How To Narrow Down Your Wedding Guest List Without Offending People or Feeling Guilty

Your wedding is a celebration of two families and two sets of friends coming together. Party as such! Whoo! But what happens when your venue only holds 150 comfortably and your wedding guest list is already over 250? This is a common problem when it comes to the invite list and we’ve come up with some suggestions to help you cut down that list without hurting feelings or experiencing guilt.

Your “Absolutely” list is going to consist of the people that you couldn’t imagine your big day without. This will consist mostly of family members and your closest friends. These will be the people who receive your first round of invitations. People who are on the “Maybe” list include more acquaintances rather than your close friends; people who you would enjoy having at your wedding, but are not in the first round of invitations. If you start getting RSVPs back with more “regrets,” than you were expecting, feel free to send out your second round of invitations to those from the “Maybe” list in order of importance. (Only if they have enough time to RSVP and aren’t clearly feeling like the “Maybe” list.)

People to Cut:


This one can be tricky if you’ve maintained a good relationship with your ex, but if there is even a tiny part of your current partner that is unsettled by your relationship with your ex, it is best to not extend an invitation. An ex is also part of your past, and your wedding day is a celebration of the future life you are building with someone else. Just imagine if your partner’s ex came to your wedding and insisted on a close dance with them on your wedding day.

Plus Ones

There is a rule when it comes to inviting a guest’s plus one that will help you with your guest list: unless they are engaged or living with the other person in a long-term committed relationship, you don’t need to invite the significant others of your friends to your wedding. If the numbers or the budget is tight, don’t feel guilty about not inviting them. However, some etiquette experts say that any single person over the age of 18 can bring a plus-one guest, but that is really up to you and what your budget can allow. 

Anyone who would put you on edge

This category goes for anyone who would make you even the tiniest bit self-conscious or irritated, whether it’s your boss, badly behaved relatives/friends or someone who you know may be judging everything. It is YOUR day! It is okay to not invite someone if his or her presence will distract you from enjoying it. 

Talk to Your Parents/In-Laws Early

Since many parents are contributing some – if not all – of the cost of the wedding, many families will want to have some say in who is invited and perhaps invite some of their own friends. The best way to handle this conversation with your families is to be honest, even when inevitably your mother will want to invite all 20 of her friends from her lady’s brunch. 

As Leah Weinberg, the owner of Color Pop Events in New York advises: Communication will help tame tension when you disagree on head count and who to invite. “I promise you can come to a resolution rather than staying silent about it and having it cause you stress.” Leah also suggests coming up with creative solutions if you can’t invite everyone that your family suggests, such as sending out a formal announcement after the wedding so that they feel included in some way. 

The “One Year” Test

When it’s coming down to the last few people you want to invite, it is recommended to take into consideration the “one-year” test to see how close of a bond you share with someone. Have you seen/talked to them in the past year? Would you expect to see them in the coming year? Would you be offended if you weren’t invited to their wedding? If the answer is no, then you should have no guilt not inviting them to your wedding. While there are some friends who have a special place in your heart from years ago, they may not be a large part of your life anymore. Your wedding should be about celebrating the present and who you are closest to now and who will be a part of your future. 

Dance-only invitation

Maybe this is just a Midwest thing, but another solution to not being able to invite the entire office staff or the entire softball team, is to send out dance-only invitations as postcards (or full invites). This is a well-worded invitation that invites as many people as you’d like to the dance on your wedding night. That also implies that the guest isn’t obligated to bring a gift and you aren’t obligated to treat them to dinner. It is purely a celebration-only invitation.

Here are examples of wording for that:

Adults Only Reception

If your venue seating is very limited, consider having an adults-only reception. This is a touchy subject for some family members who will definitely want their children with them. Word your invitations correctly and explain the situation as best you can.

Some suggestions for handling the no-kids invited wording your RSVP card might be:

  • “We’d like our wedding day to be an adult-only celebration. Please plan to leave your little sweeties at home.”
  • “Due to the limited number of seats, we request that the reception be an adult-only celebration.”
  • “Sweet dreams for those under 14. Please RSVP for the adults who will be joining us!” (Use whatever the cut-off age you want.)
  • “We want you to enjoy yourselves at our adults-only celebration, so we will have a babysitter available to you.”
  • We have reserved ___2___ seats in your honor”. (Indicating that the couple’s children are not invited.)

On your wedding invitation outer and inner envelopes, be very clear about who you’re inviting. Saying something like “John and Marcia Hason and family” is too vague. Using only the adults’ names is a good way to indicate who exactly is invited.

But what if you want a flower girl and/or ring bearer? How do you break it to other family members that those children are okay to attend your wedding, but others are not? You’ll have to provide very open communication with families involved. It would be nice to offer babysitting services and activities for those few kids to keep them occupied at the reception (crayons, coloring books, toys) and/or a special kids room where they can watch movies and have the time of their lives…while you do the same. Be sure to tell the parents of the flower girl and ring bearer what your expectations are for the day, or suggest a babysitter take them home after the ceremony so the parents can stay and enjoy the evening! Then there are no hurt feelings at the reception since truly, no kids will be attending.

We hope this helped you narrow down your guest list! Do you have other questions about wedding etiquette? Consider purchasing our Wedding Day Designer! It has over 50 pages of wedding timelines, checklists, etiquette tips, and sample wording for your invitations. It will be the best $20 you ever spend on your wedding!

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