Words of wedding wisdom: WEDDING GUESTS – who and how many

Welcome to this series of articles based on my popular book, “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” … a few juicy extracts that you might like, to give you a taster of what the book can do to help make your wedding (or a friend or relative’s wedding) superbly successful.

This time, we look at…

Wedding guests

Compiling the guest list often is one of the most sensitive elements of organizing a wedding. If only it were as simple as just writing down the names of the people you would like to share the day with!

The influencing factors here are as follows, in probable order of importance:

  • Budget (overall)
  • Who’s paying how much of that budget
  • Politics and social obligations
  • Family/cultural/religious traditions


How many people you invite to your wedding depends greatly on how many you can afford to accommodate in terms of booze, food and space at the reception. But don’t forget, you have a choice of options; you don’t necessarily have to have a lavish three course banquet if it means you can’t afford to invite some people who really matter to you. A finger buffet or drinks and canapés can be just as elegant as festive at a far lower cost per head, so you can afford to invite rather more guests. With this option you can also get a greater number of guests into the same space, which helps save even more on the per head cost.

Who’s paying how much of that budget

This is where tempers can get a little frayed, especially if the wedding is being paid for in the old-fashioned way – i.e. largely by the bride’s parents. I remember seething with resentment at my first wedding many years ago when I realized there were some guests there I didn’t even know – they were friends of my parents. However as the groom and I were extremely short of money at the time we didn’t have a lot of choice.

Nowadays the cost is usually spread far more evenly across all the key parties, so there is much less room for unfair allocation of invitations. Precisely how you carve those up is very much a matter of individual preference, but a useful rule of thumb is one third to the bride’s family and friends, one third to the groom’s family and friends, and one third to the bride’s and groom’s own friends. Often you’ll find there is a lot of crossover among these lists which allows for more flexibility all round.

Politics and social obligations

This category can consist of almost anyone who you feel “should” be invited without actually deserving the label of being a “wanted guest.” It includes far-flung, distant relatives you haven’t seen for 20 years, a godmother who stopped sending you birthday cards when you were 5 years old, your Dad’s boss and his wife, and then all the people whose weddings or whose children’s weddings you and your parents have been invited to in the past. In my view these people should be last on the list of priorities but there may be sound political reasons why they need to be invited. Give and take is needed here, as well as – as always – clear communication between you and the two families.

Family/cultural/religious traditions

Although family traditions are usually easier to negotiate, cultural and religious traditions regarding who has to be invited to a wedding are often non-negotiable without causing World War Three to break out. Couples wishing to avoid going along with such traditions should really consider having a very small, secular wedding – perhaps a destination wedding – rather than try to cope with ill feelings about having to have the traditional variety, and/or paying a fortune for it. They can then be free to celebrate their marriage after the fact, with whoever they please.

Partners too?

You can’t really avoid inviting husbands, wives or live-in partners, but do you invite single guests to bring a date? A lot depends on how many guests you can accommodate, both physically and financially. If you don’t want single guests to bring someone, in theory all you have to do is just put the single person’s name on the invitation without the added “and partner.” However some people can be bullet-proof and ask if they can bring someone, anyway. See Guests: unwanted, below.

Unwanted guests

When you get one of those phone calls asking if the person concerned can bring a friend, don’t be intimidated into saying yes if you don’t want to. There are ways around it.

If you’re having a dance after the dinner, you could point out to the person that there is no space for extra people for the meal, but his/her partner is welcome to join you for the dancing afterwards.

If you can’t or don’t want the partner there at all, say you’re sorry, but you’re restricted on numbers – however why don’t the four of you go for a drink or a meal after the wedding some time, as you’d love to meet the friend concerned – another time.

Work colleagues

This can be a tricky one, too. You can’t necessarily afford to invite everyone you work with, but if you only invite a few will the others be offended? Once again I think you should play the money card here and say you’d love to invite everyone but simply can’t afford to, so why don’t we have a party or drinks after work to celebrate that way?

If you do invite work colleagues, it makes sense to invite all those with whom you work closely. This strays into the area of politics (see above) but the last thing you want to do is offend someone who sits opposite or next to you for eight hours a day five days a week.

If you’re in sales, and/or are self-employed, you may wonder what to do about your best clients or customers. You have to use your common sense here; do you really want them to see you and your personal life in all its glory at the wedding? Are they the sort of people who would also be personal friends?

If you have any doubts about those two points then don’t invite them. If they feel they don’t fit in with the rest of your crowd and don’t know anyone else, they won’t enjoy the wedding very much. At the same time, you will feel a little awkward about them being there. If you get the impression that they would like to celebrate with you, however, organize a separate meal, party or drinks for your customers or clients and key staff, if appropriate, as well as your intended, of course!

Make sure your invitations are clear

When you send out the invitations, make sure the wording is clear and that guests know exactly when and where they should turn up. If you want the party to end at a specific time, make that clear too. This avoids misunderstandings and guests being mislaid! It’s especially important to make the places and timings clear when your guest list includes friends from other cultures and nationalities, as their expectations of how a wedding works might be different from yours.

For all 174 pages of helpful tips and advice, grab your copy of “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” from Amazon (USA), Amazon (Canada), Amazon (UK) and all other Amazons.