You're engaged! Now what? Coming up with your guest list is one of the first things you should do in your wedding planning process. Negotiating who to invite to your nuptials is sadly not quite as fun as tasting cake flavors. In fact, it's probably no one's idea of a good time. To help you select who will join you on your big day, we've put together this guilt-free guide to guest list etiquette.
Set family expectations (and boundaries) before accepting help.
We're not going to tiptoe around the truth. Creating a wedding guest list can get quite complicated. And that doubles if one or both set of parents are contributing from a financial or planning perspective. We recommend having an open conversation with all parties involved about everyone's expectations before accepting financial help. This way there are no surprises.
Start with a big list that you can trim.
With that being said, start with immediate family and close friends, then move on to the rest of the potential invitees in order of importance (sounds harsh but it's the best way to keep organized). It's also a good idea to start with your dream list by writing down the names of everyone you could ever imagine if budget or venue weren't a factor. Once you start trimming, you may realize you have some room for that funny third cousin you met last Thanksgiving and you'll be happy she made it to your original list.
Avoid stress later by being conservative at first.
You should be realistic about the number of guests you can invite in order to avoid stress later on. It's definitely not the most glamorous part of wedding planning, but numbers are unavoidable. Your budget and venue size will be the biggest determinants of your guest list size. One additional person doesn't just add the price of that person's entree, but also adds one more person to the bar, a favor, a chair rental, glassware rentals, etc. It's safer to be conservative about your initial invite list.
Make rules and stick to them.
Okay. Now to the trimming. The easiest way is to come up with a set of rules before you start cutting people, and then actually stick to those rules. This is the easiest (and fairest) way, rather than discussing each potential guest with arbitrary thoughts. It'll help you avoid drama later on. Here are some examples of common rules:
Rule 1. If you haven't spoke in 3 years, don't invite them.
Rule 2. No children. You don't have to feel bad about having an adults-only wedding. However, be sure to set an age clarifying if teens are included or not.
Rule 3. If you're inviting them out of guilt (maybe because a lot of mutual friends are invited or they invited you to their wedding), don't invite them. Just be sure to alert those mutual friends about your restriction, so they don't go on and on about your wedding in a place where it might create an awkward moment.
Let's talk about friends-- specifically childhood friends. You may have exchanged friendship bracelets in elementary school, but that doesn't mean they automatically get an invite to your wedding. Ask yourself if you will see yourself having dinner with them in the next year. If that's a definite yes, then go ahead and send them an invite.
What about family? The best advice we can give is to treat each family unit according to the closeness (and the reality) of those family ties. A groom may have grown up next door to and has monthly dinners with his first cousins, while a bride may not even remember the name of her first cousins. There's no need to treat both side of the aisle the same if they're not.
Coworkers can be a bit tricky. A good rule of thumb is to either invite everyone one in a department or none at all. An exception would be someone you see outside of the office in social settings. This would make that colleague your friend, not just someone you order lunch with.
Even trickier than your coworkers, however, is your boss. This largely depends on your relationship with him or her and the office environment. If you are having an intimate wedding in a different city, your boss will likely not be offended for not making the guest list. If you work in a smaller organization and it might reflect poorly on you for not inviting the boss, it's not only polite but also smart politics to invite your manager.
Lastly, the dreaded plus-ones. No one wants to be that single person who doesn't know anyone at a wedding, but at the same time, this is a special day that you are choosing to share with the people you love rather than a bunch of strangers (not to mention the additional cost of one person that we mentioned earlier). Etiquette says that fiancées must be invited. Other than that, most couples make one of their rules to include significant others that have been in long-term relationships. Be prepared to upset some people, but if you have a clearly identifiable rule, it will be easier to communicate this with your guests when the bring it up.