How to Make a Small Wedding Guest List Without Offending Anyone

Read our expert guide on how to keep your guest list tight (we promise, this tea is served piping hot!).
Jenn sinrich headshot
Jenn Sinrich
Jenn sinrich headshot
Jenn Sinrich
The Knot Contributor
  • Jenn writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in planning advice and travel.
  • Jenn also writes for a myriad of other large-scale publications, including SELF, Women's Health, and more
  • Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Jenn worked as an on-staff editor at, American Baby, Fit Pregnancy and FreshDirect.
Updated Sep 11, 2023

If you're in the midst of planning your wedding, chances are, you've at least thought about your guest list, or who you plan to invite to your wedding. No matter how early in the process you are, the size of your guest list will help determine so many other aspects of your wedding planning, including your venue and, ultimately, your budget.

In an effort to maintain intimacy and affordability, many couples are trying to figure out how to make a small wedding guest list, which generally consists of anywhere between 50-75 guests. This size wedding guest list is becoming increasingly common, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where we saw limitations on how many guests could gather. "Post-pandemic, I think some couples saw the beauty in having more of an intimate wedding, and small weddings were on the upswing (and still are)," explains Jessica Feiden, wedding photographer and CEO of Jessica K. Feiden Photography. "They are even more common when it comes to hosting a destination wedding as well, which is sometimes why a couple will choose a destination location when they intentionally want to host a smaller wedding."

There are plenty of benefits to having a small wedding. Not only do small weddings give you the opportunity to spend quality time with each of your guests, but they are also a great option for people who don't love the idea of being the center of attention of a large group of people, notes Sara Bauleke, creative director at Bella Notte and founder of Tiny Weddings DC. "Having a small wedding also opens up venue choices that would never be possible with larger groups, such as small museums, wineries, restaurants and parks."

Of course, there are drawbacks to having a small wedding starting with the often-difficult task of choosing who to cut from your wedding guest list. Small weddings sometimes end up costing more than people expect. "Just because you have fewer guests, some of your fixed costs won't change—your venue rental, your photographer and videographer, and your musicians are all going to cost the same whether you are having 10 people or 100 people," says Bauleke. "Ultimately, you will end up spending more per person (taking the final overall wedding cost and dividing it by the number of guests) than you would at a larger wedding."

In this article:

Who Should Be Included on a Small Wedding Guest List?

Small or intimate weddings with a guest list of between 10-40 people typically include parents, siblings, pieces and nephews, grandparents and very close friends, according to Bauleke. "This guidance comes with the caveat that who should be included is completely dependent on the couple's relationship with their family and friends," she says. "Some people are very close to family, while others might have a stronger relationship with their friends and 'chosen family', and that obviously plays into the decision."

How Do You Politely Limit Guests for Your Small Wedding?

The most polite way to limit guest lists for your small wedding is to be upfront and honest from the get-go. "Manage expectations by clearly stating to friends and family that an invitation or lack thereof has no bearing on the person," suggests Jacqueline Vizcaino, owner of Tinted Events Design and Planning. "It's also helpful to remind people that, just because someone isn't invited, doesn't mean that they are any less loved or the relationship is any less valued."

Vizcaino also recommends taking steps to reassure certain loved ones who didn't make the list they're loved or valued and remind them that there will be other opportunities in the future to celebrate with you.

How to Make a Small Wedding Guest List

Follow these expert-approved tips for how to put together a small wedding guest list that you can feel good about.

Create a must-haves list.

Start with a list of the immediate family members you absolutely want to include at your wedding—typically your parents, grandparents, siblings and their significant others and a handful of best friends. "Once you know the number of absolute 'must haves,' this will be an indicator of how many more people can be added to the guest count," says Feiden. "Then, you can decide if it's a priority to have a few friends or extended family members in attendance."

Limit plus-ones for your guests.

As much as you'd love to offer a plus-one to everyone you invite, this can multiply your guest list significantly. It may be worth it to have a conversation with your friends and family about this limitation or create a "plus-one rule" for who gets a plus one and who doesn't (i.e. if someone has been in a serious relationship with their partner for more than six months, they get a plus one).

Consider who you're in contact with.

Feiden recommends taking note of when you last spoke with certain family members or friends. "The intention of creating a small wedding guest list is to include those who you are closest with," she says. "Odds are if it has been a year or so since you last interacted with them and your wedding isn't for another year, the chance of you seeing them again is low, and therefore, it might make sense to invite them to a more casual celebration than the wedding."

How to Tell People You're Having a Small Wedding Guest List

Telling someone in your life that they're not invited to your wedding is never an easy conversation, however, it is an important one. Family is always the best place to start, according to Vizcaino. If it's not possible to communicate in-person, doing so by phone (not text) is second best. "Talking to them will give them the opportunity to ask the needed questions and self-identify if they will provide the support you need," she says.

Be prepared for some friends and family members to be a little emotional over your decision. Not everyone understands the constraints placed upon you that have led you to the decision to have a small wedding. "Don't get frustrated; just explain your reasons for having an intimate, small wedding," Vizcaino says. "Remember that there's no need for you to apologize, even if other people disagree with your decision."

You may want to let these loved ones know that they are included in your celebration in a different capacity, such as a larger wedding shower, casual get-together after the wedding or even a bachelor or bachelorette party," suggests Feiden.

Although sometimes an awkward topic, having these straight-forward conversations about your choice to have a small wedding guest list can give you and your loved ones comfort over the decision.

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