How to Cut Your Wedding Day Guest List

Tips to take your wedding from big and booming to small and intimate

As 2020 begins to wind down, COVID-19 is still on the forefront of many Long Islanders’ minds. While we’ve started to see some normalcy creep back into our lives (no more waiting on lines to go inside Target!!), most of the pandemic’s restrictions remain in place. For many BOLIs, the most pressing and frustrating of these restrictions is the governor’s strict 50 person limit on weddings. With no solid end of this rule in sight (and with many venues severely penalized for breaking it), it may be time to start shrinking your guest list.

Making the cuts

How in the world do you go from a list of 150, 200, 250 or more people to just 48? (Remember to include yourself and your future spouse!)

First, breathe. This is an impossibly tough situation for both you and your fiance, so give yourself some space and kindness. (Maybe take a Target break!)

Next, set aside time to look at your list together. Decide on your “non-negotiable” guests first: they could encompass both sets of parents and/or stepparents, grandparents, siblings and their partners, and your bridal party and their partners.

If you’ve got your list on a spreadsheet like Excel or Google Docs, consider going through and color coding each of your guests into different categories (blue for immediate family, yellow for bridal party, etc). This will ensure you’ve accounted for all the members of your families or close friends that you definitely want in attendance. After your non-negotiable list is set, start including extended family and friends to fill the remainder of the slots.

Bringing down your numbers is no easy feat, and you may find your list is over the limit with just family and bridal party alone. It may not be ideal, but the next step is to start looking at significant others. While your brother’s wife should still make the list, you might want to think twice about your bridesmaid’s boyfriend of two months. The “plus one” rules are in your hands (only married couples, only significant others who’ve been dating longer than a year, etc), but come to an agreement with your fiance to ensure both of you are on the same page.

You may also want to reconsider the little ones on your list. You’d love for your cousin and his wife and their three kids to make it, but how likely is it that their 1, 3, and 5 year olds would even remember your wedding day in the first place? Again, talk to your fiance about how you’re feeling, and make sure that the two of you are in total agreement about who still gets an invite.

The “Un” invite
After you finalize the new list, you’ll need to inform other guests about the changed plans.

Uninviting people to your wedding is never a fun thing to think about, but it’s important to let those who didn’t make the cut know so that they can cancel childcare bookings, hotel reservations, and travel arrangements.”

If you’ve sent a “Save the Date” or a formal invitation, and it’s in your budget, consider sending out a “change of plans” note to your guests. Sites like VistaPrint or Moo will let you completely customize postcards or other stationary to suit your needs. Your note can be simple and direct, but polite. “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have had to change our original plans. We’re canceling our bigger wedding and instead having a small, private affair. We thank you for your understanding and are so sorry we can’t celebrate with you!” If you’re planning on having a bigger reception at some point in the future, or if you’ve decided to stream your ceremony for those who won’t be there in person, you can include that information in your note.

If it’s not in your budget to purchase more paper you’ll have to mail in bulk, send the same note via email, or pick up the phone and give your guests a call.

If you’re inviting some members of a family but not others (like parents without their kids), or one half of a couple without the other, reach out with a phone call. Again, be simple and direct, but polite and empathetic. Explain the strict limitations on your guest list and express your deepest sympathy that not everyone can be included.

Handling the disappointment

There’s no easy way to tell someone you’ve previously invited to your wedding that they are no longer on the guest list, but with COVID restrictions and quarantines a veritable way of life at this point, most people will understand. Many may even be relieved that they don’t have to risk exposure at a large gathering. However, you may run into some that are hurt or disappointed to not be included, or that they’re not allowed a plus-one. Be sympathetic, but explain the reality of the situation- you are only allowed 50 people, you have to account for both your family and your fiance’s, and that if things were different they would absolutely be invited.

If you have the means, consider streaming your ceremony virtually – you can invite as many people as your Zoom account will allow! You may also be planning a big party once the pandemic has passed. For your guests that express disappointment, offer these alternatives as a way for them to still be a part of your big day.

Whether your wedding is 50 people or 500, it will still be a beautiful and meaningful day you’ll cherish forever!