Planning a wedding is both exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to deciding how many people you should invite to your event. When the guest list gets too large, your special day can start to feel more like an obligation than a celebration of love.
To make sure you enjoy every moment of your big day, consider these tips for crafting the perfect size guest list that will leave everyone happy and satisfied. From considering budget limitations to prioritizing who makes the cut, there are several key factors involved in determining how many people to invite to your wedding.
How Many Guests Should You Invite to Your Wedding?
When it comes to wedding guest lists, size definitely matters. The number of guests you invite will have a huge impact on both the logistics and overall tone of your big day.
If you want an intimate gathering, then inviting only close family and friends is the way to go. This could mean paring your list down to immediate parents, grandparents, your siblings and your besties — or it could mean having an elopement ceremony with only two witnesses present.
On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of a grand affair with hundreds of guests in attendance, then you’ll need to plan accordingly — from selecting a larger venue that can accommodate all your guests to hiring additional staff for catering and event management services, there is always a lot to consider when planning a large wedding.
Determine How Many People You Can Afford to Invite
Your budget is the biggest factor when it comes to deciding how many people you can afford to invite to your wedding. You don’t want to overspend, so be sure to consider the cost of each guest before sending out invitations.
Establish a budget
Before you start creating your guest list, it’s important to set a realistic budget for the event. While the most expensive part of any wedding is the reception venue, food and alcohol, smaller costs such as stationery, wedding hair and makeup and wedding favors can really add up, so it’s important to plot out how much you expect to spend for every part of your wedding from most expensive to least expensive.
When that is done, it’s time to figure out how many people you want to invite. Once you’ve got a tentative list of guests in place, it’s time to figure out how much each guest will cost you. Your caterer and wedding cake provider will be able to give you an estimate on how much it will cost to feed the number of guests you want to invite.
You’ll also need to factor in the alcohol cost of roughly four drinks per person plus a glass of champagne for toasts. While not all of your guests will consume four beverages as well as a glass of wine or champagne for the toasts, some will likely drink more, so budgeting for four drinks plus the toast is a wise move.
Let’s say you were planning to invite 100 guests, your budget might look something like this:
Wedding Catering — $70 per person x 100 guests = $7,000
Wedding Cake — $5 per person x 100 guests = $500
Champagne Toast — $20 per person x 100 guests = $2,000
Alcohol — $40 per person x 100 guests = $4,000
Favors — $4 per person x 100 guests = $400
If, however, you’re not having champagne toast or an open bar, your alcohol costs will be considerably lower.
If you have a lot of out-of-town guests attending your wedding, it’s always a nice gesture to offer a round-trip shuttle service from their hotel to the wedding venue.
The cost will, of course, depend on the number of guests who will need the service. If you’ll be providing transportation for about 50 guests, you can expect to spend between $500-$600. If you’re shuttling more than 100 guests, you can expect your bill to be more than $1,000.
Costs do vary from state-to-state and even city-to-city, so it’s a good idea to contact providers in your area for an estimate before finalizing your budget.
Decide Who Should Be on Your Guest List
Crafting your wedding guest list is no easy task. To begin, you and your future spouse should make a list of all of the most important people in your lives.
Start with your immediate family — parents, grandparents and siblings — and then think about other close family members you’d like to have there whether it’s a favorite aunt or a cousin you grew up with who is more like a sister to you than a cousin.
Next, consider your BFFs and make a list of all of the people who feel more like family than friends.
With your nearest and dearest making up the base of your guest list, it’s now time to think about extended family. Just remember, if you invite one aunt or uncle, etiquette dictates that you invite them all. The same principle applies with cousins. If your families are small, this won’t be a big deal. If you both have larger families, however, inviting extended family can really add up.
Once you’ve made a decision on extended family, do a tally and see where your guest count sits. Do you want to invite work colleagues or your boss? Do you want to invite children?
With those decisions made, any remaining spaces you have should be divided evenly between you and your partner. Now, it’s time to check with your families on anyone they’d like to see invited. Perhaps your mom will want to invite a longtime friend and your spouse’s mom will want to invite her business partner or a client she’s become friendly with.
Make the Final Cut
When crafting your guest list, don’t write down names in random order. Instead, treat your guest list like a pyramid divided in three.
- Top section — All of your must-haves: family members, your bridal party and your best friends.
- Middle section — All of the other people you really want to invite, but could cut if needed.
- Bottom section — People you’re inviting out of duty.
Next, decide how many people you can afford to invite — or how many you’re willing to pay for. Once you and your partner have agreed on a number, start cutting people from the bottom tier of your list. If you cut the whole bottom section and still need to do some more trimming, here are some strategies to help you make the hard choices.
Set limits on plus-ones
Plus-ones can seriously inflate your guest list so, if you are looking for a way to keep numbers down, this is a good place to do some cutting.
If you’re inviting guests without a serious partner, do not feel obligated to offer them a plus-one. If, however, they’re seriously dating someone, are engaged or are living with someone, their partner should be included too.
Consider cutting co-workers
When it comes to inviting co-workers or your boss, there are two questions you should ask yourself:
- Do I have a relationship with them outside of work?
- Do I really want my boss/colleagues to see me crying during my vows or dancing and drinking the night away at my reception?
If you answered no to either question, then leaving them off the guest list is best.
Consider cutting kids
Another major decision to make is about children. Inviting children could definitely inflate your guest list but, if you have a close relationship with your nieces and nephews — or have children of your own — you obviously will be including them on your list.
That does not mean, however, that you have to invite everyone’s children. Inviting nieces and nephews does not mean that every friend and acquaintance should also get to bring their kids. Remember, it’s your day — and it should be exactly how YOU want it.
Once you and your partner make a decision about if you’ll invite kids — or which kids will be included and which will not — stick to it.
Other Things to Consider When Planning Your Guest List
Writing out a guest list may seem like the hard part, but there are still many other details to consider. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make the process a bit easier.
Keep your guest list private
Sharing the details of your wedding guest list with everyone you know is never a good strategy. The more people who hear who you have and have not invited, the more likely it is you’ll feel pressured to invite more people than you originally intended.
While you will likely be consulting your parents about the guest list, it’s up to you and your partner to make the final decision. Once you’ve finalized your list, let your parents know no changes can or will be made — and ask them to keep the list private.
Realize not everyone will attend
Not every single person you invite to your wedding will be able to come, so keep that in mind when crafting your guest list.
On average, about 85 percent of local wedding guests and 55 percent of out-of-town guests will RSVP. If you’re hosting a destination wedding, expect only about 35 percent of your guests to attend.
So, if you’re thinking of cutting a few people who you really want to invite just to save money, you probably don’t need to. It’s a virtual guarantee that at least 10-15% of the people you invited will decline your invitation.
Send invitations out on time
Wedding etiquette — and good manners — dictate sending ALL of your wedding invitations out a minimum of six weeks before your wedding day, but eight weeks is even better. With a destination wedding, 10 weeks notice is expected.
Even if you don’t have any out-of-town guests, giving your guests ample notice allows them to plan accordingly. From making arrangements to take time off work, to arranging a babysitter to buying a new outfit to shopping for a wedding gift, there is a lot involved in preparing to attend a wedding.
For out-of-town guests, they’ll also need to make travel and accommodation arrangements, so giving them ample warning is not only polite, but necessary from a logistics standpoint.
Don’t invite people at the last minute
If more people than expected decline your invitation, that doesn’t mean you should then mail a second round of invitations to those who didn’t make the cut the first time. Not only is it downright rude, but receiving an invite in the mail just a few weeks before your ceremony with no explanation will definitely make people feel like they were an afterthought.
If you do want to invite some people who didn’t make the first cut, there are a few things to consider.
- Is this person easily hurt or offended?
- Is this person understanding?
- Is this person practical?
- Have you given them enough time to make arrangements to be there?
If you think this person’s feelings might be hurt because they were second choice, then it’s probably wise not to issue an invite. Inviting someone two weeks or less before an event is also tricky. Any last-minute invite will make even the thickest-skinned person feel like an afterthought.
If, however, it is still four weeks before your wedding and you have more empty spaces than you expected, it’s OK to invite someone who didn’t make the cut if you know their feelings won’t be hurt. It’s best to speak to the person directly, either face-to-face or on the phone, to explain why they are receiving an invitation without as much notice as usual.
You could say something like: “We really wanted to invite you, but could only invite family due to budget constraints. Some of our family members can’t make it, so we’d be really thrilled if you could come and be part of our special day.”
Letting the person know they are special to you and how much you’d love for them to be there should take any sting out of not being invited initially. You should also send them a formal invitation so they have all of your wedding details.
Lastly, you should assure the person that they should not feel pressured to attend but that you do hope they’ll be able to make it.
Set a deadline for RSVPs
Your RSVP date should be set for three to four weeks before the wedding to ensure your caterer will know how many to cook for. If you are buying the alcohol for your wedding, this will also enable you to plan accordingly.
When writing your invitation and RSVP cards be clear about when your guests need to RSVP by. The more clear and concise the RSVP instructions are, the better the response rate will be.
Wedding Invitation FAQs
If you’re still undecided about how many people to invite or on how to plan for the guests who do RSVP, we can help. We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions to help you simplify the process.
How many guests should I invite to my wedding?
The truth is, there is no magic number when it comes to guest numbers. You can have an amazing wedding with 200 guests or 50 guests as long as the people who mean the most to you are in attendance.
If you favor an intimate wedding, keeping your guest list at 50 or less will give you the vibe you want. If, however, you want your wedding to be a party, you’ll probably be happier with a guest count of 100 or more.
No matter what style of wedding you favor, there is one rule you should follow: never invite more guests than you can afford. Going over budget puts unnecessary stress on you and your partner and will put you in debt.
What is the average size of a wedding?
With the pandemic behind us, couples are going back to hosting traditional weddings. According to an article by Forbes, pre-pandemic guest lists averaged 131 and, in 2022, the average is sitting at 129.
A small wedding typically comes in at 50 people or less while a medium wedding has a guest list that falls between 50 and 135 guests. A large wedding sits at 135-200 guests. Weddings with more than 200 attendees would be considered an extra large affair.
What is a decent wedding budget?
When planning your wedding, you should budget a minimum of $100 per guest. That price could go up or down depending on the food being served and if you are providing any alcohol.
If, for instance, you are hosting a wedding with a simple cocktail hour, a buffet dinner and a cash bar, $100 per person should be more than adequate. If, however, you’re serving fancy hors d’oeuvres and signature cocktails, an elaborate sit-down meal and an open bar, $150-$200 would be needed to cover the cost.
As a rule of thumb, the average cost of catering a 100-person wedding in the U.S. ranges between $8,500 to $10,000.