Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Number of Wedding Guests

Reader question: “How many guests did you end up having?”

Bear with me as I give a long answer to a short question!

At the beginning of the wedding planning process, Matt and I knew we only wanted our closest friends and family in attendance. We had heard stories from our friends' weddings about being forced to invite dad's golf buddies and other random assortments.

Because our wedding was about community and connection, we didn't want any random people there. And, because we decided to pay for the whole thing ourselves, we had the freedom to pretty much stick to our guns.

However, even with our plan to only invite our authentic connections, we started with a list of 160. We had read the budget wedding books that argue that the more people you invite, the more expensive your wedding will be. More importantly, we also knew that we wanted to spend quality time with our friends and family. With 160 there, we definitely would have been forced to only do the "meet and greet" thing. Plus, we wanted to hand-make as many things as possible. The more guests we had, the more difficult that would've been. For example, we wrote a personalized note on every single invitation we sent out.

We went back to the list, this time yielding a machete. I noticed that there were people on the list who were pretty much only there because I had been invited to their weddings (even though we aren't particularly close friends). I cut those people from the list. I also noticed there were people on the list with whom I wanted to be closer friends. I just wasn't. Those people got cut, too. Finally, I noticed there were colleagues whom I felt obligated to invite. I applied the following litmus test: "When I move on to my next job, will I still be friends with _____?" If the answer was no, they were off the list.

Because Matt and I wanted to be as environmentally-conscious as possible, we sent out electronic Save-the-Dates. We asked guests to respond to a survey about the likelihood they would attend the event. The results gave us a clearer picture of what kind of venue and lodging we would need to secure.

In the end, 80 people came. I know that every couple is different and they have to find the right number for them, but my advice is to think through how different audience sizes will feel before deciding how big you want your wedding to be. Even with our [relatively] small number, it was difficult to make time for good conversation with everyone. Luckily, our wedding was spread out over three days, but even then it was tough.

It's funny that we have this notion that weddings should be big. Even my biggest dinner parties are around 10 people. My biggest birthday was around 50. Why should a wedding be 175 people? I think size is one of the factors that makes a wedding feel more like a show than a sincere event.

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Kaitl said...

I love your survey!

We just started brainstorming a very small (20 person) wedding and I'm trying to find inns/b&bs/houses in the location where people could all stay together. This is proving to be a bit tricky... but the survey thing could really help me figure out if people are up for that.

Thanks for the explanation on how you determined who "made the cut"!

Sara E. Cotner said...

That sounds wonderful! We could fit 40 people at the B&B where the reception was held. One of my favorite parts of the whole wedding weekend was the 2-hour homemade breakfast. I just hung out with my friends in my PJs!

Rona's Home Page said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Many people should consider reading before sending out those invites.

My husband and I are renewing our vows in October. There will be only 27 guest.

rebekah at elizabeth anne said...

If only we had read this before planning. ;)

Autumn Witt (future Autumn Witt Boyd) said...

Ugh, the guest list has been one of our biggest challenges. My fiance and I have lived in lots of places and kept up with lots of friends, and it's been hard to cut. I finally had to ask myself "have you actually spoken to this friend in the last year? quick emails don't count." I moved around growing up so after I told my parents I really only wanted to invite people who knew me well, they said they didn't really want to invite any of their friends (we're sending out about 10 courtesy invites but we're 90% sure they won't come, so I didn't make a fuss).

My fiance, on the other hand, grew up in a small town and has super social parents, and he actually wanted all of their friends (50 of them!) at our wedding because he feels like they're his aunts and uncles almost.

We had aimed for 200 but somehow our guest list is now almost 300 adults and 50 children, and there are still friends I wanted to invite but had to cut. I'm secretly hoping that the guest list will self-edit because it's a semi-destination at a state park, and not that easy to get to, and we'll end up with around 200 or even fewer...

Sara E. Cotner said...

Autumn, Matt's family also has "super social parents." They've lived in the same town for a long time, and they have lots of friends. One way we got out of inviting everyone was to let Matt's parents throw a reception for us three months after the actual wedding, in their hometown. That way, we're able to celebrate with everyone, but we were able to keep our actual wedding small so we could spend quality time with our closest friends and family.

Miss X said...

I found your blog via a post that Miss Pinot Noir had on Weddingbee today. I think guest lists are an interesting topic. We have over 280 people on our guest list...including dad's golf buddies, whom I was happy to invite. I don't believe that a wedding (or a marriage) is just about two people. In my opinion it is also a joining of families (whatever "family" means to those involved). I am personally honored that our parents are so excited about our marriage that they want to share our wedding day with their friends...even my Grandmother is bringing her best friend along as her guest!

To each her/his own I guess!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Miss X. I definitely think each couple needs to decide for themselves what the ideal guest list length is. I've just been to weddings where it felt like the parents were trying to impress everyone with their wealth (so the more people they invite, the more expensive the wedding is, and the more people they get to impress). I don't think weddings should be about impressing other people. I'm definitely not suggesting that's what your wedding is about. And the truth is, bigger weddings can have more energy. At the end of the day, couples need to decide what their priorities are and then plan backwards from there.

Marina said...

Super belated comment, but as this has been something I've been thinking about a lot lately...

When we first started talking about the guest list, my guy did not like the idea of inviting more than 120 people. He felt that, like you said, the more people are there the less time you have to connect with everyone and the more it feels like a show. My problem with that was that we have a lot of long distance friends and family we rarely get to see, and since a wedding is one of very few events they'd all be willing to travel for, I wanted to use it as an excuse for a big ol' reunion.

Right now our guest list is closer to 170 than 120, and includes my parents' friends who feel like, as autumn witt said, my aunts and uncles. And I'm still not sure where to draw the line of "authentic connection". There are quite a few people who I love dearly and know that twenty years from now I'll enjoy seeing their face in pictures... but maybe I only talk with them once a year, or just through something superficial like Facebook. And it's hard to justify not inviting them but still inviting relatives who I talk to just as infrequently.

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