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The guest list… what many couples say is one of the most complicated aspects of planning a wedding.

To try to make the process a little less stressful I consulted Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette book to bring you some advice from an expert.


Firstly, you and your future spouse need to decide between two options:

a) Plan the type of reception you want and then base you list size on what your budget can accommodate.
This option is for couples who have a specific idea of what they want their reception to look like and entail, and their guest list is then limited to how many people can be accommodated within the budget of their specific reception.

b) Plan your list first, and then the type of reception on what your budget can afford.
For couples who are not as particular about their type of reception, this option allows them to invite the guests they wish to, and then the aspects of the reception are determined by what their budget can accommodate based on the number of guests.

In addition to these options, the size of the venue will also be a factor in determining your guest list. If your venue can only hold 150 people, but you want 200 to attend, you either have to make some cuts to your list, or find a different venue.

Traditionally the bride and groom, and their respective parents, each get to invite half of the total number of guests. However, this is not a set-in-stone rule, especially if one partner has a large family and the other doesn’t, and couples may split the list however they wish to.


The “Must” Invites

Whether you or your spouse has met them or not, the following are people that should be included in your list:

  • Spouses, fiancés, and live-in partners of invited guests
  • The officiant and his/her spouse
  • Parents of the ring bearer and/or flower girl
  • Guests that are invited to a shower are guests that should be invited to the wedding. An exception would be coworkers who give an office shower, or similar such events.

Children (which will be discussed in further detail below) and guests of your guests are really a personal decision of the couple. While it may be nice to allow a guest to bring someone along for various reasons, ex. they don’t know many other invited guests, your budget and list size might not allow it, and this is perfectly acceptable.



There is no rule which indicates a couple should or should not have children at their wedding. It is a decision that the couple should make together. Some couples want an adult only affair, while others couldn’t imagine not having children at their celebration.

How to Say No to Children

If you decide not to include children at your wedding there are appropriate methods to communicate your decision.

The Invitation: only include the parent(s)’ name on the invitation. It is consider rude to write “adults only” or “no children” on your invitation.

Spread the Word: Have your family and friends verbally spread the word in casual conversations to people that the event will be for adults only.

Crisis Management: If you know not inviting children will upset certain guests, consider including a message in the invitation to these guests explaining your decision, ex. the costs, space limitation, or formality of the event.

If a person refuses to attend because his/her children are not invited, let it go. This is your wedding and you and your future spouse are allowed to make your own decisions on how it should be conducted.  You are not committing a faux pas by excluding children; the guest not honouring your wishes is the one being rude.

If you do wish to include children, but need some limits to control your guest lists two good options are:

a) consider setting an age limit, ex. only children 10 and older; or

b) a little tricky but still an option is to only invite children of very close friends and family, or the wedding party.

Whatever your decision is, stick to it with no exceptions to prevent hurt feelings. People are less likely to take offence if everyone is following the same guidelines with no special treatment for some.


To Have or Not to Have a “B List”

Some people like to plan two guest list, an A and an B. List A are the must have guests that can fit with the size and budget. If some of these guests RSVP with their regrets, people from the B list are then invited to fill in the numbers.

While in theory this may be a good idea, it can create hurt feelings if guests on the B list find out they were not on the A list.

If you do plan on using two list a couple things to keep in mind are:

  • Make sure guests are never made aware that there are two list
  • Make sure the first batch of invites are sent out early enough for responses to arrive so the second batch of invites are not sent out at the last minute

Other people recommend planning for a percentage of rejections (experts estimate 10-20% of guests will respond with their regrets), adding this number of extra guests to your list, and sending out all the invitations at once.

For example, if you planning to invite 150 guests, send invitations to 165-180 guests.
This method prevents hurt feelings of being a second-list guests. However, it can result in a few extra guests attending if the average of 10-20% does not RSVP no. Make sure to talk to the manager at your venue to ensure arrangements can be made should a few extra guests be attending.


Trimming the List

The easiest way to trim a list is to make clear cuts. For example, keep aunts and uncles, but exclude all cousins and second cousins.

Work associates are another area to make some cuts. If you can’t cut all co-workers, consider limiting it to your boss and personal assistants, or just your immediate department.

Parents are entitled to invite some guests, especially if they are contributing to some or all over the wedding costs. However, they do not need to return every invitation they have received, nor do they need to fulfill any social obligations at your wedding.

If friends or family live far away they may not be able to attend your wedding. A good option is to contact them to see if they are able to attend so you can adjust your list accordingly. A word of caution, do not make assumptions when it comes to distance; always find out from the personal directly if he/she will be able to attend.


One of the most important factors to remember when planning your guest list is to remain calm, and talk the options through with everyone involved in planning the list; stress and arguments will only cause more problems and hurt feelings.

While planning your guest list will likely never be an easy task, the above tips should make the process a little easier and less stressful.

For additional wedding etiquette advice, check out Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette by Peggy Post, but remember that each wedding should be personal to the couple; so it doesn’t have to be completely “by the book.” Pick and choose what works for you to create your dream day.