There are not many decisions that can leave an engaged couple with more stress than the guest list which definitely takes on it's own personality. It can remind someone that they are important to you. It can also hurt feelings of those it does not encompass. It can be liberal and welcoming to all, or it can be exclusive and selective. It really can become a nasty task when we get down to the nitty-gritty of the guest list.
Each couple's "must haves" list will be different. Some couples are close to only their immediate family. Some couples have an enormous extended family that must be invited. Some weigh their friends more importantly than their third cousins twice removed. Sometimes parents have huge lists of must-have invitees that dwarf the list coming from the bride and groom.
Each couple's budget will be different. Sometimes a couple is lucky enough to be able to afford as many heads as they wish while other couples cannot. Some would rather spend more money per person with a smaller group rather than finding the more cost-effective menu options for more people.
Each couple's venue will be different. Regardless of VIP lists and budgeting, sometimes a venue can only hold so many faces. How does a couple decide between college friends and co-workers? And even if the must-have lists fit the budgeting and space requirements, a couple must decide what size of a wedding they wish to have. There is a huge difference between a wedding reception that is planned for three hundred people versus thirty, and each couple will desire a wedding that suits their personalities and comforts.
With so many issues to weigh, we ask ourselves: how do we get started???
First, let's take a look at the total budget. Usually, food and drink costs take up about half of your total wedding budget. If an imaginary couple's budget is $20,000, for example, they will probably spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 on food and drink.
If you know your venue and caterer costs per head already, divide that into the food and drink budget. If the imaginary venue for the imaginary couple was going to charge $50 per head for food, drink, taxes, and gratuities, then the guest list can accommodate 200 people. The price per head will be depend on your venue costs and meal options.
Find out your venue's capacity. Even if the imaginary couple can afford to invite 200 people, their venue may bust at the seams with more than 160 guests present. Some couples can make their guest lists work with a smaller venue while others may wish to search for a location that can accommodate a larger guest list.
Next, divide the head count amongst the bride's parents, groom's parents, bride, and groom. This will vary from couple to couple due to financial contributions and size of families. Each couple will need to sit down and have a discussion about how this will unfold. If the imaginary couple is going to divide equally amongst everyone, then the bride's parents, groom's parents, bride, and groom will each get to invite 40 people.
If the imaginary bride now has 40 guests that she can invite, she must prioritize amongst her family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and the mailman. Clearly her best friend since first grade will have a higher priority than the mail man, so the bride needs to split her list of people into groups that must be at the wedding (the A's), people she' really wants to invite (the B's), and those that she'd like to invite if there is room after the A's and B's are invited (the C's). Ranking your loved ones is not the most pleasant task, but keep in mind that it helps you to stay organized, and no one will ever know which letter you gave them!
Other thing to keep in mind:
Etiquette says that if someone is married or in a long-term relationship, you should invite their significant other. This does not necessarily include Cousin Becky who has a new boyfriend every week. Keep those "plus ones" in mind when you are adding up your guests. On the same note, you must decide as a couple if you are going to invite the children of your guests. This can be a touchy subject as the addition of children to a guest list can make the total count skyrocket, and the elimination of children from the guest list might leave some guests having to find a babysitter or possibly be insulted. Whatever you as a couple decide, be sure that you are consistent with all of your guests.
People can be rude. (It happens.) People will directly ask you if they are invited to the wedding, or sometimes they even assume that they are and will ask you if they can bring someone before you've even finalized your guest list. Have back up comments for these situations such as, "We aren't sure yet how many people we can invite." or "We both have large families, so we aren't able to invite many friends." or (my favorite) "We are eloping."
Ten to twenty percent of your invited guests will not come to your wedding for various reasons. Usually you are safe in inviting about 10% more than what you hope to have as a total guest count on the day of your wedding.
I hope this (wordy) article helps to alleviate some of those guest list woes. Is there anything else in the guest list department that you are wondering about? Do you have some additional guest list advice for engaged couples? Feel free to leave a comment!