Guest List: Narrowing It Down

The guest list was the bane of my existence for quite some time. FH has a pretty small family, so even though we invited nearly all of his immediate and extended family, they still barely made a dent in the list. As for our friends, they made up about 30% of the list. My family on the other hand is enormous, so figuring out who to invite (without hurting feelings) was a monumental task to undertake.


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Initially my parents wanted to invite everyone and their mother. Here is an example of one of many conversations I had with my mother:

Mom: Oh, what about inviting so and so and her husband?

Me: Who the heck is so and so?

Mom: You know who that is! That was my best friend growing up in Haiti and you’ve met her!

Me: …when did I meet her?

Mom: I think you were probably eight or nine at the time…but still you’ve met her!!

Me: Yeah, I think we’d like to limit the number of people we invite based on if I wasn’t four feet tall the last time they saw me.

Mom: [sigh]…fine!

Although it took some time, my parents finally started to understand why we just couldn’t possibly invite everyone to the wedding once I gave them some insight into the budget. While FH and I insisted on paying for the wedding ourselves, our parents have graciously offered to pay for a number of big-ticket items that will ease the burden. (We are paying for roughly 60% while each set of parents is contributing about 20%. We have pretty awesome parents.)

After narrowing it down, we decided that in a perfect world we’d have 100 people at the wedding. We will end up inviting 137 people, but since it’s a destination wedding, I imagine we’ll have a few nos. Though with the type of friends and family we have who have been waiting for this wedding to happen for a long time, I think at the very least we will end up with 100 people.

Since booking the venue, we also set up a room block since all of our guests will be coming from the US. And currently, even though we’ve only sent out the save the dates so far, 44 people have already booked their hotel rooms. So excited!!


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So further to the guest list discussion, we decided that even though we love kids, we weren’t going to have them as part of our big day and have opted instead for an Adults Only affair. And it was probably one of the easiest wedding-related decisions we’ve made so far. I know this is something that probably makes sense to some brides while is unfathomable to others. I can only speak from our personal experience, though, so here is our reasoning below.

For us, our friends are just starting to have children. Some are working on their first, some on their second and third, but most just aren’t at that stage yet. Also, there are not very many children in our immediate families. We aren’t godparents or aunts/uncles yet. There is no child in our lives (so far) that we see on a regular enough basis to have formed a strong bond with. Now, I have some friends that are not yet parents, yet have little ones in their lives that they are like second parents to—not a day or week goes by where they don’t either see or talk to the children and it’s quite sweet to see that sort of connection that some people have.

We were a bit nervous at first that this decision would rule out a few friends and family members from attending the wedding (especially since it’ll be out of the country over a long weekend), but surprisingly, the parents we invited seem like they will be coming and will make other arrangements for their kids. I think some are just excited to have a weekend to enjoy to themselves, in the company of other adults. Plus with a nine-hour open bar, we don’t anticipate anyone being responsible enough to take care of themselves, let alone their kids!

Did you have to make some difficult guest-list decisions? How did you come to an agreement with your SO and your family?


Mrs. Mongoose

New Haven, CT
Wedding Date:
May 2013
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  1. Member
    lealorali 4827 posts, Honey bee @ 8:50 am

    The guest list has been one of the MOST DIFFICULT parts of wedding planning. Our venue literally only fits 120 so we had to keep numbers very low. Only best friends and close family/ Family friends are invited. However: My mom verbally invited 2 couples (4 people!!!) she is friends with before asking me. I am so mad at her.

  2. mssquirrel Member
    mssquirrel 276 posts, Helper bee @ 8:55 am

    So did you include the hotel block info in your save the date? (or website I guess) That’s a really good idea…I wish we would have done that! Our guests won’t have the hotel info until they get our invites and it is a destination wedding for all of the guests. Boo…

  3. Member
    FutureMrsSpencer 526 posts, Busy bee @ 8:58 am

    Our guestlist went from 120 to 155 so that goes to show the lack of control with the guestlist. My FMIL gave a list not caring about what our limit was and has not contributed anything towards the wedding. As a matter of fact, her response was “Can you guys afford 150 people?”

    On another note, that is great that both of your parents are helping you out and being understanding of your guestlist and budget.

  4. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 9:14 am

    @lealorali: I understand your pain–it’s very frustrating when the guestlist gets out of control (and when people you don’t even know are invited). At the end of the day, obviously parents aren’t trying to screw the you and your SO over–they are most likely thrilled about the upcoming wedding and want to invite everyone they know. But we just made an effort to nicely but firmly constantly remind our families that there’s simply no way to accommodate everyone.

    I’ve had my mom slip in a few people since our initiation conversations but she’s always asked me first before just going and telling people they are invited (which I did appreciate). Hopefully your mom will understand and stop inviting random people!

    @Miss Squirrel: Yes, when we sent out our STDs we included an additional insert that gave detailed information on the room blocks and directed guests to our wedding websites for specific booking instructions. We will also send another note when the invites go out (just as a reminder). Have you considered emailing your more tech-savvy guests with room block info? I’ve had 2 friends do that for their weddings in the past and it worked out well!

    @FutureMrsSpencer: Ugh that is SO frustrating–have you spoken to your fiance about the situation with your FMIL?

  5. Member
    lovingdendrobriums 10 posts, Newbee @ 9:33 am

    Our venue can hold 150 people, but FH & I decided that 120 people would be more comfortable. He said, “I won’t even have 60 people “. I started my list as soon as we got engaged 2 months ago, and have cut it down to 63, yay me! Well, we started his guest list last night & he has 74…..For real? I guess 120 is out the window…..

  6. mswallaby Member
    mswallaby 2070 posts, Buzzing bee @ 9:38 am

    The guest list was by far the hardest decision we had to make, too. Mr. W’s parents invited everyone they’ve ever known (I’m exaggerating, but you know how it is!). Our outdoor venue was very flexible, but we couldn’t afford to host more than 150 guests, so we had to grit our teeth and make some tough decisions. I’m so glad that whole process is over. Even though there were some guests we hardly know (parents’ friends), everyone was on the dance floor the whole time and it all worked out for the best.

  7. bat Member
    bat 285 posts, Helper bee @ 9:43 am

    I think the guest list really causes issues for everyone but it seems like you handled it very well! Since my parents are paying for the whole wedding I feel like they had more say in the (huge!) guest list, but also since it’s a daytime, local wedding we decided that an adult-only affair wouldn’t work for us. However, you really seem to have good reasons for having an adult-only wedding and I think your combination of guests will be absolutely perfect!

  8. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 10:04 am

    @lovingdendrobriums: FH underestimated how many people he knows! That’s still not bad though considering your combined list is 137–even if you only get a few nos you’ll still be closer to your goal of 120. Hopefully FH doesn’t find any additional people to add to the list!

    @Mrs. Wallaby: That’s really our ultimate goal for the reception–to just have everyone partying and dancing!

    @Miss Bat: You’re parents are awesome! How many guests are you inviting?

  9. Member
    Almost Mrs.P 2056 posts, Buzzing bee @ 12:04 pm

    We made the same call about kids, for the same reasons. So far its going over okay!

  10. Member
    brooklyn55 743 posts, Busy bee @ 1:25 pm

    I agree with others that the guest list has been one of the most difficult parts of our wedding planning for multiple reasons. My FI and I both have huge families BUT 95% of my family lives in the same state as I do and will attend our wedding no matter what. His parents and siblings live in the same state as us (North Carolina) but besides them his family is scattered. He has one grandmother in Tennessee that will attend and aunts from Florida and Connecticut that will attend but the majority of his family lives in Oregon and Seattle, WA. I decided to invite them all (because I am not going to NOT invite his grandparents.. he has 2 sets out there, the one in Tennessee is technically step grandma) but I have NO way on knowing who/how many of them will show up. At least with my family (and our friends) I can pretty much guess who is going to come and who isn’t, but about 30 people are his family on the West Coast that I have no way of knowing until RSVP’s come (I would call and discuss but I have never even met some of them and my FI is not super close with them). It wouldn’t be such a problem but my venue does tiered pricing. If I have <120 guests its one price, it I have over 120 then it goes up significantly (he said he would work me on a person or two difference). Well we have 162 on our invite list, about 20 I know can not make it already so his 30 relatives on the west coast are potentially going to significantly impact our wedding budget and we won't even know until 3 weeks before the wedding.

  11. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 2:13 pm

    @Almost Mrs.P: That’s great to hear that you haven’t gotten any backlash. I feel like as long as you set the expectation early on, guests will most likely respect your wishes.

    @Brooklyn55: Whoa! So which state will your wedding be in? For the family members that you two are not very close to on the West Coast, could your FMIL or FFIL maybe call those people up and ask if they’ll be coming? That way you can know a bit earlier and not be so stressed the month before the wedding.

  12. Member
    summrgirl720 12 posts, Newbee @ 6:21 pm

    how did you make sure your guests understand it’s *adult’s only*?


  13. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 6:55 pm

    @summrgirl720: We did this in a number of different ways to make sure it was crystal clear to our guests. Here’s what we’ve done;

    1) We told our parents and close friends via word of mouth that we would not be inviting children to our wedding. The parents passed along the word to extended family members to make sure everyone got the memo.

    2) We included it in the “FAQ” section of our wedding website. I wanted to make sure the reasoning was polite but clear. Here is the wording we used;

    Are Children Invited?
    While we love children, due to limited space and seating we ask that no children attend the ceremony and reception. We thank you for your understanding and hope arrangements can be made that allow you to still attend our wedding weekend!

    3) We are including the wording “Adults Only” on the bottom of our invites, right next to “Formal Attire”. I know that the old school wedding etiquette rules say it’s a big no-no to say “Adults Only” on your invitations but I say screw that. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to express something as important as that, to make sure everyone knows!

    Are you considering an Adults Only affair as well?

  14. Member
    summrgirl720 12 posts, Newbee @ 7:01 pm

    @Miss Mongoose: wow you have it all covered! that’s some amazing suggestions :)

    yes, I want an Adults Only affair, but have about 5 little cousins my fiancé and I are trying to decide what to do about. I’m just for saying “Adults Only” but he’s on the fence. This makes it helpful.

  15. Member
    shortbread 290 posts, Helper bee @ 7:04 pm

    I wish someone had a rough estimate on what the decline rate is for destination weddings. I took the I’ll invite anyone I want and just hope quite a few of them won’t make the trip route. Of course, that may come back and haunt us later! We have a max of 152 who can fit in our venue. We’re only having children who are in the wedding party. They’re very well behaved and of course making the trip across the pond. Other than that we don’t have a lot of children in our familes. In the end it’s your wedding day and you have the right to have it how you want. Like you said it’s a time for your guests to have a weekend away without kids. I think the only exception should be nursing mothers..but you may not have that to deal with.

  16. Member
    ecjohnson 157 posts, Blushing bee @ 7:41 pm

    we are nearing time to send out our STD’s and I can only imagine the conversations (scratch that, arguments) that will ensue. What I’m having a hard time with is we are doing adults only, but with families that have one child who is like 19 and another that is 16 makes it so difficult! Thus, our guest list is topping off at like 175 right now…ummm yea.

  17. panda Member
    Mrs. Panda 1359 posts, Bumble bee @ 7:53 pm

    guest lists are so complicated. Ugh. I’m choosing to ignore it for the moment and hoping it works itself out? *sigh*

  18. bracelet Member
    Mrs. Bracelet 279 posts, Helper bee @ 11:54 pm

    Having a destination-ish wedding definitely helped us cut down on the number of random/distant invitations. We did announcements for everyone else after the fact.

  19. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 7:35 am

    @summrgirl720: Glad to help!

    @Shortbread: I’ve heard such varying figures, from 50% decline to 10% decline. It seems to mostly depend on how far in advance your guests know about the destination wedding and how easy or difficult of a location it is to get to. As for the nursing mothers–interestingly enough we have some guests coming up with creative ways around this. A few are bringing a relative or babysitter to actually stay with the children in their hotel room while the adults come to the wedding events. For them it’s the best of both worlds!

    @ecjohnson: Are you doing a destination or local wedding? As for the adults with teenagers, that’s definitely a tricky one but at the end of the day it’s your wedding and if you’ve decided on adults only, then people will either find other arrangements for their kids or just not come.

    @panda: :/ What’s your ideal # of guests?

    @Mrs. Bracelet: How many guests did you invite and how many ended up coming?

  20. graywolf Member
    graywolf 725 posts, Busy bee @ 8:14 am

    we nixed kids too, for much of the same reasons – we dont even know enough kids to have a flower girl/ring bearer.

  21. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 8:53 am

    @Miss Gray Wolf: Same here! I had a friend gasp at this–she was like how can you possibly have a wedding without a flower girl/ring bearer?! I’m like calm down, it’s not the end of the world. Geez!

  22. Member
    Ms_Maple 115 posts, Blushing bee @ 9:50 am

    We are in a similar position as you. My SO doesn’t have a big family where I do (30 first cousins not including spouses). We ended up limiting it to first cousins 18 and older and are doing an adult only event. I am surprised how well received the adult only thing is!

  23. msmongoose Member
    msmongoose 264 posts, Helper bee @ 1:05 pm

    @Ms_Maple: Good for you! And glad to hear that no one gave you any issues :)

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