How to Plan For a Large Guest List

Having more than 200 people at your wedding? Follow these tips to accommodate your guests comfortably when your list is large.
Wedding arch
Photo by Christine Bentley Photography

If you and your partner both come from huge families with lots of children, have tons of friends from throughout your lives and both of your parents have friends that couldn't possibly miss your wedding, you're likely going to have a big guest list. As in, maybe having 200-plus people at your wedding. Don't worry, though! We have seven tips to help make sure everything stays within control—and budget.

Make sure the venue will comfortably fit all of your guests.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but trust us: Always visit your venue before you book to ensure that all of your guests will have a place to sit and can comfortably mingle. Photos are lovely and rave word-of-mouth reviews are great, but until you see the venue with your own eyes, you can't fully envision the floor plan and see where 25 guest tables, and subsequently, 25 large centerpieces, will fit, or the dance floor that can accommodate 200 people. If the vision for your wedding doesn't fit the space, it's important to know that up front.

And with a large guest list, it's easy for the space to get hot and stuffy quickly with hundreds of people dancing and walking around, so knowing important facts about the venue's air conditioning and heating situation is key too. Otherwise, you might have people sweating and those hot plates of pasta and beef will go to waste.

Have a plan to (try) and see everyone.

Your wedding guests are coming to see and celebrate you—but having over 200 people means that it's a challenge to spend time with every single one of them. A four or five hour reception is tough time constraint to navigate the crowds, spend time with each guest, enjoy your wedding day and take it all in at the same time (it's a total whirlwind!). To try and maximize your time with everyone, you can plan to do a first look and take photos before the wedding so you can attend your own cocktail hour and do some mingling there. Having a casual welcome party and/or rehearsal dinner is a good way to visit with out-of-towners, and having dinner pre-plated as soon as guests walk into the reception will speed the evening up. It takes a long time to get 200 people through the post ceremony events—especially if you do a receiving line. It may be your best bet to try and visit each reception table instead.

Give guests a reason to get up.

"I like to think of a wedding reception as a way to create multiple little parties within the room to keep lots of guests engaged," says celebrity wedding planner Diann Valentine, who specializes in large-scale events. "We all know the popularity of activities like photo booths, but I say take it even a step further. I love when people can do interactive things, like craft tables, and when you can mix up the food."

Even when it's a formal plated dinner, why not break it up between the second and the third course? Either have dancing or make that third course something special that's at a station—something that's specific, thematic or your favorite dish you love making at home together.

"Give people a reason to get up and move around, because it can take a long time to feed over 200 people," Valentine says.

Favors can go first.

"Favors tend to be very important and sentimental for the bride—there's something about seeing our names on something and our wedding date that moves us," says Valentine. "However, it doesn't always move our guests quite the same way. So instead of purchasing favors, think about how you can reallocate that money to make everyone's experience better while they're celebrating with you."

One thing to remember is that some wedding vendors and items will have fixed pricing, meaning that no matter how many guests you have, the price will remain the same, like your wedding dress, photographer and DJ. Therefore, it's a good idea to sit down with your partner and see what your priorities are for your budget, and whether or not you're on the same page with more cost-impacted vendors, like caterers, florists and bartenders.

Use the five-year or five-minute rule of thumb.

Simply put, the more guests you have at your wedding, the more expensive it will be. And don't assume that some folks won't show up—every invitation and RSVP should be accounted for. To decide who should make the cut, use the five-year or five-minute rule of thumb.

“If you haven't spoken to the people on your guest list within the last five years, they probably shouldn't be on your guest list," says Valentine.

You can also use the five-minute rule too. If you can't picture yourself wanting to spend five whole minutes with the person in question on your wedding day (which absolutely flies by!), then they should probably be left off the guest list.

One group that can also take up considerable space on your guest list are coworkers. To avoid any sticky situations, you can choose to not invite anyone, or keep it to a minimum of coworkers you consider friends.

“When people start inviting colleagues from work, you have to draw the line somewhere," says Valentine. “Is it my immediate department? Is it my coworkers that I see everyday? Or is it also coworkers that might work in a regional office somewhere who are just so friendly on the phone that I just feel like I need to invite them?"

Keep travel time in mind.

"With a large wedding guest list, if you're going to have your ceremony and reception in two separate locations, you've got to think about the people coming in from out of town," says Valentine. If you're having 200 guests, that means that 200 people who may not be familiar with the area are going to have to maneuver public transportation, ride services, or rental cars—not to mention possible traffic and parking issues in big cities. If there's no room in your budget to hire transportation for everyone, make sure your maps on your wedding website are extra-detailed. So think about the radius and the sphere of travel that people are gonna have to engaged in to celebrate with you, particularly for a city like New York where there's lots of traffic, there's no parking and parking is incredibly expensive.

Make-your-own bars can get messy.

Don't get us wrong—we absolutely love the make-your-own bar trend. What's more fun than creating a signature mac and cheese, mashed potato or ice cream sundae bowl at a wedding? But tread lightly with hundreds of guests, since that area could go from meticulous to messy in a matter of minutes (especially if there are lots of little ones in attendance).

"I think the concept is more fun when it's part of an experience," says Valentine. "I'm more inclined to do smaller, niche treats you can pre-make and guests can just come and get. It's still fun and interactive with less mess." For example, Valentine took the ever-popular candy bar trend a step further with one couple and made an apple "orchard."

"We put two giant trees on a table, decorated it with orchids and hydrangeas and hung little trays of different kinds of apples all over it," says Valentine. "There were candy apples, caramel apples, and apples with nuts, all sliced with caramel for dipping."

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