How to Write the Guest List for Your Wedding

There are many many ways to write a guest list and as it’s also a deeply personal process; what works for one couple may very well be the worst possible method for another.
I’ve gathered my thoughts on a few, including their pro’s and con’s so you can start making up your own mind and developing a method that’s perfect for you.

(for video version, skip to bottom)

So let’s jump straight on in…

Before you even start to consider who you’ll be inviting, it helps to figure out exactly how many people you want to invite. Of course, you can always revise this number later but starting with a rough idea can make things a lot easier when it comes to drawing a line in the sand further down the track.

Find the Magic Number

But how do you choose a guest count with thought and reasoning? Or should you just pluck a good sounding number straight out of the sky?

Well, the first thing you should always think about (I promise, you’ll thank me later…) is budget. How many people can you actually afford to invite? Because, although there are ways to mitigate it, typically, more people equals more cost. From food and drink to furniture and favours, even the size of the venue you choose may be affected by this number – it pays to make sure you can afford it, well before you even dream of sending those save the dates.

The main cost to really consider at this stage is catering. It’s early days when you’re choosing your guest list, so chances are you haven’t gotten too detailed or specific yet with the rest of the wedding planning. Do you know what sort of food will you be offering? A full sit down, multi-course meal? A buffet? Maybe just a simple afternoon tea? Or even a potluck? Whatever you think your food situation will look like, do a little bit of research into how much it’s likely to cost you. Most places will offer a price per head on their website so this should be pretty straight forward and you absolutely don’t need to get too carried away just yet! (or do, the earlier you start the more food tastings you fit in right?).

A bride chooses her food from a selection of wedding buffet food.
Photo Credit: Abi Hackling Photography

Another way to determine how many guests you should invite is to think about the type of wedding, or the look, style and vibe that you’re wanting to create. If you’re after an intimate feel then perhaps a smaller guest list of only your closest friends and family is more appropriate. On the other hand, if you’re after a festival kind of vibe then you might prefer to opt for a ‘the more the merrier!” type stance. Making sure the guest list aligns with the kind of wedding you’re trying to throw is one of the major factors in making it feel professional and getting that mood and atmosphere absolutely perfect.

Okay, we’ve found our magic number… now what?

Now we figure out exactly who those people are! and once again… you may find this task a little easier said than done. Take your time! This is certainly no stroll in the park and thinking carefully about who you want to be there will pay off big time in the future when you’re looking back on your wedding day.

Make sure that you’ve spoken with anyone else who may have a say in this, preferably before you start. This could be a pretty big day for your parents too, and many parents, or even grandparents, feel that they should be able to invite a few friends (especially if they’re contributing financially!). Remember that while getting married is ultimately all about you, it’s also a massive deal for those who raised you. Stay open and honest with them and make sure you try to see their point of view before you reject any suggestions or requests they may throw your way! (I won’t go too in depth here, but if it’s something you’re struggling with – feel free to flick me a message! I’d love to have a chat and help you out).

Priority Listing

One method that I like to recommend for writing your guest list is priority listing. While the concept of listing all of your friends and family in priority order sounds awfully judgy and rather cut-throat, it can (for some people), be the simplest way of drawing a line in the sand. It’s particularly useful if you have a rather strict guest count that you absolutely cannot exceed.

Start with your family and friends who you feel you absolutely cannot get married without and work your way down to those colleagues and people you love hanging out with but whom don’t often feature in your personal life.

One way to help determine how far up the list a potential guest should be is to compile a list of questions to ask yourself. Choose your questions based on what matters to you, I’ve added three options below to get you started:

1. Do you spend quality time with this person regularly?
2. Do you imagine this person will still be in your life in 1 years time? How about 5? Or even 10?
3. Is there another reason that you really want/need them at your wedding?

Often, when you start to question it you realise you were only including them on the list because you felt you ‘should’, but if you can’t identify a good reason as to why you feel that way, then chances are it’ll be totally fine to not invite them at all. I can feel my catch phrase coming on here… “it’s your day” sound familiar??


Alternatively if a list seems a bit daunting you might find it easier to group potential invitees into A, B and C groups. ‘A’ being ‘must have’, ‘B’ being ‘want to have’ and ‘C’ being ‘good to have’. Follow your heart on this one, it’s a method that lends itself well to quick thinking and being careful not to over-analyse (you can do that later when you revisit the lists and finalise).

If you’re someone who likes to visualise you may even find it helpful to write the names down and physically move the people into different piles. Or, reduce waste by creating an excel spreadsheet with three different columns that you can visually sort names into. Bonus – excel can count them up and save you a bit of time too. Oooh and colour coding! Colour coding could help right?

One advantage about both the listing and grouping methods is that you have already created (without even realising) a secondary list of back up guests. Because let’s face it, some people just simply won’t be able to make it. And if you hear back from them soon enough, there’s no reason you can’t sub someone else in to take their place ~ sneaky. It’s also a great thing to keep on hand should you need to reduce the guest list further down the track (dare I mention Covid…?).

Wedding guests watch on from their tables as the couple give their speech.
Photo Credit: Abi Hackling Photography

Once you’ve made the list (or lists) of guests, count them up, see if you feel okay with who’s made the cut and who hasn’t. Read through it a few times with a fresh mind, re-ask yourself that list of questions and just see how it sits. You don’t have to make this decision overnight! Let it rest, talk about it together, talk about it with your parents – talk about it with whomever you feel comfortable discussing it with! Take the second, third and even fourth revisions as opportunity to really think about what you’re trying to create, what matters most to you and whether the people you’re inviting are right for that. Modify it and change it as many times as you need to, and if that means adjusting that magic number, then go for it! It was only a guide you set yourself anyway – just make sure you’re still considering what matters most to you.

and don’t be afraid not to invite someone

Cutting people from a guest list for any reason can be so, so difficult (I’ve been there too) but chances are if they’re a good friend and you’re honest with them about why they haven’t been invited they’ll probably understand. And if they don’t, well maybe that in itself can justify your decision. You aren’t obligated to invite anyone, even if it feels as if you are – this is your day (sorry, I said it again didn’t I?).

Still Struggling?

If you are really struggling with narrowing the list down, one option can be to have a different list of people invited to different sections of the wedding. Or to arrange an alternative get together where you can celebrate with people who weren’t invited on the actual day. That way, it’s a simple, “We really wish you could be there but we’re keeping it to just family and our closest friends, let’s catch up for dinner next month and celebrate, just us!”.

Or, maybe you can look at cheaper food and drink options that allow you to increase your guest count a little. BYO can be fun and as a bonus your guests will enjoy getting to drink something they actually like. Or maybe you can have a pot-luck style meal, or cater an afternoon tea instead of a full sit down dinner? There are many ways you can get creative, give your wedding that little extra character and help the money to stretch that little bit further.

Do remember too that some invited guests won’t come – though I don’t recommend over inviting on the assumption that some will decline. In many cases people you didn’t think would make it will go out of their way to be there, while people you were so sure would come may have other commitments. You really can’t predict it! This is where planning, chasing RSVPs and being willing to invite a second wave of people can work in your favour.

And as for plus one’s and children, let’s just say I’ll touch on that in a different post…

A selection of a wedding cake table with three various cake flavours, all decorated beautifully with florals.
Photo Credit: Abi Hackling Photography

Take your time, think about what matters to you, and make sure you have some honest conversations with anyone involved. This is an area where it’s super easy to accidentally step on toes… and if you need a little more motivation to keep going – just remember, once you’ve got this list nailed, it’s time to start working on the fun stuff!

Got something to add? I’d love to hear about how you chose your guest list – let me know in the comments!

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Emerald and Ebony – Planning Eco-friendly weddings in Taranaki and beyond.

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