Planning Your Wine Country Wedding: The Guest List

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The guest list is a tricky and sensitive topic. You have probably heard and can imagine the stories brides and grooms can share. To help minimize the family drama, here’s a guide to creating your list and checking it twice…

1. Budget will determine your guest list, and the numbers don’t lie.

Once you determine your budget you’ll be able to understand how many people you can have at your wedding. On average the cost can be anywhere between $100-300 a head (and that’s for the reception)! You will end up inviting more people than who will attend; you can expect a drop-off of about 20% for a local wedding and between 30-50% for a destination wedding. Make sure you factor in any other costs besides the meal (cocktail hour, transportation, favors, etc.) when coming up with your final number.

2. Decide if you’re allowing +1s, children, etc. 

We decided from the start to allow everyone a +1 and to bring their children. We felt it was the right thing to do, especially for a destination wedding. Attending a wedding can be rough when you’re single, let alone traveling long distance for one. We also didn’t want to deter parents from coming if they couldn’t bring their children. Surprisingly, many of our guests chose to leave their children behind with family or a babysitter and give themselves an excuse to have a mini vacation!

I’ve also been to weddings where +1s weren’t invited unless married or in a long-term relationship. If you decide you do not want to have children at your wedding, you can politely write on the invitation that this is an “Adult only affair”.

3. We’re not in old times anymore… 

In the old days, parents paid for the entire wedding and so naturally, a fair share of the attending guests would be their friends and families to celebrate their children getting married. In today’s world, weddings have taken on a new perspective. Couples are getting married later in life when they are more independent and financially sound, able to take on more financial burdens. Our families were generous and helped pay for some of the costs, but ultimately we paid for most of the wedding ourselves. For any contribution your families make, whether it’s monetary or helping with other aspects of the wedding, it’s a true blessing. You may feel compelled to please them time and time again for their sacrifices. You have to remember though that ultimately, this is your wedding, so who you want there should come first. We put together a preliminary list of who we absolutely wanted there before we went venue hunting. Once we selected our venue and could confirm our guest count, we gave our families a number of people they could invite too. As we received RSVPs we could adjust. Our approach made sure that we invited everyone we wanted and also gave our families the ability to invite some of their close friends too. I can’t say we 100% avoided the drama, but it was a fair approach that ended up working.

4. Prepare for the RSVP No’s and stagger your invites.

Adam has a large family and most of them  reside on the East coast. My family is smaller, with my extended family being mostly overseas. We had some family members that we predicted may not be able to come, so we staggered our invites accordingly. We made the RSVP deadline just under 3 months before the wedding. As time went by, we had a better sense of the drop-off rate and could invite more people. Our last RSVP deadline was about 6 weeks before the wedding, allowing everyone enough time to plan their travels.

In an ideal world, we would have an infinite budget with no venue limitations to invite all the people we want and make everyone happy. However, it is just not realistic. The best favor you can do for yourselves and for your loved ones is to be clear and not waiver in your expectations. Most importantly, stand your ground! If you don’t, that’s when misconceptions happen and problems arise. The names on your guest list may change but the guest count itself shouldn’t fluctuate much so that you can stick to your budget. After you have a good sense of your guest count, you’re ready to start venue hunting!

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(Location: Vintners Inn – Santa Rosa, CA || Photography: Emily Jean Images)

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