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What's Up Weddings

The Art of the Invite: Making the Cut

Oct 10, 2018 03:41PM ● By Brian Saucedo
Of all the tasks on a wedding to-do list, making your guest list is one of the most important—but it’s also one of the most stressful. We’ve heard the horror stories: a couple invites 250 people to their wedding, expects 200 to show up, and, instead, 230 RSVP yes for a venue that only seats 220. Or your mother-in-law begs you for 10 extra invites and you refuse because there’s no more money in your budget. A year later, she tells you that her friends who got the pass are no longer speaking to her. Nobody wants to deal with that!

If only there was a magical mystery fund to subsidize your dream wedding and allow you to invite anybody that mattered to you, ever. That would be stellar. Unfortunately, the best we can offer are really great tips from a really great planner. But we promise they work. So, sit back, pour a glass of wine, and take it from Charlotte Jarrett, who’s been helping couples make the cut (and design beautiful weddings) since 2012.

Where should we begin?
Charlotte: I tell my clients to start out with a big, broad guest list, put everyone they would want on it, and then go back and edit it later. It’s really hard to remember everybody, keep everyone happy, and make sure you’re not excluding people. And, inevitably, you’ll plan to invite one friend and then realize you have to invite three others because they’re part of a group or a particular time in your life, like college or your neighbors.

Then, you have to get very real and break your list into three categories. Your A-list is people without whom you wouldn’t want to get married at all (e.g., your best friend, your siblings, your parents). Your B-list is people that you really want there. You would feel upset if they didn’t invite you to their wedding, but if you’re having a really intimate wedding, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t include them; you can find some other way to celebrate together. Your C-list is people you love and enjoy, but if they had a wedding and didn’t invite you, you wouldn’t feel offended or slighted.

What are some common guest list mistakes to avoid?
The biggest mistake people make is finalizing their guest list before they know the end cost. They don’t think about their wedding as a whole or have a good understanding of their budget or know what weddings actually cost in their market. A lot of people get a number from their venue; they say, ‘Oh, we’ve included everything—tables, linens, et cetera’—but they’re not factoring in the other costs, like photography and transportation and hair and makeup.
A good rule is to take all your venue-related costs—including catering, bar, and rentals—and double that number. Then you can establish how much flexibility you have with the guest list.

Do we have to invite someone to our wedding that invited us to theirs, even if we’ve drifted apart?
Absolutely not! Just because someone invited you to their wedding a few years ago—or even if you were in their wedding a few years ago—doesn’t mean you’re obligated to invite them. If you haven’t maintained a friendship with someone, you shouldn’t feel guilty about not including them. In a perfect world, we’d send an invitation to everybody, but weddings are expensive and venues limit how many guests you can have, so you have to be true to yourself.

So how many people should we invite?
Expect a 20 percent decline rate, 30 percent if you’re doing a destination wedding or the majority of your guests are from out of town. But I wouldn’t invite more than 10 percent over what your venue can hold because you definitely can have surprises where more people [than expected] end up coming.

How should we divvy up guests between the bride, the groom, and their families?
It depends on who’s paying. If it’s a more traditional wedding where parents are contributing, I would suggest 50/50, with 50 percent of invites going to the bride and groom and 50 percent split between their families. If the parents of the bride are paying for the majority, then maybe they get 30 percent and the groom’s parents get 20.

If parents want to invite more people than they’ve been allotted, the couple can ask them to contribute more to the bottom line. I find it either makes them pony up the money or say never mind, I don’t need to invite this person I haven’t seen in a year.
How can we pare down our list?

Be ruthless! If you wouldn’t take someone out for a $200 dinner, on you, then don’t invite them to your wedding. You really have to be cutthroat. Of course, if you have a decent budget and a venue that can accommodate a lot of people, you’re not going to use the same criteria. 

Can we invite additional guests if we get a lot of declines?
Yes, but it’s tricky. Some people want to send out two rounds of save the dates, with an A-list and a B-list. But in this day and age, especially with younger couples, you can hurt a lot of people’s feelings doing that. The friends get excited, they get the invitation in the mail and they post it on social media. A few weeks later, when someone else gets an invitation, they already know they weren’t your first choice.

If you’re going to invite extra people, it should be people who aren’t expecting an invitation, like your co-workers. Just tell them, “Hey, we had some changes and we’re able to increase our guest list; we’d love it if you could come.” Most people are cool and they get it. Or maybe you decide to add in plus-ones or let your friend who just started dating someone bring her new boyfriend.

How can we tell our guests we’re having a kid-free wedding?
Be direct. Put “Adult reception to follow” on the formal invitation, and then you can elaborate on your wedding website. I tell my clients to frame it from the perspective of their guests—something like, “We want you to be able to spend time with your significant other without having to worry about your children.”