How to Minimise Your Wedding Guest List (and Tell Someone They Didn’t Make the Cut)

How to Minimise Your Wedding Guest List (and Tell Someone They Didn’t Make the Cut)
Photo: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced the amount of weddings, causing people to reschedule or postpone their big day, but weddings are back in a big way now. According to The Knot, 27% of last year’s weddings were ones that had been pushed back, and guest list amounts climbed closer to the pre-pandemic average. This year, more than 2 million weddings are expected to take place — we’re in the middle of a wedding boom, and would-be guests are hoping for invites so they can make up for all the cringe-y DJs and open bars they missed in 2020.

But you can’t invite everyone to your wedding, no matter how badly they want to come. Here’s how to decide who’s in and who’s out — then tell those who aren’t invited that they’re not coming.

Understand what your wedding is about

As you embark on the wedding-planning process, you’ll have a lot to think about. Ground yourself by considering what your wedding is truly about. That will help guide your decision making.

Elizabeth Priya Kumar, CEO and founder of luxury event planning company Premini Events, said “like 150%” of her clients have issues with their guest lists. She tells them straight up: “Once you accept that this wedding is not about you, this is going to be really easy.”

You might be inclined to insist, “This is about me; it’s my big day!” In a sense, sure, it is, but as Kumar explained, “It took a village to get you here.” The day isn’t just a celebration of your love, but of the story of how it came to be — which includes a variety of characters.

“As much as you want to say it’s a moment to honour your love — and while I do believe in that — it’s a moment to honour your village,” she said, adding that friends, family members, colleagues, classmates, and a number of people played a part in preparing you for your big day and the rest of your life.

Consider your parents, too — especially if they’re footing part or all of the bill, which Kumar said is common. She said there can be a “pay-to-play” element at work and your parents can feel that if they cut a check, they get to pick some guests. Is it really worth fighting about if your dad wants to invite his college roommate, or should you pick your battles? That’s for you to decide, but take some time to look at the event holistically and think about what it represents beyond a celebration of just you.

Even when a parent is paying, though, these things get expensive. You’ll still need to decide who’s worth the money. Per The Knot, the average cost per guest in 2021 was $369.

Make multiple guest lists

Kumar said she advises clients to make a three-tiered guest list so “as the tier-one guests start saying no, we move on to the tier-two list and as the tier-twos say no, we move on to the tier-three level.”

Tier one should be the people who are important in your life right now, such as your cousins, aunts and uncles, closest friends, and work colleagues. Extended friends and family and former coworkers are in the second tier, and everyone else is in the third one.

Give yourself plenty of time for this, too, so you still have wiggle room to send out third-tier invitations if too many first- and second-tier invitees decline. Kumar suggested sending an RSVP function to your top-tier invitees along with your save-the-date cards. Ideally, you should schedule this so that even if you end up inviting lower-tier people, you do so with enough time before the wedding that they don’t realise they weren’t high-priority.

Be kind if you can’t invite someone

Even with a new perspective on the wedding’s function and a tiered guest list system, some people are simply not going to make the cut. Kumar said you can — and should — still show those people kindness.

“I’m a big believer that honesty is the best policy,” she said, noting she doesn’t think you should ignore the issue and pray the uninvited people don’t bring it up. She pointed to people she’s known who found creative solutions, like offering to take uninvited people out for dinner in the future or even sending a small gift. One of her clients sent a spice box to people who didn’t make the cut for their 100-person guest list, adding a note that said, “Please have us over for dinner as Mr. and Mrs. to celebrate with you privately.”

“They made that person feel really special,” she said, “and they preemptively did it so then that way it was a situation where nobody felt bad and there was no shit-talking at all.”

You can blame COVID restrictions, an interest in a small gathering, or the logistics of your destination wedding, too. There are plenty of reasons an event might be scaled down these days, and if you don’t avoid the subject, you can just explain them and move on while causing as little drama as possible.

Don’t let guest list mayhem ruin your day

Your wedding is a huge deal. You’re about to drop a massive amount of money on a giant party to celebrate your love and the people who made it possible. You do not need stress like this hanging over your head when there are plenty of other stressors to invest your time in.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t get preoccupied with it. Around the world, this is a problem for everyone. New data from Hitched.co.uk shows that 71% of British couples planning a wedding feel forced to invite people they don’t want and 92% said that pressure comes from close friends and family members. Moreover, 95% wish there were a quick way to tell people they’re not invited.

At the height of wedding-planning panic, it might be tempting to just rudely tell someone that no, they can’t come (and Hitched.co.uk even made “you’re not invited” un-invitations for the purpose — which sold out and are now available in digital-download form), but you should obviously fight that impulse unless someone is being really pushy.

In a release announcing the results of the site’s survey, Hitched.co.uk editor Zoe Burke said, “Our National Wedding Survey showed that last year, the average number of guests at weddings in the UK was just 72. Choosing which 72 people to invite to your big day, and who to leave off the guest list is a stressful task, and sometimes being subtle just doesn’t work.”

Kumar maintained you should always “lead with love” and strive not to hurt any feelings, which is solid advice. Still, don’t lose sight of the fact that you have a lot of work to do and don’t have much time to be derailed by a would-be wedding crasher. Your feelings matter, too, but you can save everyone a lot of heartache and drama by approaching this strategically and taking care of it early on.

Log in to comment on this story!