Creating a guest list can be an intimidating part of the wedding planning process. While it’s natural to want to host as many friends and family as possible, unfortunately, sometimes the number of guests actually attending may not match the expectations.
Photo: Momental Design
This occurrence — also known as RSVP regret — is a common issue for couples planning a wedding, and it can be an unexpected source of stress. You could find yourself dealing with either an undersized crowd or overspending due to unexpected attendees. We asked several experts for their best tips for managing RSVP regret. Here's what they had to say.
"Focus on enhancing the experience for those guests that can attend. Funnel your gratitude for their attendance on them. Personalize! Handwritten welcome notes at each place setting, lavish welcome box gifting. You've got room in your budget now — play with it!" —Andrea Smith, SoiréeSmith
"I plan for RSVP regret like I plan for rain: early in the planning. If they anticipate 150, we build a layout and plan for those guests. At the time we make the rental/décor decisions, we also talk about 'what if all 180 come, what would that look like?' and I show how they would have less table décor to accommodate more seats around the table. We also talk about ‘what if only 100 guests come to celebrate?' We look at how they'd add a flourish or just remove a specific table to make more room near the bar while still keeping the focus on their guests and the celebration at hand." —Katie Lange, Bubbly Events
"Consider seating fewer guests at each dining table for a more comfortable guest experience, or add amazing lounge vignettes and bar areas into your reception if the reception space itself feels too large.
Dealing with a larger celebration than anticipated? Consider a standing ceremony in the round to create warmth and intimacy, and perhaps swapping a seated dinner for a reception with magnificent cocktails, stations, and strolling desserts (along with a larger dance floor, of course!). Your florist can create an additional, cost-effective centerpiece style for the added tables, and you can thoughtfully mix chair and linen styles throughout the room!” —Carolyn Flueckiger, LK Events
"Discuss your feelings with your partner, wedding planner, or close friends. Even though they may be unable to fix the situation, it can still provide relief. A sounding board. That may also include not taking it personally and talking with your guest. Remember that every guest is on their schedule and has different priorities. Not all of your invitations will be accepted, so don't consider it a reflection of how much people like you.” —Jacqueline Vizcaino, Tinted Events Design and Planning
“Typically, we guesstimate that 80% of invited guests will show up to a wedding, but this year, I expect that number to go up slightly. People are excited to mingle and celebrate. They have missed special moments and celebrations because of the last turmoil that came with the few years, and they fully intend to make up for it. So, invite away, but expect and plan for more than just your nearest and dearest to show!” —Nora Sheils, Rock Paper Coin, Bridal Bliss
"If a guest sends in an RSVP that includes others who were not invited, this needs to be addressed quickly. Explain that your venue can only accommodate so many people and that your budget is already set for food and beverage. If you are able to accommodate the additional guest(s), you will do your best, but no guarantees. But no matter the guest count, stay positive and focus on family members and friends who are able to attend. The most important thing is to celebrate and create happy memories together." —George Wainwright, Coastal DJ & Video
"While it’s good to budget as if every guest will attend (and even pad for a few extras), typically 70 to 85% of invited guests attend a wedding — and that percentage can drop if you are planning a destination affair. Allow plenty of time for guests to RSVP. This will also give you time to follow up by email or phone if needed." —Michael Vernon, Conch Concierge Weddings
"Make sure you understand your booking minimums for food and beverage and when you need to give that final headcount. And have a Plan B guest list and get those invitations out as soon as you receive regrets from those on your A list." —Peter Mitsaelides, Brooklake Country Club & Events
"If not enough people are coming, it's time to elevate the party! You will most likely have more to spend to meet your food and beverage minimum, so go for it! Add an appetizer, add late-night snacks, upgrade the wine, or serve Dom Perignon for the champagne. Make this a chance to elevate some of the elements beyond your original plans and still have a beautiful intimate event.” —Cathy O’Connell, COJ Events
"One of my clients had a cancelation of 100 people! This is unfortunate if you have to guarantee the venue a certain amount of people and want to avoid paying for empty seats. If more people cancel than you expected, you can always invite your B-list guests if you have them. If too many guests have canceled, you can also try speaking to your venue to lower the amount of food that will be served and ultimately billed.” —Lilia Shatnaya, Plume and Stone Invitation Studio
At the end of the day, RSVP regret is something that all couples planning a wedding must be prepared for. While it can feel like an overwhelming task to juggle expectations and budget constraints, there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success.From understanding your venue’s capacity limits and creating clear communication with guests to making sure you have realistic expectations from the start — following these expert tips will help ensure that managing RSVP regret doesn’t become another source of stress in your wedding planning journey.
With proper preparation and thoughtful decision-making, you can make sure your guest list remains manageable while still enjoying every moment of your special day!