Before: The Guests

15 Aug

Choosing who will share your big day  
Hopefully in your discussion with your fiancé of your wedding values, the eternal debate of “big wedding versus small wedding” came up in conversation. The big/small dilemma usually comes down to two main arguments: the size of the budget and the number of guests. So how will you decide how many guests to have, and who to invite to your big day?

How many
While it might feel natural to start the guest list process by figuring out exactly which people you want there or who really needs to be at your wedding, in the interests of budget and achieving the atmosphere you want, it is wiser to look first at the total number of people you want. Sound boring? Maybe, but you’ll curse yourself later when you’ve invited 150 guests only to realise you can only afford 70 with the venue you’ve chosen.

Here are some points to discuss with your future mister:
Atmosphere: Do you want an intimate elopement with only the two of you (plus witnesses)? Is a family feeling most important to you and you only want your immediate relatives there with a few close friends? Would you like to have a party vibe, but without blowing the budget? Are there cultural considerations that lead you to have a massive guest list?
Budget: The wedding reception eats up the biggest slice of the wedding budget pie. With weddings ranging everything from backyard pot-luck dinners to five-course sit-down soirees, there’s no average per-person price for a wedding that can be useful in your decision making. Decide the type of wedding you want and atmosphere you want to achieve, then look into example prices with caterers and venues to get an idea of what it might cost. (For us, with a beach ceremony and sit-down three-course dinner, each new wedding guest costs us an additional US$158.50: $75 for the dinner, $70 for the drinks package, $8 to hire a chair for them at the ceremony, and $5.50 to decorate their chair at the reception. And don’t forget the cost of centerpieces for each additional table.)

The two issues of budget and guests go hand in hand: while each guest is of course an extra loved one with whom to celebrate and share your special day, every additional guest does increase the cost of your wedding. You need to find a balance. We ourselves are aiming for 70-80 guests; that should be more than enough people to achieve the party vibe we want, without breaking the bank.

Who will be filling these chairs as guests at your wedding?

Who to invite
Once you know what atmosphere you want to achieve, the budget you need to stick to, and approximately how many guests will fit those parameters, you’re ready to look at exactly who to invite to your big day. Hooray! If you’re taking the elopement path, with only immediate family and very close friends (if that) then the decision of who to invite is easy. For the rest of you, read on.

When you write down your draft guest list, divide potential invitees into categories, so it’s easier for you to keep track of them and make sure no one gets left out. Consider you and your groom’s immediate family, extended family, family friends, friends you see now on a regular basis, school/college friends, colleagues, friends from hobbies/interest groups, and of course the inevitable “other” category (old roommates, former colleagues, random strikers, etc).

Some things to consider:
Keeping it collegial: Do colleagues make your to-invite list? A common question is how to invite some office buddies without offending those who don’t make the cut. Our (rather ingenious!) solution was to only invite colleagues we regularly see socially outside of work (chatting at the office Christmas party doesn’t count). If you can’t be bothered catching up with the woman in Cubicle B over coffee after hours, why bring her to your wedding? If you do get any questions about lost invitations from uninvited colleagues, this philosophy is highly logical and also shares the onus with them.
The +1 debate: Will you let your guests bring a date? Some say the general rule is that everyone can bring a friend; others say that only established partners (spouses, fiancés and live-in or otherwise long-term partners) make the grade. Our policy was that established partners are of course invited, and any singles who won’t know anyone else at the wedding can also bring a tagalong. Tip: if you get close to the wedding date and find yourself with fewer yes RSVPs than expected, you can boost numbers simply by offering guests a +1.
Kids: Will you let parents bring their kids? Are newborns okay (because of breast-feeding needs) but older children are not, or vice versa? This is massive debate in wedding land. Check out my next, more detailed post on inviting kids to weddings!
People who invited you to their weddings: This is a group of guests you need to consider, regardless of whether or not you ended up attending. Note I said that you need to consider them, not that you definitely need to invite them. This all depends on the circumstances of how long ago their wedding was, if you’re still in contact, and if you actually want them at your wedding (that all-important but often overlooked criterion).
People your parents want to invite: This can be painful, but does need to be dis- cussed – especially if they are contributing to the wedding finances. Whether or not they chip in, if the topic of “their” guests arises, at least make sure your par- ents know how much each additional guest costs; wedding prices have changed greatly since their day and they may not be aware of the extra financial burden.

Priority lists
I’ll admit it: we had A, B, C and D lists for our guests. This means that we labeled each guest as top priority or low priority, or in some cases high or low urgency (for example, overseas guests must be invited early to arrange flights and time off, whereas guests living locally need less notice). We invited A-list guests first, and as we started to get “no” RSVPs we extended to B-list guests, and so on. Perhaps it’s rude and mortifying to prioritize the people in one’s life in such a fashion, but for us it was necessary: my fiancé and I are from countries on opposite sides of the world, and we were certain many of his family and friends would not be able to come to my home country for the wedding. If we had assumed that but invited all guests on the list at once, and then his relatives surprised us by all RSVPing yes, we would have ended up with a much bigger wedding than we could comfortably afford.

So how did this work in practice? We had a 17-month engagement, so plenty of time for inviting guests in batches. Immediate family, school/college friends and current colleagues were A-list, along with extended family from my fiancé’s side (for the urgency factor of living overseas). Our B-list was my extended family, family friends and former colleagues. Our C-list was the “other” group, and D-list the low-urgency group of locals. If you’re doing the same, note it is best to invite one entire category of guests in one batch/priority group; splitting up people from the same circle of friends will only lead to hurt feelings, as some get invitations while others don’t. It is up to you and your fiancé how you want to prioritize your guests, and in an ideal world you may not need to at all.

Keeping track
You’ll save a lot of time (and frustration) down the line by using tools to keep track of your wedding guests from the very beginning. I personally enjoy a good Excel file (who among us doesn’t, right?), because you can add as many columns as you need for your own wedding circumstances and information needs. If spreadsheets make you nervous, there are several websites that offer a start-to-finish service for tracking your guests: building the guest list, checking dietary needs, tracking invitations and RSVPs for wedding events, making the seating plan, and logging gifts received and thank-you cards sent. WeddingWire, The Knot and WeddingChannel provide great holistic options for guest tracking. Whatever system you choose, do choose something so you don’t lose track of your guests – to avoid someone being left without a chair at the reception, a vegan getting a meaty entree, or an aunt being left without a thank-you card.

Phew! That was a mammoth post, but I hope it helps you in deciding how many guests you would like in relation to your budget and the atmosphere you want to achieve, how to decide who to invite, how to prioritize them, and how to keep track of them. Best of luck with planning your guest list, and of course for getting those (yes) RSVPs!

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