10 Tips for Putting Together a Wedding Guest List

Photo: Echard Wheeler Photography

Here's a guilt- and stress-free guide to choosing your attendees.

01 of 10
jamie jon wedding guests with cocktails
Rachel Havel Photography

Ask any couple and you'll quickly learn that no one really enjoys creating their wedding guest list. The process can be extremely challenging, especially when conflicting opinions enter the mix. This often happens, especially during the first round of edits. You'll be surprised by how many people make your first draft—from family, co-workers, and friends to your parents' social circles—but making cuts is something that has to be done. To mitigate any conflicts, it helps to have etiquette guidelines you can refer to as you narrow down your roster. If you and your fiancé are struggling with these difficult decisions, know that we're here to help (and prevent you from second-guessing your final choices). The tips ahead—which answer all of your most pressing guest list questions—will assist in streamlining your process, which will save you valuable time during this hectic wedding-planning phase.

As for one of the most pressing guest list conflicts? Many couples grapple with whether or not their childhood friends should receive an invite. It's important to note that you're not obligated to include them. A key question to ask yourself when deciding who should make your wedding guest list: Can you imagine having dinner with them sometime in the next year? If yes, add them to your A-list. If you were once tight but haven't been in regular contact for ages, keep their name on the B-list. This way if someone sends their regrets, you'll be able to fill the seat with this person you have a history with.

If you've already found our advice helpful, the tips head will surely improve your wedding guest list experience. Get the answers to all of your questions and master the method by following these simple tips.

02 of 10

How do you pick which relatives to invite?

leah michael wedding group photo couple kiss
Gui of Weddings by Nato

Your immediate family is a wedding guest list no-brainer, as well as aunts, uncles, first cousins, and grandparents. But for more distant kin, a good rule of thumb is to group like with like, and either invite the whole bunch, or none at all. For example, you wouldn't include your favorite second cousin and not her siblings, unless you're ready for the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner of your life next year.

Something else to keep in mind? Though most etiquette advisors will say that inviting one of your first cousins means you should invite them all, this rule does not mean you must treat both sides of the aisle the same. It's best to address each family according to their closeness. Your relatives won't be as aware of the family-tree breakdown on his side; but should they discover that his first cousins were included while yours were not, there's a simple reply: "His family is much closer than ours is."

03 of 10

Should you include your coworkers?

shelby barrett wedding guests
Corbin Gurkin

The same wedding guest list grouping rule applies here, too: Include everyone in your department, or none at all. An exception would be any colleague you see socially outside of the office—in that case, the coworker is truly a friend, not just a person you enjoy ordering lunch with occasionally.

04 of 10

Do you have to invite your boss?

Harwell Photography

Whether your boss makes your wedding's guest list or not can be a tough decision. If she's someone you collaborate closely with, or if the office environment is such that it would reflect poorly on you not to ask her, go ahead and address the invite. Of course, the nature of your celebration should be taken into consideration, too. If you're throwing an intimate destination event, it's unlikely that your boss would be insulted to be left off the guest list. But if you're planning a rather large affair and work at a small organization, it's polite—not to mention smart office politics—to invite the head honcho.

Finally, don't worry that it will be seen as a ploy to score a present; most managers, regardless of whether they've been invited, give wedding gifts to their employees when they tie the knot.

05 of 10

What is the best way to handle plus-ones?

Jillian Mitchell Photography

Deciding whether or not to let attendees bring dates is a wedding guest list dilemma nearly all couples face. On the one hand, you don't want a single person who might not know much of your crew to feel left out. On the other, writing "and guest" on envelopes means that there will be a good number of people you don't know sharing your special day (not to mention that you'll be treating these strangers to a rather pricey dinner and dancing).

If a relative or friend is engaged to be married, their fiancé must be invited. Beyond that, many people draw the line by including only truly significant others, meaning long-term or live-in partners. If you make a rule like that, be sure to apply it across the board. Something to be aware of: Many unmarried people find it tremendously upsetting to not be allowed to bring a date. Prepare them for the idea and pay careful attention to where the singles sit during dinner. As for your bridal party—letting them bring an escort would be a considerate gesture, though it's not required.

06 of 10

Can you invite only specific children?

vasthy mason wedding bride with kids
Emma Mead

First off, it's totally acceptable (and common!) to leave kids off of your wedding guest list entirely, especially if you're planning a formal or local dinner. (It might be more difficult to exclude them during casual or daytime celebrations or destination weddings, though.)

When it comes to inviting some kids and not others, opinions vary, so choose a clear rule and stick to it. Settle on an age threshold (older kids tend to be better behaved), or restrict it to immediate family (most children who have wedding duties are close relatives, such as a niece or stepchild—though even they don't need to stay for the reception).

Not sure how to best tell guests that your wedding is kid-free? Let your invitation do the talking, says Anna Post, author of Emily Post's Wedding Parties

. Let's say you've chosen not to include kids younger than five, and your friends have an 11-year-old and a four-year-old. You'd write the friends' names and the older child's name on the inner envelope, indicating that the youngest isn't invited. If you're worried guests won't get the message, call beforehand. Says Post, "You can say, 'We just sent the invitations and we're excited to have you join us, but we've decided not to include young children. I wanted to give you advance notice so you have time to find a sitter. I hope you can make it!'" Don't grant any exceptions; that would be rude to guests who've abided by your wishes.

07 of 10

Do teen invitations follow the same protocol as kids?

kelly drew new jersey junior bridesmaids processional
Rachel Havel Photography

There's no clear guest list etiquette guideline for inviting teenagers to your wedding. You could use the "old enough to receive their own invitation" rule (which is typically 18). If you set the age at 18, however, you may really hurt the feelings of any younger teens. Teenagers especially hate being treated like children, so they may resent it even more.

08 of 10

Do you have to invite someone that had you at their wedding?

melissa justen wedding invitation suite
Lisa Zeising of Abby Jiu Photography

Wedding guest list etiquette's rule of reciprocal entertaining is pretty strong: If your friends' wedding was recent, and you are still close—and if your big day is on a similar scale as theirs, or is larger—they should already be on your guest list. But if your friendship has faded some since their nuptials, or if your wedding is of a smaller size, it is completely appropriate to leave them off. Exercise some caution if you have mutual friends who are invited; alert those people to the restriction in your guest list, so that they won't go on and on about your wedding in front of those not invited and create an awkward moment for everyone.

09 of 10

If they send a gift, do you have to invite them?

wedding gift tables ether and smith
Ether and Smith

Do you need to add people to your wedding guest list who send engagement or early wedding presents? The short answer is no. Simply think of this gift as a message to you and your groom that you are important to this person.

If you're worried that he or she is expecting an invitation, review the situation with whoever is closest to them. If it's a friend of your mother's, for example, ask her. She will know what sort of information has gone out to her friends about the guest list—in fact, that information has likely come from her—so she'll be your best guide to what her friends' reaction is likely to be. She'll also tell you if inviting her friend will open a can of worms (for example, will your mother then have to invite her entire yoga class?). If you do decide to add this person to the list, make sure her invitation goes out right away if the others have already been mailed.

10 of 10

Is it rude to eliminate an estranged guest from the list?

guests seated at family style long reception table outside
Julie Cate

If you send a save-the-date to someone, but then you have a falling out, are you still obligated to keep them on the wedding guest list? It's a pretty big no-no to tell someone about a party and then not invite them. The question you need to ask yourself is, "How serious is this falling out?" To not invite them would be a signal that you don't want them in your life at all anymore. Including them serves as an olive branch—a sign that you consider the estrangement to be temporary. So before you rescind the invitation, decide which message you want to send.

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