How to Build the Perfect Wedding Guest List With Ease

Should Aunt Betty get an invite? Here's the tea.
Bride and wedding guests posing in photo booth
Photo: Dimitry Shumanev Production
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Photo Booth: Smile Social Photo Booth
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
by
Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Senior Editor, Weddings
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah has a passion for DE&I and plays an integral role in ensuring The Knot content highlights all voices and all love stories.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Oct 04, 2023

After months of planning the perfect wedding day, your event deserves an equally pristine wedding guest list in attendance. Exactly who should you invite to your dream wedding? Does a wedding guest list template exist to make the task a breeze?

We went to the source and asked three of our fave professional wedding experts how they tackled putting together a wedding guest list. Sarah Strausser is the owner of California-based wedding company Embark Event Design which she founded in 2018. Yana Daryeva is the owner of YD Event Management, a luxury event management firm with a presence in Dubai and the US. And Karina Lopez has more than 14 years of wedding experience and is the owner of New York-based KC You There. Strausser, Daryeva and Lopez dish on how to nail your wedding guest list. Consider this your ultimate guide to making a wedding guest list, from who gets a say in the final decision to what parameters you need to establish,

These seven tips will help you create a wedding guest list with as little stress as possible. Consult this guide as your go-to resource that will address even the most pressing guest list hurdles and FAQs before diving into making your invite list.

In this story:

What Is the Rule of Thumb for Organizing a Wedding Guest List?

At the end of the day, this is your wedding to plan your way. There are plenty of traditional best practices, but you and your partner should ultimately do what you think is best. As Lopez stresses, "couple should not feel an obligation to provide a plus one or to allow children and/or young guests, two topics I know can become a bit of an unnecessary headache." Take time to discuss and field input from close loved ones, but the final decision about your guest list should lay solely with you and your partner.

How to Make a Wedding Guest List

Let's get into the nuts and bolts of crafting a guest list for the wedding. The task of how to create a wedding guest list can feel daunting, but don't fret—we're here to help. This expert-backed advice on how to organize a wedding guest list will make the process a breeze.

1. Start With a Realistic Budget

From how many people you have to feed to how many place settings and centerpieces you have to order, your headcount will heavily impact your wedding budget. Beyond those details, even things like what kind of wedding venues you can consider will be impacted by the guest list. Along those lines, a good rule of thumb, as any wedding planner will attest, is that trimming your guest list will help you trim your wedding budget. So unless you have clarity around how much you're willing to spend on the wedding day (and auxiliary events like the rehearsal dinner), it's nearly impossible to make a realistic guest list.

Set a budget first and then decide how many invites to send out, and only invite the number of guests you intend to pay for. Strausser notes that "guest list, budget, and ideal locations should all be determined in tandem. Guest count is one of the biggest indicators in determining the overall budget, so ensuring you talk to each contributing party and setting a budget is important before setting your list and spreading the word to guests."

Also, keep in mind that the people contributing to the budget may also have expectations about how much of a say they get in the guest list creation. If people beyond you and your partner are contributing to the budget, make sure to have a discussion early on setting expectations about who will receive a wedding invitation.

2. Set Boundaries

With all wedding-related decisions, but especially the attendee list, people will have opinions that they feel compelled to share with you and your partner—from who should get a plus-one to which coworkers or extended family members should attend and whether or not you should have a last-minute B-List. Remember that this is your special day to plan the way you see fit. If that means letting certain people in on the decision-making, great! But if that looks like drawing a hard line in sand about who gets a say in the guest list and who makes the cut for the guest list then you should feel empowered to set those boundaries. Decide on your non-negotiables and stick to them—adhering to predetermined parameters is a great way to mitigate hurt feelings. (Pro tip: Don't feel like you have to invite someone just because they texted you for the first time in five years after hearing the news of your engagement.)

3. Prioritize Close Loved Ones

In addition to setting boundaries about who won't make the cut, it's paramount that you focus on your closest loved ones and immediate family members. It is helpful to start by figuring out who your VIPs are before expanding your guest list to include other people. Think about who absolutely must be there (parents, siblings, close friends, grandparents, etc.) and go from there.

Who do you really want to be there? Daryeva emphasizes that "if you have a larger guest list for your wedding, the couple needs to be aware that they will not get the chance to interact with everyone invited. They will only be able to talk to a few guests." Do you want to spend a lot of time making small talk with lots of people or would you rather just celebrate with a tight-knit group?

4. Don't Rush the Process

Creating the perfect wedding guest list takes time, and the process shouldn't be rushed. Since the guest list impacts so many other wedding elements, it's important that you take your time when creating the perfect wedding guest list.

5. Be Mindful With the B-List

A B-list is a common part of wedding planning guest-list creation, but it should be handled with care. Strausser has a key piece of wedding guest list etiquette to keep in mind with a B-list. "If you have a B-list, be sure to send invitations out at least four months out to ensure you have time to add in B-list guests in a timely and considerate fashion. On the topic of B-lists, be extra mindful of groups within that list. For example, if your tight-knit group of co-workers ends up on the B-list, be sure there is room for the entire group before adding just one. It can feel like parsing hairs if you have to decide between friends within the same small group."

Daryeva goes on to share that the potential impact on loved ones' feelings is worth taking into consideration when make the guest list for the wedding. "While considering the wedding guest list, the couple should be aware that some people might not be able to attend and this could make them sad or hurt their feelings."

6. Consider Travel Requirements

Accessibility is a major concern for guests when deciding whether or not they will be able to attend. From travel requirements (like visa rules) to things as simple as whether there's a convenient flight to your destination wedding locale of choice, guests' potential travel needs should be kept in mind as you're curating the wedding guest list.

When asked how to make a wedding guest list, Strausser shared that "honing in on a few ideal locations while determining your wedding guest list is important. Most parts of California, New York City and beyond don't have many venues that can hold more than 200 guests, whereas many venues in the South and Northeast are accustomed to hosting much bigger celebrations. Before you fall in love with a location, check out the typical venue capacity for that area to ensure that you will have a few venue options to explore—or if you will need to consider a smaller celebration to make the area work."

7. Set a Policy for Plus-Ones

Ultimately, you can't invite an unlimited number of people to the wedding. However, many people want, and often expect, a plus-one if they'll be attending the wedding solo. Decide early on how you'll handle plus-ones so you don't have to deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis. Maybe you allow plus-ones for your wedding party, any engaged couples and those who live together with their significant other but no one else. Or maybe you don't allow any plus-ones at all. Whatever the case—decide early on how you want to handle this.

Tips for Creating Your Wedding Guest List

In addition to following the steps above, make sure to keep these wedding guest list tips in mind when creating your own list. From wedding guest list etiquette to smart, practical advice to make the guest list for wedding events, these tips are pure gold.

Write Out Draft Lists Separately

Lopez always tells couples "that they need to sit down and each write out separate lists. Once completed, they then compare their lists and see who overlaps. For anyone outstanding, they can then decide if it's valid for those guests to be on the first list or move them to the B-list, if they're trying to stick to a certain guest count. I also recommend that they gather lists from all parents involved. This helps to also see overlap from the couples list and address any extra family and friends."

Utilize a Guest List Manager

As you're creating the wedding guest list, it can be helpful to have a central place where you're tracking guests' names. While a simple list or wedding guest list spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets would work, The Knot Guest List Manager is a great tool because it also allows you to manage other important tasks like collecting addresses and phone numbers. The tool is also compatible with The Knot Wedding Websites so that you can track RSVPs and answers to any other guest list questions you may have for attendees as part of their reply, like dietary restrictions. Having the guest list, and all related information, in one central location will also make the process of creating your seating chart much simpler once the time comes.

Go With Your Gut

Do you want a small wedding? Great—you should feel empowered to make the tough decision and limit your wedding guest count so you can spend time with those closest to you. Lopez recommends that couples "take a moment to think about the people they couldn't see themselves celebrating such a special occasion without. While family is always important, certain coworkers and friends are typically high on the list as well." Connect with your partner about what matters most to you and let those priorities inform your wedding guest list creation.

Wedding Guest List Template

As a rule of thumb for wedding guest lists, you can typically expect 75-80% of the invited guests to attend the wedding. But is there a template for how to build the perfect guest list?

"I recommend looking at the wedding guest list as a pie, where each family gets a slice to work with," says Strausser. "While you and your partner ultimately get to decide what percentage of the pie each party gets, allocating percentages cuts down on going back and forth over every invite candidate, and one family feeling outnumbered by the other on the wedding day." Traditionally, when both sets of parents contribute to the wedding, the wedding guest list template is divvied up with 50% going to the couple's guests, 25% to partner A's parent's guests and 25% to partner B's parent's guests. However, that breakdown is by no means something everyone must follow.

Listen up: There's no rule that says you have to divide the guest list equally. In the end, you should do what's best for you and your partner with the wedding guest list. But the flowchart below is a great wedding guest list template to get you started.

free printable wedding guest list template
Illustration: Fabiola Lara for The Knot,Design: Tiana Crispino,Writer: Kim Forrest
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