How to attack a guest list like a ninja

Guest post by Jessica Carrillo

Wedding planner Jessica Carrillo from Art and Soul Events has planned a LOT of weddings, now she's giving away her insider info on how to attack your guest list like a pro.

Click here to get your hands on the official Offbeat Bride guest list spreadsheet!
Click here to get your hands on the official Offbeat Bride guest list spreadsheet!

As a wedding planner, I know that one of the main challenges our clients tackle is narrowing down their guest list. Coming from a huge family, I can totally relate — I struggled with a massive guest list when planning my own wedding.

As a general rule of the thumb, the more guests invited, the more expensive the wedding will be. You will have more people to feed, more drinks to pay for, more tables to decorate, more favors to buy, and the list goes on.

You might also be required to cap the guest list due to venue capacity restrictions, which means you can't invite everyone you originally hoped you could.

Getting started, you can just draft a rough list of all of the people you want to share your awesome celebration with (and ask your partner to do the same). List close family, extended family, friends from way back, new friends, maybe a co-worker or two, and even the few obligatory peeps your parents or “financial contributors” might ask/demand that you invite. After some back and forth (and a glass of wine or a beer), you and your partner will hopefully agree to some mutual vetoes.

Are you still over your guest capacity?

Keep in mind that about 80% of the total guests invited will usually attend. It is not a fool-proof formula, because this number will vary depending on the time of year, day of the week, location of the wedding, or if it's a holiday weekend.

Here's a few more tips to quickly reduce the guest list:

1. Have an adults-only wedding

I made three exceptions to that rule: my nieces were flower girls and my nephew was the ring bearer; we allowed nursing babies; and we offered the bridal party the option of bringing their children. We made sure to explain this policy up front in our emailed save the date. When we mailed the invitation, we wrote #__ of seats reserved on the inner flap of the envelope to remind those that may have forgotten.

2. Remove guilt from the equation

We realized quickly that 10-15 people on the list were people we felt we somehow owed an invitation. If you haven't kept in touch with someone for years and they are not significant to you or your partner now, maybe you should just scratch them off of the list.

3. Be selective about your +1 allowance

We made these cuts/allowances on a case-by-case basis. If one of our recently-coupled friends or family members was traveling a significant distance and didn't know many of the guests, then we offered a +1. If they knew many of our guests and we did not really know their new fling, then we did not extend the +1 invitation.

4. Send out invitations in multiple rounds

I sent my invitations out three months before the wedding, with an online RSVP function, and in three staggered rounds.

  1. The first round had all of the “musts” as far as my husband and I were concerned. We gave them a month to RSVP before harassing them for a response.
  2. Once we knew who could not make it from the “must” list, we sent another round of about 10-15 more guests that we really wanted to have, which was about two months before the wedding (we gave them a few weeks to RSVP).
  3. Based on round two responses, we sent the third and final round of invites (mostly our parents' friends) about six weeks before the wedding. This allowed us to invite about 20-25 more people than we originally thought we could!

If all else fails and the list is still too long, you can always elope!

What were your best methods of attack when it came to the guest list?

coordinators: Art and Soul Events

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Comments on How to attack a guest list like a ninja

  1. This is perfect! I have a large family as well, and trying to decide who had +1’s and who didn’t was excruciating! Thank you for the great advice!

  2. This is great! My fiancee has a much larger family than I do (42 vs. 14!), and that means the number of friends I can afford to invite is smaller than I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll be able to invite a few more if his extended family isn’t willing to travel.

  3. All good suggestions, but here’s another: do it backwards! We made our guest list first, and then evaluated venues accordingly. So if the space couldn’t accommodate the number we wanted, or it could but not for a price we could afford, it was a no-go. It was important to us to have a nice venue and good things to eat and drink, but more important to have the folks we loved there, and we prioritized accordingly.

    • I’ve heard it said there are three constraints for planning a wedding: type of event, guest list and budget. You get to control two out of the three.

    • Very true, there are so many ways to work the guest list:) Sometimes a couple just falls in love with a venue and has to make it work with the capacity, but other times a couple might know they have a set number of people they want to invite, so they work around that number to find a venue that will accommodate.

      I had to find a place that allowed more than 200 guests because there were so many people we wanted to invite!

    • This is what we did. We both have large extended families but knew we wanted to at least invite all of our extended family, and we wanted to include a decent number of friends. My brother did the no-kids thing for his wedding, but only for our family because ours is larger. I decided I want to let people bring kids – they’re part of the family and many can’t/won’t come w/o kids. We don’t have a super special or fancy reception venue with the large guest list, but that would’ve been hard to find in the area anyways. We’re planning our budget based on including everyone we want there, but realistically know maybe 2/3 will make it so we should be well under budget.

  4. I noticed when I planned my first wedding, the number of people who wanted to attend dropped when we made it clear it was going to be a dry wedding.

    Just a head’s up on that front if you go dry.

    • That is just so sad. I wanted a dry wedding but my mother would hear nothing of it. She doesn’t even drink either! But none of our family would have shown up if there wasn’t liquor. Even our venue coordinator talked more about the liquor that would be available than the actual venue. I mean, I don’t drink, my husband doesn’t drink, why did I have to spend twice as much to have liquor??

      • Let me put it to you this way – you’ll know who your real friends are because they don’t expect to be liquored up to have a good time with you.

  5. Great post! I never thought about doing 3 rounds of invites but that’s brilliant! Thank you!!!

  6. What we found helped with our guest list was we decided to only invite what my dad calls our “Christmas family”. (I know that the word “family” rubs some people the wrong way but you will see that the concept works even if you don’t get along with your family of origin – and if that’s the case, or if you don’t celebrate Christmas, just find a different phrase to describe the people you want to celebrate with.) For us, that is the people who you would invite to Christmas if you were hosting it and you didn’t have the limitations of your house as a venue (it’s more than just the list of people but the atmosphere too – much like the friendsgiving concept). In our case a large group of this is our families of origin (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunt/uncles, cousins); however it also includes our closest friends who we also consider family.

    This made things pretty easy when making decisions regarding who to include/exclude for the guest list. Children were included since we would have them at our Christmas. Distant relatives who we wouldn’t invite for Christmas (e.g., our parents’ cousins and their children and grandchildren) were out, and so were plus ones for people who were not in long term relationships (this was mainly an issue for some of our single friends, however we discussed it with them before hand and they were ok with it). This also made it easy to not invite those people we might feel obligated to invite (e.g., a friend who invited us to their wedding however who does not fit in our “Christmas Family” definition).

    We learned a sure way to invite lots of people (over 160) but have less than half show up is to get married in an inconvenient place for at least half of your guests (all of my family and friends had to travel at least 6 hours – since my husband’s family all lives there it made sense to not inconvenience nearly all of the guests) and to get married during the school year (we got married in October).

  7. We did two rounds, and it was extremely helpful to have enough ‘no’ RSVPs from the 1st round in time to invite another ~15 people in that 2nd round without worrying that we would go way over our limit!

  8. This is a great post and very timely as the time to send save-the-dates is quickly approaching for me. My fiancee and I have only one major issue we’ve yet to resolve. We’ve decided that drinking age is our invite cut off, however there are multiple families on his side where the Aunts/Uncles have some children that are drinking age but their siblings are not. Any advice?

  9. I know this post was a while ago but maybe someone can give their opinion. How do you handle Save the Dates with this method? If someone is in round three do you play it safe and not send them a Save the Date? Thanks!

    • I would only send save the dates to your “must list” (1st round), since they are the ones you’d like to see there the most. If in some odd (happy) fluke, they can all make it, you risk upsetting your 2nd & 3rd round people when they don’t receive an invite. I don’t think we’re doing STDs since we’ve told our closest family and friends the date in person, but I think we will still follow the 3 round idea.

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