Wedding guest list: How to make a wedding guest list

bride and groom surrounded by wedding guests

Wondering how to make your wedding guest list with minimal drama? Deciding who makes the cut for your wedding guest list is a difficult task for everyone. The guest list plays a big role in finalising your venue and your budget, and it’s a task that can bring up emotions and arguments between families. Whether you’re planning an intimate wedding or a big white wedding, we recommend using MoSCoW, a prioritisation technique that has arisen out of Agile, one of the hottest trends in the modern workforce. Despite being a work process, this technique is amazingly effective in helping you to work out how to make your guest list and who to include in it.

MoSCoW, the perfect acronym for how to make a wedding guest list

MoSCoW stands for:

  • Must Have
  • Should Have
  • Could Have
  • Won’t Have
how to make your wedding guest list pivot table
If you’re handy on Excel, you can turn your basic categorisation into a simple pivot table like this one to see how the guest list is developing

How to use this technique to select your wedding guest list

Using MoSCoW helps you (and your partner/family) find clarity to see which guests are important or not to have at your wedding. Here’s how to do it:

How to make your wedding guest list: Write down everyone’s name

Without making any judgement or decisions, start by writing down every possible guest on a long list. For ultimate simplicity later on in the process, do it in a spreadsheet (Excel or Google Sheets).

Once you’ve made the big list (it might look daunting!), distribute it to everyone involved in deciding the wedding guest list. This might just be you and your partner, but it may involve your parents.

use categories to separate your wedding guest list
Assign a MoSCoW letter to each of your possible guests

How to make your wedding guest list: Assign a MoSCoW letter

Ask everyone to (individually) go through the list the list and assign an M, S, C or W to each name. You may think of other people during the process and add them to the list.

Collect the results and see where agreement and disagreement is. If you do this list in a spreadsheet, simply copy and paste the column where each person has designated M, S, C or W and line then up against each other for easy comparison.

how to make wedding guest list is determined by space at venue
Your final guest list may be dictated by your venue’s maximum capacity, if you’ve already booked it, or you’re hoping to hold your wedding somewhere special like a family backyard.

How to make your wedding guest list: Discuss differences and review categories

Discuss the disagreements and see why people have different opinions. Be gentle with each other! If you can’t come to a consensus, leave it as unresolved for the time being and revisit it when you get closer to finalising the numbers.

Review the ratings again. For example, are there people who no longer belong in the Must Have category? Make any adjustments.

How to make your wedding guest list: Decide on the final number of guests

Once you have your final categorised list, think about what size wedding you would like. You might have originally thought you’d like a small wedding of 40 people. This might mean you can invite all of your Must Have category, but only half of the Should Have category can be invited. Are you happy about this? If so, you just need to whittle down the Should Have category and ignore all your Could Haves, no further consideration required! Otherwise, if you really want all your Should Have category to attend, you will need to reconsider the size of your wedding.

If you’ve reached a maximum of guests (for budget or venue limitation reasons), keep your list of outstanding people in the Should or Could Have categories for a late invitation in case your invited guests aren’t able to make your wedding.

how to make wedding guest list invite the must haves who will celebrate
Your “Must Have” guests are those with whom you couldn’t imagine the day without

How to know who fits into the wedding guest list categories

Must Have wedding guests

  • These are people whose presence is critical to your wedding and whose absence would be severely disappointing
  • This includes you and your partner and anyone else in your inner circle that you feel is essential to the day
  • The number of guests you have in this category should be somewhere between two and 25. Any higher number and your list is not true must haves.
  • The date and location of your wedding will be highly influenced by this group of people.
    • An ill person in this group? You might bring the wedding forward, or delay it, according to their situation.
    • Siblings have exams? You’ll want to schedule your celebration outside their exam timetable, so you aren’t putting unfair pressure on them.
    • People who live overseas? You must give them enough time to save for the trip and plan time off to travel to your wedding.
    • Someone else in this group also getting married? You’ll want to make sure there’s enough of a gap between the two celebrations so you can both enjoy each other’s weddings, we recommend at least a month or two. 

Should Have wedding guests

  • These are people you would really like to invite, and plan to invite if your budget and venue allow
  • This group is dominated by extended family members and close friends
  • This group size might be from ten to one hundred people, depending on how large a celebration you are considering and how big your circle of friends and family is.

Could Have wedding guests

  • These people might be work colleagues, friends from hobbies, new friends, old friends you don’t so much anymore, children of friends and family, family members you don’t know well or haven’t connected with much.
  • This is the spot to put people who you wouldn’t care if you were or weren’t invited to their wedding. This could also be people whose wedding you’ve been invited to but you aren’t as close with them as the rest of your guest list.
  • Put people here if you’ve never hung out with them one on one
  • You could put partners of Should have category guests here if you’ve never met them before.
guests at wedding in tropical island
By the time you’ve reached your wedding day, you’ll be glad to only have those who are closest to you there to celebrate your special commitment.

Won’t Have wedding guests

  • This group is for those you don’t know well (such as a family friend of your parents’) or acquaintances.
  • ·A close friend of family member might end up in this category if their behaviour towards you or your partner is inappropriate. This includes emotionally abusive people.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief when you categorise people into this category. “Won’t Have” is a definite no and reduces your future decision making.

Other considerations when making your wedding guest list

  • We recommend inviting all partners of Must Have category guests to your wedding, regardless of how well you know them. 
  • Leave a spare space in your guest list in case one of your close inner circle starts a relationship after you send the save-the-dates. Most couples send save-the-dates ten to twelve months before the wedding date and it’s highly likely that one of your inner circle will start a meaningful relationship in that time, so you may be disappointed if you don’t have space to invite their partner.
  • An adults-only guest list is very common and an easy way to maintain a smaller guest list
  • Planning your guest list early on in your engagement means you can use that for the engagement party too and avoid the awkwardness of having invited someone to your engagement party but not your wedding. This awkwardness is more acceptable if the space between your engagement party and wedding is more than a year and a half, and you share with your on-the-fence guests that you haven’t started planning the wedding yet.

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