to my home for dinner?"



    • this can really get to the heart of whether you are just wanting to fill space and make things more festive, or whether this person is actually someone important in your life.
    • it also reminds you this isn't an after work happy hour you are inviting them to - this is the most personal yet public event of your lives - joining two people, two families, and starting a new marriage is not "just another party".



    • there are always going to be people who are dear to us but may not be "that" kind of friend
    • Perhaps your coworker is someone you appreciate for not being part of your "regular life". They have spent a year listening to your wedding planning, offering tremendous wisdom and guidance and you really want them to be there even if you aren't hanging out with them outside of work.
    • similarly there are friends of parents who may be there that you don't know and wouldn't invite over, but that's not a reason they shouldn't be at your wedding.

    The First Dance Recommendation:


    It is of course vital to have in your mind or in a contract the limitations of space for your event, the food budget (ballparking the cost per person - are you going low, medium, or high cost), and who is paying. These three arms of wedding planning don't always talk to each other and it leads to a lot of conflict and hurt feelings. Keeping in mind weddings are nothing like they used to be and anyone born in the 1960's or earlier may have a very different notion of the wedding and make their decisions accordingly. They may have no clue that each person can easily cost $50 or more when you add in the food and space. Their view is the backyard, casual cake and punch wedding where it wasn't so crucial who was invited or showed up. And you may not know what their view of a wedding is. For some people it is one of those few events in life that you pull out all the stops and NOTHING is too good or too expensive and for others it is about being responsible with money and not getting "carried away" while still having a good time. Bride, groom, her parents and his parents may have unique views on the wedding and won't necessarily express their opinions which means you have to ask or make intelligent assumptions based on their actions.


    Once you have a sense of money, space and expectations of the key players, there are a few approaches you could take. One approach is to collect the people they want to invite (when they realize each name is going to cost $50 and just because they write down a name doesn't mean they are for sure invited) and then run the numbers. Working backwards it may be as simple as having to remove 30 names and being able to do that easily with or without a lot of conversation and neogitiation.


    A second approach is to write out all the super obvious people from all sides - usually family and some key friends. Then see what is left and start adding slowly from all the categories for each person until the numbers work out. This is a careful dance to ensure nobody feels slighted but is in some ways a very logical way to go about things since we can't control how many people are in our families and nobody wants to feel slighted because either they have the large family or the spouse-to be comes from a tiny family and therefor gets to invite a ton of non-family friends.

    What is your approach and how is it working for you? Let us know!


    Tips to keep in mind:


    We are always astounded when people have not communicated the guest list and end up with much drama when invitations are ordered, being sent, or even weeks before the wedding when couples learn that grandma has gone ahead and invited her 10 neighbors. What went wrong? How can a loved one even be stirring up the drama for something that was supposedly figured out months ago?


    Once the guest list is established every stakeholder needs to be made aware of the finality of the guest list, given their list of people they are inviting as a reminder and confirmation, and, if necessary, reminded there is no wiggle room, financially or logistically with space, to invite anyone new, no matter how important they are or pressured they feel socially. This time, early in the planning, is when its best to hash out the emotions and assumptions that are creating any tensions. Ultimately if emotions are running high it means you have to fix something before you can smartly proceed forward. The result may be someone increases their financial contribution, or the wedding location is changed to accomodate a different number of guests.


    Some advice says to invite 10-20% more people then you want because not everyone can make it. This is up to you but you have to be very aware that you are responsible financially and space-wise for anyone who does show up unexpectedly. This is where you have to play out the best and worst case scenarios and plan the best approach. Nobody wants an empty ballroom because so many people couldn't make it and nobody wants to be elbow to elbow in a small space with too many people.


    It's not just good etiquette, it's a good life rule of thumb: do not separate a married couple to celebrate the beginning of your marriage! Married couples belong together even if you have never met the spouse.