Staying Sane While Managing Your Guest List

While it’s easy to get caught up in the details and decor, it’s your guests that will bring your wedding to life. Building your guest list is one of our favorite parts of wedding planning. Not only is the wedding a chance for your loved ones to congratulate you, it’s a chance for you to celebrate them and the impact each has made on your lives.

SMALL VS BIG?

No one likes to limit their guest list based on the budget. But weddings do cost a pretty penny, so it’s helpful to estimate how many guests you can afford to invite. For a rough estimate, take your wedding budget and divide by $50 for smaller towns, $100 for mid-size cities, and $200 for large urban areas. This isn’t a per head cost, just a helpful rule of thumb to determine how many guests you can afford to have attend. Typically 80% of your invited guests will attend and 20% will not be able to do so, so keep those figures in mind as you’re capping your guest list.

WHO TO INVITE?

Once you know how many people you can invite, it’s time to start building the list. Naturally you’ll want to start by listing your close family and friends. If your parents are contributing to your wedding or covering most of the cost, then you’ll want to find out who they would like to invite as well. Give your parents a “guest list allowance” so that everyone knows upfront how many people they’re able to invite. Typically if your parents are paying for a big portion of your wedding expenses, you would allocate a larger portion of the guest list to them as well.

EASY AS A-B-C

As you build your list, you’ll allocate your guests to an A-list, Backup list, or Courtesy list. Your A-list will include close family members, friends, and people who you can’t imagine celebrating without. Your Back-up (B-list) list will include people you’d like to invite but aren’t yet sure you’ll be able to. Finally, keep a Courtesy list (C-list). These are people who you’d like to invite as a courtesy even though you know they won’t be able to attend.

STAYING ORGANIZED

You’ll need to send save the dates and invitations as well as chase down mailing addresses, email addresses, and RSVPs. You’ll also be sharing regular updates on the status of your guest list with your venue, vendors, and wedding planner.

Save yourself a whole lotta work down the line and sign up for a guest list management tool before you even begin. We think ours is pretty great since it takes the hard work of collecting email addresses, mailing addresses, and RSVPs off your plate, and it also gives you up to the minute estimates as to how many of your guests will likely attend.

GETTING YOUR GUESTS’ ADDRESSES

Before you send out your save the dates, you’ll need to collect your guests’ mailing addresses. Even if you’re sending out a digital save the date (and we’ll get into save the dates a little later) having everyone’s addresses collected and organized in one place will help when it’s time for the invitations and final roll call.

If you’re doing it all by yourself, collecting your guests’ addresses can be a monumental task. If you’re using a guest list management tool, you can collect all of your guests’ addresses with just a few clicks of the mouse, ensuring that neither you nor your fiancé will spend hours, days, or weeks calling every relative and old college buddy to track down their zip codes.

MAKING YOUR WEDDING WEBSITE

If the idea of building a website of doesn’t sound like something on your “things I want to do this week” list, check out The Knot, Wedding Wire, or Wedding Window for wedding website templates that you can customize in minutes. If you’re a blogging or website building pro, you’ve already got this.

Your guests are primarily going to visit your website for basic wedding info, so keep it short and simple with easy-to-find details on your rehearsal, ceremony, and reception, as well as any travel tips like directions from the airport and hotels you recommend. Also include a link to your registry, an RSVP button, photos of the two of you and any memorable details about your relationship (because who doesn’t love a good “how we met” story)?

MAKING YOUR REGISTRY

When it comes to registries, the only hard and fast rule is don’t make your wedding about the gifts. Pick gifts across multiple price points and don’t advertise your registry on your invitations or your save the dates (or on TV, Kardashian style!). Whether you’re going for a gift registry, cash registry, or combination of the two, try to have it set up several weeks in advance of any showers and spread the word through your Maid of Honor, Best Man, and wedding website so your guests know where to look. And above all, be grateful for all the gifts, even the ones you didn’t ask for.

Check out Zola and Thankful Registry for one-stop shops that allow you to register from multiple retailers in the same registry. Zankyou, Present Value, and Deposit a Gift will also let you set up cash registries to be directly deposited in your bank account. If cash doesn’t feel personal enough, you can make a list of “wants” that your guests can donate toward: like a deposit on a house, a new couch, or that Crockpot you’ve been eyeing for the last six months.

GUEST ACCOMMODATIONS AND TRANSPORTATION

Setting up the reduced rates with hotel hospitality managers is usually an easy process. You’ll call and give the hotel your wedding date details and a general idea of how many rooms you may need. It doesn’t have to be exact – don’t worry about filling every room. The manager will quote you a discounted rate and will send a simple contract for the two of you to sign.

As soon as it’s official, you’ll receive a special code or URL that your guests can use when booking their rooms. Spread the word with your wedding party and close family, and post the details on your wedding website.

If you’re still working through tasks from previous weeks, see if a friend or family member can help with this. Then treat them to a beer, a dinner date, or a strong high five for taking something off of your plate.

Most venues can recommend nearby hotels, or you can search Kayak, Orbitz, and other travel sites for nearby accommodations.

If you have a lot of guests flying in from out of town, you might also want to book transportation to help them get from their hotel to the wedding venue and back again. Whether you’re thinking party bus or limo, start looking into local transportation companies and comparing rates. When you find one that works for you, sign the contract and let your guests know through word of mouth and your wedding website.

SO WHO’S COMING? THE FINAL HEADCOUNT

Collecting RSVPs is one of the most crucial pieces of wedding planning, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Allowing your guests to RSVP digitally makes it easier on both them and you. A good guest list management tool will allow you to incorporate an RSVP feature into your wedding website and will automatically update your guest list as the RSVPs roll in, taking a huge amount of work off of your shoulders.

We think ours is awesome. You can tally results and filter them with ease! (Regardless of whether you’re collecting RSVPs digitally or traditionally.)

If you’d rather have guests return formal RSVP cards, the return envelope is traditionally addressed to the bride’s parents (hey, one less thing for you to do!) but there are no rules that say you have to do it that way. Have a bridesmaid that’s dying to help out? Ask her to collect RSVPs.

Regardless of which route you go, include a response date of at least three to four weeks before your wedding. That will allow you to tally up a final headcount, finalize your seating chart, and accurately relay the information to your vendors, while also following up with anyone who’s past deadline.

Want even more tips for planning your wedding? Our weekly countdown walks you through the entire wedding planning process from beginning to end, telling you exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. Check it out here.