Ask Team Practical: Large Wedding Guest Lists

It’s Ask Team Practical Friday with Alyssa, back this week with real reader questions. Yippee! This week’s questions are about big weddings. Can they be blogworthyand indie-chic and does it even matter? Do you pick your guest list based on who you can afford to feed, or figure out who loves you and feed ’em what you’ve got? (Hint: the latter). Does it matter if you have to pack your 250 person family into a hotel ballroom with atrocious carpet? Alyssa takes on all this, and more, because it’s Friday, and Friday is for problem solving. Wheee!

Today’s ATP is about guest lists. Big ones. Our first question is from Whitney:

We keep coming up against the size of our guest list, which is pretty huge, and the realities of space and money. We’re willing to cut a significant number of guests but when it comes down to it, we both have huge families and pretty intimate professional communities (our A list is 250). We want these people to be there, and so we want a big wedding. Maybe I’m just defensive but it seems like most wedding blogs and guides I look at have one approach to big weddings: don’t have one. I’m really struggling because I want a party that can literally fit our guests and figuratively fit my style. Do you have any resources or advice for sane people with big weddings? Is that an oxymoron?

And from Maggie:

I have a bit of a family situation on my hands. Namely, it’s huge. Enormous. Definitely more people than any one person should be bound to by blood. And they are distant in neither degree nor proximity. These are not holidays and funerals folks. These are seen and heard from regularly, would never even consider knocking on doors before walking into houses kind of people. I love them all and I do want them to be part of our day, but it certainly doesn’t help keep the guest list down. “Guidelines” that have been put in place over the years by those who have married before me to try to keep things manageable – like a 21 year age minimum to garner an actual invitation, and a no “& guest” policy unless you’re a seriously established couple – but my wedding may still wind up rivaling the size of some third world countries. I accept that. The only viable venues for events of this size (in my hometown area) are hotels and country club type places. And it just seems so cookie cutter. How can I plan a large wedding without it smacking of bad high school semi-formals or mediocre corporate banquets? I love so much of what I find on APW, but when I mentally multiply it to fit my needs, it seems like everything will either (a) break the bank or (b) make me feel like I work in a DIY sweatshop. Does APW have some stories about, or inspiration for, a big day with a big guest list? Because, “just your typical wedding” isn’t how I always pictured it. Thanks!!

First off, yay for you both for having so many family and friends and wanting to accommodate all of them! It’s not something that everyone gets to do, so even though it’s stressful, look at your giant guest list as a positive, okay?

Second, let’s be really clear: the point of APW is to help you have the wedding that’s right for you, not the wedding that’s right for someone else (and certainly not some indie chic bash). So if the only place that fits your wedding guests is a hotel or a country club? Stop worrying about it. Book the hotel or the country club. You’ll make it work. And for inspiration: Here is Jen’s counter-culture wedding in a hotel ballroom, Sharon’s joyful church & social hall bash, April’s San Diego hotel wedding with no details, Michelle’s crazy stylish social hall wedding, and Molly’s big traditional hotel wedding. What your guests will remember is your attitude. See how in all these weddings, these ladies’ joy is so explosive that you don’t even notice the backdrop? Well, it’s going to be the same for you. You’ll make it work. And if you’re mourning what the hotel carpet is going to do to your dreams of indie-chic pictures? Just go take some pictures somewhere hip before hand. Done.

What? You want real helpful answers?  FINE.  God, ever since you guys paid my salary, you actually want me to work.  The nerve….

Plan your budget according to your guest list, not vice versa. Remember these posts over here?  And over here? And this one here? Ooo, this one here. (Oh, and here and here because forewarned is forearmed.)

Now. That being said, you should plan how you will spend your budget according to your guest list.  As in, “We have 250 people and after a venue that will fit them and clothes for us, we have $5,000 in our budget to go towards our guests. So that means we can spend $20 per person on food and favors. Yay.”  Not, “Dammit, our beautiful venue is charging $30 a plate and that puts us over budget, and without us buying favors.  That means we need to start cutting people.  Let’s start with Aunt Judy’s bunch, you don’t like them anyway.”

The wedding industry says that your guest list is the best place for you to start cutting costs.

Meg and Miss Manners say “Eff THAT.” (Well, Meg says that.  Miss Manners says something else, but that’s really what she means…)

You want your wedding to be a time when you are surrounded by people that love you, and if you have 250 people that love you and you love back and want at your wedding?  Well, there you go. Plan the rest of your wedding around affording all those awesome people. As Meg says, “Remember they want to see you get married, and they’ll eat whatever you put in front of them.”

Keep it within your budget. No, seriously, I mean it, keep it within your budget. Starting your marriage in debt is NOT worth it. Having a beautiful wedding with everyone there is amazing, but what’s more amazing is having the available credit when your car craps out and you need a new one STAT. Please do your best not to dig yourself, or anyone helping you out, into a hole.  If you still need to cut costs, look at the rest of your budget.  Are flowers essential? Can you have a dessert reception instead of a full dinner? Can your wedding happen during an off-season time for your location? Seriously, do you NEED favors?  Find out where you can thin your budget to help ensure you can comfortably afford your guest list.

Think about hiring someone. Like, oh, I don’t know, Lowbrow Events? [Editor’s note: This post was conceived and started before Ang was a sponsor but then I saw her post and was like, “AHH! Fate!”] Planning a small wedding is trouble enough, but a large one? Where you have to think about who’s going to keep crazy Uncle Jeff away from the microphone? And if Cousin Jo needs to breastfeed the triplets, do we have space for her? Plus, Grammy needs wheelchair access and Grandma is a vegetarian teetotaler while Grandmother is staunchly Catholic and a boozer and Great Aunt Betty hates all three of them…  Lord, I’m getting a headache for you. So how about you skip all that and hire someone to help you? Even a day-of coordinator can help you streamline everything and help it run smoothly. It’s worth giving up 250 tulle-wrapped Jordan almond favors for.

Since you’re having all of these guests, use them! If you’re looking to save costs, this is where they might come in handy. There’s no way that, out of that many people who love you, not one of them has a floral contact. Or a caterer they love. Or the most rockinest DJ this side of the Mississippi. Ask for advice, use them for any DIT projects if they can help, and appreciate every little bit that they give. (Though make sure and set boundaries first, people sometimes get SO excited to help that they don’t listen to what you really want.) And especially when you’re getting family recommendations on vendors? Get a contract.  Even if they’re family. Don’t you watch People’s Court?  A contract is not an insult, it’s a written reminder of what everyone agrees to.  That just happens to come in handy in small claims court, but you don’t need to discuss that part with them.

Make sure your vendors can handle the amount of people you have. Have they done a large wedding before? How many times? Does your venue have sound amplification? Enough seating? Enough bathrooms??? Seriously. No one likes a huge-ass bathroom line at a wedding.

In the end, remember, your wedding will not be like a smaller wedding.Yes, you might not have the same intimate moments that you see on blogs. You won’t have time to make 275 hand-sewn Gocco’ed favor bags And even though you have a truckload of people there, you might only have time to talk to about 40 of them and will only remember doing so with about 12.  And that may be a little sad.

However, you will be surrounded by SO much love that you won’t even know what to do with yourself. Kids that you barely notice will have memories of your wedding for years. People will dance their faces off, eat your food till they pop and probably take the party elsewhere after you’ve left because they are having so much damn fun. Save those bookmarked posts on favors and intricate decorations for a future dinner party and embrace what you are having: a wedding surrounded by people you love more than life, people you love a lot and people you mostly love when they’re not being jerks.

Also known as family.

They are amazing. Mostly. Enjoy them.

Team Practical Advice!

So, APW ladies, how did you handle your ginormous wedding? What about the guest list? Where were you able to cut costs to make up for the larger numbers? Did you have to sacrifice friends for family, and how did that go? Did you have any conflicts our baby brides might run into, and how did you deal with them? What strange issue came up that you did not expect?

I have a bit of a family situation on my hands.

*If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa a askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). Seriously though. You guys are not making up sign off names and WE ARE DISAPPOINTED.

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  • Cass

    Before I started my first bit of wedding planning, I read “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding”. Genius!
    She is all for the “invite the people you love and feed them what you can afford.”
    So for us that meant choosing a 10am ceremony instead of the 4pm ceremony slot at our church. It meant choosing a caterer a little farther outside of the city (no extra cost for delivery if its a big event). It meant buying the wine way ahead of time while it was on special. And it meant that everything else could slide, once we figured those out – everything else is just gravy.
    If I ever think that “this will look cheap,” I just think about how my parents, and my parents’ parents all just had punch and cookies in the church hall after the ceremony. And who doesn’t love old-time nostalgia?

    • Amy

      Can I say yet again how much I love Meg (and Miss Manners of course) for continuing to hold the line on the “invite the people you (and your families) love, then figure out how to feed them.” Because cutting the guest list in order to afford expensive flowers is bullshit.

    • Jo

      I read Miss Manners books for fun. And have for over ten years.

  • Very well put!

    When I started to plan our wedding last year and found that our A list was approximately 250, I was really frustrated that every blog or article I read about staying on a budget recommended that I start cutting my guest list. So I ignored them and set a budget that works for us, and started looking for an avenue that would work for us. I also really didn’t want a hotel or banquet hall wedding but I also knew that tent weddings could be very expensive (my sister’s was approximately $10,000over my budget), so I started looking outside the box for something that work for us. I originally set a 30min radius around our city’s perimeter but everthing was ridiculously expensive so I broaden it by just 10 minutes a found the perfect venue for us, a park and campground that had a hall that fit 275.

    Secondly, I would not be able stay true to my vision and budget if I didn’t have such amazing friends and family. You are absolute right about “friendors”, they love you so they will amaze you with the amount of help they want to provide, thus preventing the DIY workshop.

    Thanks for the post!

  • We had 155 guests at our wedding, and I often felt the same thing about blogs and the “don’t have one” advice when it came to big weddings, but I managed by not DIYing anything other than escort cards that was for *every* guest. Remember – DIY projects aren’t just things like flags for your guests to wave or handsewn programs or amazing pocketfold invitations. It can be something as simple as making your own hairpiece or slightly more complicated, like DIY centerpieces. For favors, my biggest recommendation for a wedding that is largest is to under-order on favors, make them edible, and put them by the exit. Most people won’t take them, but the people that care about favors will. You will probably still have some leftover at the end of the night.

    If you are having a big wedding, don’t print all of your invitations yourself. There are plenty of affordable companies out there, and you can make them feel more personal by tying them up with a pretty ribbon or using a fun font when you print your address labels, or adding a rubber stamp to the outer envelope. But 200+ invites is a lot to ask your home printer to do.

    To keep a hotel wedding from feeling like a corporate banquet, if you have the budget for it, I would go for two things – lighting, and a really great DJ. Lighting design can take a blah ballroom from “meh” to “awesome” and makes it feel more personal. A really great DJ is not something I’ve ever seen at a corporate banquet, and once your guests are moving on the dance floor or enjoying the party, they don’t focus on the appearance.

    For a big family, the one problem that we had was that we didn’t get enough pictures of all of our guests, because the wedding was so big. We DIY’d a photobooth, which helped a lot with that – we got great pictures of pretty much everybody. I also really wished we’d asked our photographer to take cheesy pictures of the tables, because then we would have a shot of everyone (since the crowd was too big to take a picture of everyone).

    The biggest tip I would give though, for avoiding hotel ballrooms, etc., if you really want to, is this – talk to a few venues that do big gala events or big festivals, and find out if they are getting 400+ person tents for those. Our wedding was the same weekend as our venue’s annual fundraiser, which happened on Friday, and they had a lot of extra tenting brought in. As soon as we knew that we had 40 more guests than the tent could comfortably fit coming, we asked them to leave the tents up for the rest of the weekend. It worked out perfectly, and both the venue and us saved a ton of money because we didn’t have to rent an extra tent and they didn’t have to pay weekend charges to take the tents down.

    • Cass

      Printing my own invites was totally do-able. It might be that I just bought a new commercial-use home printer.
      I was really surprised how EASY it was. Design the words then click “print”.
      Since you’re only printing a small amount of text (if you have pre-designed cardstock with pictures/embossing/etc) you use a VERY small amount of black ink. I had thought I’d need a lot of ink, so I bought 8 ink cartridges. I only needed one-and-a-half.
      The beauty is that you can always print more if you need them, and save the unused paper for future projects. AND you save a buttload. I think my total per-invite cost without stamps was 17 cents per invite + rsvp card.

      • RachelLyn

        I printed my invitations at Staples. Serious. It cost $25 for 90 color invitations. I then used spray glue to glue the paper fancy card stock, which took about an hour. Even with a wedding twice our size (we have a 135 person guest list) that should be manageable, even if you don’t have a printer (I don’t). It saved us a ton of money and, if I may say so, our invitations are gorgeous.

        • Aine

          Damn that sounds great. We’re trying to DIT our invites, but we live in the UK and there doesn’t seem to be a Staples equivalent anywhere.

          • marbella

            We did ours (in the US, but it’s UK available too) on Vistaprint. I’d used them for business stuff before so knew the quality was decent, and that I could get recycled cardstock.
            Affordable, ready made nice designs to choose from, can add (or not!) fancier envelopes, rsvps, thank you’s, etc. Total cost was $61 for 60 invites with envelopes, rsvp cards with envelopes and matching return address stickers. The cost gets less the more you order, we just didn’t need more. Not as cheap as Staples or home printing maybe, but also no DIY involved. (I compared to buying kits from Michaels/Target and it was a similar cost). Someone who had been to at least 10 weddings last year commented that they were the best invite she had seen. There are always discounts and free shipping deals so google for coupon codes too.
            Now about to order our thank you cards from them!

          • Hypothetical Sarah

            There actually IS a Staples equivalent in the UK (as in, there are Staples stores in the UK. I know because I’m an American ex-pat who couldn’t figure out where else to buy school supplies). You can find the one closest to you at


          • marbella

            You’re right! I was trying to think of what it was called, but didn’t realise it was called the same! I guess it’s been too long… (I’m a Brit, living in the US for almost 5 years now though). You just need to look for one with a copy and print centre. The good thing about Staples (at least in the US!) is they have those big guillotines you can use for free, so if you want full bleed invites/cards you can cut the edges down.

          • lorna

            aine, try your local university? they will have a printers for dissertations and things, and they are super cheap. x

        • Jules

          I am also all about Staples printing. We bought our invites from an etsy vendor, slapped the pdfs on a thumb drive, bought some pretty/heavy paper, and headed down to Staples. Easy as pie!

      • Heidi

        Another big money saver is to smart about your invitation bulk. If you follow the USPS regulations, you can get away with only a standard stamp. We also used postcards for RSVP so we only needed a postcard stamp instead of a regular stamp.

        FYI When sending international invites, you can’t include a US stamp on the RSVP card since they’ll need their country’s stamp. I thought I was being all clever to give them the “right” postage…

        • Yes, please don’t waste money on the international people’s RSVPs! It’s a lovely thing to think of, but they just can’t use it. I felt so bad for my cousin who spent almost $2 and we just had to put an Italian stamp (for the same amount) on top of it!

      • Carreg

        Another thought to add to the invitation ideas — moo cards! It’s not quite DIT/Y ing, but it is quite affordable.

        • I love Moo products! If you (or anyone you know who could then mail it to you) are in Europe, you can get a sticker book made with your own pictures/logos for really cheap (I think mine cost €1 + shipping, with a discount code). And now I have 99 picture-stickers that I use from everything from thank-you notes to notes to my partner. You can use as many different pictures as you want, too. I got some with just a picture of balloons that I use on birthday cards & people always really like them.

    • Even if you’ll have a smaller wedding, underestimate on favors instead of overestimating. We ended up with a lot of favors left over.

      • Amanda

        Unless it’s homemade jam. In which case, make sure you have extra to hand out the next day to your visitors leaving town who ate all theirs at breaky that day!

      • Amy

        Unless they’re edible. I think about half of our favors (saltwater taffy) were demolished by the young (and young-at-heart) before dinner.
        And honestly, I was a little sad we didn’t have any left over for us to snack on!

        • We sadly had tons of leftover individually packaged and decorated bags of maple cookie favors. Oh well. Perhaps a more strategic location by the door might have helped? But even so, we probably could have still really reduced the amount we had (which was one per guest). Or cut them entirely…

      • meg


        Mis Manners and I think that you don’t need to reward guests with party favors unless they are under five. Your party is enough.

        • marbella

          We had ‘favours’, but because I hated the thought of random crap just becoming waste, and didn’t want to bake 100 of anything, we had awesome custom glass tankards made that I created a new ‘family crest’ for, and tied guests names to the handles for the places settings. We needed glasses anyway, wanted to make it a pub theme with our long feasting tables (and to feel a bit like hogwarts/the shire :) ) and I thought they would be a cool keepsake that would get used after the wedding, plus they made for cool photos! They were a little more expensive than your average favour at about $3 each, but I totally think they were worth it. They would have been cheaper if we hadn’t had our heart set on the tankards and just gone with a regular glass.

        • kyley

          Can I exactly this a million times?

        • Amy

          I went to a wedding once that had a unique solution for favors – they did a charity donation in the name of the guests (mentioned on the programs). I think that’s a great idea because even $0.50 per guest adds up to a sizable donation that everyone can feel good about. Seems like a lot better bang for the buck than what you could buy for individual favors at that price! A good alternative for anyone who can’t bring themselves to forgo favors entirely.

  • Steph

    I want to exactly this whole post! Hubby and I knew going into it that we wanted a large wedding because we wanted all the people that we care about there. We found a hall that was traditional yet quirky at the same time. Centerpieces were included. A ton of yummy food was included (hooray for buffett style!!) we had an improptu light saber battle on the dace floor during the the mother/son dance to Queen’s”bicycle” and me and my girls rocked out to “Stop in the Name of Love” and everyone we loved was there to see it. As for favors, we were going to skip it, but then found custom magnets wholesale (we collect magnets on our fridge so it was a very “us” thing to do) We had more than enough magnets for less than $100.

    • Jo

      impromptu LIGHT SABER BATTLE?! Can I be adopted?

      • Steph

        JO you are herby officially adopted into our family :)

  • Hi guys,
    ive been reading this blog, well, since the begining practically when i was planning my may 2010 wedding. figured it was time to come out of the woodwork. By blog standards, my husband & I had a huge wedding in a ballroom on a college campus. It took me awhile to come to terms with my wedding not living up to the all the pretty indie/intimate details that are shown on most wedding blogs. It also took me awhile to come to terms with not having extra cool friends who could do my flowers on the cheap or own an extra cool house with an awesome field/vineyard to hold my event.

    That being said, I do not regret one bit of our wedding! I have close to 30 first cousins alone and over 10 aunts/uncles. My parents are divorced and remarried/dating, which adds stepfamily members and half brothers/sisters into the mix. Needless to say, what this all means is that my family is important to me and my husband. But, so are the people we consider friends.The guest list was hard to construct, and like those who wrote in, our first round at writing a guest list had us in this 200s! We couldnt cut people without really saying goodbye to the heart of who we are and who shaped us into the adults we now are.

    Another wrench thrown into the mix was that my husband had joined the Navy, but had not left for bootcamp yet. We knew we wanted to treat our wedding as a family reunion/one last bash before we move out of town party. While we had a huge guest list, we did not have a huge budget. We forgo favors because honestly the guests were already getting cake, milk and cookies, and rockin dance party. We also did not do favors because even at $1 a favor that would mean an additional $200 in cost for really cheap uninspired bought off the web favors….We forgo a receiving line because we wanted to get our pictures done quickly, so we could get the party started sooner. … We made our wedding feel like us, but were still able to talk to everyone who attended. It felt great walking into our reception hall knowing that we were surrouding by over 200 people who loved us. I will never forget that day.

    Also, since our venue was on a college campus that means that catering was cheaper. cheap labor means cheaper food, but it does not mean cheaper quality. Another benefit was that we could bring in our own alcohol, which to beer snobs like my husband and I really was important to us. We served only beer and wine and forgo the hard liquers and were able to choose exactly which beers to serve, as well as which wines. This was great because we could control our costs and get what not only tasted great to us, but what was also on sale. We could also return any unopened cases if need be too! We served Raspberry lambic beer as our toasting drink instead of champange b/c it cost the same as champange but tasted sooo much better.


      Just wanted to say, Raspberry Lambic Beer, yum!! Such a great idea.

    • Vmed

      Lucky your campus let you bring booze…. We’re not allowed, and it’s not very happy making (minimum 40$ for a gallon of boozy punch? Let me tell you about punch.)

      Our university union has super strict rules about booze, and pretty high prices for it too… but I guess it comes down to paying for the convenience of their staff really knowing what they’re doing. But anyone who plans to do this: read the fine print, cause school rules vary.

    • meg

      Why have you not written a wedding grad post???? We need more big weddings.

      Also, welcome out of the woodwork. Smooch!

      • a grad post? oh, im not so sure im qualified!

        • Pardon my Texan, but horsesh*t.

          You got married, you are more than qualified. Get to it, missy!

  • When I saw “large wedding guest list” I thought, “Oh, I can relate!” And then I saw the numbers and thought, “Oh sh*t, no, that wasn’t us.”

    I started off my planning with a guest list somewhere around 100-110 people. I was pretty psyched at my ability to balance my family (which is not terribly large, but is very close) and my husband’s family (which is enormous – summer bbqs sometimes balloon to 100 people). My MIL was extremely reasonable about keeping her “list” in check, which I appreciated.

    And then I started to add people. People who I cared about that I wanted there. And, next thing you know, we’re at 145 people.


    At this point, we had already chosen a date and a venue, and we had decided on a Friday in part because we didn’t want to wait over a year to get married (and Saturdays were all booked solid) and in part because we didn’t think we would make the 125 minimum for Saturday events. And then I had this (what I perceived as) giant guest list.

    You know what? Having it on a Friday trimmed it a lot more than we expected. We ended up with 85 people total, which was AWESOME. We had a number of “obligatory invites” – that is, family from my MIL’s side that I hadn’t even met, and also the “if I invite so-and-so I really should invite these other three people too” (not as many of those, and I was much firmer on that). Most of those obligatory invites didn’t come, and there were no hard feelings about that – I invited them, they politely declined, and everyone was satisfied. There were some people, of course, who we would have really wanted there that were unable to come, but most of those people wouldn’t have been able to come no matter what day of the week it was.

    This isn’t that helpful to the two posters above – it sounds like your lists are large AND you actually really want there and aren’t just obligatory – but it might be helpful to some who are in that situation. There’s a lot of talk about just inviting who YOU want there, but while your wedding is primarily about you and your husband (or wife), it’s also about creating your baby family, and respecting that others close to us have an emotional investment in that, too.

    • Sarah

      This was my experience, too. We wanted to invite around 100 MAX. But we both have huge families and that was just not going to happen. We ended up sending out invites to something like 175 … and I AGONIZED over it. It felt HUGE.

      And yes … we had the obligatory invites, too. Including 8 PEOPLE my mother HAD to invite because “they’ve always known you! They came to your cheer compititions even!” “Um, mom? I didn’t have cheer compititions. That was Susan (my sister).” “Oh. Oops. Well, too late now.” (And every single one of them came. Only 1 of them talked to me. What?)

      In the end, right around 100 showed. Funny how things work out, hmm?

      • Vmed

        Re: sister mixup.

        I _hate_ that. We’re sisters, not clones!

      • memery

        this is encouraging. We really want 75-90, 100 max, and the guest list is AT MINIMUM 110, and probably more like 140 (I alone have 14 aunts and uncles (who are all married) and 40+ first cousins. Maybe the ones we don’t really know that well won’t come?

        • Or, I’m afraid, they’ll all come because they want to see each other. Hard to predict, because families are so different.

        • Sarah

          For us, it depended on proximity. Aunts and Uncles (my husband has 17) were all invited, as were first cousins. Plus my great Aunts and Uncles, as we’re all very close. About half of mine came and less than a quarter of his. 90% of them lived at least 2 states away.

          This may have had something to do with his family having a reunion less than a month before our wedding … people couldn’t afford to take two trips. On his side at least. On mine? People just didn’t want (or couldn’t afford) to travel.

          • This. Our venue wasn’t far from most of our guests, in that it was driving distance, but it wasn’t close for most of them, either, as in you couldn’t day-trip it and you needed a hotel room. This + planning for a Friday = a lot of declinations. (More than we expected, even.) I think we still would have had a lot of declinations if it was on a Saturday because of the traveling, though. We chose a venue that wasn’t where we lived or where either of us were from. There’s no way we would have done in/near his hometown (he’s from Long Island – both venues and lodging were very expensive and we had other options), so even if we did my hometown or where we live now (which are close by) his side of the family would have had to travel, and that’s where the largest percentage of declinations were, for us.

            If the bulk of your invites are close by, your mileage may vary.

        • The last of my RSVPs are rolling in, and as a lady who invited 280 people (yes, that’s very close to 300) I would say that even some of the people you knew would definitely be there won’t be able to come at the last minute. Our total will be somewhere between 140 and 150. That said, we also have mostly out-of-town guests, so it has been hard for some to make travel plans.

          My advice? If you want to invite your humongous family and add on some friends too, find a space big enough to hold them all, and do it! If they come, there’s so much love to get you through the day! If a lot of them can’t make it, your wedding is suddenly less expensive than you had planned.

          • andthebeautyis

            Yes! I have a family that exceeds our goal of 100 people without including second cousins, and we a.go.nized about our list. Including my mom dropping terribly blunt announcements of “a B-list for the cousins”. But the hubs-elect & I knew location/atmosphere was our top priority, and we chose a venue close to where we live. Meaning far from both our families. So, it became a destination wedding in a recession year. As such, we’ve invited 150 people (including ALL the cousins) and so far, 80 are coming.
            So, one solution (if having everyone-you-know there *isn’t* your highest priority & you don’t live near famiy) is to have the intimate, DIT wedding you want, and then let your parents throw a big, casual “Our Kid Got Married” party in their location.

          • @ANDTHEBEAUTYIS, we did that, without meaning to. My partner is Spanish and I’m American. We had the ceremony + reception in Michigan and then his parents threw us a party in Barcelona for everyone from over there. Depending on the distance to the wedding, a lot of people may not be able/want to come (J’s only SIBLING didn’t come to Michigan!), so having two parties–especially if you’re not paying for both of them–may be a good solution. And since the Spaniards knew from the beginning that there were going to be two parties, they didn’t feel obligated to cross the ocean… which was great for them, even though we were sad that no one but his parents came for the actual ceremony.

      • Sarah, that made me laugh out loud! :)

    • I think the idea of a large wedding is all relative to the picture you initially have in your brain or your previous experiences with weddings.

  • I had that same sentiment that I didn’t want “just your typical wedding”, and I refused hotel basements and VFW halls. But at the same time, we did want a lot of typical elements of it being on a Saturday night in the spring, and every suggestion I found was (albeit these are good ones) to cut the guest list or have it on an alternative day or time or season. But we didn’t want any of that!

    We mailed invitations this morning to 386 guests and our wedding will be about $10K. I won’t go into every detail of ours, but the best things we are doing are simply eliminating elements that we didn’t think were necessary. (i.e. no assigned seating – our people will figure it out, this eliminates table cards, place cards, seating charts, time, money, sanity) We are having the reception at the summer camp where we met, bringing in our own booze, making my dress, having the wedding party wear whatever they want in a general color scheme, and, just like Alyssa said, having friends do a LOT. I have delegated the creation of a guest book to a crafty friend, so it’s still unique and fun but not killing me. Another friend is DJing, one is making wine, another designed the invitations. We found venues we liked the look of and are skipping most decorations (a rustic summer camp doesn’t need tablecloths covering up the gorgeous wooden tables, right?), only having fresh flowers for the wedding party and fabric ones for tables (DIT-ing at a shower).

    People love to be recognized for their skills and with that many people, you can forgo some registry presents in favor of people giving their time and talent!

  • Heidi

    My friend had almost the exact experience that Alyssa talked about with a vendor that wanted to charge more per plate than she had in her budget. However when Katie told them that she could only afford X they worked with her to retool the menu a bit and come down to a price you could afford. Granted I don’t think that will work if you budget is significantly less, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    • This is exactly what happened to us. We loved our caterer, but when we met with them, we figured there was no way we could afford them — and an estimate confirmed our suspicions. But after some back and forth, we told them our max budget, and they wiggled and squiggled and got us a great menu. I just want to point out that it wasn’t like we were playing hardball or telling them a ridiculously lower price in order to undercut a competitor; it was honestly what we could afford, having pulled from the budget in other places.

      So fo’ shizzle, it doesn’t hurt to ask — while humbly and respectfully acknowledging their awesomeness, of course.

  • Kimikaze

    My ideal wedding, the one I thought about on lazy, pre-engagement days, had always been at my grandparents’ house, where my dad grew up. About 20 people, maybe 30 max, and a BBQ lunch. The fiance vetoed that immediately, as the place is quite a distance to travel for most of our family. Unfortunately, having a more accessible wedding means inviting my whole family (I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be inviting some I don’t like that much just to avoid resentment and feuds in later years). This means it will be expensive, which means we need to accept my parents’ offer to help pay for it, and makes it a logistical nightmare. Well, he wanted the big party…

    • We’ve got some invitees that don’t so much go on the “surrounding us with love” list as they do the “we see you at least once per month against our will, but still…” Sigh* Hopefully it all works out! Maybe try designating some mature family members to “field” any potential troublemakers on the day of?

      • Amandover

        It’s funny. Our thinking was very much: “We want to look out and know all the people at our wedding – just the people we love who really love us, too.”
        But then one day in a more hypothetical discussion, I said to a friend, “When you marry someone, above all, you’re making them your family, and part of your community. So if you want that community’s support, you might have to include people who are important to the community, even if they’re not important to you.”
        And suddenly big weddings made sense.

      • Kimikaze

        Ah, I’m sure it will be fine :) so long as everyone is *invited* (even if they can’t make it) we’ll be ok.

  • No one ever calls church weddings, garden weddings or backyard weddings “cookie cutter” because they are classic. Guess what? So are hotel and banquet hall weddings! I’ve only ever been to these types of weddings and they were all lovely and really fun.

    Also, the best thing about using a hotel or banquet hall is that usually they have packages so you can just make a couple choices and spend the rest of your planning time on the “details” that everyone is always fretting over, instead of on finding chair rentals. Not that the details matter either, but if that’s your thing, you’ll have a lot more time to spend on them.

    • LPC

      I got married in a hotel. It was fabulous. Not remotely cookie cutter, wearing bridal sunglasses with a plastic bride and groom glued to the bridge of the nose, in 1986, made sure of that. I regret nothing about my wedding at all.

    • april

      THIS. EXACTLY. I totally agree, Rachelle.

      Honestly, I avoided a comment on Friday’s post until now, mainly because when I read some of the comments I bristled a bit seeing all the use of words like “typical” and “cookie-cutter” as people were referring to halls, banquet facilities and hotels. As if they’re passe, not good enough or something. Pffffft.

      Now, I readily admit I had grand plans for a private estate–historical venue-art gallery-or-other-chic-space-not-a-standard-banquet-room-hotel-wedding too when I started planning. And our wedding started small (100 ppl) and got a lot smaller (65 were there).

      While venue shopping, we quickly discovered all the indie choices went out the door because half of them had insane rules, wouldn’t allow hard liquor or merry-making till the wee hours. Enter Hotel Wedding Venue. Best decision EVER. Convenient and a one-stop-shop in terms of having everything we wanted and needed in one space. And a staff to set it all up so my guests didn’t have to.

      Our friends are still telling us what a blast they had, and since they reference either the food, the late-night drinks round the fire pit, and jammin’ DJ, apparently they didn’t care one bit they partied in what was essentially, a conference room.

  • We live about 2 1/2 hours north of our extended families — our parents and grandparents are in town, but everyone else (aunts, cousins, great uncles, great great relatives) are a short hike away. So we’ve decided to have a second reception in Southern Illinois (where things are a lot cheaper) and just rent out a club house and do a potluck event. Then, we’re just inviting friends and immediate family (and my great grandmother because who doesn’t want a 98 year old at your wedding??) to our ceremony and reception up here.

    This helped us cut our list from 250 to 150, and we are more than fine doing this because then we’ll get to spend more time with our families than we would have otherwise. I know that’s not the solution for everyone, but for people who have distant family in one location, it’s worth a thought!

    • Sharon

      I so wanted to do this – it would have cut our 150-person guest list down to about 75-80 per event, but my FMIL wouldn’t hear of it. “THE FAMILY would be DEVASTATED!” if they weren’t at the main event, apparently. *sigh* I’m so glad it worked out for you, though!

  • So glad to see this post. Whenever I tell people that our reception location is a country club, I feel a little guilty, like I’ve hopped on team-wedding-industry and betrayed all that is unique and hip. But that’s the awesome thing about APW–there’s always the emphasis that there’s no one “right” way to have a wedding. It can be totally DIY in the backyard or it can be 500 people in a ballroom without any personalized details and it’s all still fantastic if it’s what works for the couple and their friends/family.

  • I’m newly engaged with a very large extended family and am currently watching my sister’s guest list for her wedding this summer spiral up towards the 200’s and possibly more. I am torn between having all family there because I see that it means so much to them and also it would to me but I am on the other hand a natural introvert and a saver, not a spender, so it’s difficult to think about a list that large.

    It’s really great to read how other people managed the large lists, so thank you for sharing – though that won’t fix my introverted, attention avoidence tendencies.

  • Abby C.

    Meg and Alyssa, perhaps there should be a post from the opposite point of view for next Friday? How to get over it/cope with it if your wedding is going to be smaller than you want?

    FH and I both have big, huge families. We’re both close with our families of birth and we both look forward to growing close with our in-laws. (I know, we’re blessed.) The problem? They’re divided across three continents. If we have the wedding here in the States, only two or three people (perhaps not even that) from FH’s family will be able to make it. If we have the wedding in India, the same will be true for my side of the family. Right now, we’re leaning towards a small destination wedding in Europe, so at least we can get both sets of parents and siblings there for what may be the only time they ever meet each other. My one goal that I refuse to give up is that my parents and his parents get to meet each other. His parents are in poor health and my parents hate to travel – getting them together for a simple family vacation instead of a wedding is a pipe dream.

    I know alot of people would suggest having a Europe wedding with a small reception in each home country, but frankly that’s way out of our budget. Even were the wedding in the States, many of my family would be flying to get here and be responsible for several days in a hotel – serving cake and punch just isn’t going to cut it. FH has also been resistant to this idea, as he wants people to remember our actual wedding, not a small reception. (And I can see his point.)

    So, no matter how you look at it, our wedding isn’t going to be a big love fest full of both of our families. (I’m totally envious of you hotel reception brides right now.) And I realize that I’m truly blessed to have a large family that I’m close to and future in-laws who have been nothing but welcoming to me from the beginning. But still, it’s a different type of delimma, and it makes me really sad. I know I’ve mentioned it in the comments here on APW here before, but I’m still struggling with it.

    • clairelizabeth

      |Oh Abby! Sending you big, big hugs right now. Far-flung families are wonderful, but logistically challenging.

      Though we’re not dealing w/ multiple continents, our families span Canada, unless we chose to get married in the middle of the prairies (roughly equidistant between our families) one side or the other was going to be seriously inconvenienced.

      After much agonizing, we’re getting married in my home town out west, (which is really the best choice for us, and which we’re extremely excited about) but most of L’homme’s family won’t be coming, and some of our close friends won’t come either.

      I’m having a hard time with all of it. I oscillate between angry at his family and our friends for not coming (yes, it’s far, but there are direct flights, and money doesn’t seem to be the issue) and really, really guilty for asking most of the guest list to travel so far….

      In the end, I’m sure it will be fine. L’homme doesn’t really seem concerned that his step-sibs aren’t coming, and he points out that we see our friends all the time, whether we’re married or not. Maybe this is one of those times of mourning the choice we didn’t take. Or maybe I need to get a grip.

      • Abby C.

        Thanks, and hugs back to you ClaireElizabeth, your situation sounds hard too! Hope you find some peace!

        • clairelizabeth

          Peace, yes! for all of us under-grads in the throes of planning!

          Though generally a-religious, I’ve gotten a lot of comfort out of muttering the serenity prayer to myself when things get wound a little tight.

          Also – Abby, please do write a wedding grad post, especially if it contains photos and description of the parental meeting. I’d love to hear about how that goes…

    • Kaitlyn

      I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but would it be possible to have a ceremony in the US and another ceremony in India – so that he feels his relatives remember the wedding and not the reception? Perhaps both sets of parents, if no one else, would be able to attend both events… and everyone that you guys care about, in the US and in India, will be left with a memory of a big celebration at the beginning of your wedding.

      If your traditions only allow one ceremony, maybe you could do that in India, then have a big blow-out in the US? I know someone who was married in Pakistan, then came back and did a “re-enactment” with a big ceremony in the US – they used the same clothes, etc, and only spent on food/drinks (restaurant – tons of good food with no venue charge; a friend dj’ed). Plenty of people find a way to feed and entertain their guests well with $30pp or less. Everyone understood their predicament, supported their choice and was thrilled with the “re-enactment” and party.

      My fiance is Peruvian and he knows no one in the US; his family could never afford a trip to the US, let alone be able to get visas to enter (I’m still hoping my fiance will be able to get a visa, sigh). If my fiance is finally allowed to immigrate and come be with me in the US, we’re planning to have a ceremony/reception here (even though it will just be my side), and to later have a huge ceremony and party in Peru. Everything is cheap in Peru, so we’re not worried about the cost of putting on a big party there, and his relatives are centralized, so they’ll all be able to attend and help out — I’m hoping that my immediate family, or at least my parents, will join.

      • Abby C.

        Kaitlyn, thanks for the encouraging words. Two ceremonies is waaaay out of our budget, although religious traditions are not really an issue for us. Plus, the opportunity for both sides of the family to meet and mingle is lost either way.

      • Kaitlyn, we had two parties. I’m from Michigan and my partner’s from Barcelona. Only his parents came over for the ceremony + reception in Michigan (even his SISTER didn’t), and then his parents hosted a reception for us in Spain after. It was weird & a little sad to have only “my side” at the actual ceremony, but it was very nice for his grandparents (who don’t/can’t travel overseas) be able to celebrate with us. It’s great that you can afford to have another party so that everyone gets a chance to celebrate with you!
        The only odd part of having two parties is that all of the Spanish-party attendees keep referring to our “wedding” when they mean “the reception we attended two months after your wedding”. ;)

        We’ve also had to deal with all kinds of immigration issues, but J is European and that has helped a lot. Also helpful is that neither of us wanted to live in the US before we were married. We’re processing his Green Card application right now & hope to move together to San Francisco in a few months. My advice on that process: 1. get a good lawyer (it’s way worth the expense); 2. know that it will require lots more paperwork (especially) and time and maybe money than even your lawyer expects it to; 3. try to accept that and be chill about it–you’re not going to change the system now, but you do have to live with it; 4. make friends with other people who are doing the same thing because when you rant to people outside the situation sometimes they get offended that you’re so (justifiably!) angry at the country they love so much & forget that being angry doesn’t mean you don’t love it, too! And email me if you want: RegularlyAmazed * gmail.

    • It is sad, sweetie, but it seems to be the way things are working out. Mourn the loss of the wedding you wanted to have but can’t, and then start focusing on what you do have. Your fiance may want people to remember a wedding and not just a reception, but that doesn’t seem to be an option for your extended family. And that’s sad, but it seems like the way it’s got to be, so you might want to work with what you’ve got. You’re going to get your parents and siblings together, which is what’s most important to you and that’s going to be so great. A destination wedding in Europe?? I’m not trying to belittle your pain at ALL, but honestly that sounds a little fan-freakin’-tastic.

      Your reception doesn’t need to be a “reception”. Why can’t you then have just a plain ol’ party with the other family members when you are able to get to your respective countries?

      A wedding reception (in the way you might be thinking) is out of your budget, but a potluck party with family members bringing food and everyone sitting around talking and having a blast? And a moment in the party where you get everyone’s attention and take a few moments to say how grateful you are that even though they couldn’t be at your wedding, that they are there now and you love them? Could that be an option?

      If what you want isn’t an option, then it might be time to mourn the loss of that and start falling in love with the options you DO have. Otherwise you’ll spend your wedding focusing on who’s not there and what it should have been instead of focusing on what it IS.
      I hope that helps. Sending you lots of hugs and good ju-ju.

      • Alyssa, I was writing my long-winded comment below while you posted. Too funny. Us Southerners must like potlucks. :)

      • I really think the idea of having get-togethers of whatever type you can afford with the people who couldn’t come is a good idea. We were very lucky in that my partner’s parents could pay for an entire reception in his country, but if they hadn’t, we would have brought the pictures and had mini-parties every time we visited with anyone who wasn’t able to come. We also did a slide show of pictures of both of us growing up with captions in English and Spanish that we showed at both events (adding in pictures from the wedding & reception when we went to the second party in his country). You could do something like that, and then just bring it on a laptop to whichever country you’re not able to hold the actual event in. (And if you don’t have a laptop, remember: they cost less than wedding receptions, so maybe think about getting one!)

    • This is really hard. I had the same problem, because we also have an international marriage. Plus, I have moved a decent amount and had established myself in a big city, far from my hometown. So, I had to mourn the reality that my wedding would not have all the people I wanted to be there, no matter where we had it. And we finally decided to have it in my husband’s country and hometown (where almost all of his family is) and hope some of my people would travel. That was a HARD decision but I believe it was the best decision we could have made, given the situation. We invited everyone we would have really wanted to come to the wedding and decided to let them make the choice if they wanted to come (so we had a big guest list), and I just tried to prepare myself emotionally for lots of declined invitations from my side. We ended up with about a hundred people there, and probably about 75% were from his (local) side, understandably.

      I will say that some people I hadn’t expected to make the trip did come, and it was incredibly fabulous to hear they were coming after I had prepared myself for only having a handful of people. Each person that came made me feel wonderfully overwhelmed with love and gratitude. It was amazing how much it meant to me. And his side also embraced us too, despite cultural and linguistic differences between our families and friends.

      But it is true, the wedding we had was very different than the one I had always imagined having. That being said, it felt right to us as a couple, and it was the making of these hard choices (like location/country) that laid the foundation for the uniqueness of the wedding we actually had, and opened up new doors that were only possible in my husband’s hometown. In the end, for me, the uniqueness in our chosen actual wedding helped me adjust to the loss of what we could never have had in my impossible fantasy wedding where everyone could have been there.

      Two practical thoughts…
      Have you thought about doing live video feed of the ceremony that people can see on the web from other places in real time? I wish we had done this, but we didn’t. There are free ways to do this.

      And also, what about gathering with people later on (even months later, whenever you travel to the various countries/cities where your loved ones live) for potluck dinners or dessert and coffee in somebody’s home and bringing photos and a wedding video (if somebody records it)? We did that with my best friend who had to miss my wedding, and it helped a lot to have that special time to share it together, after the fact. Making concrete plans to meet with these loved ones to share photos might help you (and them!) adjust in the meantime.

      But yes….I really just started this comment to say….it IS very sad. And your mourning of the wedding that you can not have is an important part of the process in discovering the wedding you can have and coming to love it for its own uniqueness and beauty.

      • Kaitlyn

        I was excited to see your suggestion of a live video feed — what are these free ways that you speak of?? I had been thinking about trying to have our whole ceremony sent via a Sype video call, but I don’t know how much my little web-cam is going to be able to capture.

        • Darcy

          There are many different ways, slap in broadcast webcam into your browser to see what works for you in your area with your stuff. There is an awesome 4 step tutorial on offbeat bride that will give you an idea of what you are going for.

          • Kaitlyn

            Amazing, thanks so much Darcy!

        • I did a little googling and apparently Ustream and Stickam are good, free ways to do this. You can set up a password to access the video (at least with Ustream, it seems) so that only people you want to see it can access it. Good luck! :)

          • Edelweiss

            Just FYI – I use USTREAM at my work and it is incredibly easy, very reliable, and it stores the livefeed, so you can watch it after the fact as well! You can also connect most any camera to your computer, it doesn’t need to be a “traditional webcam” so if you or a friend have an at-home camcorder, you can connect to a laptop, ask a friend to work the camera so that it follows you down the aisle, zooms in as necessary, etc.
            I’m a teacher and we do this for all our kids’ performances so that relatives and family members can feel a part of things – it works amazingly well!

      • Abby C.

        Alyssa, thank you. I have the feeling I’ll be re-reading your reply alot in the coming days. Honestly, it helped just to throw it out there and have so many people come back with wonderfully sweet, empathetic replies. Yay for APW sisterhood.

        Jenny – a live feed is a GREAT idea, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! (Doh!) I think what I needed the most was to hear from someone on the other side of this big mess known as long-distance wedding planning. :) Thank you so much!

    • Rachel

      I’m in a similar boat; two continents. But, to make it even more fun, my FILs don’t approve of my age, upbringing, or religion as a good match for their Lebanese son. And, my parents have been to Israel which means if we have a reception or ceremony in Lebanon, they wouldn’t be able to attend because they won’t let you into Lebanon if you’ve been to Israel and vice versa.

      Las Vegas, here we come..timing, TBD.

      • K


        You probably already know this, but if your parents have US passports, it’s generally easy to go to your local office in the States and get an additional, Israel-stamp-free passport just for this purpose.

      • Abby C.

        Ooh, Rachel sweetie, that’s hard. I know I’m blessed to not be in the same situation. That being said, over time hopefully things will change. How long have you been with your FH? In time, seeing their son happy will hopefully smooth the waters for you. Grandbabies also have a way of doing that, too. :-) (A friend of mine is the daughter of an Orthodox Jew mother who married a Hindu man, even going so far as taking a Hindu name for herself when her parents disowned her. The breach was mended with the birth of their daughter, and now that my friend is an adult, her grandfather has expressed deep regret for the breach with his daughter over the marriage.)

  • I was really worried our venue would wind up meaning a cookie-cutter wedding. Our wedding wasn’t that big (we invited 120 or so) but we were really restricted in our venue choices because we needed the event during the day and not too far from the nursing home and hospital if we wanted my mother-in-law to be able to comfortably attend the full event. I really resisted booking at what I thought of as the local wedding factory (there were five other couples having either their ceremony, reception, or both on our wedding day) but it actually turned out to have an amazingly personal feel – mostly because we had our people all around us.

    If a stranger were to look at our wedding pictures, the reaction might well be “oh, typical wedding,” but that’s because a stranger doesn’t know how special all the people in those pictures are, and looking at pictures doesn’t convey how well our DJ made it really feel like *our* party, or capture all the amazing and hilarious conversations taking place all around the room, or the best man’s speech, which was probably the single-most complimented “detail” of the day. I don’t think “typical boring wedding” when I look at the pictures, I think “yay! happy!”

    (And if I’d really wanted to avoid that typical wedding look in pictures? I’d probably get halfway there just by dumping the a-line strapless dress + veil for a less typical bridal look.)

    • About changing the dress to make to change the feel of the pictures – I think you’re spot on! I went the other way – I got the typical corseted white dress to make my wedding pictures look way more fancy than the wedding actually was. The right photographer can make things look amazing no matter what direction you do in.

    • meg

      Yes. Wedding pictures pretty much live and die on A) The style of the photography and B) the style of the dress. The lazy girl way to do it is just hire a stylish photographer and get a dress that feels like you. And GRIN. Joy is kind of blinding.

  • I’m going to speak on behalf of my good friend here, but I don’t think she’d mind. They had a big guest but needed to keep costs down, and after looking at lots of venues they found a big hall at a local park, which was considerably more affordable (and kinda “different than the banquet hall” which was a concern of hers too). They did a Saturday morning wedding, so they just served quiche and muffins and champagne.

    She said that numerous caterers literally laughed in her face when she quoted her budget and the number of guests, but she just kept asking around. Perseverance paid off because the maintenance guy at the park happened to do catering on the side and he didn’t laugh at her budget. Yay! Also she put an ad on craigslist for a photographer and found a woman who was just starting out on her own and building her portfolio.

    She got married one month before me, and it was SUCH an inspiration to talk with her about their process. They must made it work!!

    • Jo

      We’re at the catering part and it terrifies me.

      • Lindsey

        Jo, I’m at the catering part too, but I keep repeating this general idea in my head: I’ve been to several weddings (more than 5, less than 10? I think?) and I can’t remember what I ate at a SINGLE one of them. I have a general overall impression of “it was fine,” but nothing stands out. As long as there is food that isn’t disgusting, it will be fine! (But I want to make sure to taste the food to make sure it tastes good–because if it’s gross, then that will be the main thing people remember!)

        I’ve also found that most caterers who I’ve spoken to are very receptive to me being like, “Ok, I REALLY can’t afford to go above x amount, including EVERYTHING. What are my options?” They do this for a living and they want your business, so everyone I’ve spoken to so far are more than happy to be like, “We can do this, and have you thought about this? And we’ll include this, but not this.”

        But in the grand scheme of things? I want the food to be tasty, but I want the most memorable parts of my wedding to be the ceremony and the DANCE PARTY that will follow! :) I’m sure your catering will turn out great!

        • Jo

          That’s a great suggestion! I’ve been getting scared off by the websites.

        • Kate

          I have been to 50+ weddings and I literally remember 2. One was a NYC crazy Italian wedding that they spent a fortune on and had a full seafood bar at 11am, so yes memorable. Although I was more ready for eggs at that point. And one was a self catered family recipe for roast chicken. It was amazing. That is pretty much it.

    • Can I just say that champagne, quiche, and muffins sound really yummy to me right now? I would have loved a breakfast wedding reception. In fact, I had thought about doing a breakfast-as-dinner reception, before we went the dessert reception route.

      Maybe I will have to make a quiche for dinner now, since I can’t stop thinking about breakfast foods! Or pancakes? Mmm….

    • meg

      We did a big picnic, where we hired people to come to a BBQ for $22/head. Another option? The taco truck for $9/head. There are so many options when you go (for realz) picnic.

  • Thank you!! This was a really timely post! I’m dealing with the massive family issue, struggling to keep the guest list below 150 with only our very closest “like family” friends (and closest cousins) making the cut.

    The up-side of this will be, even with a ton of people in a hotel ballroom or country club, I’ll get to spend quality time with my best friends and cousins. There will be an obligatory hello, thank you for coming for our aunts and uncles, but honestly they are there to support my fiance and I but socialize with each other and my parents. The introvert in me is thrilled at how few true social obligations I will have.

    Related: anyone have advice on how to get older (50-70yrs) people to party? Because I think we will have a serious minority of under 40s.

    • Sharon

      For your question: my suggestions are to keep the booze flowing, and consider more oldies-style music. I’m personally a big fan of 1950s-1960s-1970s music, and many would feel more comfortable with stuff they recognize. Also, keep the volume down. Loud music is fine for us younger folks, but the number one complaint I hear from that age group is “Too damn loud.” Let the music be a little softer than floor-shaking and ear-bleeding and maybe it’ll encourage them. Also! Sometimes being in large groups of your peers makes people more likely to get down – I’ve seen this at weddings and class reunions alike. So have faith – Snow on the roof yet fire in the furnace, yadda yadda.

    • Emily Elizabeth

      Ditto to the music, I asked my parents for suggestions to appeal to their friends, which worked really well. I also invited one of my grandmother’s good friends to the wedding, and the two of them had an awesome time dancing to any and all of the music we played, and had many giggle fits when my guy friends were asking them to dance.

      Some of the craziest dancers were the older ones too, one of my biggest regrets was finding out that I missed my husband’s Chinese family friend break dancing, a talent that NO ONE but his family knew he had until then! So, those older folks might just surprise you!

    • JEM

      My fiance is a DJ and deals with this issues at most weddings, actually! His recommendation: Start off with the classic oldies that EVERYONE enjoys for a couple hours (read: Twist and Shout, Build Me Up Buttercup, etc.) then after the older people have had their share of fun, you can start switching it to 80’s rock, then bring in more modern music. Everyone gets something they like and everyone has fun! It is a smooth transition that flows quite easily!

      • Lindsey

        Jem, I second the Twist! I was at a wedding this past weekend where the DJ did one of the “married couple” dances where all the married couples are called to the dance floor to dance, and then over the next few songs the DJ kept whittling down by years married…until the last couple standing was the one who had been married for 47 years. Then the DJ said something along the lines of, “You’re still happily married, but can you still do the twist?” and started playing the song. The woman looked at the DJ, threw her wrap on his table, and started twisting away!! It was the best thing and so, so memorable. I want to be just like her when I reach my 47th wedding anniversary!

        • JEM

          That is such a great story and I love the fact that they recognized others. Love it!

        • I LOVE the idea of the married couples dance…however, divorce is rampant in my family. Ha. My FH’s fam will totally win that one!

        • HH

          This! My aunt did this instead of a bouquet toss- she gave her bouquet away to the couple that had been married the longest, which I thought was a wonderful way to acknowledge the institution of marriage.

          Also- re: the music- keep the bass down. My dad made sure at my sister’s wedding that the DJ knew who was paying him (my dad) and said that dancing was a huge part of the wedding, but so was socializing. When my dad asked them to turn the music down down, they did. And so the folks who were too tired or elderly, etc. to boogie could hear each other. That is KEY! Also, dad told the DJ that he understood that the DJ wanted to feel the bass, but that the guests did not want to feel it.

          Years later, my whole family still talks about how it was the “party of the century.” AND my dad has seen the DJ at retirement parties and other weddings since, and he still remembers my dad and always thanks him for the input- he says it’s made him a better and more attentive DJ.

          Super cool.

    • Class of 1980

      LIZZIE WROTE: “Related: anyone have advice on how to get older (50-70yrs) people to party?”

      Let’s see, I’m 52 and I was born in 1958. Also born in 1958 were Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Joan Jett, and Belinda Carlisle of “The Go Go’s”.

      We don’t know nuthin bout no partyn.


      • My parents are big dancers, and so are lots of their friends. Just seeing them out on the dance floor from the very beginning was enough to get more people out there. So maybe ask a few couples (in each age group) in advance to be the ones to get things started, and others will follow.

        Also, I was listening to Joan Jett earlier today. Yay!

        • Class of 1980

          I like Joan Jett okay, but I think Prince was the most innovative.

          You can hardly find him on You Tube because he blocks his material from appearing on sites where he doesn’t get paid. “When Doves Cry” is there. Love that song.

          He’s had a renaissance and is doing a lot of new stuff now.

  • Tyelperion

    We had an A-list of about 150, but fell in love with a venue that could only seat 80 for dinner (it was spacious but a strange layout of multiple rooms, and we really didn’t want to split people up over the various rooms and make some people feel left out). We agonised about cutting the list down and finally threw up our hands and made it work: we axed the sit down dinner and had a fork buffet – most people ate standing up and there was lounge style sofas and banquettes around the edges of the rooms for the older people and people whose feet were sore. No favours (no one missed them). No table layouts, seating plan or escort cards were needed (thank goodness, as we no longer had to deal with keeping my husband’s divorced parents apart in a sensitive way – this way they just avoided each other). No centre pieces (although we did decorate the walls, the bar, buffet tables and mantlepieces). 2 buses from the church to the venue. We stood at the door and welcomed everyone into the venue to make sure that we got a few minutes with everyone – that was just by accident but it ended up being one of the best parts of the whole day.

    • Heidi

      I second the no seating plan. #1 You don’t have to worry that you accidentally put the wrong people together at the same table #2 You don’t have to make escort cards #3 People will generally find a seat with someone they are comfortable sitting with.

      For our wedding, we gave our parents a card to reserve their seat (so they didn’t have to worry about being stuck in the back corner after arriving late from photos) and everyone else sat themselves.

      • That’s a good tip to reserve space for your parents (or other important or less-mobile people) when you’re having a seated meal but no seating chart.

    • Carreg

      Yay! I too am ditching the seating plan. Glad to know it works. In my case it’s largely responsibility avoidance. I don’t normally tell people who they are most likely to enjoy talking to. And if I did I’d get it wrong.

  • Yes! The number one thing I learned while planning our 200+ guest wedding was that the people you invite (big or small) will make your wedding. And you absolutely CAN cut back on everything else if it means having the big wedding that you’ve always wanted.

    Also, nobody ever really talks about cutting back on food (except for Meg, who praises the cake-and-punch wedding gloriously). I hear a lot of people say “I want to have a great party with great food, etc etc etc” which is awesome if food is your thing, but I feel like a lot of coupoles feel the pressure to provide this really eclectic meal that surpasses all other wedding meals ever. But the thing is, I can go out for a fancy dinner any time I want. I *can’t* go to your wedding whenever I want, and I’d much rather know that you saved money/spent it on more important things than giving me lobster.

    • Amy

      Exactly! I’d much rather have a lovely cocktail reception with good finger foods and dancing or a morning breakfast reception or an afternoon tea than a huge sit-down dinner if it meant that the couple could afford to have everyone they loved with them.

    • I’m a huge food person and I love to cook and eat at fun restaurants and base vacations on where to eat. And we skipped serving a meal entirely because the people were so much more important than the food. We either invited the cousins, or had dinner, and that was a total no brainer.

    • We’re doing a really nice afternoon tea type thing. We’re calling it a happy hour reception. It was the only way we could afford to feed everyone good food and booze. We picked it over having a cheaper and not as nice dinner reception.

      • Kaitlyn

        I love your term “happy hour reception” — talking strictly about terminology, it just sounds so much more fun and exciting (and like someplace everyone will want to be!).

  • Also @Maggie – check out restaurants! We were able to reserve a restaurant that’s usually seasonal (it was on the beach) for a fall wedding and they were more than able to accomodate our 200-250 guests, plus the band, etc.

    Next time you’re at a favorite place, check out the layout and see if it seems like the kind of restuarant that can handle a big crowd. You’d be surprised!

  • Anonymously Frustrated with a Large Far Away Fam

    My sister had 80 guests at her wedding 2 years ago, so I figured reserving space for 120 max would be ok (the other option was for 400 and I thought such a large space without many people would be sad). I’m not so sure anymore. It turns out that she invited 110 from our side of the family, the same ones I am obligated to invite. (This number does not include my college friends who are my bridal brigade, nor my close grad school friends whom I also want to have there….)

    Not everyone is expected to come. My family has two very far nodes. But I have to invite them. And then there’s the fact that some regretted not coming to my sister’s wedding and will be more likely to attend mine.

    My groom’s entire fam and must-have friends add up to 50. Total guest list = ~200. Venue reserved at assurances of sister (mistake….maybe) = 120 max.

    I understand that I have to invite all these people. But I also know they won’t all come. How am I supposed to plan for anything when I really have no idea how many people are coming to this shebang?

    (and Alyssa. Why can’t I just send announcements to the family I’m not close with?)

    • I don’t know, why can’t you send announcements? If they are not invited to the wedding, and they are someone you would like to know about your marriage, then you send them an announcement.
      Whether they get an announcement vs. an invitation, that I can’t answer. It isn’t something anyone else can answer for you becaus you know your family dynamics as well as who you and your partner think need to weigh in on the guest list, so you guys will have to think about it.
      As far as how to plan, the general rule of thumb is plan for all your guests to come but probably only about 70-80% will show. (Right, y’all? I’ve heard as low as 60%, but that seems to be kinda crazyface….)

    • andthebeautyis

      I think it depends how convenient your wedding is. As much as it is not an imposition, some people simply could not afford the travel necessary to attend my wedding. So we’ve invited almost our whole B-list (150 total), and 80 are coming.
      I think it also applies if you have it on a less convenient day. The really important people will make it, but many will just send wishes (or cards or gifts).
      So if your family is like mine, and exactly not rollin in it, 120 out of 200 is definitely possible.

  • Jo

    Alyssa, always the awesome!

    We set a “100 max” and then realized that’s the very minimum, and that we’re more likely to have 150 after some people fall out. I’ve had some freak-outs over it not being classic or chic, but it will be us and it will be excellent when we figure out what we can afford to feed people.

    Our way of dealing with the largeness and our two communities living across the country from each other is by having a two-day campout wedding at Cs parents farm. Most of our food will be stuff that we cook with our guests, but we want the post-ceremony food to be catered, and that’s ending up fairly interesting to sort out cost-wise. :)

  • Rizubunny

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! We’re in the same boat, mostly because of my partner’s family and friends-who-are-like-family – they total 160. Then add our friends, professional people & colleagues, and my tiny-ass family (like, 7) – and the first guest list total was 303. And as much as we tried, there was no one we wanted to leave off that list. Like Maggie said, it’s not like her family is distant – they are all close and right here and we WANTED them there. It definitely bugs me when the only advice given is “cut your guest list.” It’s an important day, and we want ALL of these people there.

    We’re having the wedding itself at our church, but the reception at her parents’ house. They offered straightaway (a couple of years ago when we started planning), but I didn’t want to do that because I wanted something “special.” Well, we planned to have it at our favorite tapas restaurant, but logistically, it was a nightmare – a 30-40 minute drive from the church, and it only held 210 people TOPS (and that’s with 40 people standing or at a bar). AND it was more than we really could afford for food. Then when I started thinking about it…her parents’ house has, over the years, held weddings, receptions, baptisms, family reunions, parties, and every type of family thing – so it’s actually kind of incredible that they offered to let us have it there. So we decided to do that. Yes, it’ll be crowded, but it means a lot. Something we have done is cut all younger kids (basically, 12 and under) from the list – I wanted to have them all, but her mom requested/suggested that we not for logistical reasons…they run around, have to be entertained, have to be fed, and break things)…and it’s her house, and I’m cool with that. That chopped 60 people off the guest list. (I also hadn’t realized how many kids there were going to be. 60 under 12 is a LOT.) So now it’s at 256.

    Apparently, we know people who can help us get things cheaper. Reception at her parents’ house = no venue cost. Food = her aunt (who is a caterer) is doing it for a really good price ($20 pp for LOTS of heavy hors d’oeuvres). Photography = we snapped up Leah and Mark a year ago after their post here (yay!) for half of what they charge now.

    It’s going to cost approximately (counting rings and dresses and henna before the wedding and alcohol and invitations [no favors or flowers for us]) $18,000. For comparison purposes, we’re in Miami. Excuse me, I need to go hyperventilate now. I know all the numbers add up to that figure, but I still can’t wrap my brain around it.

  • Hooray for big, family-heavy weddings! I have a ginormous Catholic family — my side of the guest list pretty much laps my fiance’s. Excluding some of my family was not an option — they show up for every holiday and major life event, so my wedding is no exception.

    I guess we’re lucky in that our tastes in weddingy things made it pretty easy to stay within budget. We’re getting married in Memphis where barbecue is the thing to eat, and that’s what we wanted to serve. It’s also far cheaper than the standard catering fare. We had no desire to spend money on tchotchke favors. Our attire was bought on sale for great prices. I also can commiserate on some of the added stress of finding a venue that fits your party. That was the biggest headache we’ve faced.

    I guess the point is to always think outside the box — is there some kind of catering/food you haven’t thought about … is it feasible to get married in a city or town slightly farther away that might have more venue options … does anyone on your guest list know someone who can get you a deal?

    • Kt

      We are doing BBQ as well – and it’s amazing how the how the rates plummeted when we picked a BBQ joint in town and are picking up the “details” slack ourselves to make it fancier, rather than hiring a normal caterer. Plus people are oddly excited about the BBQ when they hear about it. The wedding’s in Kentucky, so we’re going with the Southern relaxed & chic feel. I guess BBQ fits.

      Anyway, it’s the only way we could have afforded feeding our 300-invite (still waiting for the final count, hoping for 250 or less!) guest list and still have the wedding we wanted. I made the mistake of not giving either side an absolute number of invites at the beginning (which we could have then relaxed a bit) and so I didn’t really manage expectations well when it came to making the tough guest list decisions. And, as a fair point, sometimes those cutoffs even after 300 are heartbreaking, but everyone has to draw the line somewhere.

      I’ve realized that since I’m the oldest and the fiance is the oldest, with no previous weddings on either side, that we’re the big initial wedding shebang for the parents (who are helping considerably with the cost). I know my sister’s wedding will get to be smaller b/c she won’t be asked to invite the family friends that “have” to come to ours, but at this point, I’ve come to terms with it, we’ll make it work, and it’s really heartwarming to hear how excited all of the guests are about the wedding weekend overall. And that’s what we wanted in the beginning anyway – all of that love & happiness w/ the people we care about! :)

      • KT, don’t be so sure about your sister getting off easy… we’re both oldest kids, too, and my partner’s sister is getting married 364 days after us. According to their parents, they “had” to invite all the same people (including the parents’ professional contacts), with a number of justifications as to why (including that those who were only invited to the first might resent his sister for not deeming them important/special enough). If your parents aren’t as anxious about keeping up appearances, you may not have this problem (yay!), but if they do care what other people think: Sorry, sisters!

        Also, being from the North (where there’s not so much of a BBQ “culture”), BBQ for a wedding sounds fun!

  • Emily Elizabeth

    We had a 200-person wedding, and seriously, it was awesome! When I think back to our wedding, man, I remember how much love we were feeling from our friends and family, and how happy everyone was, and the packed dance floor with too many people trying to contra, but it was okay, everyone was having a great time.

    We went through the guest list dramas of having too many people but having to invite the little sister’s best friend’s family, the ladies in my mom’s tennis group, and the aunt’s friends from Australia who were going to come to your husband’s little brother’s Bar Mitzvah but when that was cancelled, came to the wedding instead. We had the reception in a barn with a capacity for 200 and we sqeeeeeezed everyone in there, and we didn’t have enough space for parking, but hired a school bus to bring in people from town and their hotels. And at the end of the day, those random people from Australia were fairly awesome and invited us out to visit, everyone got enough food, and there was always someone ready to give you a big hug, or help you stand when your feet hurt so much from the high heels you weren’t going to wear.

    Quick note on favors: make some really good cookies. I made 6 batches of cookie dough ahead of time and kept them in the fridge until they were ready to bake. My friends came over the day before the wedding and we baked 400 cookies using my parent’s two ovens and a fairly sophisticated system, let them cool on the million cooling racks my mom found at the dollar store (now I have some cooling racks for my house, yay!), stuck them in bags, and tied them up with ribbons. It was really, really fun to bake with my best friends, and one of my favorite memories from that weekend. Plus, chocolate chip cookies for everyone!

    • I did cookies as well, but for our OOT bags . . . it definitely took some time, but flour, sugar, and the like ain’t all that expensive for the amount of cookies my friend and I made.

      (Plus, I got to break in the KitchenAid mixer. !!!!!!!!!!!)

      We did Oatmeal Raisin and Chocolate Chip, and they were really yum. In fact, I think I got more compliments on the cookies than I did on my appearance! Our people have good priorities, methinks.

    • We did cookies in little bags with pretty ribbons, too! People loved them. We did Earl Grey “icebox cookies”, which were perfect because you can make the dough as far as a couple of months in advance, freeze it in log shapes, and on the day you want to bake them just slice it and bake. We also did a decorations/cookie-baking party instead of a bachelorette party, and it was a great way to spend time with friends and family 2 days before the wedding.

  • Ahhh, so excited to see my question up there. Thank you Alyssa & the APW community for your thoughtful advice and encouragement. It’s so good to hear.

    I have an update: we booked a giant banquet room at a restaurant. Yay! As soon as we started telling friends and family, most of my anxiety about a boring or cookie-cutter wedding disappeared. The response was so positive and loving, and it made me realize that our wedding will be AWESOME because of our guests. I also realized that no one we loved was judging us, the judgment was coming from within. I’ve accepted the idea of our big wedding and I think its size is going to make it unforgettable.

    Alyssa’s advice about budgeting is spot-on. We’ve had to make adjustments to a lot of details and plans to accommodate the list and I’m comfortable with it. Instead of elaborate bouquets and flower displays, I’m going to buy a sh*t-ton of baby’s breath on the cheap (baby’s breath = gorgeous bouquets, in my opinion). We’re also scaling back our honeymoon a bit, and are considering simpler invites. The priority lists that APW has emphasizes have helped us in these decisions. Both my fiance and I had “the right guest list” (i.e. the BIG one) as a top priority.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Alyssa, Meg, and APW!

    • Also, one of my really good friends gave me a shot of advice when I was freaking out about the wedding not being cool enough. She basically said, “Whit, when you walk in that room and there are candles lighting up all the faces of these people you love, you’re not going to care. It will be great because they are there.”

  • Jess

    I want to point out that for some people (and probably not the people this post is geared towards!), it IS completely legit to cut the budget by cutting guests. My now-husband and I knew that we did not want to spend a whole lot on our wedding, and so we decided to do that by not having many guests at our wedding. That was the first cost-cutting decision we made, and for us, it was the right decision.

    I also think that if having 250 people you love there to celebrate with you, then great, find a way to make it work! But like it or not, in most situations a 30-guest wedding is going to cost less than a 250-guest wedding, regardless of if you cut out favors or serve inexpensive food or make other kinds of cost-cutting decisions. It’s perfectly ok to say “the most important thing to me is to have 250 people I love at my wedding,” but it is also okay to say “the most important thing to me is to not spend much on a party and I don’t care how many people celebrate with me.”

    • LaurenF

      For us, having a small (relatively speaking), fairly intimate wedding was one of our priorities. Luckily, we’re able to include our families (out to first cousins and their kids) and still have a wedding under 100 people; I realize that’s not feasible for everyone. But for us, the wedding that we wanted was one that stayed within budget but still included the elements that were important to us. That has meant leaving a few people out who might have wanted to come. But for us, that’s what has worked.

  • Growing up in a small, Southern town 250+ people isn’t a big wedding, it’s just a wedding. You have to remember that in today’s WIC world we’re taught that our wedding should be all about catering to our guests, but that’s not really the point. I have been to so many weddings where I was literally so crammed into a church pew with 12 other people that I could barely breathe much less move. You know what? I didn’t care because I was there to see you get married, elbow room is just a plus. This is especially true if it’s your family. They’re used to grilled burgers and pot luck meals, they’re not going to look down on you if they don’t have personalized favors. Hell, for the all the weddings I’ve been to, I think I got an actual invitation to like 3. With big weddings, my advice is to loosen up control. Do you really have to have a seating chart? I can promise you that if Aunt Mary absolutely can’t stand Cousin Martha, she’s going to seat herself as far away as possible. Etc, etc…

    The one caveat to all this is the reception. People will get upset if you run out of food or if they’re crammed into a reception venue that’s too small. My advice is to do the best with what you can afford. Can’t find it in the budget to feed a full meal to 300+ that actually tastes good, screw it and just have cake and punch. If it’s really awesome tasting cake, no one will think about the fact that they didn’t get fed chicken as well, but if the food sucks they’ll wish you had just fed them cake. Also, major bonus to just cake + punch receptions, you don’t have to have a room big enough to SEAT that many people. A few scattered tables and chairs is fine. Most people will just stand around and mingle.

  • Shelly

    “In the end, remember, your wedding will not be like a smaller wedding. And even though you have a truckload of people there, you might only have time to talk to about 40 of them and will only remember doing so with about 12. And that may be a little sad.”

    My wedding had about 170 people and I think what Alyssa says here is true. I highly recommend some kind of receiving line, or other way to greet all of your guests and thank them for coming, even at a large wedding. But outside of hellos, it’s hard to get to spend the quality time you might like with so many guests at an event that only lasts a few hours. A lot of the meaningful moments I had with loved ones weren’t actually on the wedding day itself. They were at a bridal shower, or in an encouraging phone call, or in an amazingly thoughtful gift. I loved having a big wedding and inviting so many people to share that day with us turned out to actually be an invitation for them to share in the bigger journey itself.

  • We had 250 people, but they were split between 2 events. My husband is from CT and we live in (and I’m from) NC. He has a huge, very close, extended Italian family with a lot of young children – so getting everyone down to NC was going to be pretty tough (and not financially .reasonable for some of his family members). Luckily my in-laws were willing to throw a second reception, in CT, so that no one would have to miss out on celebrating.

    We invited 150 people to our wedding in NC and 100 people to the CT reception. Both sets of parents decided on the budget for the event they would be paying for and we did our damnedest to stay under those (it was the moms that were trying to push us over!). It ended up working out pretty well. Everyone got invited who we, and our parents, wanted to be there.

    As for a receiving line, we did something a little different (inspired by a wedding we’d been to a few weeks before). After the bridal party and the mothers recessed, my husband and I walked back down the aisle and recessed everyone ourselves, row by row.
    It took 15-20 minutes (which had to of sucked for the people in the very back, *sad face*) but it meant that we got to hug and say hello to almost everyone who came. (Except my uncle who hadn’t paid attention to my explaining the night before and just got up and walked down the aisle out of the church, which was actually pretty funny.) Doing this allowed us to relax more at the reception without feeling like we HAD to go talk to EVERYONE.
    The only thing I would change about it now is not having our parents in the back of the church to say hello to everyone as they were leaving – my mom expressed regret that they hadn’t done that, because she wasn’t sure she talked to everyone at the reception.

    • Amt

      We released our guests row by row from the church as well and I highly recommend it. (It’s common practice in my religious denomination/geographic area.) It worked out for us particularly because we had several people who came to the ceremony, but not reception, so we wanted to make sure that we spoke to them, and some others who had limited mobility, so a traditional everybody-stand-at-the-back line wasn’t an option.

  • Lydia

    I wanted an indie chic blogworthy wedding…but it just wasn’t doable in my city for the 150 people I needed and wanted to invite! So I scored the best deal I could at a totally boring hotel conference room. We served chicken (and tequila!). It was not the indie wedding of my dreams, but it was perfect. Not because the carpet wasn’t ugly (it was) but because Our People were there. I danced with my uncles, twirled my little cousins, got dipped by dear friends from Mexico and I did not care one bit that the room was boring and the meal was chicken. Invite your people and as Alyssa said, feed them what you can. They won’t care bc they are your people! Good luck and have fun.

  • Bailey

    My husband comes from a huge family (he is 1 of 4, his Mom is 1 of 12!) and leaving people out wasn’t desired, nor an option. We sat down and talked about our priorities. For us, the most important things (after the guests and the actual getting married, of course) were the DJ, the photos and having an open bar. So that’s where most of our money went.

    We also tend to be a bit fantastical, and LOVE throwing parties, so this had the potential to get out of hand super quick. We enacted a rule of 3. Meaning, if one of us brought something up on 3vseparate occasions, then we’d sit down and really look at it. My now husband had brought up putting finger monsters on all the table, and I laughed it off. The third time he brought it up, we really talked about it, decided it totally fit our personalities, and so we had finger monsters on our tables.

    We were lucky to find a ballroom that we loved with tall ceilings, hardwood floors and white walls with a ton of natural light, so it was relatively easy for us to personalize. Between the finger monsters on the tables, the children’s books in place of table numbers, and putting together a unique ceremony that fit us, it had the feeling of an intimate, small setting but all of our favorite people got to be there too!

    We also rented out a pavilion in a park the day before the wedding in lieu of a rehearsal dinner, and invited everyone as a pot luck. It was like having a family reunion the day before the wedding. I have beautiful memories from that day (I LOVED our wedding, but I might have loved the picnic even more!), and the next day at the wedding, all of the introductions/reunions were out of the way and everyone was ready to party!

    • If you have an open bar (and a family who drinks like mine) all sorts of things will be forgiven. No dinner? No worries – have another beer and a cookie!

  • Karina

    We just got married this past Saturday and had what I guess would be called a “big wedding”. The caterers informed us after that we had fed 375 people! I’ve been reading APW since July or August last year and had in my mind a nice “small wedding” in October or November of 2011. But then, we discovered on November 19th, 2010, that I was – surprise! – 8 weeks pregnant. (I still don’t know how 2 months went by and I didn’t realize that my stomach bug/worst head cold in my life were actually a little baby!) Anyway, when we sat down with my parents to start working on a guest list, I discovered that I had well over 150 people that I was directly related to and saw on a regular basis that whose feelings would be hurt if they weren’t invited. My awesome dad said, “We’ll invite them all! Most will come, some won’t be able to make it, but they will at least share in our joy. And your mother and I will pay to feed them.” He has a coworker that does (really great) catering as a hobby and he immediately called him and worked out a incredibly reasonable price per person and we moved on to the next problem…where will we fit all these people? We decided to make our church gym work because none of the local hotels allow outside caterers. And because it is nice and big and reasonably priced. As I started to let people know that I was getting married, so many friends and relatives volunteered so many things: decorations from their past events, offers to make favors, help with the decorating, making the cake. So, having all those friends and relatives came in handy in the end. My wedding was a group effort. And it was big. And it was awesome. Once I get my pictures back, I’ll submit a grad post so that y’all can see the awesomeness for yourselves!

    • I am so excited to see this post!! MAN I love shotgun weddings.

    • Congrats on both counts. :)

  • OMG THANK YOU. I also have a HUGE family/guest list and I’m getting married at a country club. I was so worried about being “too traditional” and then, I come over here and you tell me that everything is okay. God, I love you guys.

    I’ve been taking your advice: let the wedding be huge. I mean, why not? If all those people love me, that makes me lucky. :)

  • Kate

    I also have a HUGE family. My side of the guest list is 250 and that is paired down. I knew I didn’t want to fight about who could come and who couldn’t and can we afford this person or not. My sister had 300 at her’s (outdoor tented sit down for about 15k) and my brother, get this, 500 people on about 5k. They were right out of college and asked a professor if they could use the barn on his property, they bought the food for kabobs and put that huge family to work and grilled it, did their own flowers. They ipod DJ and it was one of the most fun weddings I have been too. Just beer for alcohol went a really long way in keeping down that cost too. My fiancée and I live in DC so we had to go about an hour out to find someplace affordable that we liked, but in doing that we cut in half the cost of catering, outside vendor, and hotels for our guests, most of whom are from out of town anyway, as I am originally from NY and he grew up Air Force . We found a farm that also does events, it is random but super cool. They are very green and so recycle as much as possible which means they have huge closets full of vases, lights, decorations, potted plants that they reuse at different wedding. My cousin is getting married before us, and she is letting me use/buy stuff from her wedding. I will say that it requires more leg work and hours of research on line and by word of mouth to find . We also are doing catererd bbq vs something more formal because the cost of that is between $10 and $17 per head. If we wanted to do more ourself we could push that number down a little. The great thing about a large wedding is a tremendous number of resources as someone else mentioned. It can be humbling to ask for help or feel like an imposition, but they love you and will do it for you, just like you would do it for them in a heart beat.
    And the sheer out pouring of love being surrounded by those people who make up your life, as big and as crazy as it is, is totally worth it.
    *if you are going to do a lot yourself and with the help of family, the key is to be SUPER organised. Delegate delegate delegate, but give people plenty of time, and follow up. Lack of direction is really frustrating when you are trying to help someone, and they have no idea what needs to be done. If you are not good at that yourself, pick a friend, sister, cousin, or hire someone to do it for you.

  • I just want to add that having a large wedding doesn’t have to mean you don’t get a chance to talk to your guest. We had about 160 people and we talked to all but 1 of them (and he’s forgettable and has since divorced my cousin, so no big loss). We worked the tables together during the reception, talking and hugging and getting into long conversations, and occasionally running off to dance. We got to spend time with everyone, and didn’t have to have a receiving line, which I really didn’t want. (I’d rather get a chance to chat than to simply mechanically hug 160 people in a row.) Reception didn’t start until say 8:15, and we still managed to interact with everyone, so it can be done. Painless, too. Actually, joyfully. It was so nice to get to meet 100 of David’s cousins and finally get the faces that go with the stories, and to introduce my new husband to all my family.

    • Exactly! We served a traditional 10 course Chinese meal (my mom’s one must-have) and I was super worried people would get bored. Turns out it gave us a chance to visit with every table (we had about 150 guests) AND eat AND people had a blast during dinner and made friends with each other. So consider that a vote of confidence for the longer reception meal I guess…

      Also, our reception restaurant had the fugliest carpet ever. No one even noticed, pinky swear. :)

  • I had a 180 person wedding and definitely felt a little sad that I couldn’t put in all the little details one sees on my indie wedding blogs – it just wasn’t feasible. But your advice is spot-on – having the right people there is much more important than having the right things there. We focused on personalizing the parts of the wedding that everyone could share, and whose costs didn’t increase by volume – like, say, the ceremony and the first dance. We worked really hard to make it reflect who we are as a couple and, as we greeted our way through 180 guests, it became clear that it was those parts of the wedding (not the food, or the flowers, or the programs) that really made an impression. As for favors, we put a link on our program for a downloaded mix and made a charitable donation – since many favors get thrown away anyway, we figured this was a win-win for us, our guests and the environment. Good luck with your big wedding, I’m sure it’ll be fabulous!

  • So my question is…what are people’s thoughts on inviting people to either the ceremony or the reception? We found our venue, which has PLENTY of reception space, but the ceremony space fits 150, max. At the time, we thought we could get our guest list around 75. Ha! We’re now creeping up on 200. Our catering is cuh-razy affordable, so the issue is really just ceremony space. And I know people who have invited guests to just the ceremony or just the reception. But either option feels…rude. To me. I want you to share in my joy, but no I will not feed you? Or I don’t care about your presence enough to include you in this sacred event, but totes come party? How do other people feel about this?

    • This is just a quick not-really-thought-through reaction, but my basic take is that inviting someone to the ceremony but not the reception is rude, but the other way around not so bad — with the caveat that as a guest, I would feel bad about being in the not-good-enough club if, say, half the guest list was at the ceremony and I was in the other half. But times when the ceremony has been very small – like immediate family and grandparents only – or attendance restricted for religious reasons (friends who married in the LDS temple and elected not to do any additional ceremony at the subsequent reception) I haven’t minded at all, and just been happy to celebrate with them. I mean, I’d wish I had gotten to see them get married because I love weddings, but I wouldn’t feel like a second-class citizen.

      • Yeah, I can see that. I dated an LDS guy in high school, and totally understand people not feeling slighted for being left out of the ceremony. In fact, we went to one of those weddings and I’d totally forgotten about it until just now.

        The “close family/friends” make up about half of the total guest list. Maybe a little more. We’ll probably just re-configure the layout of the ceremony area and squeeze everyone in tightly. As long as we can get down the aisles, we’ll be good.

    • Sarabeth

      To be perfectly honest, two of my good friends did this – only invited family to the ceremony for space reasons. Even though it was a very bright line that they drew, I was pretty sad. I would never mention it to them, but I actually did care about seeing the ceremony. If I don’t want to actually see you get married, I probably wouldn’t be making the effort to come to the wedding at all.

      • Yeah, that’s the direction I’m leaning. We keep saying if our wedding has any theme, it’s “inclusion.” So. Everyone will be made to fit. Probably.

    • One of my friends had her ceremony in a small location, and she strategically did the invites. She invited all out-of-town guests to the ceremony + reception, and then in-town guests (none of which were family — she got married where we all went to grad school) got the reception invite. As people RSVP’d back and said they couldn’t make it, she would invite more in-town friends to the ceremony. In the end, I think she sweet talked the ceremony venue into an extra 10 people or so and managed to make it all work.

      My only bummer is that she didn’t have adequate amplification, and I sat near the back, so I didn’t really hear any of her ceremony at all. But the reception was awesome, and most of the ceremony didn’t involve speaking (Baha’i ceremony, so I guess the couple talks to each other and it isn’t meant to be public).

  • LPC

    My brother’s having 200 people at his wedding. The most comforting thing I’ve noticed, in the planning, is to make sure that whoever is catering knows the venue. Setting up bars and tables for 200 people, knowing how they move through a space large enough to fit them all, etc., is very hard to figure out if you haven’t actually seen it happen once.

  • Lindsay

    My wedding is going to be a bit under 100 guests, but I am dealing with catering right now and even for this smaller size it’s a huge pain. We are totally stoked about our outdoor park ceremony and reception venue, table and chairs provided, but holy cow the other rentals are turning out to be crazy expensive! I’m figuring out that it pays to shop around and caterers are used to meeting budgets so you have to just get over hesitation to talk about money. Be up front, see what they can do for you, and if they can’t accommodate you just move on to the next one.
    I think it would be really smart for bigger weddings to look into renting out a restaurant. There may be a rental fee, but mostly you are just paying for the food and alcohol, and there is no need for extra decoration if you pick a decent looking place. You could also save money by moving the party to a bar nearby afterwards and that way you don’t have to hire a band or DJ, and guests who really want to get loaded can pay for their own alcohol by that point in the night.

  • Sarabeth

    For practical tips: if it’s actually important to you that your wedding feel unique, or contain the kind of personal touches that you’re worried about (ie, if this is not just self-imposed pressure from reading wedding blogs), then you just need to be strategic about which things you put the effort into. Put the effort into stuff that will scale up easily, or that doesn’t need to scale at all.

    Examples: if you care about invitations, spend time and effort on the design, but make sure they are easy to print. You can print 200 invitations at Staples pretty much as easily as you can print 50, and for not a ton of money. Make one awesome cake topper, or guestbook, instead of 30 awesome centerpieces. Splurge on a great DJ rather than favors (if favors are $4 each, that’s $1000 – for the same money, you can probably get a great DJ who each guest will appreciate a lot more than an individual favor).

    • I think this is great advice. Those photo displays/clotheslines/etc would fall into this same category and add a lot of back story to the relationship, especially for those people that only know one of the two people getting married.

  • So excited to see this post! I was thinking of writing a graduate post because this was our exact scenario. I was totally one of those huge family guest list people and wondered how to make it work with our budget.

    We ended up with the Catholic Church ceremony, hotel ballroom reception. Cookie cutter, typical, but completely fine. Our families had a great time, we stayed on budget, and no one cared that the carpet didn’t match our centerpieces. Stuff went wrong of course, but nothing that ruined the day! It wasn’t over the top fancy, but neither are our folks so really, truly, don’t worry about it. I’m sure they would have been fine with burgers and fries (some may have preferred it, even)!

  • Jillian

    Annddd THIS is another one of the gazillion reasons I love APW/Team Practical. You guys always manage to take an issue I’ve been stressing over and make me embrace it and more importantly? This site makes me super excited about my wedding. So while I have been, and probably still will be, worried about our 150 or more guest list… this post made me remember why I put those names on the list in the first place. I want to celebrate with all those people and I can’t wait to make awesome memories with them.

    Thank you!

  • Heather

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I so needed to hear/read this today!!!

  • Rachel

    This is the post I have been looking for! For the past umpteen months I have read more posts on blogs about so and so’s fabulous vintage, intimate wedding or so and so’s little wedding at her Dad’s estate..yadda yadda yadda. All I could think was how our wedding was not that and eventually ended up feeling bad (meltdown bad) because it wasn’t. Well eff that. We are have 140 to 150 people and that’s that; I have a big family so there. More people = more love (well as long as you can feed them because if you don’t you have cranky love, no thanks). I would love to see more weddings out there on the blogosphere that are “yep, we had 150 – 200 people and it was great and NORMAL and OK!!

    The worst part is when your friends chime in about how “small” weddings are the best, etc. Nothing makes you feel worse. I have finally come to a place where I tell them: “yes, small weddings are nice but we are not having one. If you would like me to have one, I can cut you off the guest list”. Yes, that’s snarky but usually shuts them up.

    Alyssa, thank you for this post, it made my whole damn day much better.

    • I can totally relate to the experience of a friend chiming in about small weddings being the best. Right in the middle of my own meltdown about wedding size, an acquaintance told me about this great wedding she’s going to this summer. It’s going to be in the woods at a campground they rented out for all the guests, the couple is collecting vintage tableware so no one eats off the same plate, etc.

      I just sort of stared at her with a dazed smile and then my friend who knew I was struggling with this saved me. The acquaintance meant well, and that wedding really does sounds awesome, but it wasn’t the most helpful thing to hear!

      Don’t you feel like you will forever change the way you talk to other people about their weddings?

      • Rachel

        Yes! One the lessons learned from this thing they call “planning a wedding” is be supportive of whatever type of wedding someone has. A friend of mine recently became engaged and the first thing I told her was “whatever type, size, style wedding you have will be perfect no matter what”.

  • Christina

    I would like to personally vouch for the “Plan your budget according to your guest list, not vice versa” method.

    We had to move from a totally blog-worthy/cute/trendy venue to a wood paneled (and not it a good way) community center in order to fit everyone on the guest list. And it was WORTH IT. I would be really sad right now knowing that I chose the cool over a few of the people at the wedding.

    For me, the need for unique little touches, or bloggy-ness just completely went away on the other side of the wedding day. When I was planning the wedding I wanted things so badly, but now, after the wedding, I could have done with out a lot of the cool/trendy/personalizing stuff.

    I didn’t give favors and no one cared. At all. It’s totally ok.

    Sorry, not being so articulate today, but that’s my two cents!

    Classic APW, btw. Love it.

  • marbella

    We went back and forth about the catering. We both LOVE to eat, as does our entire family. We wanted people to enjoy the food, and be full (for a nights drinking and partying) but we did not want to pay the $60 per head average quote for our area (DC Metro – I researched a lot, and tried telling caterers our budget). Finally husbando found a BBQ caterer a little out of town who also did wedding catering. We knew wanted hot food, and it to be a little more jazzy than average BBQ, so they did mashed and roast potatoes, grilled vegetables, bread, salad, grilled chicken, shredded pork and ribs, tea/coffee, and cupcakes! for $17 per person. Everyone enjoyed the food, people were full, and our budget wasn’t bust. Also cupcakes meant I saved on a cake, ended up making a small one ourselves just for cutting and the family ate it the next day with cups of tea!
    Another thing we did that people loved was grabbed a few trays of those roll-ups and croissant sandwiches from costco, put them in the fridge and whipped them out about 10pm, the point when people start losing energy. They went down well and the out-of-towners took the leftovers back to their cottages!
    I second the comment that people generally are coming to your wedding to be with you, not to have a fancy meal out – they can do that whenever they want.

  • Lindsey

    Thank you soooo much for this post! I’m in the midst of finding a caterer for about 125 people, but I really want to find a caterer for 200 people, because I want to invite WAY more people than we can currently afford. We’ve already decided we love the idea of a tapas style heavy appetizers menu, so I’m attempting to convince the husband elect that we don’t need a sit down environment (which would also mean not renting tables which take up dance floor space, hello!).

    I think the biggest issue with our guest list is that his family is twice as large as mine. I’ve got about 12 close friends that “have” to be there, and that includes their dates. He’s got like 50, so at times it feels like our guest list constraints aren’t so much ours as his. And that he’s going to have all these people there and it’s going to turn into his party and not our party. Which isn’t fair. And isn’t true. But everytime he starts talking about how he’d really like to invite xyz from work, I cringe and get a little angry. >sigh< Learning to let go of that and work with what we've got (which is a seriously awesome venue) and try to add in guests on a one for me one for you basis. (but I get to add first!).

  • Shortnsweet3829

    My mother is one of 5 and my father is one of 10. I have 7 siblings. All of my cousins and their children come to birthdays, graduations, sacraments, etc. In addition to offending someone, I would have been devastated not to have all of my family (including the little ones!) at this life event. Venue was the hardest part, and here are my suggestions:

    –Consider parks, but some states will not allow alcohol if that is important to you. We looked in DE because PA doesn’t allow it.
    –If you live in a city (we’re in Philadelphia) look outside–we’re getting married in Lancaster because it’s a)cheaper b) larger venues. It’s worth the hour and a half drive to have everyone there.
    –Think about Universities. A few in the Philadelphia area offer reception spaces, and many campus are beautiful.
    –If you have the money to bring your own tents, call some local farmers. We found several via google who would have let us rent their land for an event if we could work out the logistics, but we were just a bit lazy.

    My last piece of advice is talk to your vendors you’ve found about what you are still looking for. We found that many vendors know others in the industry with similar values and price points. Utilize their expertise!

  • clampers

    This is so refreshing and eye-opening to read, especially for a small-wedding girl. I really am very undereducated when it comes to the whole wedding-planning process, mostly because I don’t have much to plan. But this was really nice to read people encouraging to “invite the people you want and then figure out how to feed them.” Very gracious.

  • Brittany

    Thank you for this post! I’m planning a large (the guest list is currently 430 people) wedding for this summer and had been feeling like I was “doing it wrong” by not having a smaller wedding. (Throw in the fact that I’m planning all of this from three hours away, and it’s been a bit stressful.) We’re having a big Catholic ceremony and hotel reception, and at times I’ve felt like I was being judged for going the traditional/extremely large route. It was refreshing to see a post about big weddings, so thank you for that.

  • kyley

    Thank you! I feel like so often, on the wedding blogs, large weddings are viewed as crazy-indulgent or something. My partner and I each have HUGE families. The list of family members that we are close to and must invite? Over 100. Not to mention all our lovely, warm, close friends.

  • We could’ve seriously cut our guest list and served a sit down dinner and had long conversations with everyone. Instead we served a small-ish meal (croissant sandwiches and truffles!) and invited people we really cared about. There were still people we knew that didn’t get invited. Just because I knew them or sat next to them in a class or this that and the other didn’t mean they got invited. But we were very happy with all those who were there (our final count for the caterer was 165). We had it at a hotel and honestly that was probably our best decision because they handled everything. And I love the pictures from it as well. Our intimate family dinner the night before had 40 people at it. We were bound to have a big wedding and never thought twice.

  • anonymous

    In my ideal world, I could embrace Miss Manner’s rule of thumb. I am embarrassed that I haven’t, but the fact is that I have minimized my guest list for deeper reasons than wanting a pretty/chic/hip wedding. This rule assumes a simpler relationship to family: we all love each other and sincerely want to share in this matrimonial occasion. I have a huge family, and my fiancé’s is pretty sizable as well. But when we’re honest about our and our parents’ relationship with each of these people, some complicated and even yucky feelings arise.

    For example, my cousins and I struggle a lot with my mom’s and her siblings’ idealism of the Big Happy Family. We are not that. Most of it is cultural: my mom’s family immigrated from a country where the extended family unit is truly the center of life–I mean really, the national economy subsists on it. As first generation Americans, though, my cousins and I don’t feel this connection, and the pressure to conform to our parents’ ideals has strained rather than strengthened our relationships. Weddings especially are the prime occasion for us to play out these forced roles, but it’s not something we want to do anymore. So although it’s contrary to our cultural expectations, I am only inviting a handful of my cousins, and the not-invited cousins (and I) are frankly quite relieved. I’d venture to say here that obligatory invites could possibly beget obligatory attendees. I eliminated people from the guest list because we share a mutual lack of enthusiasm. If I had invited them, they would attend merely because they “should” or are expected to, and they would probably be disgruntled about the travel expense and time. So I am confident that I have relieved them of a burden. And even more contrarily, I invited less-closely-related family members who were more sincerely enthusiastic about attending. While my mom was at first resistant to all this, she thought about it a bunch and came to the same conclusion: we will invite people not because of the closeness of bloodlines (and what that is supposed to imply about our affections), but because of the closeness of hearts.

    My dad has a large family as well, but he himself has made little effort to keep ties with his siblings since he left home at age 17. It is strange to imagine so few “representatives” of his family at the wedding, but it is stranger still to pretend there is a bond among people who have barely communicated for nearly 50 years. So we are only inviting two of his siblings and their spouses. No cousins. Disproportionate to my mom’s family, yes. Natural and honest, though.

    So my parents are both satisfied with the guest list and our unconventional approach. Ultimately, my parents and I have the same values, and when we whittle away the noise of expectations and “shoulds,” those values guide us to the same choices.

    My fiancé’s family is trickier, surprisingly. His parents eloped and are extremely counter-culture people, so I did not expect either of them to have strong ideas about the guest list or the wedding in general. Silly me. My future MIL seems to see this as her opportunity to throw a big fancy party with a banquet and coat tails. But she also doesn’t want to spend much money to achieve this (?!?!). And while she added to the original guest list, she didn’t want to change venues or catering options to accommodate a larger crowd (and by now it’s too late to do so). So who will make the concessions here? My family? Our friends, who are dearer to us than the new invitees of the future-in-laws? The future-in-laws are inviting numerous people not because of love or affection but because of their fear of arousing petty anger or of addressing tensions that have been perpetually ignored or avoided. I have a hard time reconciling myself to this motivation.

    Furthermore, some family members (e.g., future MIL’s siblings) are downright mean to my fiancé–they’re condescending, dismissive, and snarky. I understand they are close to his parents, but seriously?? People who are mean to the person getting married do not belong at the wedding. And and and! One of those people, in his limited interaction with me, has said incredibly offensive things to me about my mom’s ethnic group. On multiple occasions he has mocked my mom’s language–to my face, as a way of “striking up conversation” (?!?!). After I talked to future MIL about this, saying I was concerned that he’d be rude to my extended family at the wedding, and that my mom was really hurt, future MIL’s brother made an even more offensive non-apology (I’m sorry YOU thought I was mocking your ethnic group, etc.). And then, to keep the peace and not have an all-out feud, future MIL made me apologize to him for accusing him of being culturally insensitive (I didn’t even go so far as to call him racist, which he is). And I did apologize, profusely, without putting the blame back on him as he did to me. WTF?!?! He will be at the wedding for MIL’s sake, but God knows I and my mother do not want him there. At all.

    All of which is to say: honoring family ties is not so simple. Making a guest list can reveal a lot about familial and cultural relationships, and cost-saving measures (feeding people modestly or choosing a larger less hip venue) do not address those deeper challenges. Sometimes saying “we’re just having a small wedding” is a euphemism for a much longer and incomprehensible explanation. And while I do agree that weddings aren’t just about what the bride and groom want, I do believe that getting married is an act by the bride and groom of beginning a new/baby family based on their own values. Where those conflict with the values of their parents or families-of-origin, I don’t think it’s so shallow to stick up for them and to converse with the families-of-origin about those differences.

    • Vmed

      Hugs. Cause you are dealing with some hard stuff, and planning a sprawly wedding is hard enough when you don’t have to deal with bigotry.

      My fmil is super nice, but even so, being first generation mexican makes me quite sensitive in her house, and honestly, sometimes people from homogeneous backgrounds are just clumsy with culture. If you can, try to forgive the clumsiness, and ignore the malice (don’t give them the satisfaction).

      And email me if you want to talk. the dot distinguished dot vagrant at gmail

  • Kate

    “…even though you have a truckload of people there, you might only have time to talk to about 40 of them and will only remember doing so with about 12. And that may be a little sad.”

    We had 120 people at my wedding, and my husband said afterwards he thinks the most you can expect to actually talk to is about 80, and if he were doing it again (with me!) he would aim for that number. I’m in two minds, because at least 15-20 people there I didn’t particularly want but invited for other people (mainly parents).

    But I think it’s awesome the posters WANT all those guests there, and I’d say go as casual as your dream allows. Bring on the picnics, dessert feasts, fairground vendors – there’s more than one way to have an amazing time and not break the bank, and I think a lot of out-wedding’d guests prefer it!

  • FM

    We had a big wedding. We invited about 350, expected 250 (the list included lots of people like older relatives who couldn’t travel who we knew wouldn’t come, but wanted to feel included) and ended up with about 200 due to a few big family groups we expected to come having conflicts.

    I wanted to throw in the idea that being surrounded by people you love is awesome about having a wedding, but (if you have the space and budget and are having a big wedding anyway), you might consider that how much YOU love them doesn’t have to be the only criteria for an invite to your wedding. We invited all my second cousins not because I see them all the time (even though many of them live in the same city as me), but because I do NOT see them all the time, and I think it is amazing that we are still motivated to get together for weddings and bar mitzvahs and occasional reunion parties, and keep a family tie. You don’t have to be super close with family for them to still be meaningful parts of your life who you might want included in major life events or other every-once-in-a-while meetings. And just as important, we were thrilled to be a reason for them all (and our parents) to see each other, since they need the excuse of these weddings to get together as well! Also, there were a bunch of people at our wedding that were friends of our parents, some of whom (good friends of my FIL that he has made in the past 5 years or so) neither of us knew at all. We pushed back against this a lot on the basis that we wanted to feel some connection to the people at our wedding, but you know what? They all had a great time at the wedding, my FIL was so proud to be showing us off to people who are important to him, and we barely noticed (and laugh about it a ton when we see them in pictures dancing away with our friends and relatives). Big bashes aren’t for everyone, but sometimes being more inclusive rather than limited can feel pretty great and festive in the end. I wish I’d spent a little less energy fighting some of the few battles we did fight to limit our list.

  • liz

    dooood. i don’t make it through all the comments any more (work caught on and blocked the site, wtf) but let me just say, we had over 150 people. it was awesome. and if i say so myself, blogworthy. and alyssa is always right on the money.

    and i made this comment after 2 bourbons. because it’s friday.

  • Lizzie

    I got engaged late last summer after going to three weddings in the space of about six weeks and having a conversation that went something like this:
    Me: All of these weddings are so small and classy. If we ever get married, it is going to be a big, sprawling mess. Please say that we can just elope instead.
    John: No, it won’t. We can totally be reasonable about it and keep it small. And getting married with my family there is really important to me and (etc etc, lots of really sweet, awesome stuff about love and community).
    Me: Yeah, I know. I’m just saying that it would be a big damn wedding. Like I bet at least 200 people.
    John: No….
    Me: (getting competitive) No, really, I’m going to show you that I’m right.
    So then we pull out a laptop and spend the next 45 minutes making a list of about 220 people, and I’m sitting there feeling a self-satisfied glow of victory about the endeavor when it dawns on me that we just made a list of people to invite to our wedding, and that the whole thing somehow got a lot less hypothetical in the process. So I look at John and he looks back at me and we burst out laughing because we both realize – well, shit, I guess this means that we’re getting married.
    We’re getting married in September, and as many times as we’ve revisited our guest list since that first conversation, it remains stubbornly stuck above 200. And although I’ve made a few more scenes in the meantime about really just wanting to elope and can’t he take a bit more initiative with all this planning since he’s the one who really wanted a wedding in the first place and blah blah blah, I know that we’re actually planning the wedding that I really want to have, too.

  • My biggest wedding regrets have nothing, absolutely NOTHING, to do with the following: what I wore, what my bridesmaids wore, what flowers we had, what decor we had, what music we had, what alcohol we served, the food we served.

    They are entirely about the people we failed to invite. Sometimes because of money concerns on my part, I am ashamed to admit. I found that Miss Manners advice about a month before my wedding and it was like a stabbing pain in my heart. I felt so foolish.

    So, anyway. We had a big wedding. It was 125 people. I have been to tiny weddings and big weddings and where there is JOY – sticky, big, almost painful JOY – it doesn’t matter if there are 2 people or 200: the wedding will be a beautiful occasion.

    After my wedding, I sometimes hear people say they don’t want to give up x, y or z and will cut the guest list instead. I want to tell them that I would have given up all the trappings of my wedding if I could go back and write that guest list over again.

  • Erin

    I have to say having a luncheon reception really cut back on food costs for us and significantly cut back on the booze cost even with our slightly boozy friends and family. (This I was pretty surprised by, even though told me it would happen I didn’t believe them). We cut out favors, arranged the centerpieces for our tables ourselves, printed our own stationery bits on some Martha Stewart stationery on clearance at Michaels and did little to no decorations at our reception venue. We used a country club that had a giant permanent tent that had a super flowy roof (not plastic but umm ethereal like). I don’t know if it looked cookie cutter, but everyone had plenty of room to move around and said it really suited us. Our wedding was about 190 guest list with 150ish in attendance.

  • I also had a large wedding since I also grew up with a lot of siblings and lots of relatives. but still I really had a great time even though the expenses were huge.

  • So this Saturday I’ll be getting married with 247 guests (as of 4:11pm PST) attending. Wow I didn’t realize the enormity of this until I just typed that sentence. How did this happen? Well I’m an only child, and my FH is one of two. We’re both the first in our families to get married of our generation. We originally had hoped for 150, this ballooned to 200 and then to 240 total invited. We ended up adding a few extra here and there (don’t forget older guests might need a ride if the ceremony/reception aren’t close to their home) and we are at 247. Our budget was $10,000 which is now turning into more like $15,000. The only way we could have done this was by keeping the cost for adding a person very low. Our caterer cost $11/plate for a Mexican buffet. This did not include drinks or cutlery or plates. Our favors are pint glasses for our guests to use while they’re at the event and I ordered disposable “green” plates and cutlery.

    The hardest part is the logistical nightmare of throwing a party for this many people. At a drink per hour for four hours that’s 988 beverages total. We got 3 full size kegs which will take care of about half of that. Then there’s sangria for another 1/4 and water/lemonade for the last 1/4. Transporting this many of anything is impossible, so I only used vendors that would deliver.

    There are things I had to cut out: only half our guests received paper invitations, our friends all received paperless post invites, there will be no seating charts as RSVPs change daily and I can’t start to divide this many people in to nice, neat groups of 10, we will not have cake (small cupcakes and candy bar instead), I kept everything else small (no bridal shower, 3 people in wedding party, no one else at rehearsal dinner besides parents and bridal party), no floral centerpieces or any other floral arrangements (except for personal flowers).

    The ceremony is at 10am with a lunch reception immediately following from 12pm-4pm. That was to just save my sanity of having to feed/entertain that many people for an extended period of time. For our close friends/people our age we’re hosting an afterparty on a party bus later on that night. I’ll change into a short dress and we’ll be able to party without Grandma and Great Aunts hovering.

    All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone we love and our parents love in one place. I’m glad we avoided the whole “No you can’t invite that person” conversation and we saved our pocketbooks by asking our parents to pay the $11 for each person they invited that was not on our original 150 list.

    My last piece of advice is to read Miss Manners cover to cover. Even if you disagree with some of things she says, it brought me back to sanity every time someone told me I HAD to have something. And the only other things that sucks about having a big wedding is that a) you can’t use the excuse that you’re having a “small wedding” to not invite those extraneous people you don’t really want there and b) vendors may try to increase prices because they think you can afford it. Wish me luck!

  • Amy

    I had 240 people at my wedding, AND hand sewed with friends 240 cloth napkins and hand made about 200 favors (sachets filled with cedar shavings from the dock built for our wedding ceremony which cost pennies per favor). I had lots of help but it was really fun.

    And wow, did we have a blast! Having a wedding of that size allows you to invite not only your family and family friends, but all of your own friends which can make for a pretty incredible party…and more than one wedding hook-up :-)

    We cuts some costs by having the wedding at my parents home (they have some land), doing the flowers ourselves, and getting married in a small town. I realize that these options are not available to everyone though.

  • I’m also having a large wedding (230 attending) and have experienced the same stress about the big wedding sterotype but thanks to Miss Manner’s and A Practical Wedding, I knew to plan around my guest list. After all, the people in our lives are more important that my dream venue (which only hold 125).

    I was determined to make it work within the budget so I spent 2 months hunting for a caterer who could produce a simple menu and give me a reasonable price per person. It took awhile but I did find one, a recent culinary school grad with some experience and a lot of talent and enthusiasm.

    I also went outdoors. A tent can be more expensive but with bigger weddings, I think it’s a huge help- it gave us flexibility on space. We can increase or downsize the tent even the week of so we don’t have to be in a frenzy about too many yes RSVP’s for our venue. It also gave us control of the caterer we hire and the alcohol which we’re purchasing ourselves for much less. Because of this decision we’re able to serve dinner and some alcohol which we could never have afforded at most wedding venues in our area. And we cut some things to make it happen- no favors, a spent a smaller amount on my dress, etc.

    Until last week, I was embarrassed by my wedding size and I felt the need to explain why it was so big- the same way Maggie did. My family and Rob’s family are big on both sides and involved in our lives, we’re close with our colleagues and have maintained many friends solidly from college.

    But last week, I addressed the invitations and as I looked at each name on my list I realized just how much I loved each guest and how happy I’ll be if they can come. I’m no longer feeling bad about my wedding size. I’m grateful to have so many wonderful family and friends and I’m just so happy that I made this decision early on, to make my venue, food, budget decisions fit them. 230 guests still sounds terrifying to me, especially because I hate attention, but when May 21 comes I’ll be seeing Hailey, Aunt Sandy, and Eva and Jacob– not a mass of 230 random folks.

  • devlyn

    Oh, I totally needed this. I “thought” my partner and I had agreed on a “small” wedding, with the possibility of a larger reception, but when I found out that his version of “small” was well over 100 people, I really kind of flipped. His parents’ list? Over 70 people by itself. My list (including family and some shared friends)? Maybe 60… his list is another 100+ people. This is what I get for not being close to my family (maybe 2 uncles and an aunt will show up, plus my mom), whereas he’s from a HUGE Catholic family, and most everyone is local (I’m an only child suddenly taking on 12 nieces and nephews!). Even typing about it now is getting me stressed out. I was married before, which didn’t last long, and put together a wedding with financial help from my mom for about 75, and that cost me well over $3k. This wedding will be exclusively paid for by my partner and I, budgeted at $5,000 (not including the rings), and so far, I’ve been able to get it to work. No favors (really? the last wedding I went to, I had to take 3 extra because no one else was taking them, and they were kind of smelly candles. I don’t know what to do with them.), free location (amazing house with backyard, all ours for the day!), cheap catering (I came up with my own menu — I’m a food geek — and most of it will be in season and simply prepared), and we’re making our own wine and beer (less than $500 to drinkify 200+ people? awesome!). I can’t wait to go through all of the other comments; I was behind on my RSS reading. Thank you in advance for all of your suggestions!!

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