Believe it or not, the Emily Post Institute has an entire section dedicated to guest list etiquette. Although a lot of these "rules" may not apply for those planning a wedding in the 21st century, guest list etiquette will be one of the trickiest parts of planning a wedding. While venue size and budget will dictate how many people you can invite, how does one avoid potentially hurting someone you care about?
Start by writing a list that includes everyone you think you should invite. It is important to consider your parents guests, too, particularly if they are paying for the wedding. Once you have this master list together, start cutting. Not sure who to cut? Here are some tips on how to maneuver this sensitive topic.
1. Family First
If the bride and groom are paying for the wedding, they should share the invites equally. Parents of the bride and groom should be given equal invites. This way the bride's dad can invite his business parter since he attended his son's wedding, and the groom's mom can invite her tennis partner. No matter what, give them a set number and stick to it. If the parents are not paying for the wedding and want to invite friends of theirs that you hardly know, then the parents should help offset the cost.
Deciding which family members to invite can be precarious too. Immediate family (parents/stepparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) should automatically make the cut. This is assuming you have a good relationship with these people and want them there. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. As for your whacky Great Aunt Mary who lives in Kansas who you never see or really talk to, there is no obligation.
It goes without saying that your besties should be on the list, whether these are close friends of the bride or the groom or both. You'll want to bust out those dance moves surrounded by your closest friends. People that you only see at events organized by mutual friends don't need an invite. These are not people you see every day and would fall more into the acquaintance category. If a friend invited you to her wedding six years ago, yet, you don't really keep in touch other than social media updates, there is no obligation to invite her to yours. This is true even if you were a bridesmaid in her wedding. While this can be tricky in today's world of social media where you will undoubtedly be posting photos, it's okay not to invite your hundreds of Facebook "friends".
This can be a sticky one, particularly when trying to figure out if you should invite your boss. The answer to that one is no. There is no expectation or obligation to invite your superior unless you consider this person a friend, of course. As for the co-workers, I have an easy test. If you were to leave your job tomorrow, would you still be friends? If the answer is yes and you see them socially outside of work, it is totally appropriate to invite them.
4. "No Ring, No Bring" ... not so much!
There are several schools of thought on this and sometimes it just comes down to budget. People in your wedding party should automatically get to bring a guest no matter what their relationship status is. As for the rest of your guests, if the budget is tight, it's perfectly okay to eliminate plus-ones for guests that aren't in a relationship. My rule of thumb is if the person is engaged, living with someone or in a long-term relationship, they get to bring that person. If budget allows, it's nice to extend a plus-one to everyone.
5. Children or No Children?
This is a personal decision that should be made by you and your partner. While it is becoming more common to have adult-only weddings, inevitably some of your guests will be upset. No matter what, this is your wedding and your decision. Whatever you decide, I recommend that you share these details from the get-go as in your Save the Dates. If you're having a destination wedding, it is perfectly acceptable for guests to bring their children to the destination as long as they arrange for babysitting services on your big day. Most hotels offer childcare services and often the couple will provide options to make this easier for their guests.
6. On the Fence?
Some people may fall into this category. You may go out socially and have fun together, but will they be in your lives seven years from now? The last thing you want is to be looking at wedding photos down the road and say to yourself, "I can't believe we invited 'three beer Larry' to our wedding." There are exceptions to all rules, so I say use your best judgement here.
The most important thing to remember is that this is your big day. That said, remember to do your best to be sympathetic to everyone's feelings. This is one of the trickiest parts of the planning process, but once this is done you can go on to the fun stuff.