This Is How I Managed My Gigantic Guest List

wedding guests at reception with view of city skyline

Wedding rule number one for Warwick’s and my wedding:

If it comes to a choice between X wedding expense, and inviting more people, we invite more people.

It was decided in one of the first conversations we had about what our wedding should be. Rule number two is “If it doesn’t sound like fun we don’t do it,” which is also a good rule, but this post is about coming to terms with rule number one.

I thought the people first rule was great. I have a huge family, (eighteen first cousins, most of them married at this point, fifteen aunts and uncles, and none that I don’t see regularly and get along with), we have a ton of friends (high school, a super close-knit college family, and every theatre either of us has worked at in the last five years), and a sizable number of family friends. All of these people are special, fabulous, and fun.

About a month after getting engaged I decided to start some solid concrete planning. Step one was to find a venue, and in order to do that I needed a rough guesstimate of the number of guests. I entered in everyone I initially thought of on a spreadsheet (along with how we knew them, and where they were located, since I’m type A like that). I had Warwick add his list, then his mom, then my parents. Finally I went back through and added “and guest” to each person on the list whose significant other wasn’t already included. At the end, I looked at my list and had a panic attack.

374 people.

And this was after I had already talked my mom out of inviting all of her cousins, my great aunts and uncles, and several of her friends who I don’t know as well.

I shut down. This all happened in early Febuary. I announced to Warwick, my family, and my bridesmaids that I was giving up the wedding for Lent. I would not answer any questions about it, I would not be reading any wedding blogs and I would not be dealing with this list. Maybe a slight overreaction, but as it turns out a pretty good one. It gave me a chance and back up and get some perspective.

Forty days later, I reapproached everything with a clearer head. I’m smart, I’m good at making things, I don’t need all the bells and whistles, not all of those people would be able to come; this would be fine. I told everyone involved that none of us were allowed to make any more friends for the next year, and Warwick and I started on a mission to start hooking up friends so that they would be each other’s dates and we could cut some of those “and guest”s. Those last two are mostly meant jokingingly, though not entirely.

Late this summer, with everyone in the same place, I had everyone go through the list together, and we divided it into an A, B, and C list using these rules.

A = I can’t imagine my wedding day without them there.
B = They won’t make or break the day, but if they are not there, they will be missed.
C = I probably won’t miss them if they aren’t there, but they will add to the fun of the day if they are.

A list people were untouchable. No one else is allowed to argue with someone on the A list. B list people are likely going to get an invite, but those are the people who are up for debate if we need to cut. C list people do not get invites unless enough people on the A and B list RSVP no.

Suddenly our list was a much more manageable 312, and that included a sizable number of people who needed an invite but likely wouldn’t be able to come. Now I was looking for a venue that could hold around 250 instead of 350.

250 people is still a huge wedding (especially when I come here to APW and read about all of you who have weddings of 30 or 50) but I was sure that I could handle it. After all I was going to find some crazy awesome venue no one had ever thought to have a wedding at, it would be unique and quirky and cheap.


I turns out that there is a downside to practical, off-beat, unique personal weddings becoming more accepted and popular. I discovered that all of those quirky unique venues either knew how cool they were and were therefore WAY out of our price range, or they didn’t hold 250 people.

We went on a trip to St. Louis this July to visit venues and after the day was over we had found one place that we had a good feeling about. They were in our price range, the people were incredibly helpful and pleasant, the room was beautiful, there was a giant dance floor (super bonus), a big parking lot for our guests and easy access to all the hotels in downtown St. Louis. There was just one problem. It was a banquet hall. Just a banquet hall. Not a reclaimed warehouse, not a hip art gallery, not a cool museum or an abandoned theatre. How was I going to have the unique quirky wedding that I imagined in such a generic traditional WIC venue?

In late September we had our annual beermas party. Its a huge party we’ve been having every year since college and it gets bigger and bigger every year. I’d guess there were almost 100 people at my house that night and we partied from nine at night until four in the morning. The next day, I realized the people first rule is rule number one for a reason. I don’t need a quirky unique venue to have an awesome party. It doesn’t matter what room we put our friends in, they are going to be their quirky unique selves. We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.

So I booked the banquet hall, and I am feeling good about it.

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  • Most excellent :-) I love this post. Good luck with the rest of your planning!

    • Thanks! I’m hoping to get enough done in the next month that I can give up planning again for lent this year.

  • Ah, I was secretly, a little bit, hoping you had a giant wedding in an open field. I do love that photo.

    I really like your rule #1. We didn’t follow it quite so strictly, and I think we perhaps have a few less friends. But I did also freak out about the fact that we were inviting 200 people. In the end, we just had 120 (including the quartet because my mom said she’d pay for it because she wanted it — they sat down to dinner with us). I too had the feelings of envy for the little, tiny weddings folks can have. But I also loved all the people I saw at mine, and expanding the numbers meant we could invite some dear family friends from my childhood (and his), the cousins, etc. I do not think you will regret, in the least, having a larger guest list. Walking down the aisle and seeing everyone who came to celebrate with us was amazing.

    I did have some folks on my A list who couldn’t come, and the wedding was a little different without them. If you feel you can ask, it is nice to have something to help make their presence felt. One friend made me a cape to wear with my dress, and I used fingerless gloves another had knitted to make my hands not quite so cold (we had a winter wedding with lots of outdoor pictures). It was good to know my friends had a part in the wedding even though distance kept them away from the actual day.

    • That is a great idea to involve the A list people in some way.

    • Chris Bergstrom

      Leah, it’s interesting that you say you had twinges about not keeping it small. We did keep it small – after going back and forth a few times, we decided that felt right to us, so we really only invited our can’t-imagine-the-day-without-them people, about 40 – and sometimes I have twinges too, over not making it a giant community celebration for all the people who have loved and supported us.

      Ultimately, I think, you have to go with what feels right to you and your to-be-spouse. The twinges just mean, maybe, that you acknowledge there are other ways of doing things, and those ways could also have been awesome, but you made the best choice you could for yourselves.

      • I definitely think we all have to do what is right for us. In fact, this has been my life mantra for the last year (in all things, not just wedding stuff). We’ve all got different things we’re passionate about and disparate interests. And it is fine and dandy to embrace those differences. Like you said, we’ve all got to make the best choice we can for ourselves.

  • “We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.”
    THAT is my new rule #1.

  • Kt

    thank you thank you! we had ~250 people at our wedding as well, and I was seriously over the 30-person mania…mostly b/c in contemplating DIT ideas, when expanded from 30 guests to 250 guests….they became simply unmanageable or no longer affordable.

    • Right? So many trendy cute ideas don’t translate. Having a cute theme for table numbers is great, until you need to find 25 different varieties of something. When Martha Stewart suggests I hand make a silk flower corsage for each guest I find myself yelling back to the computer about how I have a job.

  • “It doesn’t matter what room we put our friends in, they are going to be their quirky unique selves. We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.”

    Best philosophy ever! When we were planning the guest list, my mantra was “people we want to share the day with.” Not just people we kind of liked or people we felt obligated to invite. People with whom we wanted to share a big emotional experience. Of course there were people there who I didn’t know as well (parents’ friends, partners of friends, etc.) but overall I think the mantra worked well. We invited about 220 people and ended up having about 160. Everyone there was supportive and enhanced the day. It doesn’t matter if you have a 10 person wedding or a 500 person wedding–they should all be people who add to the experience in some way.

  • Steph

    Uh, I just have to say: it’s almost a little creepy how great the timing of this post is. We just totaled up our current guest count last night and I almost had a panic attack upon seeing the number 214. How do we even KNOW that many people? So when I saw the title of this post waiting for me on Google Reader this morning, I was shocked. Great timing — thank you!

    • It’s SO easy to get to a “huge” number. Most people really do know a lot of people, especially when that list has to include your friends, your partner’s friends, your mutual friends, your family and maybe their friends, etc. Good luck with all the planning!

      • Steph

        And boy have I been realizing that more and more lately! Thanks. :)

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Our total number invited stresses me out, so I never really look at it. Instead, I use the expected value of guests attending (calculated from a spreadsheet with estimated probabilities of people coming, erring on the side of “yes”. Yeah). Since we have so many out-of-town and international people invited, it’s a much truer — and more manageable — number. And it keeps the panic attacks at bay.

      Of course, we’ll have to see how well we estimated when the rsvps come in…

      • I also included the probability of invitees coming in my spreadsheet too. :) (And I did it for 3 different potential city/country locations when we were trying to decide where to have it. Haha.) Anyhow, it all worked out okay.

  • jane

    I love that this post also could have been titled “How I came to grips with a banquet hall.” My wedding is at a country club, which was not my first choice but it worked well for several reasons. Sometimes I still wish that I had a less traditional, “cool” venue…but 30 years from now, will that really matter? Thanks for the perspective :)

    • I fought the banquet hall “stigma” for a while too. In the end I came to terms with it even though we aren’t using one. Actually that’s not entirely true, if it rains on the wedding day we’ll be relocated to a last minute VFW and I’ll still be happy as long as everybody fits!

      • People working at banquet halls and country clubs are paid to be helpful to you. That could be a lot better than the no one who is paid nothing to offer no help to you in some random-yet-hip barn you find in a field. And you don’t have to order Porta-Potties!

        • Shiri

          Not having to order porta-potties would make me really happy right about now. More power to you for not spending half your wedding budget on basically building your venue!

          • Aly

            I so agree about having to build your own venue! We got married in my husband’s parent’s (very large) backyard. The setting was beautiful, but many days I would have loved a basic banquet hall. Having to order all the tables, chairs, linens, tents, port-a-potties, and dance floor (not to mention figuring out parking and how to get electricity out there) was not fun. Unique venues, especially the outdoors, definitely have they’re drawbacks!

      • Kelsey W

        Yup. I know this is said pretty often, but banquet halls seem to keep spending down as well- costs don’t sneak in as easily. On first investigation they seemed expensive, but you also don’t have to rent a tent, tables, chairs, lights, catering, staff, etc etc all separately. I’m getting married in a barn-type deal and it will be as much if not a little more than a local country club/banquet hall that I initially thought seemed too expensive.

        • We got married in the banquet hall of a restaurant (because I really wanted windows — it was just such an important detail to me). It was amazing because she also had tons of decorations. I had to buy candles and fresh greenery, but she otherwise had all the vases and other random decor items. Definitely saved us a bundle.

  • I love this! We had a big wedding, too. We invited around 300, and 170ish people came. I freaked out when I realized there really weren’t more than 170 chairs in the church where we got married. I actually emailed my closest friends and asked them if they’d be willing to sit on blankets in the church if it came to that, and bless them, they said yes. Luckily it wasn’t necessary. But to me, weddings are about community, and we have such a large community. It was important to us to have them there. Thanks for your post.

  • Benny

    Upon reading the line about giving up wedding planning for lent…I just burst out with, “HA!” at the bus stop and now all others waiting with me think I’m crazy.

    • marie

      right there with you, just not quite in public. i whooped and hollered and threw my fists in the air when i saw the title of this post, causing my fiance– who had just left our apartment for work– to come running back up the stairs assuming i’d won a car from oprah or something. nope, just reading APW!

  • Kathryn

    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this! We just got engaged and have been getting wedding advice from people, some solicited, some not. Plenty of it has been around the guest list and how that’s the best thing to cut if you need to keep things affordable. As though there are people who really have no need to keep things affordable. I mean, I’m sure there are somewhere, but not in my circle! Anyway, I really like your take on it, and I appreciate your sharing it.

  • This is PERFECT and exactly what I needed to hear.

    As we prepare to send out invites for 250 people (including 75 children) to a backyard wedding that I have been assured will be complete chaos, I needed to remember that I want to be surrounded by the love and chaos that is my reality. Chaos haters and chronic worriers can just shut up.

  • Helen

    This is a great post! I’m grappling with a large guest list as well. I tend to make close friends and have a number from different parts of my life. I’m happy with a bigger guest list and feel confident that we can make our budget work. My partner is worried about the size of the invites for budget reasons and maybe a little stage fright. Any thoughts on how to handle this? How do we compromise on this?

    • I think you need to first really understand what your partner is worried about since budget issues and stage fright are very different problems. Money issues can be worked out by manipulating the budget or making a case for why you need certain people there or making your A and B lists of guests but if it’s a fear of doing something very personal in front of strangers…that requires more delicacy and respect.

    • I think you might want a heart to heart to really pinpoint his concerns … because if he’s got stage fright or just plain isn’t comfortable with having a party that big with you two at the focus that is a whole different bird than budget.

      Budget is easy enough to work around. You find compromises and you can demonstrate how they’ll work.

      If it’s a matter of a wedding of the size you want not being comfortable for him emotionally, then you might want to think about what type and size of wedding will make both of you happy.

    • Denzi

      I was the partner that wanted a small wedding (50 or 60 people), which ballooned to inviting about 200, of which 130-ish showed up.

      For me, knowing that my partner wouldn’t be quite as happy without all the extended family and everyone he’s ever met around him helped me slowly change my mind, even though I was still worried for a long time about being the host and center of attention for SO MANY PEOPLE.

      But I didn’t come around to his point of view until he came around to mine. (Which is a thing our pre-marital counselor taught us, come to think of it.) You need to let your partner talk, no interruptions, about the story of how they are feeling about your wedding. If you’re tempted to interrupt or say “That’s not how it is!” or feel like you’re not getting to share your side, pretend the story has nothing to do with you. Because it sort of doesn’t–it’s a story of feelings, which aren’t always rationally related to the events surrounding them. Really listen. Listen until you can be, if not totally on board with your partner’s fears and wishes for a smaller wedding, at least truly honestly sympathetic. Until you can say, “Wow, I can see why that would make you feel that way. It sounds like you’re also feeling overwhelmed about X, and that’s hard too.” Once you’ve really internalized your partner’s story, then tell yours, same rules. Don’t try to respond to their story or convince them their wrong, just say how you’re feeling and what you feel like needs to be heard. And then leave it alone for a little while to grow and take root, and see if you might be able to compromise better.

      Other things that helped me worry less about wedding size: going to church and seeing what “two hundred people” really looks like. It’s not that abnormal or huge of a crowd size. Also, making escape plans beforehand. “If I am too scared to do the vows in front of all these people, we will…” “If I am too tired of being hostess, we will…” (The answer to the second one was “We will have a receiving line immediately after the ceremony so that we don’t feel obligated to talk to anyone at the reception. And then I can stuff myself in a corner with close friends and play Dungeons & Dragons all through our reception.”)

      Ultimately, I didn’t feel the size at all, because it was so many people who love us. But you could not have convinced me of that beforehand, so it was important for me to have a plan so I wouldn’t feel trapped by the hordes of overwhelming people.

      • Patrick

        Nicely put. I needed both this post and your reply.

        • thursday

          Me too – I’ve been having long-term issues with a long-term friend and I keep wanting to say “But that’s not what happened!” and now I have something to tell myself to remind me to shut up and listen.

          I’m also terrified of the size of my wedding (our preliminary list, which includes a lot of people who won’t be able to make it, is 300) so I’m glad to hear it probably won’t feel huge in the middle of it.

      • suzanna

        Denzi, I just copied your comment and sent it to my fiance! This conversation is really tough (small vs. large wedding), and it’s been difficult for us to compromise on it since we can’t seem to get past “Because it’s important to me!” Thanks!

      • “Ultimately, I didn’t feel the size at all, because it was so many people who love us.”

        Yes, I think that 200 people who you love feels completely different than a random group of 200 people that you don’t know/like.

        And somehow our ceremony (with approx. 100 guests) felt extremely intimate, and I wasn’t really aware of the guests at all, except for the part were we turned around to look at the guests for a community vow we included. I was aware of what was happening right in front of us, on the stage area.

  • Michelle

    YES. YES. YES. Can I just “Exactly!” this whole post?

  • kara

    I have a large guest list too. When I got engaged, the fiance & I envisioned a small wedding. Before making a list and counting it out, we both figured 150 would be invited, with a total guest count of around 100. Then we made the list and discovered that just our families (immediate, first cousins/spouses/kids, aunts/uncles, grandparents) came to 120. Then we added on our friends 160. Okay, fine. Then his parents added their friends, 180. Still more than we liked, but whatever. Then my parents added their friends….250. And our venue holds a maximum of 200. It’s been a struggle convincing my parents that while we appreciate them paying for the wedding, 70 of their friends (many of whom we have never met before) is too many, especially considering how large our families are.

    • We had exactly this issue with my parents. We appreciated them paying for the wedding but when you got down to it, they wanted to invite a bunch of their friends I hadn’t even met!

      Fortunately, my husband and I went into the battle a united front, and eventually got them to see that it was more important to us that we personally knew every face in the audience at our wedding.

  • Anon

    With all due respect to Meg, I think saying things like, “I’m so sick of people telling you that the way to have an affordable wedding is to cut down your guest list” and “You figure out the number of people you love who need to be at your wedding, and then you figure out what you can afford to serve them… never the other way around.:” This can be misleading and lead to unreasonable expectations. My bro is getting married, and he and his girl received a copy of the APW book from me. They sat down, figured out budget and guest list. His budget was the same as mine but he had 2x-3x more people. I told him flat out, “with that number, you will either need to have a punch and cake reception, or a potluck BBQ at the park.” He flipped out a little. Parks around here don’t allow alcohol to be served, and he wanted an all night dance party, not cake and punch. He insisted he could have as many guests as he wanted, but it comes down to simple math. I chose the cheapest venue in a 40 mile radius, and half the budget was spent on the banquet hall package. Even if he cut corners on other things that didn’t matter, he would be able to afford maybe 10-20 extra people, not 120 extra. He could invite as many people as he wanted, but his wedding would no longer fit with his picture of what a wedding looks like in our circle. Which may be fine for some people, but for him it wasn’t – they are cutting the guest list. So these Pollyanna type statements should come with the warning that having a big list might mean having a wedding that is modest to the point where it pushes you out of your comfort zone. It not just about giving up the cool venue and $4000 photographer and gourmet caterer – it might mean no dinner and not dancing and no booze, which is not ok for some people.

    • I wanted to have all the people. David has 30 first cousins, I have a dozen. Our family list alone was over 150 people. And there was no way we would get married without our large and loving families.

      So we spent $300 on a community hall and didn’t serve dinner. We had an open bar and got all our booze at Superstore and while we had to pay $200 out of pocket for bartenders, we didn’t have to pay the crazy markup for drinks you see at most venues. (Booze, all in with bartenders and tips and mixer, for 150 heavy drinkers, was about $1300. A jumbo bottle of rum, which costs $50 in the store, makes a *ton* of rum and cokes. Also, booze is crazy expensive due to taxes in my province.) We had lots of dancing and drinking and desserts made by me and my mother in law and various helpers.

      Because family was the most important thing, we figured out our budget and our guest list, and then figured out what we could afford to serve. Which was, yes, booze and sweets.

      To me, the point of a wedding was to get married and celebrate with everyone we love. Not the dinner, not the venue. It’s not a pollyanna statement to say “You figure out the number of people you love who need to be at your wedding, and then you figure out what you can afford to serve them.” It’s a fact. If your social circle demands a certain style wedding and it’s important for you to go with the norm, that’s fine, but accept that you are already caving to WIC pressure, and that is the choice you are making. I am just as married, having had a cheap dinner-free, drunken family wedding at a cheap community as I would have been from a smaller, fancy wedding with dinner at a local golf course. You have to pick what’s important. For your brother, serving dinner is more important than guests. For many of us reading this website, guests are more important than dinner.

      • Liz

        Those are great points, and it sounds like you had an awesome wedding that was perfect for you and your partner. I just have one comment to make – for Anon’s brother to want to serve dinner at his wedding or to have some idea of what he wants his wedding to look like does not necessarily mean he is “caving to WIC pressure.” Wedding planning involves a lot of tough compromises, and people’s budgets/preferences/guest lists/available venues are so diverse that it rarely comes down to simply picking whether guests or dinner are more important.

        • Chris Bergstrom

          Yes, sometimes cutting the guest list is not about, “OMG must have ice sculptures and surf and turf, way more important than inviting Aunt Edna!” Sometimes it’s about, “We never wanted a big wedding, and we want to save this money for an emergency / house / graduate school / amazing adventure for our new family of two,” or “Much as we love our community, we think we will feel more of the transcendent joy of the day with fewer people around, because that’s just how we are.”

          My point is that there are a number of reasons to cut the guest list; sometimes it can feel/seem like “caving to the WIC”, but sometimes it’s not about that at all.

        • Before I decided to get married I had NO IDEA how expensive it can be to throw a big party for people you love. Seriously. I thought the expensive parts were things like decorations, and florists, and limos. I did not realize that the expensive parts were things like FOOD, full stop, and A PLACE FOR EVERYONE TO EAT.

      • kara

        I agree. My fiance & I wanted our wedding to be a celebration of not only our love, but all the people we love. We want a celebration for our family & friends. I do have an issue when the guest list begins including people that we don’t even know, let alone love. It’s perfectly okay for that list to include a few of those kinds, but definitely not too many.

    • I agree with you on this… my husband and I had to cut guests because we were on a very tight budget and the only location we could truly afford wouldn’t have held everyone we would have liked to invited, so sometimes there really is no choice but to cut your guest list when you’ve already cut a lot of other things. It was more important to us to get married than to wait until we could afford a big wedding, and people who weren’t invited – they understood.

    • It is going to come down to your brother and his fiance making some tough choices about their wedding day. It’s okay that they’re going to have to do that together–it’s a good exercise in compromise and decision making.

      Sister, you’ve said your piece to them, and now it’s time for them to make some decisions on their own. You can continue to be your supportive and a bit of a voice of reason but they’re adults just like you and will figure out how to best hold THEIR wedding. Besides, maybe they’ll be lying around one night and have a brilliant idea how to have their large party + all the guests they want…

      • Want to chime in here and say that it is what makes sense for YOUR wedding in YOUR community. There may always have to be some cutting of the guest list, but cutting just so you can serve a certain dish (as vender might suggest) or so that you can afford a certain photographer–ESPECIALLY if cutting means people you know and love won’t be able to come–goes against the idea of a practical wedding. Yes, of course. We would probably all agree with this.

        But, I don’t think Meg’s statement was pollyanna at all. I think it was a call for a clear, hard look at why you need to cut the guest list and to consider other options before you cut your nearest and dearest.

      • I agree, it definitely comes down to making some difficult choices. One of my mottos is “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” For us people was priority number one, and so we were willing to give up other things to have those people. Some other people might find out, when faced with the choices that food, or dancing, or beautiful venue or ice cream is a higher priority for you, and that’s totally cool.

    • There’s another variable: time. If having a wedding of a certain calibre, with a certain number of guests, is very important and non-negotiable to you, you have the option of a longer engagement to give you more time to save up the money.

      I think a lot of us (all of us?) have to juggle the competing priorities of time, number of guests, and standard of wedding. Where I live in Asia it is not unheard of to be engaged for a few years in order to make the big fancy wedding happen – that’s totally valid. On the other hand, for some people, time is the priority, and we have seen many weddings on APW where people do something very simple because it’s important to them to just be married already. That’s totally valid too.

      Being adults, we will all balance these three factors in a way that makes sense for us personally. Your brother is not a victim here, he has options. It’s just a case of figuring out your priorities in the face of limitations. You know, like everything else we do in adult life.

  • Madeleine

    I could not agree with this more. Our numbers were lower than yours, by 100-150, but substantial none the less, and it just felt really important to me to be able include as many people as possible. With this priority, we ended up with a banquet hall that was kinda gross and not amazing. It wasn’t terrible, but I am sure no one has ever called this place beautiful. But as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter one bit. Our wedding was made up of the people who were there, the food on the table, and the music/dancing. Location was immaterial. And I’m very happy with that choice, because it let us have all the things we really wanted.

  • Jessie

    My partner & I have battled this, as I too have a giant family but my partner has a tiny one and had major anxiety at the idea of 80 people in a room. Finding a compromise was tricky, as I’d always imagined celebrating with lots is chaos and people around too, but there’s no way were could’ve coped with that, and bumping the list from 60-80 had him saying he couldn’t handle a wedding at all! In the end, we compromised by inviting only A’s – there are no B or C lists, and while that means i won’t share this particular moment with some pretty cool peeps, I’m reminding myself that there are many other awesome moments I will share with them.

    Sigh. Guests lists are complicated, and this post reminds me that weddings are about people celebrating love, so no matter how big or small your list, it’s the people that make the wedding and you should prioritize them.

    as for halls: I think wedding blogs give us the false perception that everyone is expecting a quirky venue. I’m pretty sure only the people reading wedding blogs have such expectations. Give your guests a heads up about how to dress for the venue, and provide an accessible toilet facility, and I’m sure everyone will love where you get married.

    • PA

      One idea my fiance and I are mulling over is a series of “receptions,” one right after the ceremony, and then two others in the months prior to (or just after) the wedding, which allows us to celebrate with our various groups of friends and family in various ways, all with groups of a manageable size. (We’re both kind of introverted.)

      It’s a thought! If you like, feel free to steal it!

      • sb

        I’m doing this! My partner has 15 aunts and uncles, most of whom are married and have kids. We’re having a smaller wedding (still not as small as we’d originally thought–probably around 120 guests) and then honeymooning where most of her extended family lives and having a party with them.

        It’s cheaper for them and us, allowed us to have the venue we wanted, and feels less stressful.

    • I sat through a wedding in the rain. Without an umbrella. And then we stood in the garage for ‘cocktails’ (aka beer from ice tubs). And then we went to a community hall and ate beef on a bun and drank stiff rum and cokes and caught up on family gossip while the little kids danced.

      And it was delightful.

      Outside wedding blog land? Most guests generally just seem to be hoping for a fun time and maybe some food or drink. I’ve never been at a wedding and actually heard anyone bitch about the venue. Most people are just happy to witness the wedding and then hang out together for an evening.

      • Jessie

        So true about venues. My family business is a golf course & country club so we host weddings all the time, and I have never heard a guest say “why here?”. It honestly doesn’t occur to most people who are NOT planning a wedding / reading wedding blogs for fun to have a wedding in anything other than a party venue. Plus, I promise: many of us country clubs are very nice and fun so don’t ditch us quite yet!

        @PA – that sounds like a great compromise! We’re doing the same: my partner is shy in general, so we’ve decided to handle it by having a pre-wedding get together for our friends (finger foods at our place after work) in place of the shower that my family generously offered. This way, some of our family meets our friends & we get to celebrate, but without the pressure of a big reception… Plus some of my friends can’t make the trip back to my hometown, so this is a great option there too. Seeing as we have a grand total of 10 friends-who-might-as-well-be-family among our 80ish list (to keep it small enough for him, we only invited family), I’m happy to get to celebrate with friends.

  • Sara C.

    “. I discovered that all of those quirky unique venues either knew how cool they were and were therefore WAY out of our price range, or they didn’t hold 250 people.”

    Hahaha EXACTLY. (As I stare at my 250+ guest list…) We actually added a new reception venue 13 months into planning to accommodate a growing list. Stressful? yes. Necessary? also yes.

  • Katie

    I love, love, love this post!! I am in a similar situation (huge family and lots of different groups of friends) and it sucks when people look at you like your wedding is ridiculous or less awesome because you are inviting over 200 people. What other time to you get to have all the people you love in the same place at the same time (and totally over the moon for you)?? I say go for it! My wedding is going to be awesome. :)

  • Sarah

    How is the matchmaking your friends effort is going? Cause that cracked me up.

    • It totally works btw. I “suggested” dates for several of our friends to our wedding years ago. Three couples actually started dating, one got married (I was her bridesmaid), and others just had a baby. In fact, all of those relationships lasted longer than mine! Who knew I could match everyone but myself?!

    • not terribly well yet. The strategy has shifted a bit to telling people about all of the cute single friends we have who will be there. There are still a couple of couples I have hopes for matchmaking before the date. That’s what BBQs this summer will be for :)

      • Sarah

        That’s still better than my friend’s panic and informing me about the lack of single men at their wedding ;)

        Hoping that summer BBQs (and springtime picnics and winter potlucks) work their magic.

  • PA

    A very thought-provoking post – it’s wonderful to hear an eloquent explanation from someone who is choosing, actively and with joy, to have a large wedding!

    I *loved* this quote: “I don’t need a quirky unique venue to have an awesome party. It doesn’t matter what room we put our friends in, they are going to be their quirky unique selves. We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.” Your wedding is going to be so filled with joy and community, and I am really hoping we get a picture post about it!

    P.S. Giving up wedding planning for Lent is an awesome idea!

  • Ours was huge and SO fun. The sheer amount of people contributed so much love and energy, and seeing so many great people interact with each other for the first time was amazing. Just amazing.

    And yay St. Louis! Where is it? Just say the word if you want a local to go measure things or take a photo or recommend a vendor!

    • We’re having the ceremony at the old cathedral and the reception at a banquet hall called the Cedars. I’m also pretty excited about taking the break between the ceremony and reception to take pics under the arch and play frisbee and wiffle ball and washers with our family on the arch grounds.
      I will totally hit you up if I need vendor recs.

      • Totally do! That will be SO fun. Email me if you need anything: emmalouklues at gmail dot com.

  • Marie

    My mom comes from a family of 11, my dad from a family of 7. With spouses and children, my family alone is an absurd number of people. Throw in there that I basically stay in touch with everyone I’ve ever known, and the fact that we are having the wedding in our small, home town–where we both grew up, the kind of place where you know everyone. I fought against it at first…I didn’t want a huge wedding! I wanted a small wedding! Something unique! Different!…but, I’ve come to terms with it and am psyched about it now.

    I went through the same process with choosing our wedding party. My fiance has 3 men he wants to stand up with him. I love the idea of a small wedding party, but in the end just could not imagine my wedding day without 6 of my closest friends being with me in that way. Thank goodness I’ve spent enough time on APW to not think TWICE about uneven numbers ;) although I still get confused looks over it!

    • Leslie

      Again, Miss Manners is right. It is more important to include the people you love than to have a matched set chorus of attendants. I recently attended a wedding where there were almost twice as many bridesmaids as groomsmen. Everyone agreed that the best photo of the whole event was of the shy, overweight sweetheart of a groomsman going down the aisle with a bridesmaid on each arm – looking like he just won the lottery.

  • Maureen

    We had a 275 person wedding. My dad found a church hall that would do an open bar and family style Polish dinner for $17/person (small town Indiana). The hall wasn’t pretty, with cinder block walls, florescent lights, and folding chairs. Our families worked so hard to make it nice, but the thing everyone seems to remember is how we memorized our traditional Catholic vows. It was wonderful and amazing to see our entire families in one room (that we barely fit into). My great-aunt passed away unexpectedly two months after our wedding. Our wedding was the last time she had seen all of her family – cousins, in-laws, and their children. Her children were so grateful that she was able to have that experience so soon before her death. Whenever I start to feel a little jealous over my church hall reception, I think of her because that is what really matters in a wedding – surrounding your new family with the people who love you most!

  • Beb

    This is on point for me! We are inviting 250 people, because my mom has eight siblings and my fiance’s mom has five siblings, and his parents are divorced and remarried, and we have friends, and our parents have friends, and, eek, 250 people. The catch is that our venue (the largest we could find in our price range) holds exactly 200 people. So we’re in this weird situation of wanting everyone to come but hoping (and praying) that 50 people can’t come (which seems realistic given that our families live far away, etc.). It’s an odd dilemma, but I’m glad we are going to fill up the 200-person venue with people we love.

  • I needed to read this post today! I’m still struggling with a larger-than-I-wanted guest list and a catering hall (when I wanted a unique venue) ever since we started planning a year ago. Did you hear that? A year ago. It’s time for me to get over it. I want everyone on the list to be there in a space we can afford. Time to let go :)

  • “We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.”

    AWP quote of the week! Sometimes there’s as much pressure to be ‘cool’ and ‘quirky’ as there is to be traditional. It’s the people – not the places and how they are decorated – that make the event what it is.

  • Big weddings in banquet halls are so much fun because they’re big and full of people who love each other. The venue blends into the background.

    My husband and I — and just about everyone in my family — had a big wedding. My family is even bigger than yours and just as close and we have tons of friends. The guest list was nonnegotiable. Finding a large, affordable venue that was available in June was the biggest challenge we faced. It was the only thing I cried about the entire process. I felt like we didn’t have any options until I let myself consider banquet hall-style venues, and lo, our problem was solved.

  • Jesse, thanks so much for this totally sane approach! Do love this a lot, too…….
    A = I can’t imagine my wedding day without them there.

    This is pretty much the way my daughter and son-in-law made their guest list and the wedding was a fabulous dance party with the people they loved most in the world. And, know what? I just loved seeing all those “kids” that night, partying like I remember from high school and college.

    Weddings are about people, hands down!

  • Mandy

    Our wedding was crazy awesome and we definitely went by that rule! After inviting around 450 (BIG family) we ended up with around 350 at the wedding. Wouldn’t trade a small wedding for the life of me-the love in that room was amazing! We also managed to stay with in our budget (which was not a huge budget overall) by making all of our invites and doing a lot of crafty things to cut down on cost

    • Rachel

      I’m a (very loyal, multiple copies of the APW book) lurker, but this post and comment were made for me! Although we’re getting married where I grew up in the US, where my fiance and I live (not in the US), weddings of 500 people are common, and our guestlist is close to that (with his Dad having 160 A-listers). Despite more than a few breakdowns about sheer numbers on my end, I’m really, really hoping the Wedding Zen comes for me as well–despite the sheer number of people I won’t know. Thanks for the reassurance!

  • Elisa

    We invited 470 and had 238 at our wedding. The only option for us (because we also had a rule for ourselves about transporting drunk guests after the reception) was a boring, ugly hotel ballroom. It didn’t matter one bit, in the end. I loved our wedding and I think our guests did, too!

    The smiling faces of all those guests were far more beautiful that the orchids and twinkle lights hanging from rustic beams that we did not have (corny, but true).

    I try to remind my engaged friends that 98% of the people attending their wedding are not immersed in wedding porn and will not miss any of the quirky/beautiful details they can’t afford or do not have time to make.

    I think this post is one of the most useful on this whole site, as it gives real numbers and details about real weddings:

    Finally, one thing to remember about having a huge wedding is that you will probably not have time to have a conversation with each and every one of your guests and I think you could ruin your own night if you try. We had a receiving line after the ceremony and I gave every single guest at our wedding a hug and a “Thank you”. After that, I let myself off the hook about speaking to everyone at the reception.

    • I like the idea of letting yourself off the hook over speaking to everyone. We will be greeting everyone before the ceremony as they arrive (Assuring that we see everyone and we’re all sober enough to remember it). I am hoping that this means that after the ceremony and for the rest of the night we can drink and dance and actually relax and have fun!

    • My hubby and I divided and conquered re: conversations. We did a receiving line at the venue (it was winter, and everyone had to come up an elevator and hang up coats, so that spread them out). Then, during the actual reception, we split up and visited with folks. Between the two of us, we got everyone. We did have a sweetheart table, so we got to spend some time together at the reception.

  • KateM

    Amen Sister! Meg’s comment was pretty much word for word what I said. I refused to cut from my 327 guest list. I have always known that my wedding would be huge, there was no way around it. I also felt as though I was quantifying my friendship (I am not saying anyone is doing that by cutting their list, it is just what I FELT) by saying that we could not afford to have certain people. We set a budget, made the guest list, and made it work. Did we compromise on other things? yes. The dress I originally wanted was double the price of the one I bought, even though the first wasn’t extravagant. We did a free save-the-date video (which was pretty cool I do say). Bottom line, it was more important to me for everyone to be there, than pretty much anything else. It is about prioritizing, and for every couple that is going to be a little different.

  • Although my wedding was attending by a significantly less number of people, it was in a huge banquet hall too. When we booked it, I wrestled with the same feelings for a few days: the “my wedding isn’t going to be cool enough because it’s not in a barn/divebar/bowling alley,” and “I’m going against all of my values renting this traditional banquet hall and everyone is going to think I’m LAME.”

    You know what? None of that craziness was true. My banquet hall wedding was awesome. No one cared what the location was. Everyone danced and had a great time. Full wedding success.

    • sarah

      I’m so glad to hear someone say that! <3.

  • Emily Rae

    Our guest list ended up being “A” list… and then more “A” list… and then more. I tried to call a stop to it, but I had a hard time saying no to people. I love my people! It was made bittersweet for me by the fact that after the wedding, I would be leaving my city and country to be with my new partner. Hey everybody, let’s have a giant goodbye party! Our number ended up the same as yours, and we had about 180 attend. We also had an after-party, and people who couldn’t make it to our morning wedding showed up then.

  • April

    “It doesn’t matter what room we put our friends in, they are going to be their quirky unique selves. We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.” ~ Jesse.

    AMEN to that! My darling husband said something very similar to me three years ago, after I’d nearly made myself insane researching and/or visiting two dozen “perfect, unique, fun venues” for our wedding. His very practical, very sane comment: “We could have a great time with our friends in a cardboard box.” We ended up booking a banquet room at a hotel and seriously – best. decision.

    Congrats on securing the banquet hall and I know you’ll have a blast with your loving crowd of family & friends! XO

  • Miss V

    Awesome. I want to high five you on every point.

    Mostly though, tell me more about this Beermas. It sounds excellent.

    • Beermas is the best of all alcoholidays! Warwick likes to call it beer socialism. Everyone who comes is asked to bring a six pack of some sort of interesting beer. All the beer is placed under the “beermas” tree and then everyone is free to drink from the table all night.

      The party has gotten better every year since college as our friends have become beer snobs (one works for a distributor, another two are gathering investors to start their own microbrewery), and as our circle of friends has grown, but the ones from college will still go out of their way to be there.

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  • Dana

    Awesome Post! Also, I love what Meg says at the beginning. We should notice that what she is sick of is having people tell you that in order to have an affordable wedding you must cut guests NOT that she is sick of people themselves deciding to have smaller weddings in order to be able to afford the wedding they want. THAT IS A BIG DIFFERENCE.

    We are also planning on inviting 250+ people. One thing that has worked for us budget-wise and guest list-wise is to figure out exactly how much we are willing to pay per person and to plan the budget accordingly (Thank god for spreadsheets!) We are paying for our friends (which is 80+); both sets of parents are divorced and each parent is paying for their set of invites (ie. family on their side, their friends). Breaking up the budget this way allows parents to have a bit more incentive to think clearly about who it is that they want to be there. This may not work for everyone, but it has worked for us – so far.

  • sarah

    “There was just one problem. It was a banquet hall. Just a banquet hall. Not a reclaimed warehouse, not a hip art gallery, not a cool museum or an abandoned theatre. How was I going to have the unique quirky wedding that I imagined in such a generic traditional WIC venue?”

    I’ve been struggling with this, although I’ve admitted it to very few people. We’re having our ceremony and reception at a golf club. No, a country club. They have a designated wedding ceremony space (complete with concrete sidewalk perma-aisle). The reception space is right nearby; a fairly generic banquet hall. And all of this grass-and-fountain splendor is in Nevada. I’M GETTING MARRIED AT A COUNTRY CLUB THAT’S PART OF A GATED COMMUNITY … IN THE DESERT. Gross, right?

    But, my mom happens to live in that gated community, and I’m listed as a resident (what up, living in the Czech Republic and pretending that I still live in the USA?), and they’re giving us that joint FOR FREE. All we have to pay is the food (10 oz. sirloin steak for $20, anyone?) and drinks (I last ordered a Manhattan at that restaurant and was shocked by the price … $2.85). And we couldn’t find a venue in The B’s hometown that wasn’t going to charge us a ruddy arm and a leg. Also, since he’s from NW Pennsylvania, we weren’t guaranteed the weather for an outdoor wedding, something that (unbeknownst to me at the time) was important to him. Never mind that it’ll be, like, 100 degrees at the time of our sunset ceremony….

    But I’m kind of snarky, and my friends are kind of snarky, I kind of hate where my mom lives (GOLF COURSE IN THE DESERT), and what if someone’s all, “Ugh. I can’t believe they’re getting married *here*. How disgusting. We got married in my parents’ friends’ backyard, and our friends catered everything with local, organic produce.” Or, “Ugh. How TACKY. We rented out an entire museum. Had gorgeous food. AND hired a Philly Cheesesteak truck to park outside so our guests could nosh during the reception.”

    But then my maid of honor said, “Sarah, what does your mom always tell you? Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke! Also, I will CUT anyone who snarks.” And then The B said, “If anybody criticizes my woman on the day of my wedding, I will throw. the. bastard. out.” And I realized: my wedding is going to be FUCKING AWESOME. Why? Because I’m fucking awesome, as are all of the wonderful people around me. So let the haters hate…and run the risk of being cut. ;)

    So — and I know this isn’t really a major point of your post, but whatever — here’s to filling our generic wedding venues with totally awesome people (I, too, am going to have a lot, but “only” 120ish). And having a rip-roaring good time.

    • THIS:

      “And I realized: my wedding is going to be FUCKING AWESOME. Why? Because I’m fucking awesome, as are all of the wonderful people around me. So let the haters hate…and run the risk of being cut. ;)”

      I’m always so glad to hear wedding planning stories that involve cold, hard sanity (and snark) from the bridal brigade/family/nearest and dearest when that WIC-fueled self doubt comes into the picture. Good luck with what’s sure to be a love-filled, wonderful wedding!

      • sarah


  • Amen Jesse and APW!

    “I’m tired of people acting like only tiny weddings are cool weddings.” So true it makes me sick. Where in the mix did wedding over (dare I say) 50 people become uncool? All I see on wedding blogs and forums is how the small, intimate weddings are the coolest. WTF? We had 100 people and I still have people gasp at the sheer size of it. Really folks? I don’t have a problem with small weddings, everyone is entitled to what they want but I don’t understand why big guest lists have developed such a bad rap.

    Good for you on your A,B, and C lists. We did the same thing and it went really well that way. Best of luck to you and you are right, you will bring awesome whereever you go.

    • Kris

      I wonder if that didn’t happen when everyone’s budgets shrank and the WIC/blogworld decided that rather than encourage big weddings that don’t utilize their services anymore, they’d push smaller weddings that still had letterpress invites, flowers everywhere, and tablecloths upon tablecloths. What, y’all can only afford 30 people now? WHATEVER, 30 PEOPLE IS THE COOLEST. And thus a trend was born.

      We’re kind of in the middle with an invite list around 115 and expected guest list of about 80. I couldn’t believe it when I got my first “well, why don’t you cut your guest list?” comments – wait, what? We’re already spending ungodly amounts on this thing, you think we’re going to make some of our friends stay home so we can keep XYZ ‘thing’ in the budget?

      Actually, let me wax a little more on that topic. We grappled with this, with the “how do we fit all this into our very modest budget” metaproblem. In the end, cutting people out was unthinkable to us – we’d already done our guest list as an “A-list only” type of thing – and we love our venue enough that in the end, we…. decided to increase our budget. Yep. I don’t know if that counts as “practical,” but in the end we just shrugged our shoulders, realized there wasn’t anywhere else we were willing to cut back any more (we already planned on doing BBQ, potluck desserts, and pretty casual, cheap decor, since our vineyard venue is just rad already), and decided that bumping up the budget a couple grand in order to have everyone there with us – and in the short run, not having the stress of list-cutting or rethinking our reception – was the best decision. We’d rather do that and put off some other big purchases an extra year. Practical for us, at least… probably not for everyone, but after we decided to just say “f*ck it, we’ll invite ’em all” it was like the weight of the world lifted off our shoulders.

      • You might be onto something with the way the WIC repsonded to the economy.

  • Christine

    Thank you for this post! When I got engaged I imaged having this elopement wedding over looking the ocean with just my fiancee and two witnesses. Turns out, my fiance wanted the big traditional wedding. After wedding planning took on a life of its own, we ended up with a guest list of 300! Far cry from 5 people total! So, we found a venue that is huge and moderately priced (even though it used be a party barn for frats). And I’m excited for the 12 people wedding party, all of our crazy friends, families and cousins to join in and make our wedding memorable. I couldn’t imagine now being okay with packing a small suitcase and stating the next time you all see me I’ll be married. I want everyone there. Thank you for this. A big wedding is still going to be emotional, intimate and special!

  • I love this post for many reasons. But what I like especially? Your “rules” didn’t include: “We invite this person so that his/her feelings don’t get hurt.” OR “We had to invite this person because it’s the tradition.” I understand these arguments to an extent, but I get really frustrated when people insist that people need to be invited just because of those reasons!

  • HH

    FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for this post forever, I think.

    With 150 family, and being some of the last of our friends to get married, and many other things, I knew well before we got engaged that our guest list was going to be huge. Our “if we can have absolutely everyone list” came out to be 352. We cut down some plus ones and such, and after several more conversations, we’re at 250. We have lots of friends and great family, all of whom we are close with and keep in touch with, and -perhaps I’m different than most, but- I could have cared less about whether it was a “boring” venue or not- I just wanted to be able to afford it. And we didn’t want to wait more than about a year and half to get married. And we’re paying for it ALL ourselves. And we live in the NYC area.


    All that meant that we couldn’t have the ease of a hotel ballroom wedding, which we wanted, and we couldn’t afford a put-it-all-together-yourself option, which we thought about for awhile. What I discovered, though, is that the places I initially wrote off as too expensive (without even seeing), turned out to have some reasonable options. After four months, we FINALLY booked a place (WE HAVE A DATE! YAY!), and it’s one that normally is $110/pp- which was way out of our budget. But it turns out that this place hosts a brunch buffet every Sunday, and would let us have a brunch buffet reception for $40/pp on a holiday weekend. It includes lunch foods and breakfast foods and I am still floored that we were able to find it. I hope this helps someone else out there who is offended by the cost of things. Seriously- call people and see what they can do for you.

    Yay big guest lists!!! Yay making it work!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    But, but, but…What if you have a 105% attendance rate? Everyone you invited shows up, with uninvited friends? You’ll all be arrested for violating the fire codes and your budget won’t work and you’ll spend the rest of your lives in debtors’ prison.


    Kudos to you for being practical about your invites : attendance ratio. [There are all sorts of ways to do this. I think this hints at one way.] The other books and other blogs and magazines totally do not take into account couples’ knowing their own guests, willingness to take risks, and budget priorities.

  • Oh how this post takes me back to all our guest list woes (okay, fights, ahem) during wedding planning! We invited 200 and had about 150 attend, and I was so embarrassed that we were having Standard Chinese Reception Plan A in the banquet room of a local Chinese restaurant, complete with one wall painted red with giant gold dragons and phoenixes, oh my. (My dream of having a lovely picnic under a giant tree in a field somewhere was foiled by our decision to get married in Atlanta in August :D)

    What I realized after it was all said and done was that it was so so so worth it to go for the less “exciting” venue in order to have everyone we loved present. Also, love is a great beautifier. We didn’t even notice the ugly carpet and ceilings because there was so much joy in that room. For a lot of our non-Chinese guests, what was so standard to me was actually a fun cultural experience for them. When people come to your wedding, they are coming to see *you* and to celebrate with you. They’re not coming to see your chair covers and your DIY and your signature cocktails. I promise.

    (Also, that bright red wall I worried about? Made for effing radtastic pictures. Wedding magic, done and done.)

    • suzanna

      Thank goodness for traditional Chinese wedding banquets! Talk about sane. Affordable, delicious, you don’t have to think about rentals or decor or caterers or servers or bartenders, and they usually don’t charge corkage because a bottle of cognac at every table is a given. YES. YES. YES. After giving up our gorgeous (expensive) gardeny-Craftsman style original wedding site, I’m looking forward to our Chinese banquet very, very much!

  • Oh, Honey-Bear!

    I feel you; I do! I ended up inviting 380. 380?!? Like you, I have a huge and happy “family,” all of whom I truly wanted to be there. At the end of the day, around 250 were there. Not only was I stressing about “too many people” too often, I can say with full confidence that each person who attended our wedding was meaningful to me, and I was able to spend meaningful time with them leading up to, during, and after the wedding. And my life is so blessed because they were there to see me on my wedding day!

    And you know what, it was intimate. It was unique. It was “so us.” Because neither of us could have had a wedding without our crazy, giant, loud, obnoxious, wonderful family! The very same family who will be there with us, for us, during our marriage.

    Blessings to you on your journey! And rock the big wedding. APW Style. <3

  • amigacara

    I always wanted a quirky, offbeat venue too…preferably a barn or a tent. But we had a 250 person wedding on Long Island in November…in a banquet hall. The location didn’t feel like “me” or “us” but it was the only relatively headache-free way to have all the people we wanted there…and so it was awesome. :)

    • amigacara

      also, we realized our crazy multicultural wedding was ‘quirky’ (read: complicated) enough without an exciting venue

  • Kara

    I SO appreciate this post and these comments! I also have a huge family. Like 48 first cousins huge, many of whom are married and have children of their own. And I like (most of) them. Our invitations are going out (just as soon as they get back from the printer…again) to 350 odd people–and that’s after cutting our guest list a bit.

    And yes, what’s up with the super involved do it yourself thing? SO not happening – though I’m sure I’m still going to feel compelled to do a few things by myself (like some of the centerpieces).

    Our less exciting venue is the local civic building, which my traditional, wonderful, amazing fiance was a bit against initially, but it was cheap, big, and let us pick our caterer and bring our own booze. As we plan for our guests, it’s proving to have been a godsend. That all said, thank God we both have good jobs!

  • Kat

    Firstly ‘we bring the awesome with us wherever we go’ – love.

    I think the reason people suggest cutting the guest list is because there is also a feeling in WIC wedding land that you must invite EVERYONE, including Great-Aunt Marge’s husband’s sister, who Marge and her husband haven’t seen for 15 years and you’ve met once. Which is not to say you shouldn’t invite them if you want them to be there, but you don’t have to and your budget would probably be easier to manage if you didn’t invite all those distant people. I think that’s different than suggesting you cut people you love and really want to be there so you can have more floral arrangements or avoid the venue with the ugly carpet.

    I also think cutting the guest list to have a cool venue/photographer/food/alcohol whatever, is different to deciding to cut the guest list so you can feed people something. If you decide not to cut the guest list you may still have to make a choice – unless money isn’t an issue this could mean you can no longer have the wedding you envisaged. As Anon said above it might mean your wedding would need to be modest beyond your comfort zone (whatever that is for you) and I don’t think it’s bending to WIC pressure to decided you’re not OK with that and cutting the guest list.

  • Maggie

    I hate to reiterate what so many have said already, but FINALLY!!

    I actually wrote in to Team Practical last year about this issue. All of the responses from APW land were super supportive and gave helpful advice, but still left me feeling like I hadn’t articulated myself well enough. When I said “large guest list”, I meant LARGE guest list. Like 400+ large. And I was totally struggling with the hotel room/country club/ capacity problem that seems to go hand-in-hand with that size group. But I got over it and booked one anyway. And just like Jesse, I’m feeling pretty good about it now. Because she’s totally right: “I don’t need a quirky unique venue to have an awesome party. It doesn’t matter what room we put our friends in, they are going to be their quirky unique selves. We bring the awesome with us wherever we go.” Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  • What it comes down to is that there are big wedding people and small wedding people, and there are awesome things about both kinds. Big weddings have EVERYONE YOU LOVE. Small weddings let you spend more time with each person. But there’s no point getting all morally superior about either one: it’s really about how you make friends, how your culture does weddings, and how big your family is. The important thing is having the ‘right’ people there, whatever that means to you (and your partner and your parents and whoever else matters in your personal calculus, which excludes total strangers on the internet).

    (Of course sometimes small wedding people marry big wedding people. And then you have to compromise.)

  • Sarah

    Coming out of the lurking shadows to say this post, and all y’all’s awesome comments, are exactly what I needed today. We are inviting, no joke, 500 people to our wedding, and probably 90% of them will come. Our budget is probably what most people in our area would spend on a 100-person wedding.

    The amazing thing is that every one of those people is someone important to me, the FH, and/or the parents. (OK, well, almost all of them, apart from a few obligation invites to certain extended family members. :-) ) Which, when I stop stressing out about venues/budget/food/etc., makes me feel very lucky.

    FH and I had two rules starting out: 1) People are more important than showy details, and 2) if it’s complicated, we’re not doing it. That’s helped a lot, as has having a very supportive community. This week’s personal triumph: finding a way to print and mail 400 invitations for $340, including postage. Pretty much a miracle!

    So large-wedding people, you can do it! Now I’m going to print out this blog post and hang it on my bathroom mirror…

    • Care to share your invite secret? I’d love hear it!

      • Sarah

        Sure! Here’s what worked for us:

        – an invitation design from the talented HeSawSparks at Etsy ( – who, if I can give a shout-out, has been great to work with
        – about $20 for 250 sheets of white card stock from Staples
        – printing them on my friend’s color printer (and buying her ink cartridges to replace what I’m using, at a cost of $50-$70)
        – about $20 to have the printed card stock cut into 5×7″ invitations at Staples/Kinkos
        – $180 for postage
        – 400 white A7 envelopes for $30.40 at a little printing shop in my town (not fancy, you can totally see through them, but that’s OK)
        – RSVP via our website, so no pre-stamped RSVP cards
        – no glueing, taping, ribbons, or inserts, because we just can’t do that for 400 invitations :-)

        Full disclosure: this is after taking a couple of days to make my peace with not having lovely cotton paper. But people will get the info, and I keep reminding myself that that’s what matters.

      • Buying stuff with half-off coupons from the major craft store chains also helps a ton. Good luck.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! One of my favorite things about APW has always been Meg’s perspective on big weddings.

    I have a huge family who is close-knit and everyone goes to everything. It’s great, usually, but not so great when I’m the one trying to feed anyone. But. I wouldn’t feel right if they weren’t there, and they are a lot of fun (big, loud, Jewish family). So, we also started with the guest list. We’re hoping that we end up with about 250 guests, but I think it will be a little more.

    And now, I’m stuck in venue-finding hell. We’ve run into the same problem–any outdoor venue that will hold us is waaaaay too much money. I’m still searching, but it helps so much to remember that I’m not crazy for wanting to invite so many people!

    The thing that gets me is all the respect given to small weddings. I actually had someone say in a conversation about someone else’s wedding (also while talking about mine) that the bride is showing so much maturity by only inviting her immediate family. Um, no. If that is what feels right to her, then I’m glad she’s being true to herself. But cutting the guest list isn’t mature just in its own right. Staying true to your priorities and what feel right, whether that is 2 people or 250 people, is what’s actually mature.

    And, as always, so glad I’m not alone!!

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Yay for big, loud, Jewish families! You’re definitely not alone. You’ll find a place!

  • I’ve been invited to a wedding before where I knew I was on the B-list, and it didn’t bother me at all. I had a realistic understanding of my relationship with the couple (I was a relatively new friend), so of course I understood that I wasn’t their highest priority. I was just happy to go!

  • A-FREAKING-MEN! My husband’s #1 priority was to have all of his loved ones there, which necessitated a banquet hall (in STL actually, the Polish Heritage Center!). It wasn’t what I had envisioned, but people still tell us how much fun they had at our wedding. I’d rather that then pretty pictures anyday (not that pretty picture weddings don’t generate fun of course!).

  • Nice post! We had just shy of 200 people at our wedding, and invited about 250. It was big, and amazing, and there was so much love coming our way from everyone there. It’s really hard when the list grows and grows and it seems so out of control, but just like you said, those are people you (or your parents, or his/her parents) love, and they’re on that list for a reason. I can’t tell you how many people told me the day of or a bit later that they were so happy to have been there with us, and we were happy to have there, too (former babysitter and her fiance, the Australian couple who are my husband’s aunt’s friends, my little sister’s friends family, my best friend from when I was tiny, and on and on). It was hard to imagine beforehand why there were so many people on the list, but on the day of, I realized why they were there.
    Have such a great wedding!

  • Jessica

    I don’t think it’s tacky at all, and I’ve never been hurt when I’ve realized I was not on the original “A list.” I think it’s just reality, and I would much rather be invited because room opened up than not invited because someone was afraid I’d find it tacky…

  • Emily Rae

    Tacky is a really subjective thing, though. Just like many other areas, the proper idea of “etiquette” can vary by region and culture, and that doesn’t mean we all have to abide by it anyways.

  • Come on, it’s not like she’s telling any of the guests what priority level they were given. It was just a mental exercise they did privately to help their decision making. Nothing wrong with that.

  • HeatherG

    ANON, says who??

    Also, this comment doesn’t seem the least bit helpful to me. You don’t have to agree with someone’s guest list methodology, but if you’re going to call someone out for their way of solving a problem, maybe introduce an alternative?

  • Sara A.

    When we got married in summer 2010, it was about family. They were our A people. After the family, we had a list of our non-negotiable friends and our negotiable friends. We were able to invite all the friends from the first list and not from the second list. It was a balancing act for us, we wanted it to be beautiful and we wanted to be surrounded by people that actually love us and care for us. At the end of it all we invited about 150 people and ended up with about 100. We did experience some fall out from the more casual friends and acquaintances who weren’t invited, but our qualifications were:
    1. must have hung out one on one in the past year
    2. one or both of us must feel joy in the prospect of seeing this person
    3. must see a future in the friendship
    If the person or couple in question didn’t meet two, they didn’t get an invite. I feel at ease with our decision and we had a completely drama free day. (this is saying something in our group of friends) I might have lost some friends, but they were people that I was ok with losing.

  • Rude, possibly, but honest. I wouldn’t have got married without, say, my mom in the room (A list) but my friends from high school just didn’t have the same level of importance to me (C list). It would have been nice if we had room for them, but we didn’t, and I’m okay with that. Not all relationships are equal, and most people know that.

  • I don’t think it’s rude to have lists, it’s reality (as said above). What’s rude is TELLING people there are list tiers, especially if they’re not an A-lister.

  • Rebecca

    I love APW, but sometimes can’t relate because all the weddings people talk about here seem so small. I don’t think I’ve ever even been to a wedding with less than 200 people!

    I’m planning my wedding for December 2013, and we’re probably going to invite around 400 people. Granted, half of the invite list lives in the US (which is not where we live—yay for international weddings!) so it’s hard to say exactly how many will show up. But a lot of them have already told me they’re *definitely* coming, and are even planning on bringing the kids and making a family vacation out of it! (Of course I’m not believing it until I have RSVP cards in hand—it’s a looooong flight.)

    I’m guessing that overall around 60–80 overseas (US) guests will fly out, and another 200 “local” guests (living in the same country as us) will show up. And the funny thing is, I’m almost afraid it’s going to be too SMALL. Yeah.

    In fact, the venue we’re planning to book has a 250-person MINIMUM in the smaller of their two halls (the “small” hall seats up to 600, the “large” hall up to 1000). So in the context of the country we’re living in, ours really will be a small, intimate wedding!

    The most reassuring thing for me from this post is being able to reconcile myself with a venue that is totally different from what I would have imagined (had I been the type to imagine my wedding). It’s very modern, a little bit slick, and a little bit trendy—whereas my fiancé and I are more the homey, comfortable, quirky types.

    And if I’m being honest, the venue is just a little bit tacky. It’s modern, it’s glitzy, it brags on the website about being designed in the fashion of the “best international nightclubs” …gag! And I was really afraid that this would make ours just another cookie-cutter wedding with a flashy, glitzy, disco atmosphere (the norm in the country where I live), without any feeling of taste or personality.

    But you know what? It doesn’t matter what the venue looks like. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t quirky, original, or even tasteful. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t perfectly reflect our style as a couple. It fits the bill in terms of location (close to fiancé’s relatives), price, and size—and that’s good enough. Because as Jesse says, it doesn’t matter where we put all our wonderful crazy family and friends. It will be awesome wherever we are, because we bring the awesome with us!

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  • Oh. I want to invite as many people as possible (to my wedding in a aircraft hangar woop), because I want to drown out all the people I have to invite but don’t want to ie, aunts and uncles and even mother and father…… that’s ok too right? My partner has a lot of fun raucous friends. I want to lose myself in that atmosphere, and be able to avoid even talking to my aunts….

  • Sara

    This is a refreshing post. We also decided, the day we got engaged, that our first priority was inviting everyone we wanted to invite… period. And once we actually put together a tentative guest list, my panic was enough that my first impulse was to cut the list! Cut it now!

    Luckily I remembered what we had already decided was important, and now we’re trying to figure out the logistics of 300-ish guests at a very low-budget wedding. It’s nice to hear that it *is* possible.

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