The 5-Step Guest List Guide


The Guest List. The one aspect of wedding planning almost always shrouded in unnecessary stress and premature guilt — dress shopping or cake tasting it certainly is not. But just FYI, it doesn’t have to be that bad. In fact, thinking of all the people you’d love to spend you big day with should even be fun.

First things first, if you want to make this whole process a whole lot easier, you should consider using a wedding website with a guest management feature and RSVP system. This is kind of a no-brainer. Handling your guest list online eliminates most of the grunt work, especially once responses start to roll in. Now set up your choice of electronic planning tool or app (soon to be your bff), and let’s get started.

Step 1: Lay Down the Limit

Determine The Number. This is the final tally of heads as determined by factors such as your smallest venue option’s maximum capacity and/or your set budget (i.e. more reception meals = more money).

Ideally you’ve got your guest list down before you even finalize your venue, as it may end up influencing your final pick. It’s fine if you end up booking the venue option with the highest max capacity— we just strongly recommend picking a venue that has a max capacity.* Having a real restriction actually aids your invite decisions and keeps your budget in check.

This is your Number.

*If you’re set on a ceremony space with a much smaller capacity than your reception location that’s a slightly different story. Some couples simply choose to not invite everyone to their ceremony. True, the intimate exchanging of vows is most special to your nearest and dearest, but the celebration only gets better at the reception, so this is a great compromise. 

Bonus tip: If you take this route you’ll need a Riley & Grey wedding website. Yes, we’re biased and this screams PLUG! but our online RSVP system lets you restrict guest access to certain events — meaning each guest only gets invited to/sees the events you select for them.

Step 2: Binge Don’t Brainstorm

So you know that ultra-strict, no-nonsense Number we just made you set? Are you picturing it? Good. Great.

Throw it out the window (bear with us this will all make sense in a second). Now go ahead and list all of the people you’d possibly want at your wedding. This is your Wish List.

And don’t forget those significant others! We’re not going to stress a certain formula for this task because relationships take varying trajectories these days and declaring “rules” for what’s serious feels a bit archaic. However, married and cohabiting couples (especially those living together for at least a year) are kind of a given. This is packaged deal not a plus one (we’ll get there in Step 5, so hold off on the more precarious pairs for now).

Step 3: Whittle Away

Okay, so now your have your Number, your Wish List,  and a major problem: these two don’t don’t line up.*

*(Unless of course A: they do line up. In that case, bye! Our work is done here. OR B: your fantasy number falls well below your real Number. In this case, skip ahead to Step 4 now.)

Time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business. Yes, this is the “hard” part.

We feel you. Conjuring your Wish List only to throw your friends and acquaintances on the chopping block sounds counterintuitive. And yes, the act of actually “cutting” names may feel a bit harsh to you. But if you don’t name all names now, we guarantee they’ll pop up in your head down the road. You’re preemptively addressing an inevitable “problem,” not creating one.

And, because you have actually considered everyone, you’ll ultimately feel more confident in  your final decision. Promise.

Step 4: The Parental Proofread

We know, we know! This sounds a little scary — like it may open up a can of worms. But no worries, we’ll explain.

If your parents are involved in wedding planning (and/or footing the bill) now is the time to clue them in on your tentative guest list. Assuming your now narrowed draft already covers all key players, ask your parents to double check that you’re not missing anyone. Important: don’t just reach out and then interpret radio silence as a green light. Passively accepting a non-response results in a textbook “wedding disaster.”

Here’s how a classic horror story of last-minute planning typically goes down: It’s two weeks before the big day and dad calls wanting— no needing— to add one more guest because he invited a family friend he ran into at the grocery store. Oh right, and one additional guest needs a plus-one to bring his wife. And one more thing, can they maybe also bring their kids? 

If you were wondering why you’d ever invite your ‘rents to chime in on your wedding planning, you have your answer. This is exactly the reason you don’t want to forego this step (barring all exceptional circumstances i.e. your parents aren’t partaking in your wedding at all). No one needs down-to-the-wire wedding drama.

Step 5: Guests of Guests 

Still have space? Time to pass out those coveted plus-ones.

Just don’t start off all Oprah (You get a plus one! You get a plus one! etc. etc.). That approach will add up quicker than you think. However, since you’ve already included more clear-cut, longterm pairs you can use your discretion in doling out dates. Just trust your gut or follow your fancy on this one.

Finally, import your guest list into your online platform of choice and start sending out those wedding website invitation emails. (Psst! Last plug, Riley & Grey’s Guest Management tool let’s you do this in a pinch).  Now sit back and relax as the RSVPs roll in and your wedding website tallies all responses for you. Enjoy and get excited— that’s really what this is all about anyway!

Featured Image: Rad + In Love Photography 

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