real wedding photo at hummingbird nest ranch in california multicultural outdoor wedding bride and groom kiss at end of ceremony happy guests and wedding party

Your Guide to a Guest List You Won't Regret

Keep everything under control by following these suggestions.

After getting engaged, one of the first things you should do is figure out at least a rough estimation of the guest list. Read our tips on how to put together a guest list you won't regret!

real wedding photo at hummingbird nest ranch in california multicultural outdoor wedding bride and groom kiss at end of ceremony happy guests and wedding party
Photo: Rachel Havel

After getting engaged, one of the first things you should do is figure out at least a rough estimation of the guest list as the number of prospective attendees will greatly influence most of your planning decisions. The venue is the first thing you should book, and you’ll need to know how many people you want to invite before making that decision, as it can deeply affect your options.

Unfortunately, creating your guest list is also often the most contentious stage of the planning process and can regularly lead to resentment and hurt feelings. You have probably heard friends and family who were wed before you complain about how much their parents tried to add to the guest list – and if they’re paying for the wedding, it can feel unavoidable! We find the best way to combat issues involving the guest list is by setting some ground rules before getting started.

Below are our tips for creating a guest list that you won’t regret. 

Framed Seating Chart
Photo by Adam Barnes; Floral & Event Design by Amaryllis Floral & Event Design; From Real Wedding: Rustic-Inspired Waterfront Wedding in Small Town Maryland

Keep It Even

It's a good idea to split spots on the guest list evenly between both sets of parents, even if one side is paying, to avoid any ill feelings. If you are covering the wedding yourself, it's fine for the couple getting married to have a bigger portion of the guest list filled with their friends versus their parents' friends.

Organize Prospective Guests

List everybody you would possibly consider inviting, then mark them with levels like A, B, and C. Depending on your venue and budget, you may only be able to invite those ranked A, or you may have the freedom to add more people. Do this before actually sending out wedding invitations. Sending the invites in stages is a very risky move as you don't want any of your B or C guests to have hurt feelings should they find out they were a last-minute addition.

Plus Ones

Keep in mind that you must invite the spouses or live-in significant others of each guest. Even if you don't know them personally, it's the right thing to do! Put yourselves in your guests' shoes.

It is also nice to let all bridal party members have a plus one, regardless of their relationship status. Otherwise, your plus-one rules should be consistent to everyone to avoid hurt feelings.

Kids or No Kids?

Make a decision early about whether kids are invited, and consider having an age cutoff to avoid any uncomfortable situations and questions from guests.

Group Guests by Relationship

Include everyone from the same group, i.e. all first cousins, every aunt and uncle, etc. Exceptions can be made if some live in a different country and you've never met, or haven't met since you were children. You and your sweetheart can have different rules on each side, depending on the closeness and size of your family.

Should You Invite Coworkers?

This is often a personal decision, but if you invite your coworkers, it's considerate to invite your entire department or not invite anyone. Alternately, stick to inviting people you regularly see outside of work, not just office happy hours! For more tips, discover the people you and don't need to invite.

Invite Those Closest to You

Don’t invite people who you haven't talked to in over a year, as well as those you only see at other friends' events. If you wouldn't hang out with them one-on-one, you don't need to invite them to your wedding. You want those attending to be your dearest loved ones!

For more advice, discover what to decide in the first few days of wedding planning, find out how to balance your guests' needs with your own, and learn how to address invitations for unmarried couples