How to Write Your Wedding Guest List

It might not be the most glamorous task – and it certainly won’t be the easiest – but compiling a guest list is an essential part of wedding planning. Whether you’re hosting an intimate gathering or a huge celebration, it’s a process that always requires careful consideration.

Having wrestled with the guest list for my own wedding, as well as those attached to countless events hosted at Fetcham Park, I’m hoping this post might help when it comes to deliberating your own!

Crunch the Numbers

Budget and venue size are the main factors you need to consider before you write your guest list. Remember, each guest adds to the number of plates your caterer will need to prepare, favours you’ll need to buy, and the amount of cake you’ll need to order.

Don’t forget that catering is the most expensive part of the day so it’s helpful if you have an idea of costs so that you can decide what’s most important to you; a lavish wedding breakfast with your nearerst and dearest or a simpler affair with a bigger group of friends and family.  You might have thought you wanted a ‘big’ wedding but once you start to get an idea of costs, that can all change!

It’s definitely worthwhile drawing up a rough draft before you start visiting wedding venues, so that you don’t end up falling in love with a place that is too small to accommodate your sensational entourage. Likewise, if you’ve already booked a venue before and your number of guests turns out to be larger than your venue’s capacity, you’ll be incredibly stressed once the RSVPs start rolling in. Something I commonly hear is that couples assume not everyone will be able to attend so they’ve issued more invites than they have places; but when did you last say ‘no’ to a wedding invite?  You have to assume everyone you invite will come! It’s much better to be conservative. After all, it’s easier to add more guests than uninvite those that are already planning to attend.

Fetcham Park guard of honour Image by Cristina Rossi

Think Big

If you’re really not sure where to start, begin by writing your dream list. From distant family and old friends, to next-door neighbours and work colleagues, you should include anyone you’d like to share your celebration with. The resulting list will need some serious culling, but it will give you a great starting point to work from and help you see who the most vital members of the list are.

Set Some Rules (and Stick to Them)

Now that you’ve got a list as long as your arm, it’s time to take decisive action. You might choose not to invite friends you haven’t seen face-to-face in the last three years or perhaps you’ll draw the line at under 12s. Paul and I decided that we’d only invite people that we’d both met (i.e. if I hadn’t met Great Aunty Elsie in the 4 years we’d been together, then perhaps she wasn’t a central part of our lives).

Our vicar also gave me invaluable advice – that we returned to every time – to think of everyone being there on our wedding day to support us in our marriage.  If something terrible happened to us, would we be able to pick up the phone and ask that person for help? That really helped to put everything into perspective and focus on who really contributed to our life and who would be able to support us in our marriage. Setting a few ground rules or guiding principles will really help as you begin to trim your initial list.

Preme & Phil Fetcham Park Wedding Mark Bothwell Photography_0028

Decide If You Need to Divvy Up the List

Although it’s your day, there are often other people involved when it comes to deciding which friends and family will join you at your wedding. If your parents are contributing financially (and even if they’re not) they will probably have a few names of their own in mind for the guest list.

You might not know this but, traditionally, the bride and groom are given half the guest list and each set of parents get a quarter. Another, slightly more modern option, is to split the list evenly three ways. If you’re organising your wedding independently of your parents, then the guest list should be all yours! However you decide to allocate seats, communication is key so make sure that you and your partner are on the same page.

Have a Plan B

Although it’s not something you should broadcast to friends and family, having two lists is a great way to invite plenty of people without having to raise your budget or find a larger venue. Your first list should be made up of those who you simply can’t imagine your wedding without, like family and close friends. They’ll receive your first round of invitations. If people start sending their regrets, you can send invitations to those on your second list.

If you do choose to adopt this approach, it’s wise to send the first round of invitations at least three months before the wedding. This way, you should still be able to send your second batch with at least six to eight weeks to go. Remember to add a later RSVP date as sending them out with a date that’s already past will give the game away!

Kristina & Gareth Fetcham Park Wedding Paul White Photography_0035

Make an Effort for Evening Guests

Make sure you welcome guests with a glass of champagne on arrival as this has a number of benefits. Firstly your guests will feel immediately welcomed into your celebration; secondly they’ll feel that you really want them there and they’re not just simply ‘making up the numbers’ (plus there’s nothing I hate more than arriving and having to fight my way to the bar – not that that happens at Fetcham Park!); and lastly, once all the glasses have been taken (we have waiters standing by the front door), we know when everyone has arrived and then you can cut the cake and have the first dance

By saving the cake and the first dance until all guests have arrived, your evening guests will still have seen two very important parts of the day, and understand that although you couldn’t invite them to join you for the wedding breakfast, you did really want them there.

Lastly, if you can make sure to position yourselves by the front door when your evening guests arrive, they will feel extra special – there’s nothing worse than turning up to a wedding and never actually speaking to the couple.


Ultimately, a wedding is an intensely personal celebration. No matter how tense the socio-political discussions become about who will make the list and who won’t, you are the ones with the final decision. Wherever your guest list ends up, just make sure you share your day with the people that mean the most to you.

Photography credits from top: Emma Sekhon, Cristina RossiMark Bothwell, Paul White