Getting the Wedding Guest List Right: Who You Should Invite and Who You Can Leave Off

Wedding guest place cards

Making a guest list can be one of the most stressful parts of planning your wedding. Who to invite and who to skip can mean walking a minefield of hurt feelings, arguments, and etiquette gaffes. Stakes are especially high when each additional guest can make your budget skyrocket. Luckily, there are some tips and things you can keep in mind to make it easier when making your list and checking it twice.

Wedding Size

large wedding venue

First, you need a general idea of the size of the wedding you want. The bigger the wedding, the more stressful navigating the guest list will be. For example, if you have a wedding where only you and your spouse’s parents are invited, your friends, acquaintances and workmates will understand not being invited. The larger the wedding the more delicately you need to manage other people’s feelings.

Who is Paying?

Generally, the couple getting married have ultimate control over the wedding. However, if someone else is paying for it, they should get to make a few decisions, especially regarding the guest list. These demands need to be kept within reason, of course. You don’t want to have to invite 20 extra people to your small 30 person wedding, but if you are having a decent sized ceremony, adding a few random folks that your financier wants to invite shouldn’t be too much of a hardship. (Plus more gifts!) An important exception to this are people that you actively don’t want there, such as an estranged or problematic relative. Speaking of which…

Problematic Relatives and Friends

Arguing friends

If you absolutely do not want someone at your wedding, then I believe you should keep them off the guest list. I don’t mean people that have merely irritated you, but rather those you have decided you do not want in your life anymore. It does not matter if it is a former workmate or your mother; if you feel that strongly about a person, then it is completely okay to not want to deal with them on such an important day. If your soon-to-be spouse really wants to invite them, then you need to come to an understanding between the two of you, but this is good practice for marriage where you have to compromise a bajillion times a day. Conversely, a wedding can be a good chance to offer an olive branch, but sometimes we keep people out of our lives for good reasons and no one (besides you and your fiancé) absolutely has to be at the wedding.


One helpful rule of thumb when inviting people to your wedding is to invite them (or not invite them) in categories. For example, if you invite one of your cousins, you should also invite your other cousins. Of course, this is just a general rule, and there may be tons of exceptions. If you are very close with one person at work you can invite them, but ask them not to tell anyone else. A word of caution, though: with social media it is almost impossible to keep who was at your wedding secret, so I would not count on discretion as a plan to keep others from finding out who you invited. It is best to assume that word will get out and to plan your guest list accordingly.

People that Invited you to Their Wedding

If you have the space and feel okay about it, it is good etiquette to invite the people that have invited you to their wedding. However, it is not mandatory. If someone had a 300 guest wedding and yours is only 50 people, you may not have space for them, and they should understand. Everyone that goes through the stress of wedding planning knows that you have to draw the line somewhere, and they may even be relieved.

Dealing with Disappointment

The people who you do not invite may feel disappointed, but if they are a reasonably well adjusted adult, they will get over it quickly (unless it really comes as a blow). If you are not inviting someone you think may take it harshly, for example someone who thinks they are closer to you than you do, or a sibling that likes to make scenes, you may want to have coffee with them and explain why you couldn’t include them as nicely as possible. Always make sure that you refrain from talking about your wedding around anyone you’ve left out in order to avoid putting salt in the wound.

Covert Non-Invitations

Invitation reply card

So this is when you invite someone because you know they are not likely to come. Maybe the wedding is far away and they don’t like to travel, or you know they will be out of town those dates. This is a fine, though risky, strategy. If you invite someone, no matter how unlikely it is that they may RSVP yes, make sure that there is space and that you don’t actually mind them being there, just in case.

At the end of the day, you and your fiancé are the ones that get to make the final decision about the size and guest list of your wedding, though a little grace and flexibility, especially when someone else is paying, can make the whole thing go a little more smoothly.

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