How to Make a Small Wedding Guest List

Your “big” day doesn’t necessarily require a “big” party. Here’s how to make a small wedding guest list.

Image courtesy of Gelfman Photography

Every bride’s ideal wedding day looks different – some want a big, blowout party with everyone they’ve ever met in attendance, and some want a small, more intimate gathering with a handful of close family and friends (PS: whatever your preference, your wedding is going to be beautiful).

But if your picture perfect day is “small and more intimate” rather than a “big, blowout party,” you might run into a few snags while putting together the guest list. Who makes the cut? What number even counts as “small,” anyway? Before you order those invites, here are some tips on making a small wedding guest list.

Image courtesy of Miralli Photography

Talk it out

As with everything wedding-related (or life-related), communication is vitally important. Sit down with your fiancé and make sure you’re on the same page. Confirm that your ideas of “small” match – small may mean 20 people to you, but 120 people to them.  

After you’ve put some preliminary numbers in place, start making a list of the people you absolutely want in attendance. This could include only family members, mostly close friends, or a combination of the two. If this list is bigger than the number you originally had in mind, consider budging on your limit. If it’s a lot bigger, go back to your list and decide where to make some cuts. Keep in mind that you WILL get declines – even from people you don’t expect. 

You might also want to discuss your small guest list with parents (especially if they’re footing most of the bill). While your wedding is YOUR day and YOU get to call the shots, your parents may have a few people they’d like to invite. The key words here are “a few” – if their list is longer than yours, remember to communicate your wishes for a limited guest count. 

Image courtesy of EXO Photography and Cinema

Make a B List

Once you’ve nailed down your “must-haves,” put together another list of friends and family that you’d invite if you were considering a bigger wedding. Again – you will likely get declines (even with a shorter invite list), so having a few more names as a backup is a good idea. Don’t forget to order a few extra invitations for this purpose!

Let everyone know

Sure, getting a wedding invite in the mail is always an honor. But as wedding trends change (and as they get more and more expensive), people have begun to realize that being excluded from your guest list isn’t the biggest offense in the world – remember when Covid restrictions forced brides to UN-INVITE guests to their weddings?

If a lot of people in your life are already married, they’ll probably remember that planning a wedding is a huge undertaking and understand your desire to keep things small. There are obviously exceptions to this sometimes, and every family member, friend, and situation is different, but for the most part your loved ones should accept your decision without any drama.

When discussing your wedding with friends and family who aren’t on your guest list, explain your plans for a limited and more intimate gathering. You can even include this information on a wedding website or in a social media post. If you’re upfront and honest about your smaller wedding, your friends and family won’t be so surprised when their mailbox is empty.

Image courtesy of Janelle Brooke Photography


Consider a destination wedding

Destination weddings usually have an inherently smaller guest count, just because most people can’t commit to traveling. If narrowing down your invite list has become complicated and fraught, consider saying your vows somewhere away from home. Even if you’ve got a bigger list than you’ve planned, it’s likely that the vast majority of those you’ve included will decline. 

Make your wedding virtual

Most of us have become very comfortable using video conferencing services like Zoom and Google Meet over the last few years. If you’d like to share your ceremony with a larger audience than you can invite, consider live-streaming your “I do’s” so friends and family can be there virtually.