Guest List

I mentioned before that we were looking for a venue that would hold 120 guests. This was probably the most important factor for us, because there were some amazing spaces that could only hold 60, and we needed to know upfront that those spaces just weren’t an option. So—how did we get to 120?

Just after we got engaged, Moo and I came up with a list of people we definitely wanted to invite and asked each of our parents to do the same. Then I reminded everyone about the lists probably five billion times, because I’m very impatient and they didn’t understand why I wanted the list so early. (If you are at all like me, you should probably just explain yourself in the first place and set a deadline. It’ll make everyone happier!)

Once we had all the lists, we put them together and added on a few extra spots just in case—this brought us to around 130 people. We knew that we could get away with a space that would hold 120 people, but that our ideal space would hold 150—this would give us room for all of our definite invites, plus those we may have forgotten and all the other wonderful people who we would really love to celebrate with if the space and budget allowed.

If you look on wedding boards or Google, you’ll find that 80% is the most common rule for attendance rates. You might also find formulas to help you determine how many out-of-town guests will come versus how many local guests will come and how many guests that is total. These give me a headache, but in case you like numbers more than me, here’s one formula I found:

Formula from Nina Callaway; image and notes are mine

Formula from Nina Callaway / Image and notes are mine

I’m going to be honest: I don’t think these numbers matter.

Every single wedding is different, even if the guests are basically same, because life changes and the guests are in a different situation than before. For example: my sister got married last November. In the time since her wedding, family members have graduated college, moved, lost and gained jobs, come back from deployment, and more. All these changes plus the fact that our wedding is at a completely different time of year play a big part in the guest count, so I can’t really use her attendance rate to figure out my own.

And I personally worry way too much to choose a venue that can’t hold 100% of our guest list. I don’t even want to imagine how stressed I’d be watching the RSVPs roll in. I really don’t want to think about how I’d handle uninvited guests showing up or RSVP’ing yes if we were already short on space. (Even though I don’t think that would be an issue with our wedding and guests, I’ve read enough stories about it happening to others to scare me.)


Photo from Offbeat Bride, originally from Flickr user whatsthatpicture

So for us, it made sense to just assume everyone was coming and to make sure we could fit all of them. It meant ruling out some gorgeous venues and learning to picture our wedding in different size rooms, but it’s one less thing for me to worry about now!

Did you go with the 80% rule or did you make sure you had space for everyone on your guest list?


Mrs. Milk Cow

August 10
Columbia, MD
Wedding Date:
July 2014
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  1. Member
    beenumberbea 118 posts, Blushing bee @ 10:02 am

    We are definitely planning on 100% attendance! Our venue only holds 100, but we can really only afford maybe 80-85, so we don’t want to take any risks!

  2. pyramid Bee
    Mrs. Pyramid 104 posts, Blushing bee @ 10:33 am

    One of the places I nixed early on had a wedding coordinator who was insistent that “20% won’t show up!” and I found that so frustrating. Yes, it’s the average, yes that might even happen, but I’m definitely going to be a smarter planner than that!

  3. Member
    luluvohn 1194 posts, Bumble bee @ 12:22 pm

    I’m banking on the 80% rule. Actually I’m banking on something a little closer to 75%. Somehow our guest list expanded without us noticing and we’re now inviting 204 people to our venue that holds 150. Thankfully almost all of them are not just out of town, but out of state (and a few are out of country). So we’re actually hoping that people will RSVP no and save our butts.

  4. milkcow Bee
    Mrs. Milk Cow 216 posts, Helper bee @ 1:18 pm

    @BeeNumberBea: Budget is our real issue too – the space holds more, but the money is dictating the numbers at this point!

    @Miss Pyramid: That would stress me out so much. Unless the wedding coordinator was going to solve the problem for me if too many guests RSVP’d yes!

    @luluvohn: So glad that I’m not the only one whose guest list magically expanded :/ I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your 75%!

  5. msfilly Bee
    Mrs. Filly 85 posts, Worker bee @ 3:37 pm

    We booked a venue that could accommodate our entire guest list (we invited 240 … my god, talk about magical guest list expansion), but I’m really, really hoping we have a highish decline rate just because I feel so awkward with so many people. Since everyone is out of town, and almost everyone is out of state, that should work in my favor!

  6. msclover Bee
    Mrs. Clover 123 posts, Blushing bee @ 7:35 pm

    We booked a venue that’s a little smaller than our max, but not by much and that includes plus ones. So I’m not worried about our numbers (we’re nine over and I already have seven declines) but our rehearsal dinner…that’s another story!

  7. Member
    LadyJenks 53 posts, Worker bee @ 2:30 am

    We’re having effectively a destination wedding because nobody besides my mother lives in my hometown city anymore. We tried using the ‘recommended’ figures but were too worried about them not being correct, so got our number by going through the whole guest list and attaching a “% chance they’ll come” to each name. I’m actually a bit excited to see how close we got (=nerd).

    Ultimately we ended up with a venue big enough for the whole guest list, and the final count won’t matter much even for the food costs because we committed to a minimum for catering. If fewer people show up we’ll just have to feed them better.

  8. msbicycle Bee
    msbicycle 718 posts, Busy bee @ 6:00 am

    This was certainly one of the most frustrating parts of planning for me. We ended up having a lot greater than 20% decline, probably because it was a destination wedding (even though it was driving distance for a lot).

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