Guest List Smarts

By Sharon Naylor

November 16, 2011 5 min read

One of the first tasks to tackle when planning your wedding is creating your guest list. Not only is it exciting to think about those with whom you wish to share your big day, but your guest count also will determine where your wedding will take place -- because a large headcount requires a larger ceremony and reception space -- and what your budget will be.

According to The Wedding Report, the average number of guests in 2012 will range from 140 to 150, with an average expense per guest of $150 to $160. So if you're on a tight budget, you might opt to plan a wedding that's smaller in size. This will require you to be very careful when creating your guest list.

The Emily Post Institute advises against using a standby guest list. "When possible, invite your entire guest list at the same time rather than waiting to see how many people accept before sending out a second round of invitations. When the guest list is carefully planned, and when you consider the likelihood that 10 percent to 20 percent of invited guests typically send regrets, this approach is much more straightforward than using a standby list."

*Whom To Include

Countless etiquette and family diplomacy issues arise when it's time to create a wedding guest list. Parents often apply pressure to invite extended family members who expect an invitation, and some guests apply pressure to have their children invited. After all, the family doesn't get together very often with everyone living in different states and on different continents, perhaps. Your wedding is a rare time for all to gather.

Use these tips to help you decide on a guest list that works for you:

--Begin your list with your closest must-have guests such as parents, siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews, grandparents, the bridal party and their dates, and your absolute best friends and their spouses or dates.

--Your next class of guests likely will be your aunts and uncles and first cousins with their partners, and perhaps their children.

--Next is your circle of close friends. Whether to give them a plus-one -- which is wedding-talk for "a date" -- is up to you. The Emily Post Institute offers the following guidance on this tricky topic: "Partners of invited guests must be included in a wedding invitation (when they are) couples who are married, engaged or living together. It is impolite of a guest to ask if he or she can bring a date -- but it is not impolite of you to refuse. Say, 'I'm sorry, but we have very limited seating at the reception and we just can't accommodate any additional guests.' Allowing single guests who aren't attached to a significant other to bring a date is a thoughtful gesture, but one that is not required."

Couples facing a budget crunch avoid the 40 to 50 extra guests by making this rule: "We'll only give a plus-one to friends whose significant others we know and have socialized with." Yes, that can ruffle the feathers of singles who wish to bring a date, but it's your rule to make. Remind single friends that weddings are great places to meet other singles.

--Next is your circle of work friends and their dates, as well as bosses and their partners. It's become a strong trend to include your "work family" in your wedding, since you spend so much time with them and may have discussed your wedding plans while at work.

--Create a rule about kids. The Emily Post Institute provides the official code of conduct: "If you are not inviting unlimited children, you may decide to include family members only, children of a certain age, or no children at all. It is inappropriate to write 'No Children' on the invitations. Instead, communicate your wishes by writing only the parents' names on the inner and outer envelopes -- and through word of mouth."

*Organizing Your Guest List

Use a free guest list online tool, such as those found through your bridal registry or as part of an all-encompassing wedding organizer like Microsoft OneNote's new wedding planning template (, to create your list and manage RSVPs in one place, with many templates adding up "accepts" and "regrets" totals automatically. No more miscounts.

Guard against any computer disasters, such as a crash that makes your all-important guest list disappear, by backing up your wedding planning files onto a flash drive and printing out your list after each update. After the wedding, that printout becomes a great keepsake, as well.

Sharon Naylor has written more than three dozen wedding books.

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