Wedding planner Joyce Scardina Becker has a simple system for compiling wedding-guest lists. Divide people into three categories: yes, maybe and no.
"'Yes' includes parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, plus friends you see often," said Becker, president of Events of Distinction in California. "'Maybe' means relatives you see occasionally, new friends, neighbors and co-workers. 'No' includes distant relatives and old friends you rarely see."
Your budget and venue will dictate whether you get beyond the yeses or maybes, she said.
Becker's rule of thumb is a good starting point, but emotions create complications. Following are some dos and don'ts for brides and grooms who look before they leap.
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• Invite true friends, not people you feel obligated to invite.
• Compile the guest list together. "This is a reflection of you as a couple," said Elaine Swann, an etiquette coach based in San Diego.
• Discuss the list with both sets of parents, if they're paying for the wedding. "If you're paying for your wedding, you have complete control of your list," said Swann. "If your parents are paying, it's their party."
• Start early to allow for changes. "We made ours nine months before the wedding," said Simone Vega, New York City wedding planner and recent bride.
• Over-invite. Wedding venues suggest you invite 10 percent more guests than you can accommodate to allow for nos. The exception is the very small wedding, where an exact head count matters.
"We invited 240 and 200 came," said Melinda (Mel) Parrish, an Alexandria, Va., model who married in 2014. "The 40 (who declined) included some far-flung relatives."
• Allow single guests 18 or older to bring a date ("plus one"). Who is or is not a worthy date is not your decision, Swann says.
• Say "adults only" on the invitation if you do not want children at your wedding. "Then, don't make exceptions," said Swann.
• If your partner has a large family, accept his larger list. "You're marrying a family, not just one person," said Swann. "This is now your Thanksgiving dinner!"
• Handle each guest-list faux pas individually. If you can, ask a close relative to handle the calls. "Even though ours was adults-only, a few people replied that they would bring their kids," said Parrish. "My mom handled it."
• Be forthright with those you haven't invited, notes TheKnot.com wedding website —particularly those who try to wheedle their way onto the guest list. If someone you did not invite says, for example, "I can't wait to come to your wedding," reply with "We'd love to invite everyone, but with our venue and budget, we cannot." Then, change the subject.
• Apply the same rules for second weddings. "It gets easier, though," said Vega. "You're older. You're not as likely to make decisions out of guilt."
• Create A and B lists. "Thanks to social media, the B people will quickly learn they received their invitations much later than other people did," Swann said. "You'll hurt their feelings."
• Let your parents bully you, warns TheKnot.com, particularly if you are paying for the wedding.
• Equate your guest list with a gift-solicitation list by including people you know will not come in order to get more presents. "That's gauche," said Swann.
• Refuse to invite a parent's new partner because you don't like him or her. "It's only a few hours of your life," said Swann.
• Invite people to the wedding but not the reception. "Imagine being the guest in the parking lot who realizes everyone else is headed to the party, but you're not invited," said Swann.
• Send online invitations. "Your wedding is one of the most life-changing events in your life, not an informal party. Use paper," said Swann. She adds a caveat: "If it's really small, then you can call people."
• Share your list on social media. It may be seen by acquaintances who have not been invited, and hurt feelings may result.
• Assume a guest is a "yes" or "no." "Be prepared for them to come, no matter the circumstances," said Parrish. "One guest came even though her husband just died and she lived out of town."
Bottom line, said Swann, "it just comes down to respect and consideration of your guests. With each decision you make, think about how they will feel."
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