How To: Inviting Trouble

How to avoid guest-list grief — without having to elope

Of all the tasks you’ll stare down in the course of planning your wedding, hammering out your guest list could be the biggest headache of all—a headache that, at times, you might find yourself wishing someone else would handle for you. Recent Philadelphia bride Clare* found herself in just that position when, soon after her engagement, an enthusiastic uncle started making phone calls. “He took it upon himself to invite my entire family,” she says. “With all my second cousins and aunts and their children and their stepchildren, it’s about 80 people. And he called all of them in about two days. People started calling me asking about hotels, and I hadn’t even begun to think about the guest list.”

[sidebar]Clare quickly learned that there’s a right way and some very wrong ways to approach the guest list. “I was put in the terrible position of, ‘What do I do? How do I uninvite them?’” she says. “It’s  not that I don’t love them, but some of them, I’ve only met once. I just knew we would have troublefitting everyone in.” We’ll come back to Clare’s conundrum later. But whether you’ve got such overzealous relatives or not, composing your guest list is no small feat. Thankfully, a few of our most trusted local wedding-planning savants share their wisdom here, to help you navigate the guest-list process—and deal with the issues (and blood pressures) it may raise.

Start at the Beginning

The guest list really ought to be your top planning priority. For one thing, you can’t very well book, or even realistically consider, a venue if you don’t have any idea of how many people will attend. “If you want to have a giant wedding,” says Phyllis Jablonowski, of Glenside-based Eventricity, “you may have to make some choices about your venue or menu or other areas to make it happen successfully.” Your heart set on a boutique mansion that can only accommodate 100 people? You and your beau planning to serve an expensive gourmet dinner to celebrate your shared passion for fine dining? Think about your entire wedding-day vision and what’s most important to you.

Another simple but crucial piece of advice is to literally “put it on paper and see how it looks,” says Melissa Paul, a planner for Evantine Design in Philadelphia. Knowing that you want to invite your cousins is one thing; seeing each cousin individually enumerated on paper, along with partners and children, is another. Once you’ve drafted a written list, you can share it with—and compare it with the expectations of—your parents, or anyone else making a financial contribution to the Big Day. “The voice of that paying party has to be heard,” says Jablonowski. So, she says, “If your grandma’s 20 card-playing ladies and their husbands aren’t important to you, but your grandma’s writing the check, then they’re important.”