How To Build Your Wedding Guest List

The size of your wedding guest list determines the kind of wedding you'll have, where you'll have it, and just about every other detail beyond the basics (how many invitations you'll need, your menu, number of favors). The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette will help you define your wished-for size of wedding so that you can inform parents about parameters, and answer your questions on guest list do's and don'ts.

To get started, you need to define the size of the guest list you want:

  • Small: Under 50 guests
  • Medium: 50 to 100 guests
  • Average: 100 to 150 guests (Note: the average guest list size in the country right now is 141 guests)
  • Large: 150 to 200 guests
  • Extra-Large: 200+ guests

Three Lists

As you begin the selection of your invited guests, you'll invite your parents to submit their guest wish lists. Use the term "wish list," since you will ultimately decide who makes the final cut. Yes, parents who are paying for all or part of the wedding might think otherwise, but it's ultimately your choice of who you want to share your day with. Parents should of course be given the chance to invite some of their closest friends, but as a matter of honor to you, they should never be invited in place of your friends.

The bride and groom will have one list of your relatives and friends; the bride's parents will compile their list; the groom's parents will compile their list. If you have more than two sets of parents, such as remarried parents, they get a list too.

Remind your parents at the start that you wish to share your wedding day only with the people you're closest to. Make it clear that you expect your guest list to be "worked on" by asking parents to star or underline the people on their list who are absolute must have's. And you'll do the same with your list. When parents perceive fairness all the way around, many etiquette problems are avoided.

Keep It Quiet

Ask parents, politely, to stay quiet about their guest wish list until you can devise a final guest list for the wedding. Overeager parents may inform everyone on their wish list that they are invited to the wedding before the master guest list is created. You cannot uninvite people who would realistically expect to be invited. And a direct invitation from the mother of the bride constitutes just that. So avoid this etiquette nightmare by asking your entire team to be discreet about the guest list for right now, and you will do the same.

Click here for our guide to parents' guest list etiquette

Compiling Your Master List

Using everyone's wish list, you'll compile one master list in an organized fashion.

"And Guest" Additions

  • Every single guest over the age of eighteen (in some families, the rule is "over sixteen") is given an "And Guest" indication that he or she may invite a date to the wedding
  • It is improper not to allow an "And Guest" to single adults as a way to save money or open up spaces to additional guests
  • Included in the singles list are elderly guests, who should be allowed to bring a date, friend, or assistant
  • If a single guest responds that she's bringing a fun friend of hers instead of a date (as you'd intended), you cannot tell her that she only gets an "And Guest" if she brings an actual date. You don't get to choose who your guests bring as a companion for the event
  • The officiant must be invited to the reception, along with his or her partner
  • The wedding coordinator is counted as a guest, together with an assistant. Wedding coordinators, who are on the job, do not bring dates to weddings. But they do sit down to eat, which makes them part of the final guest count
  • The same goes for the photographer and his or her assistant
  • The DJ or band members
  • The videographer and assistant
  • Finally, the members of your wedding party are either invited together with their spouses, fiance(e)s, or significant others, and single members of your wedding party are each given an "And Guest" as a matter of respect to them. Yes, they're paired up for the ceremony and the first dance, but it's an etiquette mistake not to give them an "And Guest" for the reception. They can choose to turn down the offer if they wish

Excerpted from The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette by Sharon Naylor. © 2005 Source Books.

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