Wedding table setting by Elizabeth Messina Ideas & Advice Bride and groom by Elizabeth Messina

eleGALA tip

You can invite approximately 10 percent more than your target number, since between 10 and 20 percent of invited guests will decline.

Your Guest List - Getting Started

Work your way through this potential land mine with this thoughtful step-by-step approach to creating a guest list that works – for everyone. 

It’s one of the first tasks you face as a bride-to-be, but tackling the guest list can be a breeding ground for teary confrontations with your fiancé and showdowns with your future mother-in-law. We’ve broken it down to four simple steps:

Step 1: Use Your Budget to Determine the Target Guest Count

Savvy brides know the key to staying within budget is trimming the guest list. But why work backward? Once you’ve talked with all financially contributing parties to determine your total wedding budget, you can estimate how many people you can afford to invite to the affair. 

  • First – Divide your total budget in half to get your target food and beverage cost. (Couples typically allocate about half of their wedding budget to reception catering.)
  • Next – Divide your total food and beverage cost by the amount you expect to pay per guest. Cost per guest can range anywhere between $35–$250, depending on location, menu selection, and bar options. To zero in on your estimate, think about the type of reception you think you’ll have – a sit-down five-course meal? A casual buffet? An open bar? Soft drinks only? You may want to check out some catering packages at venues you’re interested in to get a better idea.
  • Finally – Divide your total food and beverage budget by your estimated cost per guest, and arrive at your target guest count.  This is how many people you can afford to invite to your wedding.

Step 2: Factor Venue Size

If you already have your heart set on a particular venue, you’ll need to factor capacity into the equation. Even if your budget will allow you to invite 250, trying to squeeze that many people into a venue that fits 150 will not go over well – we promise.  So if money is no object (lucky you!), then your target guest count is as simple as your venue’s capacity.

Step 3: Divvy it Up

Take your target guest count – let’s say 150 – and divide it amongst the hosting parties (typically the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents and the bride and groom). Giving each host the same number of invitees may seem the equitable solution, but this may not work if one side of the family is significantly larger than the other. Those funding the majority of the wedding (traditionally the bride’s parents) may also feel they should have more say in who attends.

If there’s no straightforward way for you to divide it up, you should consider hosting an informal gathering or planning session with both sides of the family. Present your target guest count and discuss together how many each side will need. Allowing all sides to participate in the discussion will help arrive at an equitable solution everyone can live with. 

Step 4: Start Making Cuts

So you’ve tallied all the names and are still 25 people over the limit. It’s time to pull out the pen and start making cuts! When determining who stays and who goes, avoid picking and choosing, as feelings may get hurt. Instead, follow an all-or-none policy, making sweeping cuts across the board – i.e. all first cousins, but no second or third cousins, or no one under 18. If you run into stumbling blocks while making cuts, our advice on how to cut down your guest list will help you determine whether to extend the invite or save the postage.

Example – Using Budget to Determine Guest Count:
Wedding budget: $30,000
Wedding reception: $15,000 (1/2 of wedding budget)
Cost per guest: $100 (for a traditional reception including appetizers, seated dinner, and open bar)
Approximate guest count: 150 (reception budget/cost per guest)