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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