Who to Invite: Create the guest list of your dreams

By Nicolette Baker

When Chelsea Fletcher of Cape Girardeau began planning the guest list for her Sept. 26 wedding, she envisioned an intimate ceremony surrounded by the closest of family members. For the nuptials themselves, she chose to include only her and her fiancé’s immediate family members.

The guest list for the “big party” reception afterwards expanded to include 50 to 100 of their extended family and friends.

“It just felt a little more special to us to have the people we wanted most there,” Fletcher says. 

On a day shared with cherished family and friends, it can be difficult for couples to decide exactly which loved ones to invite. A wedding guest list, while one of the most fundamental parts of the celebration, often comes with its own unique challenges. 

“Creating a guest list for one’s wedding can become a little daunting,” Linda McKinnis of Design Exclusive, LLC, says. 

With 12 years of wedding planning experience under her belt, McKinnis finds fulfillment in creating “beautiful and unforgettable” nuptial celebrations for her clients. The wedding designer, stylist and florist advises couples to start planning with a realistic outlook. 

Guest lists should start with two considerations, she says: budget and venue size. 

“Weddings today are expensive,” McKinnis says. “Adding extra guests will also add to the overall budget.”

Catering, floral arrangements, table settings, decor, chairs, linens and bar costs can determine the price per person; McKinnis advises also including the cost for additional tables or guests. Venue capacity is also a significant consideration in reaching the maximum number of guests.

For Fletcher, COVID-19 restrictions also factored into the planning. As a couple, she and her fiancé created separate lists based on whether Illinois state gathering limitations — which cap gatherings at 50 attendees — would be in effect by the time of the wedding. 

Couples can start by crafting their unlimited “dream list” of family and friends, stationer Mollie Young says. At her Cape Girardeau business, Mollie Paperie, she creates custom invitations for clients’ special days. 

From the “dream list,” she says couples can then narrow down the guest list to fit their perfect size. 

To ensure fairness in their fairytale, Fletcher split invitations evenly between herself and her fiancé. Organization is key to ensuring no one is accidentally left out, Fletcher says.

She created a T-chart, similar to a family tree, to map out family members they would want to invite. When creating a separate chart to manage friends’ invitations, she says they followed a rule: if they had not talked to someone in the past month, they most likely wouldn’t be included on the guest list. 

When encountering size limitations in planning the guest list, Fletcher says she also found it helpful to consider children in the family. While their guest list includes kids, Fletcher says they considered excluding very young children from the reception. 

While she strove to invite a small group of loved ones, Fletcher says it was sometimes difficult to know who to include. Setting firm boundaries on the number of guests and being honest about size limitations helps to guide “people-pleasers” into sticking to a solid number, McKinnis says. 

“It’s hard, especially if you’re an empath, but try not to think about whose feelings you’re going to hurt,” Fletcher says. “Anyone and everyone who’s met you is going to want to be at your wedding because people love weddings and want to see you at your happiest, but you can’t invite everyone you’ve ever known.” 

Young says it’s standard to also include a plus-one for married, engaged and cohabiting individuals. Direct language on the invitation — such as who the envelope is addressed to — can help navigate guests. Couples should hire vendors they trust to carry out their vision to reduce stress in the invitation process, Young says. 

As a stationer who specializes in weddings, she often recommends proper etiquette in invitation wording, which helps to articulate expectations to guests. 

Beyond physical invitations, Fletcher sent updates and details through a Facebook group. 

Planning the details of a wedding guest list might be a bit difficult, but McKinnis says couples shouldn’t stress too much over their special day. 

“Most importantly, just remember weddings are a celebration,” McKinnis says.