Finesse the Wedding Guest List!

Who's allowed to bring a date? Should I invite my ex? Get a handle on common dilemmas.

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Tech List

Website Features Many DIY wedding websites (like have tools that let you create a guest list online, or upload a list onto the site. This is especially useful if you have guests RSVP online.

Guest List Software If you’re not taking your wedding to the Internet, you can purchase a program with similar guest-list functions that will allow you to merge multiple lists, record the gifts you’ve received and more. One to try: My Wedding Organizer, downloadable for $30 at

Microsoft Excel We like Excel best because it’s easy to sort the list, store all the info you need (like entrée choices and number of guests per party) and print up a list of addresses for your calligrapher. Plus, you can update and use this list in the future for holiday cards and more!

Q: Compiling a guest list seems daunting. Where do I start?
A: First, think about the style of wedding you envision. “Ask yourself: ‘Do I want a 300-person bash, an intimate dinner or a destination wedding?’” suggests Christine Paul of Christine Paul Events in New York City. Or, if you’re considering a particular venue, figure out how many guests you can comfortably accommodate. Start your list with close friends and family, then add until you’ve reached the ideal number for the space you’ve booked.

Q: My parents would like to ask some people. Can I edit their list?
A: Sure you can. But first give them a number to aim for. Paul suggests allotting 25% of the guest list to the bride’s parents, 25% to the groom’s parents and 50% to the couple themselves. This keeps parents from taking over—after all, it’s your wedding. You definitely can question some of their choices, too. “Have an intelligent conversation with your parents about it,” says Sherri Williams of Williams-Sossen Events, which has locations in Philadelphia and New York City. But if the ’rents are paying for the wedding, try not to get too picky.

Q: My list is too long! How do I make cuts?
A: “Take a look at the friends you’re inviting,” says Williams. “How important are they to you?” Another tip: “Try dividing the list into the people you can’t imagine not having and those who could decline and you wouldn’t mind,” says Paul. Also, look for groups of people you can eliminate: The pals from your yoga class probably won’t be offended if they’re not invited. Consider taking children off the list, too. You may decide to have an “A-list” of people who’ll get invitations right away and a “B-list” of people who are invited as others decline. Be sure to ask A-listers to RSVP well in advance so B-listers don’t feel they’re last-minute invites.

Q: I’m including a lot of single friends, and I’ll go over budget if I let them all bring dates. How do I decide who gets to bring a guest?
A: “You never have to invite your single friends with dates,” says Paul. “But it’s always nice.” Consider having every single friend without a date—they can all socialize together. If you have room for a few extras, evaluate each situation. Are some in ongoing relationships? Then it makes sense to invite the partner. Or, if all your work friends are married except for one, she may feel more comfortable if she’s able to bring a date.

Q: Is it appropriate to invite an ex? My ex and I have become friendly and I don’t know what I should do.
A: If you feel at all uncertain, don’t do it. Your wedding day should be about you and your fiancé. “It’s only appropriate to invite an ex if you and your fiancé agree it’s okay, and you decide together where he should sit,” says Williams. (It isn’t a good idea to seat your ex close to the head table.) If you and your ex have children, having him at the wedding could be confusing to the kids.

Q: A few guests haven’t replied by my RSVP date. What should I do?
A: Have a close friend or family member call or e-mail them to find out if they intend to attend. “Never assume they’re not coming,” says Williams. Guests often just forget to pop the response card in the mail, and you don’t want to be surprised when they show up on the big day.


We have been invited to our nephews wedding, our oldest daughter (cousin) is 24 has been invited with her date, but my other two daughters, 19 and 20 year old, have not been invited. My 19 and 20 year old daughters get their hair done by my nephews fiancé, on top of being a related to my nephew. However 2nd cousins have been invited to the wedding? We have a large family and the venue only holds 150 people. My husband and I are angry. My daughters feel close to their cousin, and his fiancé, since they see her regularly for their hair, they feel slighted by not being invited. I think it is bad etiquette. My husband and I may opt not to attend the wedding. Thoughts?