Deciding to have a small wedding is, in my opinion, one of the best choices a couple can make for themselves. Small weddings have a sense of meaning and connection that is lacking in large 100+ person weddings. However, choosing the small wedding guest list can be a very stressful task for couples.
What is a small wedding guest list?
Definitions of small weddings vary across the industry, but in general it’s agreed that a wedding under 50 guests is a small wedding. More important than the guest count is the mood and feeling that you set for the day. Having 50 guests but not enough time scheduled in your day to be able to talk to everyone isn’t going to create the sense of intimacy and connection that you probably wanted from a small wedding. A small wedding guest list also focuses more on who the people are as opposed to how many people there are.
Worried about hurting people’s feelings when creating your small wedding guest list? Don’t. For starters, when you have a large wedding, there are some guests who feel obligated to RSVP “yes” even if they don’t want to (for whatever reason). Secondly, being a guest at a wedding is expensive! There’s the cost of a wedding gift, an outfit for the day, travel expenses and possibly a hotel stay or childcare… Full disclosure, the cost of being a guest is the reason I, personally, RSVP “no” 3 out of 4 weddings.
Lastly, if you’re getting push back about keeping your wedding guest list small, just know that those issues are completely on the complainer, not you. No one is owed an invitation to your wedding and the people that make you feel that way are being selfish and trying to push a boundary with you. It’s okay to say “no” to all of that.
How to make a small wedding guest list
Immediately when people start thinking of creating their small wedding guest list, anxiety can set in. If they come from a big family it can be stressful to consider how some family members will push back against the idea that their entire extended family isn’t invited. So, here are some good rules of thumb to follow when choosing who makes the cut for an invitation.
- Always start with immediate family. These people are your parents, grandparents, siblings and children.
- Move on to immediate family members’ families. These are people like step parents, siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews, or other long-term partners of parents and siblings.
- Your closest friends. These are your ride or die friends, the people who have been with you through thick and thin and are long standing members of your life. They probably refer to your mother as “mom.” You can also give them +1s for any long term partners with whom you have developed a relationship.
- Extended family. Start with your closest aunts, uncles and cousins and then move out from there.
- Friends. This is where you can start adding on old school friends who you were really close with but don’t talk to as much anymore, or recent friends in your life who you are becoming closer with.
- Work people. These are the last people who you need to consider adding to your guest list. Just because you see them 5 days a week doesn’t mean they are entitled to a wedding invitation, even if you are friendly with them.
Small Wedding Guest List Etiquette
Seeing the order of who you should invite above might make it seem a lot easier (and it is!), but there are still some things to consider to avoid conflict about your guest list as much as possible.
Wedding Guest List Do’s:
- What you do for one, do for both. By this I mean sticking to your “family only” rule even if Partner A has 13 immediate family members and Partner B only has 4. Also, after you’ve invited all the must-have family and close friends, divide any remaining available invitations evenly or according to a method you both feel is fair.
- Pick your guest list and stick to it. With a small wedding, there’s no need to create a B-list to send back up invitations if people decline during RSVPs.
- Be consistent and upfront about your +1 policy. Many people decide to forego any +1 invitations in order to keep the guest size small. That said, keep your policy about +1s consistent and be as open about it as you can from the get-go. If you aren’t inviting mom’s boyfriend of 3 years, then you shouldn’t invite your sister’s boyfriend of 8 months.
- Try to be fair when selecting extended family. If you feel like you can’t invite all 7 of your cousins, don’t invite any of them. Same with aunts and uncles. Unless you have a very clear and known close relationship with one that you don’t have with the others, it will be seen as a slight to invite the one you like best.
Wedding Guest List Don’ts:
- Don’t invite people unless you both know them. When you’re having a small wedding, the wedding day is not the time for your new spouse to be meeting one of your wedding guests. To make the small wedding guest list, you both should have some kind of relationship with all the guests.
- Don’t invite people you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. If it’s been more than a year since you last saw them or more than a month or two since you last spoke to them, they aren’t close enough to be invited to your small wedding.
- You don’t need to invite someone if you went to their wedding. Seriously, it’s okay not to invite Cousin Sheila just because you were at her giant 200+ person wedding, even if it was recently.
- You don’t need to invite anyone from the office. Even if you’re good friends at work, people will understand not getting an invite to a wedding that you’re keeping small.
Small Wedding Guest List Sizes
There are different tiers of small weddings, and each comes with a rough outline of who to invite to that kind of wedding.
Elopements: 2-15 Guests
Elopements are no longer a “just the two of us” affair. Many couples are planning unique and special elopements where they invite just their parents, or only their immediate families. In general, elopements do not include more than 15 guests.
Micro-Weddings: Up to 30 Guests
Micro-weddings are a type of small wedding where, depending on your family size, you start inviting close friends and maybe an extended relative or two. For these weddings, you may come from families where your siblings and their families take up your whole guest count.
Small Weddings: Up to 50 Guests
These weddings can include any combination of guests, from immediate to extended family, to close friends and friendly acquaintances. 50 guests is still actually a decent amount of people, despite being small for the wedding industrial complex. These size weddings also probably have a wedding party, which elopements and micro weddings tend to not have.
Need more small wedding tips?
Head on over to the New England Elopements and Small Weddings Facebook group for inspiration, advice and more!