Wedding: Inviting Trouble

Whoever said the hardest part of a wedding was paying for it never made a guest list. The first flash of a diamond ring sets off a ripple of questions about the date, the venue — and the inevitable assumptions that everyone from your mom’s bridge partner to your grade school teacher will be invited.


Whoever said the hardest part of a wedding was paying for it never made a guest list. The first flash of a diamond ring sets off a ripple of questions about the date, the venue — and the inevitable assumptions that everyone from your mom’s bridge partner to your grade school teacher will be invited.

“The guest list is probably one of the stickiest points of planning a wedding,” says etiquette grand dame Peggy Post, whose third revision of her ultimate guide, Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette (Collins, 2006) came out last year. “Realize early on that you have choices to make.”

Do you ever. Luckily, help is available for even the stickiest guest list issues. Here’s how to deal with (and avoid) the faux pas that might otherwise haunt you until the day you say “I do.”

PROBLEM: The Bottom Line

“People don’t have a realistic idea of what their wedding is going to cost,” says Mark Kingsdorf, owner of The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in Philadelphia. “A lot of the venues in the greater Philadelphia area run, on average, $100, $150 per person. The more people you put on that list, the more ways you have to divide that money up.”

SOLUTION: One of the first things you and your new fiance need to do is have a finance discussion, says Kingsdorf. Decide on a budget you can stick with and let that number determine your head count. And don’t forget “hidden” costs like extra tablecloths and centerpieces — it all adds up.

PROBLEM: Save the Date (Maybe)

You have to have your save-the-dates designed, printed and mailed in a week, and you have the sneaking suspicion you’re forgetting a few names.

SOLUTION: “Generally, we tell brides that save-the-dates don’t have to go to everyone,” says Sonia Mele, owner of Details, a stationery and invitation shop in Philadelphia. “You can hold off on sending them to people you’re not sure about.” Most brides mail them out to maybe 98 percent of their list, which pretty much ensures that the people they’re closest to will be able to attend.

PROBLEM: The In(vitation only)-Laws

It was so sweet of his parents to offer to help pay for the wedding — or so you thought at the time. That was before they invited Great-Aunt Susan. And your mother-in-law’s co-workers. And father-in-law’s golf buddies. Suddenly, eloping is starting to sound like a good idea.

SOLUTION: “You want to enjoy your wedding day, not spend it in a receiving line,” says Mele. Have a heart-to-heart with your parents and his and explain that. You can also try to appease them by giving each parent a set number of invitations — say, 25 percent of the total list — to use as they want. In an ideal world, that should be enough. If not, the bottom line, says Kingsdorf: “If you’re going to take their money, you have to take their advice.”

PROBLEM: Second Guesting

Your sister RSVPed — with her new boyfriend. Who wasn’t in the picture when the invitations were mailed. Does he stay or does he go?

SOLUTION: Tagalongs are only okay when they’re being sold by Girl Scouts. If you know about the wedding crashers ahead of time, it’s fine to call (or have your wedding planner call) and explain that your budget or venue won’t accommodate extra guests. If you’re actually okay with the addition, “Upgrade per your discretion,” says Kingsdorf. But know that doing so haphazardly might annoy other guests who respected their solo invitation.

PROBLEM: The Wee Ones

You love kids — 364 days a year. But on your wedding day, you want everyone to be old enough to know what a garter is. So what do you do when your aunt says how excited your little cousin is about coming?

SOLUTION: It’s in bad taste to print “Adult reception” on your invitations, says Holly Meng, president of the Etiquette School of Grace in Villanova. But you can word it in a way that makes your point clear: We hope that the two of you will be able to join us, or Two seats have been reserved for Mary Smith and her husband.

Word of mouth works, too, says Mele. “Talk to the parents and say, ‘We’d love you to be there, and we hope you can find a sitter.’ I myself, when I got married, had to say, we’re not inviting any small children. We have other activities they can take part in, but the reception is for adults.”

PROBLEM: The B-List

You didn’t get the number of RSVPs you’d counted on. Can you send out another round of invites now that you’ve got room to spare?

SOLUTION: The so-called A-list/B-list strategy is often debated, but more etiquette experts are coming around. “It is actually acceptable,” says Kingsdorf, who was opposed to the practice for years. “You just have to do it properly.” Make sure all the people you invite from one social circle, say co-workers, or neighbors, get the same invite. Build in extra time to get your first round of RSVPs back and mail out others. If someone gets an invitation and the RSVP date is that week, they’ll know they were on the B-list. And finally, he says, “You have to learn at some point to keep your mouth shut.”

Still, make it a last resort. “It’s a touchy situation,” says Mele. “I think sometimes it can’t be avoided. But I wouldn’t want to be on anyone’s B-list.”

PROBLEM: The Never-Will Shows

Your cousin in Alaska is afraid of flying, or your pregnant sister-in-law is due the day of your wedding. Should you waste the postage sending them an invite when you know they can’t or won’t come?

SOLUTION: Short answer: yes, says Mele. “It’s common courtesy. It’s still nice to make them feel invited, rather than just assuming they’re not going to show up,” she says. “Everyone deserves a chance to accept or decline an invitation.”

PROBLEM: The Present-ers

One of your mom’s co-workers didn’t make the cut, but she sent you a gift (a nice one) from your registry. What now?

SOLUTION: Even if someone buys you a gift, it’s not necessary to invite them, says Meng. Just make sure you send a thank-you note promptly.

PROBLEM: Guests Gone Wild

Your fiance’s frat brother loves weddings — especially the open bar.

SOLUTION: “There are always two or three people on your list who might be a problem,” says Meng. You certainly won’t have time to deal with any unruly behavior, so ask a bridesmaid or groomsman to keep an eye on the problem guests, and to distract them if they try to make a toast.

PROBLEM: The Ultimatum Game

The last thing any bride-to-be wants to hear is “It’s her or me.” But family feuds happen more than you’d like to think.

SOLUTION: “People forget that it’s not about them,” says Kingsdorf. “Everybody is going to have family drama.” Take the high road, and don’t get in the middle. Just tell both parties that you’d love them to attend, but understand if they can’t make it. And if they both do come, “Don’t seat them anywhere near each other,” says
Kingsdorf.

PROBLEM: RSVPs MIA

You slaved over the invitations, included pre-stamped return cards and sent them out on time. So why haven’t half your guests responded?

SOLUTION: First, don’t panic. “I tell couples to anticipate that between 12-14 percent of your responses are going to be nos,” says Kingsdorf. “At first you’ll get a couple back, then a whole bunch, then it trickles off.” The remainders are usually either close family members (who assume you know they’ll be there) or people who most likely won’t show. When your RSVP deadline has come and gone, expect to have to call at least four or five people.

PROBLEM: The Assumers

Whoops, your co-workers assumed they were coming. And whoops, so did your boss. None of them made the cut. How do you break the news?

SOLUTION: “If you’re having a small wedding, tell friends and co-workers early on so they don’t expect to be invited,” says Post. Make your cut-offs consistent — it’s easier, and kinder, not to invite any co-workers than to invite just a few.

That said, a little assertiveness can be a good thing. “If you’re the bride, you have to be a little bossy,” says Meng. “Don’t let others make decisions for you and don’t worry what other people will think. There are thousands of opinions. In the end, it’s your day.”

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • sharon w.

    If someone sends you a gift off your registry, I disagree that you not have to send an invitation. Common sense tells you that they thought they were going to be invited and that it is only courteous to send the invitation. The invitation costs far less than their gift.