Q&A: The most awkward guest list questions that’ll come up when planning your wedding

It’s simply not possible to invite every person you’d like to come to your wedding. So how do you decide who’s in and who’s out? Planner Catrina Duthie shares her tips

Your own ‘new beginning’ does not mean inviting people just because they asked you to come to their wedding. Mandala Love calligraphy invite, £POA, Ananya Cards 

Weddings are for partying with your loved ones – that much is a given. But what about the not-so-loved ones? Drawing up the guest list is often one of the most stressful parts of planning, and unfortunately it’s something that has to be tackled early on.

You need to have rough numbers before you book a venue – sure, you don’t need a full RSVP list, but there’s a big difference between a room for 50 people and one that can hold 150. With guest numbers so directly linked to cost (to say nothing of the fact that who you’re celebrating with will have a huge impact on whether or not your wedding is actually one of the best days of your life), a smaller guest list might be highly appealing.

But not inviting certain people can be awkward, and most of us hate being thought of as rude, even when we’re well within our rights. We all know how horrible it is to feel left out too. So what to do? Well, here’s my guide to the most common guest-list quandaries and how to solve them.

Q: Should we invite people just because they asked us to their wedding?

This is a common scenario faced by many couples when putting together a guest list. It feels polite to return the favour, right? But what this fails to take into account is that every big day is totally unique, and I don’t just mean in terms of your personal style. Factors such as budget, venue and location all influence the numbers – and yours won’t be the same as theirs.

This means the simple (and difficult) answer is no. This is your wedding, and if you wouldn’t previously have considered inviting this couple, do not feel obliged to include them now. Most people will understand that everyone’s situation is different. If you still really feel they have to be part of your celebration, you could ask them to join you for the evening reception.

Surround yourself with only those closest to you. Treasured memories come from quality not quantity! (Photo: Jenniflower Weddings)

Q: How do we tell our guests that we don’t want any children there?

Every other week there seems to be yet another viral news story from an outraged parent whose precious little darlings are banned from the party. While the prospect of inciting such anger may be terrifying, all this rage actually has an upside for you: it means this type of request is becoming much more common!

People decide to have a child-free, adults-only event for many reasons, such as cost, location or personal preference, but whatever your reasoning is, you have to be clear and positive in the way you approach it. Do this early on by addressing the invites (and RSVPs) to the adults only. The odd friend will assume their brood is included regardless, so it’s always worth putting in an extra sentence so there’s no room for misunderstanding.

A phrase such as ‘We’d really like everyone to be able to let their hair down, so we respectfully request that no children attend’ works well – you’ll probably find your guests arrive totally ready to party! Be warned, though: some people may be unable or unwilling (or both) to leave their kids behind; all families differ in their approach, and you have no control over this. 

Q: Do we have to invite colleagues and bosses?

Assuming that the people you work with aren’t counted as ‘friends’ – because otherwise they’d be invited in their own right as such – it really depends on the relationship you have with them.

If you socialise with colleagues outside of work and enjoy their company, it can be worth inviting them for the evening celebrations – they’ll bring a healthy injection of new energy to get the night off to a lively start. But don’t just invite them because they keep coming over to your desk to have a nosey at how your plans are progressing.

Once everyone has RSVP’d, this gold wedding table planner kit will help you suss out the seats, £25, Ginger Ray

Q: What’s an A-list and a B-list when it comes to weddings?

Sadly, it has nothing to do with whether Beyoncé can make it to your do. Basically, it’s just a way of prioritising if you can’t comfortably invite everyone you’d like to include. Your A-list consists of the people you couldn’t imagine not being there; your B-list contains the extra names you’d really like to invite if space or money permits.

During the planning stage, you will obviously have considered the ideal guest list of your nearest and dearest. But, as Jeff Goldblum almost said, life, uh, gets in the way. Things happen, other commitments crop up, and some of your guests will simply, sadly, not be able to make it.

What we tend to see is that the number of A-list guests who can’t make it is proportional to the size of the wedding. If you’re planning a large do, with 200-plus guests, expect approximately 20% to regretfully decline; an intimate wedding with around 50 close family and friends normally sees a much lower number saying no.

My advice is: it’s definitely a solid idea to have a B-list, as it means you can easily tweak your main guest list if necessary. Just don’t let anyone know they’re on it.

Q: How many guests should our parents be allocated (if any)?

This depends on the dynamics of the two families (helloooo, deep therapy!) as well as on the financial situation. Historically, parents would contribute a (large) sum towards the cost of the day, so it was seen as only fair that they could invite their friends to partake of their generosity too.

Of course, you want your parents to be comfortable and to enjoy themselves, and having a few close friends or extended family members there may help them do so. Discussing this with them beforehand is super-important – it’s still your wedding, so you should be able to have the final say on these guests (if you allow them at all!).

Even if there’s no financial involvement from either set of parents, they may still be expecting to invite a few pals as per tradition. If you’re agreeable to this, try to keep the proportion roughly the same on both sides: it’s a bit off for your dad to have his entire Sunday League football team in attendance if your partner’s mum has just two friends coming.

And if these extra guests push you over budget, or take the place of people on your A-list, it’s best to say no altogether and be honest with your parents about why. I know I keep saying it, but it is true: at the end of it all, it’s your day!

Any guest list-related stress will be so worth it when your best chums are all around you on the day (photo: Stephen Kyle)

Q: Should we trim our numbers so we can afford the day of our dreams, or should we make sacrifices elsewhere so we can invite more people?

This really does come down to what’s more important to you. Your wedding is going to be one of the most memorable days of your life. In years to come, you will look back and reminisce about your first dance, the laughter and the emotion during the speeches, and all those joyous moments with your closest friends and family.

These are the memories you will treasure, and what you’ll remember is quality, not quantity. If you want to invite lots of people, ask yourself why. Is it just for the sake of it? You’re embarking on an amazing adventure together and taking on the world as a partnership; do you really want to start this off by over-extending your finances just for the sake of numbers?

Have another question you want answered? Get in touch with Catrina here.