How to manage your wedding guest list – the modern way

So you’ve just got engaged, congratulations! A dent has barely formed on your ring finger but already you are facing pressure on who you ‘have to’ invite. Managing your wedding guest list, and possibly more so, family expectations can be difficult. Everyone expects a say, even if the reasoning is a little old fashioned. This post is designed to give you some ideas on how to whittle down the guest list, and how to deal with difficult requests.

wedding stationery

As a precursor, the approach to tackling the guest list generally falls into two camps. The traditional way, or the modern way. Traditionally, the guest list was split equally between families and based heavily around family members. 20% of whom you’ve never met, and another 20% you haven’t spoken to in the last 10 years. Before you know it the invite list for your intimate gathering is 200 strong and still going. I’m not going to talk about that. It’s old-fashioned, unnecessary, and just a pile of shit.

So lets let down to the realistic, modern way.

photograph of happy couple who managed their wedding guests list successfully to include large family

Go with your gut – the ‘A’ list

Sit down with your partner and start rhyming off the names of people beyond immediate family who you can’t imagine NOT being there. This should really help you really determine who is important to you, and who is 100% invited. This group of names will form your priority or ‘A’ list.

Your ‘A’ list will go hand-in-hand with your venue selection. From this number, you’ll be able to estimate the minimum number of guests you are going to invite and will help you start narrowing down potential venues based on capacity. The type of wedding you want comes into play here too. If you want a small intimate wedding, or have a tighter budget, this A list will form the majority of the guests on the day. If you want a big, festival knees up in a field, you’ll probably have scope to invite many more guests.

photograph of family hugging after bride and groom included friends on the wedding invitation list

The ‘B’ list

Then we’re onto the ‘B’ list. The sub, or ‘B’ list, should include Aunts, Uncles, cousins, work mates and school friends who you are still in touch with.Don’t feel obliged to invite someone to your wedding just because they invited you, or you attended theirs. It can be helpful to split this list up even further. Those you have a good or close relationship with, and others who your only link to is blood. It sounds harsh, but it really makes things easier when it comes to reducing numbers later.  This can also help to determine who attended the ceremony and wedding breakfast, and who is invited to only the evening celebrations.

bride chatting to friends who her and her husband invited following carefully guest list planning

Here are some pointers to help with your B list;

  • If either of you has never spoken to, or recognise the name of someone, REALLY consider whether they should be there.
  • If they haven’t been there in the past, why should they be there on your wedding day?
  • Liking the odd post on Facebook over the last 2-3 years doesn’t really count as friendship, leave them off the list.
  • Extended families can really add up, don’t beat yourself up if you want to have a child-free wedding day.
  • Don’t invite people just because they’ve assumed they’ll be invited.

Keeping your parents happy

Let’s face it, your parents are possibly more excited than you that you are getting married. But this put’s them in a difficult position. Often they are much closer to family members than you are and are left open to answering why certain people haven’t been invited. I ‘fess up now, I put my own mum in this position. It’s stressful and uncomfortable for them, and honesty really is the best policy. Come clean early on in the planning stages and explain why. If you want a small and intimate wedding, it’s unrealistic to invite your mum’s yoga buddies. If budget is a problem, explain that too. Armed with reasons, they will feel much more comfortable explaining to others why.

If you are receiving financial help you may need to compromise a little. Allow parents to invite a limited number of guests with some ground rules. Restrict them to inviting only those you have personally had contact with in the last 6-12 months. Whatever you do, under no circumstances let parents wear you down.

The +1 debate

It can be difficult navigate the whole plus one issue. But what I would suggest, is steering away from dishing out plus ones just for the sake of it. As a general rule invite anyone who is in a long-term relationship as a couple. Single, or dating friends…invite only them. It’s likely that single friends will be friends of others you’ve invited, so there is no need to worry about them being on their own on the day.

single man at wedding who wasn't given a plus one invitation to keep numbers low


You may love kids, but will they fit into your dream elegant stylish city wedding? Possibly not. If you’re not sure how children will fit into your wedding day then there are a few options. Firstly, you take the hardcore approach and adopt a blanket child-free policy. Whether this is suitable or not will depend on whether your wedding is relatively local, or destination. While parents may be happy to leave children with babysitters or family for a few hours, the chances are they decide to decline the invite for your French wedding if they have to leave the kids at home. Think carefully whether you can imagine getting married without them there.

bridesmaid joking with children at child-friendly wedding

The second is a good half-way house, limit children to those within the bridal party, and/or those under a certain age. You could even limit this to children of ‘A’ list guests. If neither option seems doable, include children. But, rather than seating them at the ‘grown-up’ tables, hire an entertainer and create a kids corner where the kids will be happy to spend hours.

If neither option seems doable, include children. But, rather than seating them at the ‘grown-up’ tables, hire an entertainer and create a kids corner where the kids will be happy to spend hours.

Work colleagues

Work colleagues is a difficult one. It’s hard to feel like you can invite one colleague without inviting them all. Think about whether you spend time outside of work with the ‘colleague’, if so, put them on the ‘B’ list. If not, leave them off.


Planning your guest list is probably one of the most difficult aspects of planning your wedding. But I think the key to getting through it is to stick to your guns. Yes, people may be a little hurt that they didn’t make the list, but true friends and family should understand and be happy for you, regardless of whether they are there to witness your vows or not.

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