Choosing who to invite to your event can be a daunting task and as a bride to be, you need to be sure you have a guest list that works – for everyone.

The problem is, many guest lists wind up as a breeding ground for teary confrontations with your fiancé and showdowns with your soon to be family-in-law.

So to make sure you don’t wind up being the “bad guy”, here’s a simple and thoughtful four-step approach to help you make the process of choosing your guests a breeze.

Before you start…

Regardless of the number of guests you want to invite or wind-up actually inviting, on average, only about about 75% of your final guest list will be able to attend your event and that number can often be as low as 50% of your list attending depending on the location of your event, if you have a lot of older guests, out of town guests or your event is held on a busy weekend.

On top of this number, even if you set your RSVP a month before your date and the majority of your list says “they’re coming”, there will always be a couple of tables who have last minute changes in plans just a few days before your event.

Hint: Studies show that the average number of guests invited to a wedding reception in the Central Illinois area is around 125-150 guests. So take your number and use the rule that between 50% to 75% of your guests will be able to attend your event.

Example: 150 total guests invited minus 25% of the guests who can’t attend results in a final list of 112 guests saying they will attend. On the day of your event, two tables do not show which is an additional 16 people. This brings the actual number of guests who attend your event to 96 people. This is very standard math we see at nearly every event and is a safe equation to use. Don’t take this personal and be content with the fact that not everyone can (or will) attend your event and be sure to prepare with your event venue and your budget accordingly.

Step 1: Set your budget to determine the target guest count

Every bride should know the key to staying within your budget is to effectively manage the guest list. So once you’ve met with all the financial contributors for your special day, you’ll be able to determine your total wedding budget. From there you can take your first cut at estimating how many people you can afford to invite.

  • First determine your total budget vs. food & beverage budget– Couples typically allocate about half of their wedding budget to food, beverage and alcohol items. So start by taking your total wedding budget and dividing it by 2 to calculate a rough estimate of your total food and beverage cost.
  • Next determine your total costs per guest – Divide your total food and beverage cost by the number of guests you intend to have at your wedding to come up with your total cost per guest for food and beverage.  Then take the remaining budget and divide it by the number of guests you invite.

To really hone in on your estimate, think hard about the type of reception you think you’ll have. Formal or informal? Will it be a sit-down five-course served meal?  A casual catered buffet? An open bar or cash bar?

Also be sure to price out a few catering options at venues you’re interested in to get a better idea.

Another hint: If the venue will let you, often times you can save a lot of money by using a 3rd party caterer or even have family members do the catering.

  • Another way to estimate – Divide your total food and beverage budget by an estimated cost per guest you want to spend which will reflect your “target guest count”.  This is how many people you can afford to invite to your wedding based on your total budget and cost per person. You can then go back and tweak these numbers a bit based the outcome and your options to see what the optimum number would be based on your budget.

Step 2: Assess the reception venue size

Do you already have your heart set on a particular venue? If so, you’ll next need to factor seating capacity into the equation. Even if your budget allows you to invite 250 guests, trying to squeeze that many people into a venue that fits 150 maximum will not go over well – we promise. People will be cramped and cranky!  So if money is no object (lucky you!), then your target guest count would be as simple as your venue’s total seating capacity.

Step 3: Break it all up

Next you’ll want to take your target guest count – let’s again say 150 – and divide it amongst the hosting parties. This usually consists of the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents and the bride and groom. You can easily give each host the same number of invitees but this but might not work if one side of the family is significantly larger than the other. And traditionally, those funding the majority of the wedding (usually the bride’s parents) may also feel like they should have more input to the guest list. However, after completing steps 1 and 2 above, you’ll already have a rationalized starting point to begin discussions.

If you then find there’s no easy way for you to divide it up, you might aslo consider hosting an informal gathering or planning session with both sides of the family to get things ironed out. Present your target guest count and discuss together how many each side will need. Allowing all sides to participate in the discussion will help arrive at a win-win solution everyone can live with.

Step 4: Make your cuts

Once you’ve listed all the names and find your still over your limit, it’s time to pull out the pen and start crossing off names. While choosing who stays and goes, avoid picking and choosing, as feelings may get hurt. It’s recommended that you follow an “all-or-none” policy, by making sweeping cuts across the board – i.e. all first cousins, but no second or third cousins, or no one under 18.

If you still find yourself struggling with the decision making process, hopefully this advice will help you determine whether to extend the invite or save the postage.