How to Shorten Your Wedding Guest List Without Hurting Feelings
Photo: Edward John Photography
We’re often asked how many guests NOAH’S Event Venue can accommodate. While the answer depends on the location, it’s typically around 200-300 guests. That’s a big wedding! In fact, the average wedding size is about 150 guests, and anything over that is considered “large” within the industry. That’s a lot of people! But once you start to make a guest list, a large wedding may seem like it’s on the horizon. After all, you have to take into account family, friends, distant relatives, your partner’s college buddies, your mother’s old neighbors…the list goes on. So how exactly can you narrow down that ever-growing guest list?
Here’s the bottom line: the more guests you have, the more money you’ll have to spend feeding and entertaining them. Do you really have to invite Great Aunt Margery? No. Will not inviting her hurt her feelings? Probably. Shortening the guest list is a tough thing to do! So, how can you shave it down without hurting feelings?
Manage Guest Chains
The best way to keep your wedding guest list reasonable without making people feel left out is to avoid splitting up “guest chains.” I made that term up, but it’s helpful; I promise. Essentially, a “guest chain” happens when one potential guest is connected to a bunch of other people, forcing you to invite them all. For example, if you invite one old college buddy, you should invite all your old college buddies. If you invite one great aunt, you should invite all her siblings. Get it?
Is it ever okay to break a guest chain?
Breaking guest chains by inviting one or a few members of the chain almost always causes hurt feelings! The only exception is if, and only if, you are obviously much much closer to one individual than the rest in the chain, and I mean obviously closer to one individual—not just to you, but to everyone involved. For instance, if one of your old roommates became your best friend (traveled to France with you, calls your mom “Becky” instead of “Mrs. Matherly,” and knows you hate pickles on Big Macs) while the others are distant Facebook friends, then you can break the guest chain. You can invite the one close roommate and leave the others behind. But in general, if you’re serious about not hurting feelings, either invite all or none of a guest chain.
Create Clear Limits
Another way to avoid hurt feelings when working on your wedding guest list is to give your family members (most likely parents) a set number of people they can invite. “No, Mom, you can’t invite your entire church congregation; you can invite 10 close family members or friends.” Stay firm with this cap, but give them a cap. This way, your parents can have a say and “do their thing,” but you’re not left with a towering list of bunko buddies.
Send Invites in Waves
Taylor Hoffman is a Senior Regional Manager here at NOAH’S Event Venue and a wedding coordinating expert. She often suggests that couples send out invitations in waves in order to keep their guest count from ballooning out of control. Couples find this method very helpful, so we asked her a few questions on how it works.
What is sending invites in waves?
“Sending your invites in ‘waves’ allows you to have more control over the final guest count for your special day,” says Hoffman. “Start by collecting all your invites and separate them into three waves/piles.”
These piles are the key to this clever method. “The first pile should go out to immediate family and very close friends, those guests that you must have there on your big day,” Hoffman says. “The second pile could include extended family that you may have not seen in years or friends from college. The third pile might include those that you feel obligated to invite or you know just might not show up.”
After dividing your guest list into three piles, you will send each pile out separately in waves. As you receive RSVP’s or regretful apologies from the first list, you can then prioritize those in your second list and send those out based off of how much space is still available. If you still have room after the first two waves have been sent out, then you can send out the third.
When do you send each wave?
The timeline for sending out each wave is crucial to making this method work. You don’t want to be waiting for RSVP’s in the final days before your wedding. Hoffman suggests mailing out the first wave from your wedding guest list 12 weeks before your big day. “I would recommend including an easier RSVP option, such as responding on a wedding website, rather than waiting for a returned card. Give these guests three-four weeks to reply,” she instructs. “At 8 weeks before your event, send the next wave, give these guests three weeks to reply! Depending on how many RSVP’s you have, you may be able to send the last wave, or you may not. At 5 weeks, send the last wave and give them two weeks to RSVP. This will ensure you have final numbers to give to vendors two-three weeks before your event.”
To conclude, Hoffman points out that this method of sending invitations gives the bride and groom more control over the invite list. “It’s no surprise that guest lists can get out of control as the word spreads of the upcoming nuptials. It’s okay to not invite everyone and to stick to a budget! This method allows you to do just that.”
Don’t Invite Obvious “Nos”
According to this pretty on-point article, there are a few easy people you can go ahead and cut in the early stages of wedding guest list planning, such as your boss and exes. As with any list, take it with a grain of salt and remember that the nature of your relationships will be different than others. That being said, there are definitely a few types of people you can eliminate right away, like toxic friends and very distant relatives.
Set Strict Plus One Guidelines
If you’ve decided to limit the number of plus-ones in order to save money and shorten the guest list, be firm and clear about the guidelines. Meaning, if your best friend gets a plus-one, let her know that not everyone does. When couples aren’t clear about their plus one restrictions, they can end up with handfuls of unexpected guests with nowhere to sit and nothing to eat! We recommend a personal phone call to let guests know that the “plus one” option on their invite was exclusive.
In conclusion, following these tips can help you avoid tears and hurt feelings while shaving down your wedding guest list. After all, minimizing the number of people at your wedding is the easiest way to save money and keep your special day truly special. In reality, there’s no way to know with absolute certainty that folks won’t be offended if they don’t get your beautiful invite in the mailbox. If they do, remember to be understanding, kind, and honest when explaining why they didn’t get invited. No matter what size of wedding you decide is right for you, NOAH’S is the perfect place to host it! Our venue is great for everything from intimate weddings to huge celebrations! Contact us to schedule a tour! For some more easy ways to improve your wedding planning, check out our 7 Wedding Hacks for the Best Big Day Ever!