Groom Duties

Here’s the Spreadsheet You Need to Manage a Wedding Guest List

Of all of the stressful to-dos on your wedding planning list, there’s one that always seems easy to push off for a few more weeks. We refer, of course, to the creation of the wedding guest list. Yes, the wedding is months off. No, you can’t wait a few more months to do this.

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When should I come up with the guest list?

Haley Kelly, Charleston-based wedding planner and owner of Haley Kelly Events, recommends diving into your guest list as soon as you’ve finished celebrating your engagement. This helps ensure, as you move along in the planning process, that you don’t invite new friends (made through work or your softball team) when actually there’s no room for them.

Your early guest list will come in handy when handling the rest of your wedding planning, so it’s essential to start at the very beginning, well before you’ve secured the majority of your vendors (no one needs a surplus of centerpieces or tostada appetizers). Every vendor you approach to work with on your big day is guaranteed to ask for two things upfront: your budget and your head count, both of which can only be decided once you’ve secured your guest list.

Why is this stressful? It’s not the list-creation part. It’s the politics. You may have to deliver the bad news to some college buddies you no longer talk to (but who assumed they’d score an invite to your wedding when your fiancé posted your engagement on Facebook). And to your third cousin twice removed who’s already asking if she can bring her new boyfriend who you’ve never met (even though she’s yet to receive an invite). “People will come out of the woodworks when you get engaged and try to catch up and get involved with your life again,” says Kelly.

“You can often increase the count after the deadline, but not decrease.”

So how do you handle the often dreaded process of tackling your guest list while avoiding as much wedding guest-list drama as you possibly can? It all starts with a single document on your computer known as the almighty spreadsheet (see our ultimate wedding guest list spreadsheet). Here’s everything you’ll need to know about creating, keeping and organizing a wedding guest list without losing your mind—whether you have or haven’t used one before, and regardless of which platform you plan to use (Excel and Google Sheets are basically the same thing).

How does a spreadsheet track a wedding guest list? 

When it comes to event planning, spreadsheets are your lifeblood (especially shareable ones like Google Sheets). You’ll need to organize the information into columns; you can put the list of possible names for your guest list, as well as a column for which side of the family they come from (bride side, groom side, somewhere else) and, eventually, whether or not they have RSVP’d … you may even want a column with your guess as to whether or not they will come. Then you can take things further, adding columns for tracking guests’ formal names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and so on. This could also include a list of who has food allergies, explains Kirstine Cooke, owner, event planner and designer of Simply Charming Socials.

What’s the best way to organize guests in a spreadsheet?

“Guests can be listed individually, but I recommend grouping them by party—i.e. Mr. & Mrs. John Smith—so that you can easily count the total number of guests as well as the number of invitations,” she says. “For the contact info, be as detailed and thorough as possible, with proper punctuation and full addresses, the perfect shortcut when it comes time to address invites and send thank-you cards. Emails and phone numbers are helpful for following up on responses.” You can also add RSVP columns for each of the events you’re hosting: rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, wedding reception, post-wedding brunch, and any other wedding-related festivities. “Spreadsheets can be sorted, rearranged, and organized to show you exactly what you need, when you need it, as long as you’re keeping them updated,” Cooke adds. 

Consider columns for:

  • Last name, first name 
  • Address
  • Email 
  • Phone number 
  • A number for each invitee (some people forget to include their names on RSVPs)
  • Whose list are they on? (groom, bride, other)
  • Likelihood of attendance 
  • Are they bringing kids?
  • Events guests are invited to (Rehearsal dinner? Wedding and reception? Brunch?) 
  • Dietary restrictions 
  • Wedding gift (so you don’t need to create a whole new spreadsheet for that)
  • Other (Hotel? Notes?)

What if I don’t know how to use a spreadsheet? 

If you’ve never used a spreadsheet before, that’s OK! Google Sheets is often preferred among vendors since it’s free, shareable and you can open it from any computer (the file is saved “in the cloud” and not on your hard drive). Google Sheets also saves all your changes automatically every few seconds and allows multiple people to access the sheet at one time, which is hugely helpful when both you and your partner are playing a role in the wedding guest list creation and management. “If you have Gmail, just click on Sheets, create a new one and start creating columns for everything you want to keep track of,” explains Larissa Banting of Weddings Costa Rica in Santa Ana, Costa Rica.

What do most people do wrong?

Your guest list spreadsheet should be a hub for all of your guest information. If the info is missing, error-prone, or out of date, then you’re wasting your time.

Tip: 1: Keep it updated, reach out weekly

The wedding guest list must be kept always up-to-date, otherwise it’s essentially useless. When you receive responses or reply cards, Cooke suggests either inputting immediately or setting a reminder each evening to input the responses received from the day. And follow up on RSVPs. Set a reminder a week prior to the RSVP date to start kindly reaching out to those guests who have yet to reply.  

Tip 2: Delegate outreach and updating

Consider enlisting the help of your wedding party or parents—basically anyone willing to offer a helping hand will do. This is not the time to pride yourself on wanting to do everything yourself. Let go of your need to control. “If the mother of the bride wants to help track down RSVPs or collect names of plus ones, let her!” says Cooke. “As long as it goes in the spreadsheet, it will be tracked and won’t fall only on your shoulders.”

Tip 3: Include exact names and numbers on RSVP cards

If you invite Jim and Sue, put their names on the RSVP cards—which should indicate that they can’t bring their kids or aunt Liz. If you get write-ins, contact your guests and explain the policy you’ve set up.

How do I decide who to invite to my wedding? 

There are several factors that will help guide you in deciding who to invite to your wedding. The first is determining the size of the wedding, which is based on factors such as budget and venue capacity. “Once you have those two numbers in place, you have an idea of how many people you can invite,” says Banting. Remember: You can invite everyone to the reception but only a smaller subset of people to the ceremony, if you like. 

Do we have to invite kids to the wedding too?

Inviting children can quickly swell the ranks. “If you’re inviting children, consider having a kids’ table with some small toys or games for them or even a babysitter in another room with games and a TV to keep them entertained,” she says. “If you want to be childfree, make it a blanket policy and don’t budge, as allowing one child while everyone else has gone through the hassle of arranging for childcare will quickly turn the mood sour among parents. That means your adorable 3-year old niece who is the flower girl.” Either you allow all kids or invite none, as guests won’t appreciate any exceptions to the rule. 

Should I allow guests to bring dates to the wedding?

You should have a clear blanket statement for plus ones, too. “Are you allowing dates or keeping it to significant others who’ve been in a committed relationship for some time? What about workmates? Family? Do you draw the line at first cousins or second?” asks Banting. Whatever you decide, she suggests being firm and not wavering from your decision. “This is also your ‘Get Out of Jail’ card, as you can shrug and say ‘sorry, we’re not having any (insert non-invited guest type here) at our wedding. Thanks for understanding!’” she says.

“Finally, if you’re still struggling with the guest list, use the dinner test: Ask yourself if you would have the guests in question over to your home for dinner. If the answer is no, why would you invite them to the biggest, most expensive dinner party you’ll ever throw?”

Of course, you’re going to want to start with the most important people—you, your partner, your immediate families and your wedding party. “Surprisingly, many couples forget to include themselves in that final count,” says Cooke. “You can often increase the count after the deadline, but not decrease.”

How can I reduce the number of people I’m inviting?

You can expect about 80 percent of guests you invite to actually come to your wedding, although the amount is typically less for a destination wedding. However, if you whittle your guest list down enough, you can end up with a 95 percent return rate, according to Kelly. “A fun way to get an idea is to ask for an RSVP on a website after save-the-dates go out to get a better idea of who is coming,” she says.

Cutting down your guest list is tough for many reasons. First, it’s hard to turn down someone you know might want to be part of the celebration. Second, you and your soon-to-be spouse will likely have different reasons for why one person is important to keep on the list (they were neighbors growing up, they were invited to their wedding, they have to see them every day at work, etc.), explains Kelly. “To help narrow down your guest list, ask yourself whether or not that person supports you as a couple and if you know you can call on them if needed.”

Do not tell anyone they’re on the “B list

You can also create a section of B List guests, which may include coworkers, distant relatives, family friends, or anyone else you’re on the fence about inviting. “These guests could be left out of the ‘Save the Date’ mailing list and added later if you get some early nos,” says Cooke. “Still having trouble? Cut some of the plus-one’s right off the bat if you can and exclude children from the wedding guest list if is feasible.” 

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