Wedding Math: A Small Guest List

Our wedding will be small by choice, and it’s not about money.  If money doesn’t really matter, why would we put a limit on the number of people celebrating with us?


We want to share the day with our family and our closest friends.  These are the people who support us, love us, and will help us as we’re establishing a new life together.  How intimate is it when you’ve invited everyone you knew in high school, college, and in your office?  The answer is not very (unless you went to a tiny school and still keep in touch with everyone).  If someone is only there for a free meal and a party, feel free to skip an invitation.


Consider for a moment how your guests will be feeling.  They have taken time out of their lives to come see you get married!  While they are exciting to celebrate with you, it’s important to note they want to celebrate with you.  All guests expect to be greeted and thanked for attending.  Let’s say you spend 5 minutes greeting and thanking each guest, which is not a lot of time to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while.  5 minutes with 60 guests is already 5 hours of your day!  What about bathroom breaks?  What about cocktail hour?  What about dinner?  What about cake?!   Do you really want to spend 5 hours of your wedding day greeting people?  I would much rather be spending quality time with my new husband and the people closest to me.

Money (because in reality it matters)

How much is being spent per plate?  $50?  $100?  $300?  Now consider: would you take that person out for a meal of the same value on any other occasion?  If the answer is no, you might want to rethink inviting them to the wedding.  You can always have a pre-wedding game night or house party instead since those are free or lower cost, and invite everyone to that.

“Rules” for Cutting the Cake List

Adults Only?

When you declare Adults Only, realize anyone with children will have to find a babysitter, and if a babysitter is sick or calls off at the last minute, they will have to cancel.  That means they may be canceling or just not showing up on the day of.  If you’re okay with that, carry on.

We are doing an Adults Only wedding.  Everyone I share this with is in one of two camps.  The first is the “we did Adults Only, too” camp, and they had no regrets with the choice.  No screaming small ones, no filters on commentary, no running up the aisle during the ceremony.  The second, “I wish we had done Adults Only,” reaffirmed my feelings that it will be the right choice for us.  We have very few children in our life right now, namely my niece and nephew, who are both toddlers.  Neither one would remember the wedding ceremony, but I’d be upset if our video consisted of screaming children who didn’t want to sit still for 20 minutes, or my sisters flying out of the ceremony to stop the cries, so a babysitter will watch them in the room at the resort.  They will still be there for fun stuff throughout the weekend, including the rehearsal dinner.

No Plus-1s?  No worries.

If you have a bunch of single friends, feel free to invite them without a plus 1.  Make sure you seat them with people who have similar interests so that they have things to talk about.  I recommend against a singles table, since that can be awkward for your single guests.  Instead, put your friend who volunteers with habitat for humanity next to a friend who just bought a house, and they’ll likely find something to chat about for the brief period where they are sitting at the table.

Caveat:  If your guest won’t know anyone else and isn’t likely to bond, or is traveling far, they should be offered a plus 1.  Find some room on the guest list (not optional).  It won’t be you who is hanging out with them all night, and it would be unfortunate for a guest (especially someone you value) to have a bad time at your celebration.  Personally, I’ve always chosen to “go stag” to weddings and bring my camera as company, which I find far more fun.  I don’t want to spend time introducing my guest to people I don’t even know, especially if the guest doesn’t know the happy couple.  However, I appreciate that it’s always been my choice, and that I could have brought a guest had I wanted to.

No ring, no bring?

This one did not work well for us.  One of my relatives started a chain reaction when a family member’s on-again-off-again girlfriend of a couple years wasn’t originally on the guest list. Multiple relatives called crying about “family” and one suggested I choose a larger venue to accommodate the girlfriend and other people they felt should be invited, because we could afford a bigger place.  (First, the “happy couple” was off-again a month before invitations were sent, and I wasn’t even told they were back together!  Second, thank you for not spending money for me!  Third, we picked the venue because we love it and it met all our priorities!  You had your wedding, let us have ours!  End rant.)  If someone is serious about a partner, or has been dating over a year, you should include both members of the pair, regardless of your personal feelings.  Otherwise, just exclude both (I wish I had!).  The drama isn’t worth it.

Group of friends?

You shouldn’t exclude someone when you’ve invited the rest of the group.  It makes them feel bad (whether or not they admit it), and it usually makes you look bad.  Just give the last person an invite, secretly hope they decline, and thank them kindly if they do show up on your special day.  Otherwise, if it’s only one person from the friend group who you’ve invited, ask them to keep it on the down low and don’t discuss the event in front of the rest of the group.


If you invite one, you don’t have to invite all, but the same rules of friend groups apply.  Keep details on the down low and avoid discussing the event at work or in front of others who haven’t been invited.  Also, you should not invite all but one or two of your coworkers, especially not if you still work there.

What to say to people who aren’t invited...

Feelings might get hurt.  There’s no beating around the bush.  There’s so much pressure built up around this one day that to be excluded might feel like a slap in the face.  Just make sure you are honest and straightforward.  Don’t hash out all the wedding details with someone who isn’t invited, or they will feel left out.​

If you are focused on keeping it intimate with family and closest friends, express that the event is a family affair (but don’t turn around and invite a bunch of people, since they will find out you lied).  If you wouldn’t want to feed them a $300 meal, simply express that the wedding is really expensive and you had to make some cuts to the list but plan another outing with them.  Either of these should suffice with regard to maintaining your friendship.  Real friends and real support systems won’t break apart from one event as long as you don’t rub it in or lie about your reason for not inviting them.