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  • Writer's pictureElena Bespoke

How to Create a Wedding Guest List

How to Create a Wedding Guest List

Practical Tips for Intentional Couples

An invitation flat lay with a colorful rug, ribbon, and flowers
Betty Ann Photography

Who to invite, not to invite, and who gets a say dominate many initial wedding planning conversations. It’s often one of the first tasks couples do, but it’s difficult to take the right factors into consideration. 

We often think of weddings as a communal celebration, belonging to the collective of families and friends as much as to the couple of honor. It’s common for loved ones to be invited from all over the world to celebrate together in a once in a lifetime experience. It is a sentimental idea, born of the idea of two communities joining as one. Everyone gathers for one incredible day without an ounce of pushback, seating chart problem, or late RSVP snafu.

Practically… it’s not nearly that simple.

A couple holds hands behind their colorful wedding table
Betty Ann Photography

Like all life milestones, emotions are high around weddings. People can get absolutely nasty over the concept of child-free weddings, or destination weddings, or elopements. Sometimes couples make it to the altar hurt by fissures revealed during the wedding planning process. And to add to that, you’re spending a lot of money on it all. Even when things are relatively smooth, it’s common to have feelings of comparison, pressure, or anxiety.

Tensions build when our ideas about what a wedding is supposed to be, and who it is for, are undefined. A celebration with a clearly defined purpose, plus a thoughtful guest list, are intrinsic to an incredible celebration. In this post I want to help you lay a strong foundation that takes your natural personality, planning parameters, and family dynamics into consideration.

Finally, here’s the secret to a great guest list: More than wondering who’s going to show up, it’s about how you are going to show up. Your invitations extend to anyone you are happy to show up authentically and generously for, and who is happy to do the same with you. From there, the magic of a room full of love takes care of itself.

Prep Work

A bride gets her makeup done with a backdrop of Kansas City in the background
Betty Ann Photography

Before you begin on the guest list, it’s important to hunker down as a team of two and have some important conversations. You want to define what sort of celebration you want to create, and how you and yours fit into it. Here are some good questions to get you started:

  • Who is your wedding for?

  • Who are you most excited to celebrate with?

  • What is your capacity for hospitality, hosting, details, and timelines?

  • Do you want to get everyone in the same room, or create an experience for a particular group?

  • Does your budget allow you to create a great experience for each guest?

  • Would you rather cut from your budget or guest list?

  • What does it mean that someone is invited to your wedding?

  • What gives you social anxiety? What makes you feel calm and connected?

  • Where do you feel the most support, love, and connection from?

Each person you invite to your wedding will require communication, preparation, time, and expense. Commit to the loving work it will require to help them enjoy the celebration with you, and carry out those tasks with joy. You’ll plan festivities with them in mind, even if your guest list has to make sense financially, emotionally, and energetically for you

Once you’re emotionally and logistically clear, plus committed to taking care of each person on your guest list, you’re ready to move on.

Decide on the Big Picture

A couple performs a fun dance in front of wedding guests
Rhythm KC

After the prep work is done, you should have an idea about the general size of wedding you’d like to have. Something large and dynamic, or warm and intimate? Just to confirm, I’ve described the experience of the big wedding, intimate wedding, and elopement below. See which experience sounds more like you:

The Big Wedding

A large wedding (100+ guests) is great for couples who want to get everyone in their lives together for a once in a lifetime celebration. You think of getting everyone in the same room and can easily picture a room filled with love and support. You enjoy hosting, and the idea of spending time preparing for each guest gets you more excited for your wedding day. Your budget allows you to take care of everyone without needing to compromise on the things that are most important to you.

A larger guest list naturally creates unique venue needs with a stricter timeline. In addition to more square footage, you’ll need more restrooms, parking, or elevators for example. You’ll also need more time for guests to be served, find their seats, and move from one space to another. Thankfully, most venues and vendors will be set up to accommodate your celebration.

The larger wedding is a unique experience, complete with its own logistical needs and priorities. It’s perfect for high energy, expansive celebrations where everyone has a lot of love to share.

The Intimate Wedding

An intimate wedding would be for you if you want to give a select group a hand crafted experience. You want to enjoy goods and services, and to be able to enjoy a unique array of activities. Your wedding takes on a sense of place, incorporating the environment in more immersive ways. Your budget will stretch a bit further, and everyone will get to enjoy a more luxurious experience at a smaller price point. Organizing your people will feel light, and you’ll be able to consider each person individually. You’ll get to enjoy more quality time with everyone, and the sense of pressure relaxes. You’ll have access to unique venue options, a more personal experience with vendors, and your timeline breathes easily.

An intimate wedding is generally considered about 75 people or less, with an emphasis on slower paces and quality time. The benefits of an intimate wedding increase as your guest list gets smaller, with micro weddings being closer to 40 people or less. Since smaller weddings aren’t the norm, you’ll spend more time finding venues, running into vendor minimums, and finding ideas that fit your celebration. Still, it’s the best way to go for couples who prefer slow paces and quality time in beautiful environments.

The Elopement

Elope if you want to keep the emphasis on the ceremony and your experience as a couple. The elopement can often feel more like a honeymoon, with plenty of quality time in a beautiful environment. Switching out invites and engagement photos for park permits, plane tickets, or overnight accommodations feels right up your alley.

Without people in tow or a reception to plan, your ceremony can take place nearly anywhere in the world. You can elope abroad in a bucket list location, in a natural area with hiking and camping, or right here in Kansas City at a swanky hotel. You’ll get to splurge generously on the things and experiences that excite you. You can imagine lots of incredible ways to fill your experience and you know you won’t miss out on celebrating with others.

In case you do want a handful of people there, however, inviting 15 or less people to witness your vows is always an option. You’ll keep the emphasis on the ceremony, with little to no gathering afterwards.  If keeping the focus on the two of you is a high priority, eloping is the best way to do it.

Making Room

A Kansas City bride chats with her guests at a causal outdoor wedding
Rhythm KC

It’s likely that after you’ve identified your big picture priorities, you still have some questions. You might be concerned about some lingering etiquette concerns, or wonder how to have important conversations. For example…

  • What if we don’t agree on the size our wedding should be?

  • Are kids invited?

  • What if we want to invite some kids/coworkers/aunts/people, but not others in a similar “category”?

  • What about plus ones?

  • What if a parent is paying for some or all of it? Do they get a say in the guest list?

The wedding planning process allows you ample opportunities to practice compromising, having important conversations, and defining boundaries. It’s important to practice saying what you want and what you need, and listening to the wants and needs of those you love. It’s also okay to ultimately decide to do something that is right for you, even if it’s not what someone else wants. Your decisions should align with the purpose of your celebration, and you want to aim to make aligned decisions with kindness and love.

Remember that every person you invite should be welcomed with open arms. This means they get a meal, time spent with them, and a literal place to sit at your table. Feel free to revisit the Prep Work section as often as needed.

Creating The List

Wedding guests hold up candles at an outdoor wedding at night
Silk and Thorn Photography

Once you’ve decided on the size of wedding you’re aiming for, and where you will make room for others, it’s time to write out your list!

As you are creating your official guest list, commit to taking care of each person you invite to celebrate with you. Take the time needed to know how their name is spelled, their dietary restrictions, their phone number. Look forward to the time you get to spend with them, and let that love carry into your decisions moving forward.

Some view weddings as a communal experience, while others view it as something mainly for the marrier’s to enjoy (“It’s YOUR day!”). For some a wedding is a deeply romantic opportunity to say your vows, while for others it is primarily a religious ritual, and for others it's an upscale party. No matter how you put your guest list together, what makes a celebration great is its people. If you can take great care of loving and supportive people, the energy in the room on your wedding day will be warm and electric. I hope this guide helped you consider how to pull your people together with a big heart and a thoughtful plan.

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