Ask Team Practical: The Guest List

It’s Friday, so that means it’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa! Woohoo! And today is a triple win, because she’s taking on three different questions. We’re discussing guest lists APW style today, which means all the advice is a blend of A) Etiquette rules do exist and you need to be aware of them because everyone else is. B) You have a lot of wiggle room if you’re respectful, and C) No. Kids don’t deserve to come everywhere just because they were born. So let’s dive in!

One topic we get asked a lot of questions about here at ATP is the guest list. “Should I invite so and so? Can I not invite this person?  What happens if I invite this person but not so and so?” These questions are usually followed by, “Is it too late for us to elope? Effffffff….”

So we’re going to answer a couple of these questions, but I’m going to have to be honest with you. Guest lists suck. Somebody that you know is going to end up irritated with you for some reason, and there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s not your fault.  But hopefully, you’ll never know about it. And honestly?  If you end up married without at least one person pissed off at you, you didn’t have a wedding, you had a g**damn miracle. The problem is that people attach a lot of self-worth to an invite.  Not being invited is not just a snub, it’s akin to a condemnation on their life, lifestyle, personality and possibly their children.  And sometimes they are right.

Here’s another hard truth: APW will never be able to offer up any succinct advice that will solve most guest list issues.  We’ll use common sense and Miss Manners to help, but the only person who can truly decide what to do in these situations is you. You know the nuances of their guests’ personality, you know how they react and behave and, in some cases, you know all the little details that you did not include in your email that might make me change the advice given.  (It’s happened before. You readers are sneaky little devils…)

So here are a few common guest list questions and our possible solutions.

Separate ceremony/reception

My fiancé and I both have big families, and a semi-large circle of friends. We’ve never wanted a big wedding, but all of a sudden things feel very ALL or NOTHING — we either invite everyone, or we invite no one (aka court house with witnesses). Goshdarnit though, we want to have our cake and eat it too! Would it be ridiculous to have a private ceremony and then meet up with 150 of our nearest and dearest for a big celebration later that day? Are we being selfish by not saying our vows in front of everyone? My best friend says there are no rules and we should do what will make us happy. Others look disappointed when I tell them this may be the option for us. How do we have a day that is uniquely ours without offending the people we love?

-Nontraditional and Nervous in Naptown

NNN, you can TOTALLY do this.  It’s pretty common in Europe. (See Cate Subrosa’s wedding. Cate will also tell you that it’s traditional for guests to pay for their own booze in the UK, as they clearly have us beat in the common sense department.) It happens in the US too, especially if you have a courthouse wedding.  It’s even Miss Manners approved.  As she says, it’s always been appropriate to invite more people to the reception than the ceremony. (But NOT vice-versa.)  However, you need to make sure that you go into it realizing that there might be complaints because apparently not everyone reads Miss Manners. (The HORROR.)  The trick is how you approach it: don’t treat one event as more important than the other.

Those invited to the reception aren’t less important than those who are invited to the ceremony, so don’t even mention the ceremony.  Have your invitations say that they are invited to your wedding reception at Blankety-Blank on Blank.  (Except don’t bold it like I did, that was just for emphasis.)  And for invites for those who are invited to the ceremony, just include a small card stating the time and place for the vows.  However, consider how many of your guests will be traveling from out of town.  There’s a distinct possibility that some people might decline to fly in, if they are only coming to the reception (which is understandable).

So do what you need, and if questioned, just let your guests know that your ceremony will be private and very small.  (They don’t need to know how small.)  And keep in mind, you guys are lucky enough to have so many people you love, you wanted to still have a party to celebrate your marriage with everyone.

And if anyone complains, tell them Will and Kate did it.

Co-Worker Invites

I work in a small department – there are only seven of us – and we are all women. I have become very close to a couple of colleagues and am planning on inviting them.

The question is—do I have to invite my boss? She is not much older than the rest of us and tries too hard to be a friend and not a supervisor. I am over the moon about getting married but I try not to discuss it at work. We are having a small wedding and will not be able to invite everyone. But my boss makes it a point to bring it up—at department meetings, at networking events, even at work functions to anyone who will listen. She’s told clients about my wedding and often tries to pry details from my colleagues.

She also gets terribly drunk and can be quite embarrassing. She attended a colleague’s wedding last year and was wasted before the reception even started.

What I am struggling with the most is that I know that if I don’t invite my boss she will take it personally—especially if I am inviting others from my department. I am also up for a promotion—and although I know that it shouldn’t factor in—I have a feeling it will. I have also started thinking maybe I should look for a new job or just not invite anyone from work.


Yikes.  I would second the “look for a new job” option, but only because that seems like a toxic work environment.  A friendly chat with HR might be in order, no matter your decision.

And what a crappy decision it is.  Inviting co-workers are a sticky issue, but the etiquette bottom line (for anyone, not just you) is that a wedding is a social, not professional, event.  You are not required to invite anyone to your wedding with whom you do not socialize.  However, if you invite anyone from work, you should invite your boss also.  All or nobody.  Period, end of story, thanks and goodnight. That’s the etiquette rule, which means you’re snubbing her if you don’t follow it, and she’ll know it. Even the more sober among us get sad when we know we’ve been snubbed.

What I want to tell you is to tell  inappropriate boss-lady to shove it because you should never be pressured into inviting someone to your wedding, for whatever reason.  However, I know that life doesn’t work like that and we sometimes have to make decisions that aren’t what we want. So what I am going to tell you is to review your options.  You can either invite everyone from work, or you can invite no one from work.  OR, and I don’t recommend this but I’m not the boss of you, you can invite your work friends and not your boss, and hope for the best.  (Inviting them and having them keep it secret isn’t an option.  Fibbing is tempting but will totally blow up in your face.)  Talk it over with your partner and decide what is best for you. And let me know, because now I’m emotionally invested in your situation.

And have that talk with HR.  And get your resume together, find a bigger and better job and then take your red Swingline when you leave.  Because life’s too short to suffer for 40 hours a week.

Child-free Weddings

My fiance and I like kids, we just don’t want them at our wedding.

We don’t have a ton of friends and family with kids, but enough that we feel it’s best to exclude all kids, for various reasons.  (We prefer that the guest list be made up of adults and a few teenage cousins.)  The wedding and reception will be at the family lake-house, which would be perfect for children to visit IF there wasn’t going to be a wedding happening.  We would rather our guests enjoy themselves and not have to look after their children who will undoubtedly make friends and then get hopped up on cake and punch and want to go jump off the dock or forage through the woods.  And honestly, although there are some dream kidlets that we would welcome, there are a few devil-children (through the fault of their parents) that we have witnessed ruining more than a couple adult events.

Can we request a child-free wedding/reception?  Would it be rude to tell the devil parents that the wedding is adults only and “forget” to tell the angel-baby parents?  Are we mean people?  (There’s a tire swing, for goodness sake, how can we have a 7 year old hang out within 10 feet of a perfect tire swing and then tell them that they can’t play on it??)

Ohhhh, this topic pisses people off.  Some of those who are Proud Parents get offended, people who are Certainly Child-free get angry and then those of us with or without kids who think it depends on the situation just want to duck and cover.  So, of course we have to talk about it, APW.

First off, yes, you can have a child-free wedding.  Y’all, remember, you can do whatever you want with your wedding (barring anything illegal, grossly immoral, or involving poop). (Lauren edit: haha. Poop.)

Second, NO, you can’t be Sneaky Sneakerson and only invite the “good” kids.  Besides, your wedding day might be the day that angel-baby has a head cold and didn’t get a nap.  If you’re going adults only, set an age range and stick with it.  (Besides, the teens will love you forever for you considering them an “adult.”)

Third, no, you’re not mean, period.  Kids don’t somehow deserve to get invited to every adult event ever, and we’ll hold that line here at APW (even though we know first hand that kids at weddings can be fabulous if you want them there).

Etiquette says that only those included on the invitation are invited.  Unless the children’s names are on the invitation or it says Mr. and Mr./Mrs./Ms/Dr. So-and-So and Family, kids aren’t invited.  (Some people make exceptions for nursing babies, but that’s up to you.)    But, of course, not everyone pays attention to that.  Just let them know that you’re planning it as an adults-only event, be kind, and don’t make excuses (because you don’t need to).  And if they can’t make it, you make sure you’re understanding.  Just like it’s reasonable for you to not have children your wedding, it’s reasonable for them to not be able to come.  Who knows, the parents might even be relieved and grateful for an event that doesn’t require packing sippy cups, Cherrios and wet wipes in their fancy handbag.

If this all proves too much of a headache, think about having a children’s area and hire a babysitter (or two, depending on the amount) there to watch the devils and angels.  That way the little darlings can get all dressed up and be near their parents, but you can have a pretty much child-free experience without worrying about crying babies or a kindergartner falling in the lake.

Be brave. Do what’s right for you, and know that you’re not doing a single thing wrong.

So, Team Practical, what do you think? What’s your best advice for negotiating etiquette and tender feelings while managing your guest list?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: 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. We love sign-offs.  Make your editors happy.

Featured Sponsored Content