Ask Lolly – ‘Guest List Etiquette’


Afternoon dolls! How has your Monday treated you so far? And how was your weekend; did you manage to tick some things off your wedding ‘to do’ list? I spent a vast proportion of the weekend planning, plotting and pinning home interiors as part of the huge refurb project the boy and I have undertaken this year. Were any of you doing something similar?

This afternoon sees the first ‘Ask Lolly’ post of 2014. The regular readers out there will already be familiar with this particular post but for those of you new to these glossy pages (hello and welcome by the way!!) let me take a moment to explain the concept.

Essentially, once a month, I take a moment to try to solve the wedding trials and tribulations of you lovely lot. It could be anything – a plea for help with how to seat divorced parents and their new partners, an accessories dilemma or even a suggestion for a wedding processional hymn or song.

This is also an opportunity for you folks to weigh in with your thoughts and opinions too – after all we love to hear what you have to say on wedding matters and I’m sure there’s more than one of you in a similar predicament.

So without further ado let’s hear what our January bride in distress has to say. Take it away Cassie…

Hi Lolly,

I think you may be able to help with a bit of a dilemma we are having with our wedding and in particular our guest list and guest list etiquette!

We are getting married in October next year so we are busy pulling together lots of lists including our guest list.

We are in the very fortunate position to have a massive circle of friends and family who we would like to celebrate our special day with us, however this does mean we are verging on 140 guests just for the day reception! One particular group of friends we are having trouble allocating to day or night guests are my old work colleagues.

I left my previous job over a year ago, and while I was at the job I was lucky enough to be invited to 3 weddings as a day guest in the 4 years or so I was there – one was only in November 2012 just after I left.

Since leaving the job I haven’t seen any of the friends whose weddings we went to other than when I have made the effort to go visit my old job; we haven’t met socially, and don’t really text/Facebook etc apart from liking the odd picture or two!

But as we were invited to theirs’ is it polite to return on the same level?? It could save us up to nearly a whole table if we invited them to night only.

What do we do?! Help!


Cassie x

An Ask Lolly discussion post exploring Wedding Guest List Etiquette And Who You Should Invite To Your Wedding._0001

The age old guest list predicament eh? A veritable minefield of can’t do right for doing wrong. Where one wrong move sets off a chain of events resulting in everything exploding in front of your face.

Ok so maybe that’s a little excessive…I do have a penchant for over-dramatising a situation. That said, it’s a common dilemma and one we hear over and over again at RMW HQ so it seemed apt to share Cassie’s plea for help especially at a time when so many of you will be starting to sketch out your own wedding guest lists.

If I’m honest Cassie I do think that you’ve answered your own question when you say ‘since leaving the job I haven’t seen any of the friends whose weddings we went to other than when I have made the effort to go visit my old job’.

If you were to ask yourself truly and honestly, just how important are these old work colleagues to you? It sounds to me that you’ve been nurturing the relationship with little being given in return. If you stopped making the effort would they fill the gap?

I think so many of us fall into the trap of feeling as though we should invite certain individuals to important life events due to guilt or because we don’t want to appear rude or unappreciative.

Weddings are expensive affairs pushed to their limits at the best of times despite our best attempts to economise and DIY and Cassie I imagine your big day is no exception. You mention that you could save ‘up to a whole table’ if you invited your work colleagues to the evening rather than for the whole day and this is a HEFTY chunk of money.

I’m firmly of the opinion (whether rightly or wrongly) that you should choose to invite those people that you simply couldn’t be without on one of the most important days of your life. Not those individuals who you feel obliged to ask in reciprocation for previous invitations. The same applies for bridesmaid politics too.

I’m sure, in fact I’m certain, that if these colleagues genuinely care about you then they’ll be thrilled to be a part of your day regardless of what capacity it is in – day or night.

An Ask Lolly discussion post exploring Wedding Guest List Etiquette And Who You Should Invite To Your Wedding._0002

Cassie I can’t make the decision for you but I can offer you my advice and that would be to invite them to the night-time festivities only.

If if helps then let me share my personal experience with you; we invited every single guest to our own wedding because we wanted them by our sides on such an important day but neither the boy or I invited them because we assumed and expected that we’d be a part of their own big days in turn. Where we’ve been lucky enough to have attended a wedding or two of the self same guests we’ve been thrilled and incredibly grateful irrespective of whether it’s been to the full shebang or just to the night-time entertainment.

Follow your heart and trust your gut. You won’t be wrong. Promise.

Remember guys and gals if you’ve got a dilemma of your own that you feel you need help solving then drop me an email at

Remember a problem shared is a problem halved…

All my love Lolly xxx

Author: Lauren Gautier-Ollerenshaw
Lolly is a self-professed frustrated florist and styling maven with an endless passion for all things pretty.

30 thoughts on “Ask Lolly – ‘Guest List Etiquette’

  1. We had a similar problem (I’m sure most brides & grooms do!) and because we wanted to keep the numbers down (only 40 in the day and approx 70 at night) we made 2 rules….

    1. Had we met up with them in the past year?

    2. Had they met both of us? (we’re wedding photographers and I’ve been to too many weddings where a guest goes up to then groom and asks…so how do you know then couple then?? Cringe!)

    It wasn’t easy but we did it & the cost we saved by keeping the numbers down we’ve been able to use on making everything really personalised to our guests.

    Good luck! x

    1. I can’t believe guests actually said that to the Groom – majorly cringe, and sooooo awkward.
      I’ve definitely felt a bit uncomfortable at weddings as a guest where I’ve never met one half of the couple before.
      I agree with Lolly, and now even more so after reading your comment Mel!
      Fern x

    2. That’s an excellent method of approaching the gift list conundrum actually Mel and quite similar to the way the boy and I whittled down our own guest list. We even stripped out cousins that we hadn’t seen in a good while which didn’t go down well with some family members. But the result was a great group of people we knew we’d see regularly in our married lives.

  2. A total mine field! We have even found that people we had on the guest list we haven’t seen or spoken to since we got engaged so they have been knocked off the list.

    I never wanted to have evening guest because if I wanted people there I wanted them all day, but finances have made me think again. We were always going to have an open invite for our church family to come to the ceremony, so what we are doing are inviting some people to the church and the evening, but not the meal. I have realised the meal is almost the least important thing to me as I won’t get to see the guests much anyway, but also I wouldn’t be disappointed if they decided not to make the evening drive out to the reception but just came to the church, which is the important part. So we are doing evening invites with a difference 🙂

    p.s. Carrie don’t invite your old collgeaues, they can come party with you in the evening and they will be thrilled to do so! 🙂

    1. That’s a great idea Stef…a pick and mix wedding 🙂
      If I get invited to a wedding as an evening guest I’m always really happy – so I agree, don’t worry about inviting old work colleagues to the whole shebang Carrie! Just invite them to the evening do.
      Fern x

  3. We have found the guestlist incredibly stressful [although that doesn’t top our list of biggest wedding planning nightmares, that goes to family tantrums for our wedding!]

    Our problem was we were using our hearts too much. We wanted everyone we loved to be there and seeing as we love everyone, it was pretty much working out as our family, friends, butcher, baker, candlestick maker.

    To be more brutal we worked out how much it was costing us for each guest to attend the ceremony and meal, factoring in; food, wine, chair / table hire, flowers on the tables, favors, welcome entertainment right down to time spent ‘enjoying the decorations?!’.

    By the time we’d put our finger on the price of 104.44 per head and thought long and hard about whether we ‘loved’ each person enough to spend that much on them, we’d got our list right down.

    Anyone who’s planned a wedding themselves will understand. And if they haven’t, be honest and explain how blooming expensive it is and how you’d love to have them at the evening if they’ll come and party with you!

    It’s a really interesting exercise to do regardless, I highly recommend it!

  4. What a coincidence – we have been having this very discussion this weekend as we prepared our invitations and made the final final guest list (it has been through many iterations!).

    Work colleagues is definitely the most diffiult as office politics comes in to play and it’s difficult if you don’t invite someone who you are going to see on a daily basis afterwards. Cassie, I do agree with @Lolly that if you haven’t seen your old colleagues since you left, they don’t sound as if they should make the cut as all-day guests. Do they even make the cut as evening guests?

    Since our draft guest list we put together when we first got engaged, our guest list has reduced from around 120 to less than 100. Ultimately we want to keep numbers down both for cost reasons and to be able to spend as much time as possible with the people we really want to be there. As @Stef said, there are definitely people who after a year you realised you haven’t really seen or spoken to, and that you realise you are less worried about whether they are there on your big day.

    A big thing we have also struggled with is plus ones. How well do we have to know our friend’s other half to invite them, or is it more about how long they have been together. After thinking we would have a strict rule for all, we have found we have made exceptions by considering things like how many other people at the wedding that friend will know, etc. And then there is the question of whether to invite children… Gahh! I feel your pain, Cassie!

    x x x

    1. The dreaded plus ones eh?! We actually had some cheeky guests ask if they could bring an extra person that wasn’t even their partner but a friend. Needless to say we said no! We also made the decision from the get go to not have children too which helped keep the numbers down.

  5. Compiling out guest list was relatively easy. From the outset my fiancé and I said that we only wanted people there who really mattered and made the rule that only people we had both met and at the very least had been for a dinner/drink with and that we know we’ll still be spending time with in five years time, would make the list. (Who wants to look at wedding photos in years to come and not be able to remember some of the guests names!!)
    Our issue came when it was made clear I was expected to invite two step sisters. They are both older than me and we lead completely seperate lives having not seen each other in 10 years. I explained that given that they are near strangers and as they haven’t ever met my fiancé they wouldn’t be invited. It had caused some serious family problems but I stick by my descision. When I get married I want to do it in front of my most favourite people who are their to celebrate my relationship with my fiancé. Not in front of people who I felt duty bound to invite and who are only there because they felt duty bound to attend! No one wins in that situation!
    It’s your day… Full it with people you love!!

  6. Just wondering what people are doing about plus ones? We have gone for no children apart from three very close family children and that was quite an easy decision to make however we are struggling with what to do on plus ones.

    So this is my predicament…

    There are three friends who are in relationships (but we have never met their partners) who we have invited to the whole wedding. We have only invited them as individuals but now they are asking about plus ones. We have said there partners are more than welcome to come to the evening do but we are tight on numbers for the day, which we are, plus I don’t really want strangers there for the day when I have made a difficult decision to only invite some good friends to the evening. One friend is ok with that, one other friend has asked if we can make an exception and invite the plus one to the whole do. However if we make an exception for one, then will the others be really annoyed? I think if we don’t invite the plus one then the friend who has asked may not come as they are having to travel to us on a bank holiday weekend so I can see how they would want to spend it together.

    I guess it is only three extra people and would be nice to meet them….any advice much appreciated.


    1. Have you explained those reasons and considerations to your friend, Helen? If not, why not give her a call and tell her what you’ve just told us so that she can understand why you’ve invited them as individuals – particularly the bit about some other good friends only being invited in the evening?

      If she’s never had to put a guest list like this together she may not have thought it through


    2. Hi Helen,

      Personally, I would stick to your guns on this one.

      It sounds like you’ve had to make some difficult choices anyway, and who would you rather felt worse…the friend who accepted your decision originally or the friend who is asking for the decision to be changed?

      Your one and only wedding day is not a day for meeting strangers, even if they are the partners of friends. And as all of the girls are saying in their comments, if they are true friends, they’ll understand 🙂

      That said, I do think that the ‘plus one rules’ should be more flexible for the evening do and for members of the Wedding Party. ( I attended a wedding once where one of the Bridesmaid’s boyfriend had to sit in their hotel room in golf club in the middle of nowhere for the entire meal as he wasn’t allowed to eat with the ‘special’ guests. That, I think is unacceptable).

      Good luck with the decision Helen, and remember that by the time the day comes round, you’ll be looking gorgeous, marrying the love of your life and having a massive party, so you won’t really care either way…

      Fern x

      1. I only have this issue with one guest (so far). She is one of my closest uni friends, but I haven’t met her partner yet. She’ll have a much better time if he’s there, so he’s getting an invite.

        I was a bridesmaid not so long ago, and my partner who the couple had met (twice?) wasn’t invited initially. He ended up coming , we all had a ball and now that groom is going on my boys stag! Just some thoughts….

        What I’m finding tough is relatives you haven’t seen for years but feel obliged to invite., knowing that if they come they’ll go straight after the food!

  7. Completely agree with Lolly on this. While it’s not always easy, we applied a little rule when picking our guest list – if they’re not someone we’d pick up the phone and ring for a chat, then they’re probably not close enough to us to make the list. However, we do have a smaller guest list of only 60 people, and the excuse of it being international, so I realise that makes it a little easier to cut people out without them being as offended as they might have been.

    Ultimately, even if they are a little upset with you about not inviting them to the day, it sounds like you’re not close enough to them for it to really be a big issue for you. Might sound a little mean and ruthless, but I think you have to be when it comes to weddings unfortunately. And as Lolly says, the true friends will understand and wish you well no matter what you decide.

    Good luck with it hun! xxx

  8. Hello all!

    I’m still on the invite subject but have a slightly different issue. My in-laws have offered to help pay for our wedding. When it has come to us deciding who we are inviting, my in-laws are expecting to have around seven of their friends invited plus their cousins who live in New Zealand! I have only met their friends once in the 5 years I’ve been with my fiancé and have never met the cousins. However all these people did get us gifts/ cards when we got engaged. I wouldn’t mind them coming to the evening reception but I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of all these strangers around at the ceremony! My fiancé is adamant that we have to invite them (he obviously wants to keep his parents happy and feels obliged to because of the financial help they’re giving) but he has pretty much no contact with their friends at all. We are also very tight for numbers and are having to change some people to night guests that we would rather have had all day!

    Any advice welcome!!

    1. Hello,
      I am also having a similar problem with my fiancé. He is putting his foot down because he wants his mum to be happy, but I have told my mum that she can invite friends to the evening and she more than understands.
      So, we have split the guest list 50/50 and said that I can invite who I want and he can do what he wants with his invites! Sounds very abrupt when I write it like that, but it has solved the argument between us.
      Stressful guest-list problems- the most stressful part of wedding planning so far!!!!

  9. Reading these posts I have realised that I have developed a mix of rules as we have progressed the planning… I am only inviting people that I feel will still be in my life in 5 years time or so and/or people that have a significant connection with me and my family. No work invites apart from a couple of people I would class as close friends as I actually spend time with just them after work and at weekends. I have been at my job for 8 years so by that point you realise work friends definitely come and go. New plus-ones will be decided nearer the time but will likely be decided on if we have met the person if a new partner and how close the friend is to us.

    How far to extend the kid invite is our ongoing dilemma but we will just wait and see how many babies there are at the time! The only actual issue we have had is agreeing on the ‘rules’ between us as my fiance is a lot closer to his work colleagues and his family want a broader set of their family to attend, but we’ve worked it out and learnt a lot through some of those discussions! I havent met all of his friends partners but we agreed that we would aim to have done so by the wedding date.

    It’s so hard but you do need to do what works for you as a couple in terms of balancing who you will be happy to have there and how much you want to spend to give you the day you dream of. Everybody has a different idea of what a wedding should be and, guests or not, the people you know and love should unserstand that. Also, you can make a lot of decisions much nearer the time for evening guests!

  10. I was a bit uncomfortable with having to separate our friends into day and evening, and having to pay close attention to table plans and numbers. So we decided to approach it differently by picking a venue (field) and catering (street food vans) that kept the cost per head low and would allow everyone to join us for the full day (or full weekend if they wanted). So far we’ve been pleased with the decision as it has allowed us to be relaxed about the guest list, even adding new people who we have become close to since we got engaged.
    Instead of cutting out people who we had lost contact with, it has been a lovely opportunity to re-ignite those relationships. I’m so excited about so many different people from our lives coming together x

  11. I reckon decisions like this also depend a bit more on your specific personality type, finances and details or your groups of friends, not entirely sure it’s always as simple as just invite the people you see most and scrap the rest, unless you’ve made a conscious decision to keep it very small.

    For example we’ve invited a couple who we see pretty rarely and aren’t particularly close to because we went to their wedding, they still see a lot of our mutual friends so it would be obvious if we left them out, and finances aren’t so tight that 2 of them will make the difference…

    For me, I know I’d feel hugely bad about not inviting them and quite rude. But then I’m a compulsive keep-everyone-happy type person and for me I felt better inviting than not inviting. Ironic, as if I were the guest i don’t think i’d mind too much. we did have to count out some work people to keep things balanced and avoid lots of people my OH didn’t know though. So overall you’ve just got to feel happy with the list you end up with, choose people for whatever reason is important to you, whether that’s finances, keeping family happy or matchmaking your bridesmaids!

    Good luck.

    Now the table plan is another matter…! Anyone got any tips on that?!

  12. I agree with Lolly. It is a lot of money for people that you don’t see any longer. We have also both said that unless we have both met the guest (e.g. a partner of a friend) then they won’t get an invite. We get married in August this year and my guest list is written. If any of my lovely single ladies find a nice gentleman in the meantime, I’m sorry, but they just aren’t coming! It is your day and you need to be surrounded by people that mean the world to you xx

  13. Agree with all the advice above Cassie! Evening only. And to be honest, I would probably be even more brutal than that and say strike them off the list altogether. If you haven’t seen or spoken to them in more than a year, do you think they’d really expect an invite? I know that if I received an invite from an old colleague I hadn’t heard from in more than a year I’d be quite surprised. I’d also probably suspect they were using me to boost numbers to be honest but maybe that’s just me…

    On plus ones – we’ve avoided that problem as we’re having an international wedding and I don’t think it’s fair to make people hop on a plane and attend on their own. It’s one thing asking people to go along for 8 hours on their own (which I don’t see a problem with) and then asking someone to spend 3 days on their own! So we’re actively encouraging people to bring a +1, and where they don’t have a partner, a friend/family member is they so wish.

    Our problem however lies with children. Yikes, children. We’ve invited 90 people but those 90 people have 50 kids between them (yep, you read it right), including some 15 babies. You can’t ban kids when you’re having a wedding abroad (that’s just not right) but equally we don’t have space for 6 kids’ tables, nor the 40 euros a pop for each child over 1. Not to mention the fact that those with children always leave the party early…which would leave us without 10 guests after 9pm. So we politely asked that people make alternative arrangements and to only bring their children if they absolutely had to. Most have got the message but still there are a good 10 people who are now insisting on bringing their children…for no apparent reason. What a palaver! The lesson I’m taking from this? Don’t be all British and step around the issue – impose rules and trust that those you love will understand and come to you straight away if they have a problem which you may then be able to work around. Too late for me now….

  14. Hello Peeps

    Sounds like there are loads of good strategies and lots of good advice here.

    We made the (hard) decision to not invite kids. If we did, there would be 27 – so over a fifth of guests would be under 3 foot. I was sooo scared about explaining our wishes, but everyone was not only mega understanding, they are mega about having a mini break away sans kids.

    I also consider us lucky because both sets of parents have been really great throughout the whole process and we haven’t had any problematic requests to invite their friends, phewf.

    Plus Ones… ahhhh – a conundrum. We haven’t extended invitations to plus ones because of numbers and budgets but also, if we don’t know the partners, we haven’t extended the invites to them either. Now this has made for a mega tricky situation because we’re having a destination wedding, some people have said they can’t/don’t want to spend a bank holiday weekend away without their other half and we have been completely understanding (and lucky for us, they have all been completely understanding of our reasons why)

    A friend of mine told me that when she and her hubby-to-be were planning their wedding guest list, they considered whether or not they could picture themselves travelling the length and breadth of the country to see spend weekends together when they have kids etc, if they couldn’t picture themselves as friends in the next 5 years they didn’t invite them (a similar approach to a few ladies here) – this really does help!!

    It isn’t easy and I wish none of us needed to do it. I hope you all work it out

  15. It really is a tricky one, we’ve had to allow some plus ones but not others and that feels quite mean but there just isn’t the room. I already feel weird about giving one friend a plus one who I’ve never even met before, how awkward is that on the day?!
    We’ve had another issue about aunties and uncles that haven’t been present in my fiancé’s life for many many years, they live away and don’t particularly make any effort with him. I’ve only met them about twice in the entire 12 years I’ve been with him. We only want close friends and family to the day, but my fiancé feels bad about not inviting them but why should we pay all that money for people who didn’t even bother to come to our engagement party? Let alone know anything about us as a couple. There is still that sense of obligation though isn’t there, but I think at the end of the day, its your special day and it should be people who you love who should be there to share that with you, not randoms or people you feel ‘you should’ invite, that’s not what it’s about. x

  16. I think while its important to have some ground rules about plus ones, the other thing to remember is that your interaction with each guest is going to be limited on the day (unless you have a really really tiny wedding). You want your guests have a good time right? So why wouldn’t they get to spend it with their significant other (whether that’s a boy/girlfriend or just a friend)? Especially those friends who don’t fit into a bigger group. Yes its your day (and you’re maybe paying for it), but you’re still also the host and have a responsibility to your guests.

    We only had 70 at ours and didn’t split day and evening guests and even then there were people I only spoke to briefly. Yes, some of our guests were people I’ve never met but so what? It didn’t mean they were any less happy for me or that I had a less good time at my wedding.

    On the flip side, I also didn’t invite someone I was a bridesmaid for the previous year simply because we weren’t that close any more.

    1. you’re absolutely right. if you are inviting someone who doesn’t really slot in with a group of friends – work/school/uni/sports etc… then i think you have a responsibility of them having a good time so should extend their invitation to include a plus one. While it is “our” day, often it wends up costing the guests a lot of money as well what with travel, accom (most often its two nights), gift, outfit, spending money for the weekend… so it’s the least you can do as a host to give them a friend to enjoy their weekend with.

  17. I do remember the stresses of the guest list in the run up to our wedding, however the major stress came with the table plan and two people dropping out two days before the wedding meaning that I had to re-do the said table plan again!

    With that said, the day will be the most magical and wonderful day of your life and nothing should get you down. Just do what your heart is telling you xxxx

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