Wedding guest list etiquette – and how to avoid those awkward moments

Happy married couple at Maryculter House HotelYou’ve got the dress, booked the venue, agreed the menu and briefed your photographer. That’s the bulk of the work on planning your wedding done, right? Wrong! The trickiest part of planning any wedding – finalising the all-important guest list – is yet to come.

As someone who has helped countless numbers of newlywed couples celebrate the happiest day of their lives, Maryculter House Hotel wedding and events manager Beverley Mackinlay knows a thing or two about how to get it right…and has lots of top tips on how to avoid getting it very, very wrong.

Here, Beverley shares her advice on how to keep all your guests – and non-guests – happy.

Q. My parents have a large family, but I am only close to my aunt and uncle who live locally. Do I have to invite all my parents’ siblings even though they are scattered across the country and I rarely see them?

A. One of the biggest causes of family quarrels is family members not being treated equally. Think how it would make you feel if your uncle invited one of your brothers or sisters to be part of an important event, but not you. Chances are you would be quite hurt, or at the very least feel put out. Invite them just to keep tensions at bay: these are the things that people can still feel bitter about many years down the line!

Q. Should the guest list be divided evenly between the bride’s side and the groom’s side?

A. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest that the guest list is approached in quarters. It should roughly be made up one one-quarter of guests of the bride’s parents, one-quarter guests of the groom’s parents, one-quarter the bride’s friends and one quarter the groom’s friends. It’s not unacceptable, however, to divvy it up based on who is making the biggest financial contribution – if the bride’s parents are paying for most of the wedding, then you cannot argue with them inviting more guests.

Q. We don’t want to have children at our wedding. Is this acceptable and how do we make it clear to our guests?

A. It’s perfectly acceptable not to invite children, and you don’t actually need to make this explicit by telling your guests their children are not allowed to come. When writing your invitations, state the name of the guests on the invitation. That alone should make it clear that the invitation does not extend to Little Johnny too!

Q. I was very surprised to get an invitation to a work colleague’s wedding as we are not that close. Do I have to invite them to mine?

A. It is good etiquette to reciprocate. If you have been deemed important enough to be invited to someone else’s celebrations then you should extend that same courtesy back. This applies universally to all guests.

Q. Should all our guests be allowed to take a plus-one, especially if they are single or if we have never met their significant other?

A. My advice is that the ‘plus one’ rule should only apply to married or engaged couples who should be considered a single unit. I think it is perfectly reasonable to approach all others on your guest list on a case by case basis, and invite a plus one where you feel it is appropriate. Don’t worry about asking people to attend on their own, and I would even suggest steering clear of a ‘singles table’. Why not seat single guests on tables next to outgoing and lively couples or family members who you know will make them feel welcome and involved?

Q. We’ve received a wedding gift from someone we have not invited to either our wedding ceremony or evening reception. Should we now invite them?

A. No. You made a list and they were not on it for a reason – so stick to that decision. People accept that it’s simply not possible to invite everyone to a wedding, and it’s likely that, rather than angling for an invite, they just wanted to make a gesture so you knew they were thinking of you on such an important day. However, it would be nice to make a point of seeing them after the wedding and personally delivering a thank you note along with a piece of wedding cake.

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