Best Way to Make a Wedding Guest List (Spreadsheet Included)

One of the many personal challenges my clients face throughout their wedding planning journey is to figure out the best way to make a wedding guest list. If it were up to you two as a couple, you’d invite your closest family and friends and be done. But then your parents have their own list and then what do you do with the singles? Should they get a plus one...what are the rules? And then there is the B list...and maybe even a C list. In this post I’m going to breakdown the different categories of the guest list and the BEST way to make a wedding guest list.

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The Best Way to Make a Wedding Guest List

Let’s start with creating categories for your guest list and inputting them onto this spreadsheet I made for you. The way the guest list normally breaks down into is the following categories:

  1. A List - The easy list and the most important. This list is made up of your immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents, close aunts/uncles, sponsors) and your VIP friends (wedding party if you have one, their plus ones and their families if you’re inviting children).

  2. B List - This is the extended family (your parents list) and overflow of really great friends you’d love to have but are not immediate family or in the wedding party. Think of your distant uncle that doesn’t live in the area but is very close to your parents, sorority or fraternity, your college roommates, your childhood buddies that you’re still friends with, bar-mates, co-workers that are extremely close (uhmm bosses!).

  3. C List - This is the obligatory list meaning people that are invited out of obligation. These are the distant friends and far removed family members. For example, your aunt may be very close to your mom or you (the cool aunt) and so she wants to have a list of her own. They are still family but you’d be appeasing them out of obligation. Or what about co-workers. It’s awkward when you’re all chatting in the office about wedding plans only to exclude someone that isn’t invited so eventually you may feel the need to invite out of obligation. It’ll just create a weird vibe after the wedding. Normally it’s just a few that can be placed at ‘office’ table. This list doesn’t exist for everyone. The smaller the wedding the more likely that you’ll have no room to even consider a C list. Or, you’re badass and putting your foot down and saying, this is our wedding and we’ll do it how we want to.

    Pro tip: All your lists should be ranked in order of importance. That way if you get an opportunity to add more, you’ll know exactly which to bring into the fold.

If budget isn’t a concern then this might not be as stressful as it is for some. For those that have a budget in mind your guest list will be closely tied to your budget. After all, the wedding budget is determined by the amount of guests you choose to host. The venue and catering are what take up the biggest piece of the pie so the guest count will determine how much of that is taken up. If you need help putting that budget together, check out my 2019 wedding planning budget.

There are a few websites out there that have online platforms like The Knot or Zola with limited feature where you can also record your organize your guest like.

Average Wedding Guest List

My clients have asked me in the past what an average guest list is. Here is what I’ve determined over the many years of planning.

  • Small Wedding - 50 guests or less

  • Medium Wedding - 50 - 150

  • Large Wedding - 150 - 300

Once we start to get into the 300 to 800 person weddings we’re most likely facing a cultural situation like Nigerian weddings are famously known for everyone is invited…I’m not kidding I mean EVERYONE, like there is no RSVP list. Cousins, cousins’ friends, neighbors, parents’ co workers…all are invited. I also see this happen a lot in Middle Eastern weddings typically around 400 - 600 people unless it’s destination, which will normally cut that number in half. One more place I’ve seen this happen is parents with large church congregations especially in the Korean culture.

In my opinion the sweet spot that I’ve seen where there is less stress involved and smaller moving parts is when the guest list is around 125. That’s a great number for a $60,000 and above wedding. Gives you room to design freely, to customize and personalize your day. You can spoil your guests rotten and host a great party without compromise.

REAL LIFE STORY

One my absolute favorite people of all time shared their very interesting guest list experience with me. I asked them to share it because it was the first time I was EVER faced with that situation as a planner. They originally approached me with a 500 person guest count but ended up negotiation to 300 people. The journey to that number wasn’t easy.

They had discussed wedding plans before even even popping the big question. What they dreamt up was to have close friends and family somewhere outdoors at a winery. They started making lists in their heads and came to a number of about 150 or so. However, the bride was always very careful to caution that this plan for a 150-person wedding might not be realistic for her side of the family. Her father is the pastor of their church and its customary to invite the entire congregation to a wedding. But in these preliminary stages it was just a fantasy and they just wanted to dream freely. 

Fast forward to when the unforgettable proposal went down in Spain, shortly after ensued the reality of wedding planning. They started to look at venues with their dream number in mind ignoring the Pastor’s guest issue so they could move forward with their dream wedding. At some point the conversation was unavoidable and the bride’s father wanted the whole church there - which would result in a total guest count of about 500 people. Here, there was a lot of arguing and back and forth. The pastor was stern on his number and the couple was very stern on theirs. After some not-so-smooth phone calls with her family, the couple sat down sat down and asked what they would regret more: having a wedding exactly how they wanted it without the full consent of their families? Or, compromising their dream wedding, spending a bit more (obviously a higher budget) while still being satisfied with their wedding plans. They went back and forth with this choice but a lot of negativity started to arise as a result. When they started to entertain the idea of hosting 500 guests felt that the venues within their budget for 500 people were unsatisfactory and mediocre at best. And upping the budget to accommodate that amount in their dream wedding scenario was uncomfortable for them. Then at some point they just felt that it wasn’t worth what they were going through and decided, "You know what, F*** it. We're doing a city hall wedding with no one but parents. If they want to come they can come." This is when they brought in the professional to help, me!

Then it clicked that this was their wedding and not their parents. A compromise was made and they decided that they would allow 100 people from the congregation to appease the bride’s father. As a result they invited 200 guests with 100 being from the church for a total of 300 people. This is why this story was so important for me to share because they went from 500 to 300 hundred, that’s quite a feat. If you' haven’t already read my post on “Compromise is the Language of Love“ at Jess and Cody’s biracial wedding, go check it out. The bride’s father was 100% on board with this and the couple was able to have a wedding that somewhat resembled what they originally dreamed it would be.

Now that their special day has come and gone this is what they revealed to me, “The end result was a wedding that was beautiful and memorable for both us and our families. In hindsight what we're proud of is that we took our families' desires into account but still put each other first. We compromised how we thought was best while considering their requests. This was a valuable lesson for us in ensuring that our immediate family - that is, bride, me and our eventual children, is prioritized but we never forget those around us who are important to us. It helped us learn about our parents more, and they learned about us more. It set, what we believe is a positive tone for our relationship, and gave us invaluable lessons for the rest of our lives.“

This conversation is always tough to have but remember that compromise is key here. If you’re in the beginning stages of your planning journey, find out what matters about your wedding to the most important people on your guest list and figure out how that affects your plans. And if it becomes to complicated, you don’t have to do this alone. You can find a professional to help you understand what those ideas mean for your wedding and how they affect your plans because when it comes to your wedding you can’t just wing it and hope it works out. It’s a momentous occasion so you have to be thoughtful about every decision.

Best Way to Organize Your Wedding Guest List

The best way to organize your wedding guest list in terms of preparing it for your paper goods is to look at your save the dates, your first round of invitations and then your second round if you’re really struggling.

Save the Dates

As time goes on you’ll refine your list and make adjustments as needed. A lot of times when the guest list is a topic of contention, it ends up affecting our deadlines. So what I do is end up having my clients send the Save the Dates to the A and B Listers as they are the most important and also the easiest to put together.

Invitations

Once we get to the point to where we need to send the invitations, it’s been enough time to give my clients clarity to finalize the guest list, which will most likely result in the C list locked and loaded.

Invitations for C List

When it comes to the C list, it’s normally a group you would like to invite BUT inviting them might put you over the guest capacity at the venue or may push you to an uncomfortable place with the budget. If you hit a roadblock with this I have a workaround. You’ll have to plan a little further in advance and be a little more strategic but it’s a great solution if this is exceptionally difficult.

You’ll want to plan to send two rounds of invitations. The first round goes to your A and B list with an early RSVP date. Once you get the RSVPs back from the first round you’ll get an idea of the people who do not plan to attend so you can make room for the C list. Be very careful here because you’re going to have to plan way ahead of time. Instead of sending invitations at the traditional time, you’ll want to send them well ahead of that. You need to give yourself enough time to send the first round, receive RSVPs, record who is and isn’t attending, order more invitations and then have them sent out with enough time for the C list to be able to RSVP so you can communicate that over to your vendors affected by the final guest count.

Pro tip: Another roadblock my clients hit is when it comes to creating the seating chart for their RSVPs. When you’re creating the guest list, in addition to ranking them, group them by the way you would have them sit at your tables.

Summary

In summary, you’ll want to grab two bottles or more of wine and download the spreadsheet I made for you to help you put your guest list together. Start by listing out your A list, then B list and lastly your C list. Rank them by order of importance and even break them down by groupings of how you think they would sit at the tables so that this doesn’t pose a roadblock for you down the line.

You don’t have to go at this alone. We invite you to chat with our team as we only have 5 openings left. If you missed the spreadsheet provided earlier, you can easily download it below. Click the “Give me the spreadsheet please” button below.

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