17 Apr The Guest List – How Many Will Attend?

I have often wished that basic personal and business etiquette were required high school and college courses, but unfortunately they are not. Many people today have no clue how to conduct themselves in various situations and weddings are no exception.

The biggest problem is always guest related. Planning a wedding is stressful enough without wondering about who is or is not going to attend. Seriously, planning would be so easy if guests would… a) RSVP promptly; b) actually attend if they said they were going to; c) refrain from bringing uninvited guests along with them; and d) not show up when they said they would not be attending. For some reason, the cost per guest factor the host is shelling out on their behalf, doesn’t seem to enter the mind of most guests. I bet if word got out that the Etiquette Police would be sending out citations afterwards for any uneaten tenderloin or pecan-crusted halibut, it would be a different story.

So, how do you figure out how many people on the guest list will actually attend the wedding? I get asked this question all the time. I wish I had a 100%- guaranteed-tried-and-true solution to offer or at least a magic crystal ball to whip out of my emergency kit to answer with, but alas, I can only offer my best advice. So here goes…

First and foremost, the venue you choose MUST be able to accommodate all the guests on the list if 100% of them show. It happens, so don’t put yourself in a stressful situation by going with a venue that can only handle 200 with a guest list of 300+. If you absolutely must have your reception there, then your guest list can only have 200 names on it… period!

For budgeting purposes, the general rule of thumb for actual attendance is this…

For guests lists of 200 or less invited, approximately 15 – 20% will not attend.
For guests lists of more than 200 invited, approximately 25% to 28% will not attend.

This rule of thumb is just a jumping off point, there are other factors to consider…

  • Distance… the greater the number of out-of-town guests and the further they have to travel, the greater the number of “no’s”. This is especially true for destination weddings where the average percentage of those unable to attend is usually about 30-40%.
  • Family History… how well attended are your family events? Some families have 100% attendance and others, not so much.
  • Time of year… holiday weekends can be difficult for some people.

Second, I whole-heartedly recommend that you include response cards in your invitation ensemble. Here are some tips for using these handy little cards.

  • If a guest returns their card and didn’t write their name on it, here’s an easy solution to avoid the guessing game. Once you compile all lists into the final master list, assign each invitation a number. In pencil, record the corresponding number on the back of the response card in a lower corner. Trust me on this, just do it… you’ll be glad you did!
  • Guest list too large?… even though Emily Post advises you not take this approach, it can work if done carefully. Assign an “A” and “B” (and “C”, if you must) to all the guests. Have two sets of response cards printed… the first to be sent out with the “A” listers with a due date of 4 – 5 weeks prior to the wedding and the second set to be sent to any “B” listers with a due date of 2 – 3 weeks prior to the wedding. The key here is to send the “A” list invitations out no later than eight weeks prior to the wedding which will allow ample time for “B” list invitations to be released when any “no’s” come in from the “A’s”. This does not mean you can double the size of your guest list, it just allows you to have some wiggle room to assess who you absolutely want celebrating the day with you and those you could live with if they didn’t get to join you. Use discretion here though, you don’t want your work colleagues or gym buddies finding out they received a “second-round” invitation. Mums the word!

Lastly, be prepared to call or email any guests you haven’t heard from. You can do this and still remain polite (no need for Bridezilla to appear). Let them know you just realized you haven’t heard from them yet and wanted to make sure they received their invitation. If you are having a plated dinner with a couple of entree selections you’ll definitely need to make calls to find out any unknown dinner preferences. Tip: divvy up those calls so as to not seem like such a daunting task.

Final word… organization and consistency with your guest list management is key. Put a plan in place, follow-through with your deadlines, and update accordingly. You’ll see that it’s really not that difficult to accomplish and your peace of mind is totally worth it!

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