How to make a wedding guest list

If math isn’t your strong suit, you may want to enlist help to determine how many guests to invite to your wedding. Today, wedding guest lists are as much about numbers as they are about favorite aunts and college roommates.

The goal is to do your math right from the start so that you, your fiancé, your family and your fiancé’s family won’t face cutting the wedding guest list later.

Keep in mind that today the average cost of a meal and one drink for each guest is $30, said Suzanne Kresse, the Wedding Lady and host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Bending The Rules With Suzanne Kresse.

Brides who establish guest list parameters early avoid conflicts, according to bridal consultant ShaSha Gideo, who lectures across the country, owns A Grand Affair in La Jolla, Calif., and has produced a book, video and “Magic Planner” software package.

A bridal consultant for 14 years, Gideo takes a traditional approach to the guest list and reminds brides that “a wedding is a very personal emotional event.”

“Start with family and closest friends,” she said. “Your wedding guests should be people who you know very well and whom you want to have at your wedding.”
She said you don’t have to invite everyone you know. You don’t even have to invite your boss.

Traditionally, the bride’s family stipulates the number of guests. However, with more brides and grooms hosting their own weddings and more grooms’ families helping with costs, guest count discussions now include all those involved.

The important thing is that once the wedding size is established, and everyone has agreed to their allotted numbers, those numbers are fixed. Getting this consensus involves communication about everything from wedding style and budgets to the number of guests each family wants.

The process often starts with eight lists: “must invite” and “would like to invite” lists from the bride, groom, bride’s family and groom’s family. These yield an initial total of people to be invited.

How to make a wedding guest list How to make a wedding guest listWhen these lists total too many guests, Kresse says, the standard elimination order is:

• Parents of the attendants.
• Any family or friend more than a two-hour’s drive from the wedding.

Make decisions early on policies like “no children under the age of 12″ (siblings, neices, nephews and children of the bride and groom excepted), no “and guest” invitations or “no general office” invitations. With clear communication, there is less room for misunderstandings that lead to uninvited guests attending.

Kresse points to a growing trend toward labeling the reception as “adults-only.” Even children who are part of the wedding party are included only in the meal and then taken home or to a babysitter. She noted, however, that any adult invited to the ceremony must also be invited to the reception.

Brides today can take one of two approaches in deciding how to establish guest counts:

Come up with a guest count and then decide what type of wedding to have based on that count and the budget.

Establish your wedding style first, and let it and your budget determine the guest count.

Your choice depends in part upon which you value more: To have the wedding you’ve always dreamt of, or one that accommodates all your friends and relatives. Both approaches work if there is consensus as to what’s important. And if everyone then sticks to the numbers. Kresse pointed out that, in general, no matter what part of the country you come from, 25 percent of the people you invite will be unable to attend. But don’t count too heavily on regrets to pare your list when you’ve invited only those who you are quite sure will come. For a lucky few brides, their dream wedding and guest count coincide. However, for a great many others, compromises are necessary.

The fact is total wedding costs almost always depend heavily on your guest count and your style of reception. The couple with a long guest list and limited funds should look for ways to have a beautiful wedding that fits their budget.

You can do some simple calculations to understand how your guest count and style of reception work together to determine wedding costs.

Industry experts project your reception costs to be anywhere from 40 to 65 percent of your total wedding budget. If you divide your total wedding budget (not including honeymoon) by two, this 50 percent figure represents approximately the amount of money you have to spend on your reception. Next add together reception costs such as a band and site rental fee that won’t change on a per-guest basis. Subtract this from your reception budget.

If you are starting with a fixed number of guests, divide this amount by the number of guests to come up with the per-guest amount you have for reception food, beverages, favors and table decorations.

If you prefer to start with a specific style of reception (for example, seated dinner with favors at $50 per person), divide your reception budget (reduced by fixed costs) by this price-per-person to come up with the number of guests you can accommodate in this style.
“When budget is a factor, you can still have 300 people. Just don’t do a plated sit-down dinner. No one says you have to feed them a formal dinner. Do a beautiful cocktail buffet instead,” Gideo said.

Bridal experts suggest:

Schedule the wedding at a non-meal time (2 p.m. wedding with reception immediately afterward) to avoid heavy food costs.
Plan a “homey” rather than elegant menu.

Consider a brunch buffet (10 a.m. wedding with reception immediately after).

For some brides, a get-away wedding with only immediate family and closest friends, followed weeks later by a “marriage celebration” party, can cut wedding costs and still include friends in the festivities.
When you don’t plan by the numbers, the results can be disastrous. One bride who had reserved an up-scale reception site with plans for a sit-down dinner, had to change to a stand-up reception when her list outgrew the facility’s space for seated diners.
Another bride had plenty of space, but when she priced the food she had a choice of either cutting the guest list or altering her dream wedding. When she decided that cutting the list was the way to go, everyone was unhappy.
Traditionally, when the bride and groom come from the same town, both families have an equal number of guests. Mutual friends are split between the two lists.

Often when the groom is from a distant location, fewer invitations are allocated to the groom’s family. Friends who would not be expected to attend the wedding are sent announcements in lieu of invitations.
Frequently guest numbers are split into thirds: one to the bride’s family, one to the groom’s family and one to be shared by the bride and groom. As Kresse pointed out, this allocation is the most fair and helps avoid hurt feelings.
Once the numbers are established, it is up to each group to finalize who they wish to invite. They should provide full names, addresses and phone numbers to the bride’s family