After the excitement from the engagement and the wedding planning finally begins, inevitably comes the time to choose your guest list.
When we surveyed Blueprint users, we found that 43% of them agreed that narrowing down their guest list has been the hardest part of the wedding planning process. You can build your dream guest list—childhood friends, close family, and even the couple you bonded with at Coachella a couple years ago. The reality is, however, that venues and budgets have constraints and eventually you have to start making some tough choices.
Before putting in an order for wedding invitations and requesting a quote from a caterer, you’ll want to make sure your guest list is as close to final as possible. Use our following suggestions to ease the stress of what can be the toughest parts of planning a wedding.
Building Your Wedding Guest List
Who is inviting guests?
This may seem like an odd question to ask, but when putting together a wedding guest list it’s important consider who is helping you with the wedding. If funding the wedding yourselves, you and your partner should split the guest list as evenly as possible. However, if you’re accepting financial help (like from parents or with a Fund the Wedding registry), it’s only fair to offer a portion of the guest list to whoever is chipping in. If you’re not prepared to give up seats on your guest list, it’s best to know this before you accept financial help from loved ones (or be clear with the contributor beforehand).
What does your ultimate wedding guest list look like?
When putting together your guest list, spend a good chunk of time writing down every single person you would invite to your wedding if there were no constraints. The only way to start narrowing down your guest list (or organizing into A and B lists) is to think big and then scale back.
Try breaking the span of your life into time periods, like childhood, school years, college, etc. Think about the people you were closest to during those times, and the impact they’ve had on your life. Once you’ve put together your ultimate guest list, you can go through and select the folks you can’t imagine not having at your big day.
Blueprint user, Mary, did just that:
“We thought about how we would feel having each guest at our wedding. If we felt excited, we sent them an invite. If we didn’t, we took them off the list.”
No matter how you approach a guest list, hard choices will have to be made. We have to start somewhere!
What’s the deal with A + B lists?
The A list is another (shorter) name for your “I-Can’t-Imagine-My-Wedding-Without-You” list. There’s a bit of controversy surrounding them—some find it uncouth, while for others it’s unavoidable. In fact, 57% of people we surveyed either said there’s no way around a B list or that they didn’t see any issue with them.
It’s never fun or easy to prioritize the people in your life. But when we have to factor in venues and budgets, difficult decisions are inevitable. A and B lists help couples send invites to guests they can’t live without, while having a backup list to account for anyone on that list who can’t make it. Couples should count on around 10% of their A lists to decline an invitation, and even more if you’re having a destination wedding. The Knot estimates you could get anywhere from 30% regrets and as much as 50% for a wedding that requires that much travel. As soon as you get regrets, however, start sending out B list invitations.
It’s best practice to send A list invitations as soon as you’ve solidified your budget and venue. That way, when you need to start inviting B list guests you’re not sending them too close to your wedding day. Try your hardest to make sure B list guests don’t feel like second best.
How do I avoid unexpected plus ones?
We all know how it goes—whenever a party is thrown, there’s usually some folks that turn up uninvited. In most casual cases, accommodating a few unexpected guests isn’t a terrible inconvenience. However, when budgets, venue allowances, and guest lists are part of the equation, a few extra guests could really rock the boat.
First, there’s the unexpected cost for those footing the bill to consider. Then there’s whether or not you’ve reached venue capacity. And don’t forget about how you’ve been poring over your guest list and seating chart for so many months. It’s frustrating to plan every single detail for it to be ignored. We understand that as much as you may want to host anyone and everyone, it just simply isn’t always possible.
The best way to avoid uninvited guests is to be crystal clear about who is invited from the very beginning. Once your guest list is absolutely final, it’s time to start sending out save the dates and then invitations later on. Be consistent with who exactly you’re addressing save the dates and invitations to. If a save the date is addressed only to Sam and Sue, then Sam and Sue should be on the invitation for the wedding. If you plan on inviting Sam, Sue, and their son Sid to the wedding, include them all on the addressed envelopes.
The most important tip for avoiding uninvited guests, however, is to be perfectly clear on the RSVP cards included within your invitation. When addressing invitations, make sure the names on the RSVP cards match the names on the envelope. This way when guests respond, there is absolutely no confusion. If you don’t know the name of your guest’s plus one, simply write “and guest”.
It’s always possible you’ll get some write-ins in the margins even when you took all the steps to avoid them. Our hope is that a simple phone call or email with a quick prepared explanation from you—made with plenty of notice—will suffice. We’re sorry to say that sometimes there just isn’t away around the awkwardness.
Is it acceptable to invite people verbally?
This is one point that is especially tricky to navigate. After the excitement of the engagement, a slew of people will be, as expected, asking all about your wedding plans. It may feel polite and good natured to extend an invitation at that time, but we recommend being extra careful about who you verbally invite.
Imagine inviting someone casually during conversation, and not actually being able to send them an invite due to budget. The last thing you want to do is make someone feel like second best or unimportant.
Until you have finalized your guest list, or your A and B lists, try your best to hold off on verbal invitations. Of course it’s safe to verbally invite anyone who will be involved in the wedding in some way—think bridal party and immediate family.
How do I handle organizing a kid-free wedding?
Let’s start off with this: It’s okay to choose not to have kids at your wedding, just as it’s okay to have them if that’s what you want. Ultimately, it’s your big day and you get to make the rules.
No matter which direction you choose, it needs to be handled carefully and tastefully. If you’re inviting children, make sure to include their names on the invitations and to count them as guests on your final list. If you choose to have an adults-only wedding, that also needs to be made clear on your invitations.
Some examples on wording can be:
“Please join us in celebration at our adults-only reception.”
“As much as we love your kiddos, please note that this is an adults-only celebration.”
Some couples, however, are budgeting for childcare during their reception. They will book another room at the venue and parents who choose to bring their children have the option to pitch in to pay professional sitters to watch the little ones during the reception. Some other couples offer to foot the bill entirely. If this is the route you choose, your invitation can say something to the degree of:
“Please note that the reception is an adults-only celebration, but childcare will be provided on-site.”
Finding childcare for a wedding, especially a destination wedding, isn’t easy for every family. Choosing to have a child-free wedding means that you may also have to be flexible and understanding when parents aren’t able to swing it.
Do I need separate guest lists + invites for the ceremony + reception?
Depending on where you are having your ceremony and reception, you may have to consider having separate guest lists. More often we’re seeing couples planning a small and intimate ceremony for their closest friends and family, and booking a larger venue to accommodate their entire guest list.
Follow the same tips we’ve discussed at the beginning of this post when creating your separate guest lists. Whose face can you not imagine being absent from the crowd at your ceremony? Who do you think wouldn’t mind missing the ceremony altogether because they just want to party with you afterward?
The best way to handle invitations for separate guest lists is to invite everyone to the reception, but only include a ceremony card for those who are invited to watch your nuptials. Again, be specific on the envelope—and RSVP cards—with who exactly is invited to attend each event.
And Now the Seating Charts
You’ve secured a venue. You’ve (finally) nailed down your guest list. Your invitations have been sent and you’ve received most—if not all—your RSVPs, allowing you to compile your final guest list. Great—time to tackle your seating chart.
You and your partner look at each other and think simultaneously, “how do we even start?”
Luckily, you’ve already gotten the hardest part out of the way. Think of the seating chart as a fun puzzle, where you move your pieces around until you have a perfect fit. Yeah ok, seating charts can be more stressful than a game, but we’ve got some tips to help you out here, too.
When beginning to plan your seating chart, consider the following and ask yourself:
Know the layout of your venue: What is the shape of the room? What’s the square footage? How many tables can you fit?
Know your table style and arrangement: Which shape do you prefer for the tables? How many people can be seated at a single table? Where in the room will your table be located? What about the gift tables, cake table, buffet, and other activities?
Special tables for those with special roles: Where will you and your partner sit? Where will the wedding party sit? Will immediate and important family members sit near you? Do you need a kid’s table or will they sit with their parents?
Parents + financial contributors’ guests: Did you receive financial help with your wedding? Are those contributors inviting guests? Make sure you consult them before seating their guests.
How structured do you want your seating chart? You can either assign guests directly to a seat, or only assign to tables and let guests choose where they sit. Keep in mind that once the party gets started, people tend to sit wherever they feel like.
Go digital: Did you know you can arrange tables with digital seating chart tools? Some people will always prefer physical seating charts, but luckily we live in a time where there is an online tool for practically everything.
AllSeated is probably the most popular online seating chart tool, where you can keep track of your guest list, design your venue floor plan to scale, and drag and drop guests to their seats as RSVPs come in.
WeddingWire is another great option for digital seating charts, as well. Arrange your floor plan, move seats around, share, and track your wedding guests all in one place. Are you a spreadsheet sort of person? Style Me Pretty has a free Google Sheets template for you to use.
Canva, the everyday and every-person design tool, has a collection of free seating chart templates users can customize to organize guest seating. Use it for your own reference, hand it off to the venue, or print a large version to display for your guests. Edit and design to your heart’s desire!
Planning a wedding is hard, and guest lists are arguably one of the toughest parts. Let our tips guide you through guest lists and seating charts and save yourself a little stress along the way. No matter what, your wedding will be sure to thrill your guests in every imaginable way.