How to Handle the Guest List

Ok, so you have 200 slots and about 500 people you wish you could invite. There are people who you are obligated to invite (oh family) and there are some of those obligatory invites who you’re sure won’t be able to come. Like you’re PRETTY sure that Uncle Billy won’t be able to make it because he hasn’t traveled beyond the grocery store in the past 5 years. But what if he CAN make it? What if he decides to make the trip? How on earth will that work with numbers on the guest list?!

Photo of Guest Seating Decor from The Wedding Lens

First: Breathe. Remember that your wedding day is about a celebrating your relationship with your friends and family.

Second: Start listing. List everyone. All 300 people. Everyone you might possibly want to invite or wish you could invite — even though there’s the possibility that you won’t be able to in the grand scheme of things.

Third: Of those people on the list, make a separate list of the absolutely 100% non-negotiable people who you WANT to be at your wedding to celebrate. This includes: Your best friend, your second best friend, and your college roommates. This does not include: Your parents’ friends who you feel obligated to invite. Got it?

Fouth: Check the numbers. Say now you have 150 of the 200 people you can invite. That leaves you 80 people left to invite. Huh? 80? But Natasha, you say, 200 – 150 = 50! Ah yes. BUT statistically a guest list of 200 people or LESS, there will be 15-20% of folks who do not come. With a guest list of 200 people or MORE, 20-25% won’t come.

Now, I have to forwarn. Not everyone is going to RSVP in a timely manner and some of those 15-20% or 20-25% won’t drop out til the last minute. But I assure you that you can safely invite 15% more than your highest number and you will be a-okay.

So this gives you a little more room to play with. You’ll have 80 people you can fill in with obligatory invites — be it your Uncle or your parents friends who have known you since you were born — and (gasp) anyone else you can/want to invite.

Fifth: If you are just stuck with those extra 80 people and how to handle them. I really recommend using a ranking system. That sounds awful, of course, to rank your friends and family. But it will make you feel better. ‘Cause if Uncle Billy really doesn’t come, then maybe you CAN invite your old buddy who you haven’t seen in five years. Maybe.

If you use a tier/ranking system, use an EARLY RSVP date so you have time to fill in the people who say no and you can (with tact) follow up with those you have not heard from so you can fill in their spots. And if you do the tiers, DO NOT print the RSVP deadline on the invitation. Do not. Otherwise either you have to print a whole new set for the new invitees OR you look like… someone who totally forgot to invite the guest until the last minute. Nice.

Here are some tips on how to cut down the guest list and how to handle the guest list when you’re not paying for the wedding (in other words — when other people are adding to YOUR guest list) and more guidance on wedding invitations (including how to tell people they can’t bring a date and/or their kids)

And here, my friends, is how to address these invitations!

Hope that helps! If you have any questions, just email me at and I’ll help ya out. 🙂

Good luck!

~ Natasha

How to Plan Your Wedding: When To Do What! (Part I)

So you’re engaged… now what? That’s the beginning of the wedding planning process! A friend of The Wedding Lens recently got engaged and was asking questions about time frames. So here we go!

Because engagements take place for different lengths of time, I’m not going to specify how long before the wedding date you should do each action. But this is generally the ORDER of things. Where possible, I’ve linked to other related blog posts on the topic! (And here’s just a list of things to do for wedding planning, if you just want that) Also, be sure to check out our Cheap Wedding Tips and our Green Wedding Tips, both of which have great ideas to help you out during different stages of the planning process!

First Steps

  1. Create a budget! This means taking a list of everything that you know you’ll have to spend money on and deciding how much you can dedicate to each portion. Check out our Guide to Creating a Wedding Budget — which specifies which costs are fixed and which depend on the number of guests.
  2. Pick the wedding party. This seems early in the process right? True! But the wedding party can help you with the tasks that you’ll have to do. Pick early, they’ll help early!
  3. Divide tasks! After reading the rest of this blog post, you’ll get a full picture of everything there is to do: from marriage license to centerpieces.  Once you have that list, divide up the tasks however you see fit.

Things That Shouldn’t Wait

  1. Marriage license.  Every state has different rules on the time frame needed to apply for a license and to get married. Make sure you know what you need to do before you get too close to your wedding date!
  2. Find a venue, date, and officiant. This is sort of circular because you need the venue and the officiant to be available on the same date. But keep in mind that you may have to pick two venues — one for the ceremony and one for the reception. Just be sure they’re both available on the same date! Here’s how to pick a wedding date. Also, make sure you look at how to find a venue AND the questions you need to ask each venue. With officiants, think about whether you will have a religious officiant or a friend. Find out any state requirements if you want a friend or family member to officiate.
  3. Create the guest list. Sometimes it’s hard to limit the guest list, so consider having A lists, B lists, and C lists. Here are our tips for the guest list. Also, be sure to decide whether you want kids to attend or not.
  4. Themes/Styles/Colors. The earlier you select any themes, styles, or colors, the earlier you can get started with some of the other aspects of planning. After all those three aspects will impact the dress selections, the flowers selections, etc. Here’s some help on how to pick your color scheme.
  5. Wedding dress. The wedding dress should be purchased earlier in the planning process because it might need to be fitted several times. Depending on how long your engagement lasts, this should be done ASAP. Plus the bride will want her dress before the bridesmaids get theirs! Here’s how to choose  the right wedding dress and some ideas for colorful wedding dresses.
  6. Save the Date.  The save-the-date (or STD) should tell guests when & where you’re getting married. When should you send the save-the-dates? It depends on when you’re getting married, but generally, send them as soon as possible. If you are ordering save-the-dates that you want to look similar to your invitations, there are companies that give you package deals. Here is a timeline of when to send save-the-dates and when to send invitations. Here are some creative save the date ideas and how to address the save-the-dates.
  7. Order your online photo album from The Wedding Lens. By ordering your online photo album from The Wedding Lens early, you can start telling your guests where to upload photos AND you can include your engagement photos in the album or any other older photos to share your memories with your guests.
  8. Wedding website. Obviously put as much information on here as you can, but here’s what to include on your wedding website.
  9. Find vendors. This means finding vendors for everything you might want. Here is how to find the right vendors for you (and each category that follows links to a blog post that will help you narrow down what will be best for you in that area). Photographer (engagement photos and day of), videographer, florist (selecting flowers), caterer, DJ/band/music, bakery, wedding planner or day-of coordinator. Any other kind of vendors you might want (eg if you want to have wedding entertainment such as a photo booth, cigar bar, or silhouette artist) can usually wait a bit longer in the planning process.

Stuff That Can Wait a Little Bit

  1. Invitations! What goes inside, when to send, how to tell your guests that no kids can come, RSVP cards. Remember, there are specific rules on how to address invitations, so make sure you check those out (yes, there will be a blog post coming!)
  2. Attire: Groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen. Here’s everything related to helping you select wedding attire!
  3. Hair & makeup for the bride and bridesmaids, if you would like.
  4. Rings! Dont forget you both need to exchange rings on the day of the wedding. Here are some green tips on picking the rings.
  5. Decorating: flower arrangement (or alternatives to flower bouquets), centerpieces, plates/napkins/glassware, guestbook, favors, place cards, menu cards, cake toppers, chair rentals/chair covers, other entertainment)
  6. Guest-related: Accomodations, transportation, and out of town bags!
  7. Get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the perfect time in the planning process to get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens! When you share the information on accomodations & transporation with your guests, you can also share the link to the album and remind people to bring their digital cameras to your wedding. Plus people can start uploading old and new memories of you & your fiance(e)!
  8. Menu planning: buffet vs sit-down meal; alcohol – open bar, soft bar, signature drinks. Here are all things food & drink related to help guide you through this!

Final Steps

  1. RSVPs
  2. Ceremony planning: walking down the aisle, vows, readings — and whatever else you want to take place.
  3. Seating chart: who will sit where during the reception? Here’s how to create a seating chart!
  4. Music (song) selections for band or DJ, both during the ceremony and reception.
  5. Remind your guests to bring their cameras to your wedding day so they can capture memories for your online photo album.
  6. Planning the timeline: This means planning the timeline of who arrives where at what time, what order things occur, and who transports what where. It’s meant to be distributed so that everyone is on the same page about what’s going on.
  7. Programs: This lets your guests know what is going to happen & when! Here’s the information on writing your programs.

So that’s everything you have to do…. Next blog post will cover what comes up on the day of and any other last minute things and miscellaneous things you should be aware of! (Like gift registry, thank you cards, wedding insurance, things people forget, staying calm…. all coming up!) 

Good luck! Remember, if you have questions – email me!

~ Natasha

Wedding Question: Should I invite someone because she invited me? Part II

Photo from The Wedding Lens

We received another question that builds upon one of the previous question/answers that I recently wrote. I think it’s an interesting topic because it comes up in almost every wedding planning situation. So here we go:

I read your recent blog post called “Should I invite someone because she invited me?” But it doesn’t really answer my question. Your answer focuses on weddings that happened years ago, but what if the wedding you were invited to was really recent? My fiance and I were invited to a wedding very recently and we decided not to go. We like the person, but my fiance has only seen his friend twice in the past ten years. He was surprised we were invited at all. We would rather not have to invite this friend and his now wife because we barely know them now, though we don’t want to lose them as friends either. Help!!!!

Wow, you’re right! I didn’t really answer that question directly in my post about whether you should invite someone because they invited you, but I started out with some of the things you should consider when figuring out the guest list.  I still think the “use your best judgment” is the most sound advice, though I recognize that doesn’t give you much to go on!

Again, you should consider 1) the size of the wedding (both yours & theirs); 2) the closeness of friendship; 3) the desire to have them present.

It sounds like in your case it’s not that you DON’T want them there per se, but you have other people who you are close to. And it sounds like you decided not to attend their wedding because of how you’ve already grown apart — especially if your fiance was so surprised he was invited at all. After all, talking only a few times over the course of 10 years is a pretty good indication that you’re not that close anymore. I think that your fiance’s friends would be hard pressed to be “offended” if they’re not invited.

Consider putting these people on your B list as an alternative solution. You have your primary list of folks you want to attend and if enough of them don’t attend, put couples like this on the B list. (Or even a C list, if you want!) That way you haven’t completely eliminated them from consideration until the very end of the process. It gives you time to keep mulling it over.

Here’s another blog post on how to develop a guest list – hopefully that will answer any other questions!

Good luck! And if you have other questions, please email me at! (Or check out our link to submit wedding questions)

~ Natasha

Wedding Question: How Do We Tell Guests That There’s No Plus One?

It is about a month and half til our wedding. We are getting more and more rsvps in, which is great. However, we’ve noticed several of our single guests hav rsvp’d as bringing a date, when the invitation was clearly addressed to just them. What do you think is the best way to handle this situation? How do you keep your budget modest and not offend your guests?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Photo from The Wedding Lens

The first thing you should know is that most people (especially single people) do not know the wedding etiquette for dates and that the envelope says who’s invited. I was invited to one of my first weddings in college and I didn’t know this at all. I responded that my best friend would be coming with me. In retrospect, I have NO idea what the invitation said; I’m sure I just assumed — as many people do.

Assuming that most people don’t know and have responded with a plus one, the best thing to do is talk to them. I know it can be awkward, but it will save you (and the guest) the embarrassment. The key is to explain the situation and explain why there are no dates permitted.

For example, “I just noticed that you responded that you’ll be bringing a guest with you. Unfortunately, we’re not able to let people bring guests unless we’ve specifically invited them. We’re just really tight on the budget and we really can’t afford to include more people. I hope you understand.”

There’s no easy fix and no easy way to let people know without a conversation (or a link to my blog post on invitations and bringing a date to the wedding!)

Hopefully they will understand and everything will be OK. They will eventually! Case in point: a group of friends and I attended a wedding a few years ago, one of whom complained the whole time about how we weren’t allowed to invite dates. Ahem. He got married this year and… um… he gets it now. No dates for his wedding either!

Good luck!

~ Natasha

Have a wedding question? Email me!

How to Tell Your Guests that You Don’t Want Kids to Attend

Long long ago, I wrote a blog post about whether or not to have children at a wedding. There are lots of pros and cons, but if you’ve already decided you dont want kids in attendance, how should you tell your guests?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Photo from The Wedding Lens

There are a few steps to take along the way to make sure that you tell your guests gently (but firmly!) that you do not want kids at the wedding. You can try all of these, or some of these, depending on what you feel comfortable doing.

  1. Before you send the save the dates, spread the word through your family, wedding party, and friends.
  2. Address the STD and the invitation ONLY to those you want to attend.
  3. Include the words “Adult reception” in the invitation. Such as “Adult reception to follow” at the bottom of the invitation. (Do NOT write “no children” – that is considered anti-etiquette.)
  4. In the RSVP, include “X number of seats have been reserved for you” or put in the names of the guests who are RSVPing on that card.
  5. Provide babysitter information to out ot town guests so that they can come and not have to worry about who to call and how to take care of the kids.

Be prepared that some people may RSVP for the children and you might have to call them to let them know that it is a no children event!

Obviously this can be a touchy situation, so just handle it with grace and try to understand where parents are coming from. Good luck!

~ Natasha

How to Handle the Guest List When You’re not Paying for the Wedding

A friend just sent me an email saying that she is completely frustrated by the wedding planning process — mostly the guest list. Apparently (no pun intended), her parents are paying for the wedding and they are insisting on taking over the guest list. She is now only going to be able to invite a few of her friends. She’s completely frustrated by the whole process and is ready to hand over the entire planning process to her parents.

Ugh, right?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Photo from The Wedding Lens

  1. Make expectations clear at the get-go! If your parents are paying for the wedding, make sure you have a talk at the beginning of the process to see whether the money is a gift and whether they intend to have a hand in (or completely control) the entire planning process. If at all possible, see if you can go in for half of the costs so that you dont feel completely subjected to their whims.
  2. Communicate and compromise. Assuming you’ve either done that or it’s too late and they start insisting on a guest list, sit down and talk. Calmly. Explain why it is important to you to invite X, Y or Z and why you would rather not invite A, B, or C. If they are adamant about A, B, & C, then maybe you can come to an agreement on someone else or at least be able to invite X Y and Z.
  3. Gather your finances. Most of the time, the reason why parents oppose inviting someone is because of finances. They have budgeted a certain amount to pay for their friends but not for yours. If that’s the case… You and your fiance(e) should sit down and discuss whether the people you want there are important enough that you can find the money to pay for those people to come yourself. Obviously the conflict might not be about the guest list, but about other things — like the music or food or decorations. Usually finances dictate it, so if you can, muster the money to pay for that part yourself!

Of course, every family functions differently and you would know how to best handle your parents (I hope?) so take that into consideration too!

And then, good luck!

~ Natasha