Guest List Statistics

I remember way back when Mr. Star and I were trying to figure out how to cut our guest list to a reasonable size — about a year ago now! — what a tough time we had figuring out exactly how many people we could invite and what the chances were that we would end up with the number of people attending that we were aiming for. We wanted between 80 and 90 guests to celebrate with us on the big day, but didn’t know what that translated to in terms of how many people we could invite!

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(Photo Credit)

I couldn’t find a whole lot of helpful online chatter on the subject at the time.

Most often what people said was, “between 50-75% of the people you invite will show up; fewer if a lot of your guests are from out-of-town.” Well, that’s great, but 50-75% is a pretty damn big margin, and when you’re trying to decide how many people you can squeeze in down to the very last head, you might be interested in a little more hard data than that. I would have been, anyways. So I’m here to use what I learned about our guest list and RSVP percentages to hopefully help some of you out. Paying it forward, people!

We invited 121 people, 81 of whom will be in attendance. That makes for a 67% yes rate, which is right on target for what we were expecting. Sweet!

Some of the factors that seem to be involved in our (and your!) attendance percentage:

  • How many people have to travel from out-of-state: Obviously, the more of your guests who have to travel, the lower your acceptance rate will be. We have 69% of our guests who are traveling from out-of-state, and 31% NYC-ers.
  • How far people have to travel: Same goes for the distance people have to travel — if you’re asking your guests to travel cross-country or internationally, expect fewer people to come.
  • How many people are “courtesy invites”: These are people you’re inviting just to make them feel all warm and fuzzy, but who you seriously doubt will actually be able/want to come. The more you have of these, the lower your acceptance rate. Less than 1% of our guests were courtesy invites, which helped boost our “yes” rate.
  • How many people you are giving +1s to: I’m pretty sure you will have a higher acceptance ratio if you are including +1s, in addition to having a much larger guest list, period.
  • How tightly-knit your family is: Some people have extended families who hardly know each other (like most of my family), and others have families who all gather together for Thanksgiving dinner each year (like Mr. Star’s). The closer knit your extended family is, the more likely you will have a higher “yes” rate, although there are definitely exceptions to this rule. In our case, the cost of traveling to NYC overruled the closeness of Mr. Star’s maternal extended family, but not the paternal side.
  • If you’re inviting children: Not only will you have more invited heads if you’re including children, but more people who have kids will be able to come. Not inviting children caused a few of our invites to have to decline, which we expected.
  • Your and your significant other’s cultural backgrounds: This wasn’t a big factor for me or Mr. Star, but I know that there are some cultural backgrounds that take weddings “more seriously” than others. From what I’ve heard around the boards and from talking to other brides, Hispanic and Italian families (in general) are more likely to do whatever it takes to get to the wedding of their third cousin once removed. I know this makes a big difference in the acceptance rate for some weddings.
  • The economic times: Although I’m sorry to say it, we live in some tough times, people. Jobs are scarce, money is tight, and while everyone loves a good wedding, it’s a fact that the recession has left some families much less able to travel for them. As hard as it can be to get a “no” RSVP, you have to cut your cash-challenged guest list some slack.
  • How much fun your wedding sounds!: Haha, just kidding. ;)

I hope that some of what I’ve outlined here helps you to figure out just how many people you can invite. Creating a guest list is a tough project — Godspeed!

What was your acceptance rate if you’ve already gotten all your RSVPs back, or what do you expect it to be if you haven’t?

BLOGGER

Mrs. Star

Location:
New York City
Wedding Date:
October 2009

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  1. Member
    bruschetta 5565 posts, Bee Keeper @ 12:31 pm

    We were pretty much right on target, with about 80% acceptance. The “no” responses stung a bit, especially since I realized many of those were people we had neglected to send an STD to — who would have loved to come if they weren’t busy on our wedding day! Lesson to brides-to-be: Spread the word about your date!

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    Shannon, Guest @ 12:43 pm

    My fiance seems to think that 100% of our invites will RSVP yes. He can’t imagine who wouldn’t want to be there for the last reason you listed. Our wedding is going to be fun! I am a little more conservative in expecting that we will probably have 70% attend since we are planning that half of our guests will have to travel out of state. For that reason we actually bumped up our invite list to include more people so that we would get to our 100 person attendee goal.

  3. Member
    Miss_Carmel 316 posts, Helper bee @ 1:04 pm

    We’re getting ready to send out save the dates out right now with that same idea in mind. We want about 80 – 90 but are inviting around 100 (then we have our B listers who will get the heads up based upon how many “no”s we receive. Glad you guys hit your target attendance! :)

  4. Member
    RecessionistaBride 5018 posts, Bee Keeper @ 1:20 pm

    We’re keeping our guest list small & I have complete confidence that almost everyone will attend. Our “small” wedding has been increasing in size daily. I have an incredibly tight extended family & a solid group of friends. They’ve all said they’ll bend over backwards to make it. Sometimes I wish a bunch of our guests would decline… I wanted a wedding with 50 & we’re already up to about 80 people. haha and there’s still 8 months to go.

  5. Member
    frenchbulldog 1088 posts, Bumble bee @ 1:54 pm

    We were also pretty close to our target, although we chose a venue that would allow us to accommodate everyone if they all said, “Yes”. But the size ended up being perfect :)

  6. Member
    Bridebella 368 posts, Helper bee @ 2:08 pm

    The guest list was the hardest part of wedding planning hands down. You’re so right – it’s hard to research and predict what your attendance rate will be.

    Our wedding is a 4-6 hour drive for most of our guests (and a 2,500 mile flight for us and another 10% of our list) so it is basically a “destination wedding.” We got a 51% “Yes” rate on our RSVPs which was close to what we guestimated.

  7. Member
    Mrs. Starfish 286 posts, Helper bee @ 2:17 pm

    I have already got some “probably not coming” from some family members while I was back home… but I don’t know how much to count on that. I have also heard that “Everyone is planning on coming” from another group but nothing specific again & then there are those family members that I haven’t talked to in forever. I am trying to stick to our max capacity just in case but we are already getting requests to add people from everyone!

  8. Member
    KMSull 6442 posts, Bee Keeper @ 2:17 pm

    Sigh. The guest list will be our biggest issue! Most of our guests will be from out of state if we choose to get married where we live now, and I’m so afraid that all my parents friends won’t come!

  9. Member
    Mrs. Mouse 4914 posts, Honey bee @ 2:23 pm

    Thanks for this post, Miss Star! I’m sure it will help a lot of confused brides out there!

  10. Member
    abrideagain 532 posts, Busy bee @ 2:26 pm

    Our wedding is in three weeks, and we’re also looking at about 65% right now…great post for brides just starting to plan these things!

  11. Guest Icon Guest
    Sara, Guest @ 2:42 pm

    We just got married this weekend and had way more people attend than we had expected (which was wonderful!!!)

    We invited 190, expecting only about 110 (several people would be coming a LONG distance) and we had 152 guests.

    Dont underestimate when it comes to your venue! We were afraid we wouldnt fill the space, and it was actually pretty crowded in there!

  12. Member
    Gator 607 posts, Busy bee @ 2:49 pm

    This is super helpful. We’ll have mostly out-of-staters and a good amount of international guests. We’ll definitely use your recommendations when creating our guest list. Thanks :)

  13. Member
    frenchfries 2168 posts, Buzzing bee @ 2:56 pm

    Very helpful post. We’re going to end up inviting around 120, but think that closer to 90-100 will end up coming. Thanks for the insight!

  14. Member
    pretzel 670 posts, Busy bee @ 3:06 pm

    THANK YOU! This is super helpful! Now I don’t feel bad about having almost 300 people on the guest list and planning for 150 guests! Yay!

  15. Guest Icon Guest
    trix, Guest @ 4:05 pm

    Heh, yeah, I’d actually remove the “just kidding” for your last point. Perhaps I’m a bad person, but I’ve definitely rsvp’d no on the basis of (a) travel, and followed very closely by (b) the fun factor (calculated via a small selection of crucial criteria).

  16. Member
    Ace 37 posts, Newbee @ 5:59 pm

    Thanks for posting this Miss Star. We are getting married in NYC in 3 weeks(!), and we had a similar response rate for our wedding. We invited 240 people with the expectation that we would have a 60-65% yes rate. We came up with this percentage because our wedding was:

    1. Being held in a major (and majorly expensive city)
    2. Being held during an economic downturn
    3. Comprised of more out-of-towners than local guests.

    As of today, we have 152 guests attending, exactly what we had hoped for. I had a lot of trouble coming up with the “number to invite” voodoo when we were planning, so it’s always helpful to have others share their experience. Hope this helps someone.

  17. Member
    deejaylondon 70 posts, Worker bee @ 9:07 pm

    We’re amazed. Our RSVP deadline is Wednesday, and we have only gotten one official no. We expect more people not to come, but haven’t heard for sure yet.

  18. Member
    star 2107 posts, Buzzing bee @ 9:10 pm

    @deejaylondon: We actually had a much higher percentage of yes RSVPs until after the deadline. I think people who are more excited to come are usually the ones who bother to tell you they’re coming. Some people just expect you to assume they’re not coming if they don’t reply, I think. Congrats on a lot of yes-es, though!

  19. Member
    msgiraffe 4248 posts, Honey bee @ 9:41 pm

    Thanks Star! This is super helpful!

  20. Guest Icon Guest
    Jessica, Guest @ 10:54 pm

    All of our guest list data is in Excel. One of the pages is just a list of the names. Next to each person, I put a 1 if they’re coming, a .75 if it’s probably, a .5 if I’m not sure, and a 0 if they’re not. I based my reasonings on their verbal feedback and the reasons you suggested above. Then, I used the Autosum feature. Total headcount= 121 out of 167.

  21. Member
    moonbeam 1711 posts, Bumble bee @ 4:31 am

    So hard to nail down and to tell your FMIL that she doesn’t get to invite 130 people to a wedding you wanted 150 at. Good advice.

  22. Member
    Jessie516 5480 posts, Bee Keeper @ 9:51 am

    These are really good tips. I know we didn’t want to invite more people than the capacity of our room (120) just on the off chance that everyone attended and brought a guest. We ended up inviting 117 and we had 86 attend. I think the discrepancy came from people who were given a “plus 1″ who didn’t bring a guest.

  23. Member
    star 2107 posts, Buzzing bee @ 1:22 pm

    @Jessica: Wow, cool idea! Wish I had thought of it ;)

  24. Member
    poodle 3386 posts, Sugar bee @ 12:36 am

    love this post :)

  25. Member
    caspad 5 posts, Newbee @ 3:10 pm

    100% of our invited guests are coming!
    and 90% all put a song suggestion (or 10!) on the provided line of the RSVP

  26. Member
    Miss Sequoia 394 posts, Helper bee @ 11:22 pm

    Such a great post, thank you!! Our guest list will be the big issue, since we have to figure out whether immediate family and very close friends will travel from other countries to attend, and we have to choose between a slightly smaller and a slightly larger venue (80 vs. 120) before sending out those invites. This might save my sanity…

  27. Member
    aftermath 7 posts, Newbee @ 1:58 am

    These boards were really helpful to me when I was planning. Now that the wedding is over, I can add my statistics. My husband’s guests were all from the opposite coast. A handful of mine were out of town as well. His mom invited 40 people my fiance did not know and assured us they would not come. It turned out she was right. They were mostly grandparent generation, or childhood friends of his theirs who had no interest in making the trip.

    So we sent out 75 invitations for a possible 158 people. I was very nervous because we wanted 100 max! In the end, 75 people showed up.

    85 people RSVP-ed yes (37 invitations)

    Obviously, a large percentage RSVP-ed yes but did not come. This included one couple with small children (child was ill), one couple with elderly parents (parent became critical), someone coming in from out of town whose plans hit a snag, someone with chronic health problems, and some who just got “food poisoning” or offered no explanation. Those last people were frustrating since we had already spent $60 on their food and beverage per person. Oh well. I had heard you should subtract 10% from the “yes” group, and in my case it was even more than that, who did not actually come. I say if you have people with small kids or health problems or aging parents, consider them a “maybe.”

    Five invitations were unanswered. They did not end up coming. By the way, RSVPs dribbled in SLOWLY! I got so frustrated, but many came in late. We put the due date early, which I was happy about. Many of the “RSVPs” I am talking about were actually e-mails that I prompted after the due date passed.

    Only four friends, and not even all of the family, who had to come from out of state did in fact come.

    No one who RSVP-ed “no” came, and no one brought uninvited guests.

    I must say, I was thrilled with 75 people. I wish I had known it would be exactly that number, and saved a lot on pre-ordered food and drink, but I loved that group. I was happy about everyone who came, and I did not miss anyone (except for a couple of course). I highly recommend a small group like that. It was a cocktail party reception in a gorgeous location with panoramic ocean views. We served abundant heavy hors d’oeuvre and had a pianist accompany the mingling group of close friends and family. We loved it.

    I hope this helps! Lessons learned are (1) don’t sweat the out-of-town list or (2) the long list of people your fiance doesn’t even know but your mother-in-law insists on inviting. Chances are, they’re like my list, and they’re all in their 70s and will not come. Finally, (3) do not count on all yeses coming!

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