Your Wedding Guest List Etiquette Questions, Answered

private garden cocktail hour outdoors
Erich McVey

Creating your wedding guest list is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of planning your big day. Deciding how many people to invite and then determining who those people will be is no small undertaking—especially when you start to factor in all the politics that are involved in making those decisions. Who gets a plus-one? Do you have to include all of your cousins? What happens when more people RSVP "no" than you originally planned for? In short, choosing who to invite to your wedding is easier said than done. That's why it's important to follow our guest list etiquette guidelines as you navigate this important but stressful planning process.

Beyond who to invite, we're here to help with all facets of handling your wedding guest list—from beginning to end. Even after the invites go out, chances are you'll be faced with uncomfortable situations. It's essential to properly handle scenarios like contacting those who did not make your RSVP deadline or sending out B-list invitations without upsetting anyone who didn't receive first-round offers. Wondering if there is a right time to uninvite someone? We'll assist you as you weigh your options. In the end, you'll feel confident that you handled these challenging tasks to the best of your abilities.

If you've found our advice helpful so far, keep reading—from dividing the guest list between both of your families and pulling off a child-free celebration to dealing with uninvited plus-ones, we're here to help make this aspect of wedding planning a little less stressful.

01 of 19

How do you divvy up your guest list when only one family is paying for the wedding?

outdoor wedding acrylic wooden seating chart blue cards
Jen Huang

Traditionally, no matter who's paying for your event, you should split your wedding guest list into three parts: one-third are guests of the bride's parents, one-third are guests of the groom's, and the rest are guests of the couple. With that said, the rule of thirds doesn't always work and many guest lists develop naturally. That's perfectly fine, too.

If his parents want to invite more than their third (without exceeding your venue's capacity, of course), and yours are uncomfortable with that, your fiancé's family should help with the added costs. If that's out of the question, they'll have to make some tough decisions and cut down their list. One last option? You and your groom can always invite fewer friends to make room for those additional attendees.

02 of 19

How do you pick which relatives to invite?

Erich McVey

When creating your wedding guest list, you should treat your family members equally. So, if you invite one aunt, you should include all aunts (and uncles, too). The cost of adding extra place settings at your reception is money well spent if it keeps tensions at bay. If you wish to highlight your favorite aunt, ask her to give a speech or call out your closeness in some other meaningful way. She'll still get how much you value her friendship, and no one else will have their feelings hurt.

03 of 19

Do you have to invite all of your cousins?

Jose Villa

If you want to invite one of your first cousins, most wedding etiquette advisors will say you have to invite them all—but that doesn't mean your fiancé has to follow suit. You should evaluate each family by their closeness and then apply the "all or nothing" rule accordingly. If someone makes a comment about his first cousins being included while yours weren't, just explain that his family has a tighter bond.

04 of 19

Do you have to invite all of your reception guests to your ceremony?

white linen wedding ceremony sign
Maria Lamb

It's perfectly okay to invite some people only to the party. As far as the wedding invitations go, everything, including the save-the-dates and response cards, should focus on the reception. The ceremony shouldn't be mentioned, so steer clear of ambiguous expressions like, "celebrate our wedding." To invite a select few to your vow exchange, include an extra slip in their invitations requesting their presence. It's important to tell these guests that the ceremony will be very small so they don't talk about it in front of non-invitees. If any reception-only attendee asks you why they weren't invited, explain that it's for immediate family only and that you hope they'll make it to the party.

Just keep in mind that while a reception invite always requires an RSVP, the ceremony enclosure can be without. Having an extra card printed is more costly, but it's an etiquette-approved way to cover your bases. If you can't manage the added expense, a more informal, cost-effective way to go is to extend the ceremony invites via phone call or handwritten note and send the same reception-only suite to everyone.

05 of 19

Can you write "adults only" on your invitations?

ciera preston wedding kids
Ashley Sawtelle

In short, no. The only proper way to say that children aren't invited is to simply not write their names on the envelope. It's not gracious to say, essentially, "some people are not invited" on your wedding stationery. Go ahead and mention the situation in any of the extra materials you might send; the save-the-dates and hotel information can say, "Since children won't be invited to the ceremony and reception, please let us know whether you will need help finding a babysitter." Or, call the parents on the list before you address the invitations to inform them that children will not be included. That way you can smooth any ruffled feathers ahead of time.

06 of 19

Should you invite teenagers?

Heather Waraksa

It's very common nowadays for brides and grooms not to invite children to their celebrations—but what about teenagers? There aren't clear guest list etiquette guidelines here, but we suggest including anyone 18 or older—they're technically legal adults; they should also receive their own invitation.

07 of 19

Do you have to include someone who invited you to their wedding?

lisa greg italy wedding cocktail hour grass outdoor
Heather Waraksa

If a friend (who you are still close with) recently got married and had a wedding with a similar or smaller headcount than your event, they should be invited. It's only okay to leave them out if your relationship has faded since their celebration, or if you're keeping your big-day guest list small. Just remember: If you're inviting mutual friends, inform them of your decision so they don't talk about your nuptials in front of those who weren't included.

08 of 19

Should you invite someone who sent you a pre-wedding gift?

bride holding gifts
Matthew Land Studios

Although the gesture was kind, you're not required to invite someone who sent a pre-wedding gift to your party. Just be sure to send a proper thank-you note. If you're concerned that he or she is expecting an invitation, ask whoever is closest to this person how to properly handle the situation—the news of your engagement probably came from them, anyway. In the end, if you decide to extend the offer, just make sure it's done in a timely manner, so this individual doesn't feel like a B-list guest.

09 of 19

How do you decide who can bring a date?

Liz Banfield

Once people have publicly declared their social status—by marrying, getting engaged, or moving in together—they should be invited as a unit. Include spouses, fiancés, and live-in partners on your wedding invitations.

This can be trickier when you're dealing with longtime couples who don't cohabitate, especially if you're not good friends with both people. Try setting a no exceptions cutoff: If a couple has been dating for less than a year, only the partner you're close to is invited, for example. Just explain that your numbers are limited, and your friends shouldn't take this personally. You should include this person's significant other, however, if one of you has met him or her.

10 of 19

How do you address save-the-date envelopes that include multiple guests?

rustic save the date
Helen Byrd Photographer

Address save-the-dates exactly as you would the inner envelope of a wedding invitation. That means adding "and Guest" if friends are welcome to bring a companion whose name you don't know and listing any children (or simply writing "The Smith Family" when the whole gang is invited). Not only is this proper wedding etiquette, but it also gives people the information they need to plan ahead (like whether or not they need to hire a babysitter for the event).

11 of 19

How do I handle guests who have missed our RSVP deadline?

modern wedding stationery suite
Eileen Meny

We suggest making a phone call immediately after the cutoff date to anyone who hasn't responded—especially because a lack of replies might indicate that either the invitation or the RSVP got lost in the mail. If that's a lot of calls, delegate this task to loved ones. If you end up playing phone tag, leave a message in your second attempt that says, "If we don't hear from you by Thursday, we'll put you down as a no. Sorry to miss you."

12 of 19

What do you do if people add guests to RSVP cards?

Ryan Ray Photography

When someone does this, it's time to pick up the phone. Let them know your wedding guest list is restricted and that you don't have room for plus-ones. Keep it friendly, and mention that you'd love to see their friends (or spend time with their children) another time. Be delicate, but don't back down.

13 of 19

Will B-list guests be offended by delayed invitations?

photo escort cards
Ryan Ray

It's always rude to make people feel like an afterthought (or B-lister), so this isn't a great idea unless you can send out the second wave of wedding invitations within a few weeks of the first. To give yourself enough time to do so, mail the first round a bit early, at least eight weeks before the event.

There is an exception to this guest list etiquette rule: If you both have huge families that had to be invited, your friends will probably be enthusiastic that you were able to squeeze them in. Explain the situation first, then pop their invites in the mail.

14 of 19

For a family-only wedding, do you still send announcements to friends?

gillian marcus wedding ceremony couple
The Edges Wedding Photography

Sending wedding announcements is by no means mandatory, but it's a very nice thing to do. The tradition is a thoughtful one, because you are personally letting people—who might otherwise hear the news secondhand—know about this momentous occasion in your life. The printed note can simply state (along with the wedding's date and location) that the couple "announce their marriage." What it should not be is a solicitation for gifts. Unless someone's been invited to the wedding, they're not expected to give a present.

15 of 19

Will people decline coming to a Sunday wedding because of work on Monday?

brunch's waffle bar
Erin Wilson Photography

Guests who want to celebrate your marriage will make the effort to be there no matter what day you pick. But a Sunday wedding could interfere with a Monday workday for traveling attendees. If you have a lot of out-of-towners, consider a daytime affair, like a festive brunch; those who want to fly home on Sunday night can still do so. Whatever you decide, send out save-the-dates at least six months prior to give invitees plenty of time to deal with logistics—and maybe even ask for Monday off.

16 of 19

Can you uninvite rude guests to your wedding?

wedding invitation boxes hanna taylor
Hanna Taylor Photography

We advise against uninviting anyone to any party, except under the rarest of circumstances (your venue floods, say, and you have to downsize to your living room). This also applies to rude guests. Although it is bad form to criticize a couple's big day, or any events leading up to it, taking the high road is your best move. The next time these "friends" insult your wedding plans, kindly let them know how hurt you are by their harsh words. Or just smile and say, "Really? I think we've made a great choice. We couldn't be happier." That way, they're not getting what they want (to make you upset) and you're not triggering more drama.

17 of 19

If someone in your wedding party gets divorced, can you uninvite their ex?

thick natural wood chargers
Sara Corona

Although this makes for an awkward situation, there is no gracious way to withdraw an invitation you've already extended. Chances are, the estranged wife and her parents may respectfully change their RSVP status. However, if they don't, assume that everyone will be well behaved. Place the splitting couple as far apart from each other as possible at your wedding reception. (If you weren't planning on creating seating assignments, you might want to reconsider!) To avoid surprises, let the groomsman know his ex and former in-laws are coming, that you truly value his participation in your wedding, and that you know he'll have a wonderful time nonetheless. Then, stop worrying about it and concentrate on your own happy ending.

18 of 19

Is it okay to invite some coworkers to your wedding, but not all of them?

guest standing by escort display with floral acrylic artwork
Melissa Gayle

Whether you're talking colleagues or old friends, a wedding is such a personal affair that you should only invite the people you really want to come. So, sure, ask your office mates, but try to keep the chatter about the big day out of the workplace, and let your invited coworkers know not to mention it around others. If it does come up, focus on the process of wedding planning and not on the specific details of your own ("Who knew venues were so much cheaper on Fridays?"), or on items of general interest ("That new hotel downtown has an amazing bar—have you been?"). And use the phrase, "It's a small wedding" liberally.

19 of 19

Will coworkers be offended if you don't extend an invite to their spouses?

wedding guests
Joel Serrato

While it's true you can't please everyone when creating your guest list, it is considered standard etiquette to include the husbands and wives of those you're inviting. Furthermore, some colleagues may choose not to attend your celebration if they can't have their significant other at their side. You can either reduce the number of coworkers invited to your closest few, or increase the headcount to a total that allows for your officemates and their plus-ones.

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