Before you spread the news far and wide and end up inviting your second cousin twice removed and your personal trainer’s new boyfriend, stop and think about how many people you really want to celebrate with.
“Your guest list determines the type of event you have, how you allocate your budget, and the venue you choose – so the worst thing you can do is start inviting everyone you’ve ever met. without consideration,” says wedding planner Anna McGregor.
Instead, take a methodical approach and weigh up the unique advantages and trade-offs that come with different event sizes first, then start jotting down a list of names.
The pros and cons of a big wedding
A blowout bash with 200+ guests is a sure-fire way to fill the dancefloor and ensure that every friend, colleague, relation and neighbour makes the cut – and it also gives you a chance to wow the crowd with big gestures.
A party of this size has a price tag to match, and drastically cuts the time you have with your guests (200 attendees means you’d need seven hours to spend just two minutes with each one!).
And beware the venue hunt: “Going over the 250 mark limits your choices to larger hotels with ballrooms or a marquee, which can also be expensive,” says wedding coordinator Siobhàn Craven-Robins.
If you can trim your numbers to somewhere between 100 to 160 guests, you can keep the party atmosphere while widening your venue options.
“There are very few venues you’d be eliminating – you’ll find stately homes, castles, and more characterful places that can all cater to a wedding that size,” explains Siobhàn.
A smaller headcount also means more money for unique extras (think cool cocktails and expert mixologist).
Reasons to have a small wedding
An intimate gathering of 50 or fewer guests is your chance to splash out on personal touches that would be too pricey or time-consuming for a larger do.
Anna suggests photo guest books on each table filled with snaps of you and your fiancé with each guest, plus spaces for them to leave you a message.
“Trying to do this for 20 tables could be a bit of a nightmare, but you can do things like this if you only have five or six,” she says.
Other cute ideas include personalised notes under guests’ napkins, survival kits in their hotel rooms or special entertainment such as a silhouette artist.
Or, if you’re working with an extra-small budget, why not invite just your parents and best friends to a decadent dinner with beautiful flowers and amazing wine. “It all depends on how many people you’re looking after,” Anna adds. “But you can be luxurious on any budget.”
Once you’ve decided how big a wedding you want, it’s time to start work the guest list, either whittling it down to just 50 people, or remembering to invite each and every family member so nobody is left out.
Read of for our top tips for writing a wedding guest list.
Decide on your budget. Work out how much you want to spend per head, and divide your budget by this much to work out how many people your budget allows for. (Ie. If you have £10,000 to spend, and want to spend £80 a head, you can afford to invite 125 guests)
Don’t feel obliged to invite anyone. If you haven’t seen your cousins for three years, there’s no rule that says they have to come just because they’re family
Consider if it’s important to you to have met everyone at your wedding – if yes, you need to make it clear on your invites that plus-ones must be named on the invite (i.e.. Dear Aaron and Bethan, not Dear Aaron and plus one). This way you avoid your university friends bringing along their new partner you’re yet to meet
If your parents are paying, it’s traditional to give them a set number of guests they can invite – normally neighbours, or friends of the family. Make it clear how many people they can choose or you could end up with people you scarcely know at your wedding
When writing your guest list it’s easy to forget people; lots of couples find it helpful to think of people in categories such as school friends, work friends, university friends, family friends etc. Writing them down by group makes it easier to remember each individual person.
Decide if you’re inviting children or having a no-children wedding. If you’re inviting friends with children, the guest list will quickly fill up without you realising.
Be ruthless. If there’s anyone on the list because you feel guilty about leaving them off (maybe because you were invited to their wedding or they’re friends with people who are invited), don’t invite them.