Guests enjoying the beautiful Lake Mendota wedding at lounge set.


Guest List Advice From Your Madison and Minneapolis Wedding Planners: Part One

July 12, 2023

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How to Make Your Wedding Guest List

Weddings can be an exciting and joyful experience, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges.

One of the most common challenges that couples face is navigating the guest list, especially when it comes to tricky conversations about who to invite (and who not to invite). Are you a couple looking for help with Minneapolis wedding planning advice, especially when it comes to your guest list? Keep reading!

We had so much to say on this topic, so we chose to break it up into 2 blog posts. You can read part two here

The dreaded Guest List is one of the first tasks to tackle in wedding planning and arguably one of the most stressful. If you are a people pleaser, you may feel extra doomed once you start this process.

Emotions can run high, perspectives can differ drastically, and because the guest list is crucial to conquer in the beginning, it can dictate and alter the rest of your planning experience if you don’t handle it well.

Blu Moose Photography

Let Me Tell You A Story

Flashback to 2014: I was a 20-year-old bride-to-be (which is honestly still something I need to wrap my mind around), with limited wedding experience and still navigating the complexities of my own family relationships.

My fiancé and I had a vision for our wedding day, which was casual, less than maybe 100 people tops, and in the backyard of a family friend’s house (considering that there were very few venues to choose from where we got married).

Longest story short – we made the guest list and learned very quickly that a 100-person guest list was pretty much impossible considering my husband’s side of family down to the cousin’s cousin was all in the same town and all were close.

This was a stark contrast to my immediate family of 4 who was not close at all, heck we hardly spoke or saw each other.

As a compromise, we thought, how about we limit it so that both sides would be represented evenly?

In our decisions and planning, we decided to cut out a TON of family on my now husband’s side, and little did I know, this decision was extremely hurtful to my mother-in-law.

Because to her, family meant everything, so not having her loved ones to share in this joy with her son and future daughter-in-law was really sad. Which is a very reasonable thing, by the way.

I think it’s really easy to think with the messaging couples get nowadays, this makes it even harder. How many times have you heard or thought: “This is my wedding. I can do whatever I want?”

While this is true, and while we ALWAYS champion and advocate for our couples, we also know a lot of our couples face the difficulty of navigating both – wanting your special day to be with the ones you love most, while also loving the ones who helped you get to where you’re at. 

So what did we ultimately do?

We compromised: we ended up inviting more of my husband’s family, we got more selective about the friends we invited, and ended up with around 130 people.

While I was extremely blessed to have such an understanding and loving mother-in-law who chose to work through it and accept our decision, we know that a lot of people aren’t in the same boat. 

Unfortunately, people and relationships are tricky when it comes to hosting a gathering at the level of a wedding.

And do you want to know what my biggest wedding regret was, to this day, 8 years later, with in-law relationships completely cordial and intact? The guest list. 😏

Arevalo & Co.

Why Guests Lists Matter

Let’s start with WHY guests lists matter.

Without a guest list you can’t truly have an accurate idea of:

  • Your venue and amenities needed
  • Your vision – your venue has a major influence over your design and decor choices
  • Your budget (another hot, controversial, emotional thing). Who knew spreadsheets were so emotional y’all.
  • Your catering and food service style
  • Your entire planning process

A guest list is really important, okay?

Other than the budget, you really shouldn’t move on with the planning process until this is at least somewhat put together.

Obviously, a lot can happen with additions and revisions to come, but not starting here will cause the remaining planning process to be chaotic.

As wedding planners who help our clients navigate not just the logistics but the emotional side of planning a wedding (read: MIDWEST NICE IS VERY REAL) we know that these conversations can be gut-wrenching sometimes.

In this post, we’ll explore some tips and strategies for how to handle these tricky guest list conversations with grace and diplomacy without burning any bridges.

First things first: The reality is, you’re probably going to ruffle some feathers

This needed it’s own headline. I say this with love: It’s almost impossible not to offend anyone. If you worried about every single wedding decision being approved by everyone, we wouldn’t ever have weddings.

So instead, focus on the people you TRULY want there and re-group and figure out what your top priorities are for your wedding day.

5 Steps to Planning Your Wedding Guest List

Step 1: Define Your Priorities

  1. What is the maximum number of guests you would like to invite, and are there any must-invite guests? These are the people you simply CANNOT imagine not being there.
  2. Have you chosen a venue yet? Keep in mind that the size of the venue will play a big role in determining the guest list. It’s important to choose a venue that fits your guest list rather than trying to fit your guest list into a venue that’s too small.

Start by identifying the key priorities for your wedding day. By clarifying our priorities, it became easier to decide who made the cut.

In addition, it’s always good to remember these things:

  • Focus on the people who truly matter: Rather than worrying about potential guests who may feel left out, focus on the ones who hold a special place in your heart. Your wedding should be a celebration with the people who have supported and shaped your journey as a couple. We release you and give you permission to let go of any pity invites. If you haven’t talked to them in over a year (aside from family) you can keep them off your list.
  • Consider the atmosphere you want to provide: A smaller wedding allows for a more intimate and meaningful experience. With fewer guests, you’ll have more time to connect and engage with each person individually. It creates an atmosphere where you can truly savor every moment and make lasting memories.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to what you value most – a larger gathering or an intimate celebration. Remember that it’s your special day, and prioritizing your happiness and desires is perfectly acceptable. Be open and honest with your loved ones about your choices, explaining the reasons behind them. While some may be disappointed, those who genuinely care about you will understand and support your decision.

Anya Kubilus Photography

Step 2: Categorize Your Guests

Next, you can categorize your potential guests into three groups:

  1. Must-haves: immediate family, close friends, and those who had been with us through thick and thin
  2. Maybes: people we felt a connection with but hadn’t seen or interacted with recently (let’s say in the last 6 months to a year)
  3. Nice-to-haves: acquaintances, coworkers, and distant relatives

It may feel weird to categorize people, but the reality is, different people mean differently to you. Relationships also ebb and flow. And there truly is a difference between someone who sees you every day (a co-worker) vs. someone who doesn’t see you as often, but KNOWS you.

3. Step 3: Consider Other Factors – Tiers, Staggered, Kids?

If you’re struggling with who to invite, consider creating tiers of guests. Think of it like a delicious cake with layers of love! 😉 You can have an A-list of must-invite guests, consisting of your closest family and friends, and a B-list of people you’d like to invite if there’s room after all final guest counts are in.

This approach allows you to prioritize your nearest and dearest while still having flexibility to invite additional guests if space allows.

Staggered Invitations

Some couples choose to keep their ceremony small and intimate and then invite more people for the reception. You can also consider inviting certain guests, such as work acquaintances, to join for the cocktail hour or after dinner and dancing. This approach allows you to include more people in different parts of the celebration without compromising the initial guest count.

Not Inviting Plus-Ones – A Solo Dance Party Can Be Just as Fun

Plus-ones can be a challenging topic, particularly if you’re aiming to keep your guest list small. But fear not, there are ways to handle it gracefully! Decide carefully who you want to allow to bring a plus-one and set clear guidelines, such as only allowing married or engaged couples to bring a guest.

Communicate your decision clearly to avoid any misunderstandings. And remember, a solo dance party can be just as fun as a twosome! Pro Tip: On your wedding website you can address this and say those who are addressed on the invitation are invited. “We regretfully ask our guests to please not bring a plus one, unless they are specifically named on the invitation. Thank you so much for understanding!”

Kids or No Kids?

Determine whether or not you want to invite children to the wedding.

If you decide to invite kids, provide entertainment options like a separate kids’ table or activities to keep them entertained. Clearly communicate your decision to parents by addressing invitations to specific guests rather than just the parents.

If you opt not to invite kids, handle conversations about this decision with empathy and diplomacy. Offer assistance to out-of-town guests who may need help finding babysitting services. It’s really all about expectations and communication.

Step 4: Set Guest Count Limits

When it comes to planning your guest list, one effective strategy is to set a clear limit on the number of guests you want to invite.

This decision might feel challenging, but it helps you maintain control and prioritize the people who truly matter to you.

Remember, it’s not about having a long list of guests; it’s about creating an atmosphere of genuine love and celebration.

By setting guest count limits, you ensure that every person in attendance is someone special and meaningful to both of you.

Think about it: one of the most common question guests ask each other is “how do you know the bride and groom?” What would you want them to say?

Step 5: Communicate Openly and Honestly

Throughout the entire guest list planning process, it’s crucial to have open and honest communication with your partner. Take the time to share your feelings, concerns, and desires regarding the guest list. By openly discussing your thoughts, you can find common ground and make decisions together as a united team.

This transparent dialogue not only strengthens your bond as a couple but also transforms the guest list conversation into a shared journey rather than a source of conflict. Remember, you’re in this together, and by communicating openly, you’ll navigate the guest list planning with ease and harmony.

Anya Kubilus Photography

In Conclusion

Regardless, invite or not, people SHOULD be happy for you! It’s not fair for anyone to guilt you into an invite just because they don’t understand your decision. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to focus on what really matters: celebrating your love and commitment, surrounded by the people who mean the most to you.

Head over to Part Two

We will discuss managing expectations and the EMOTIONAL side of guests lists in part two. We will even discuss scripts and things you can say in return when trying to navigate handling tricky guest lists.