Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Guest List: Lessons Learned the Hard Way!

The Guest List -- A hot topic.  This is a big decision for all those involved in planning a wedding!  I actually did not realize at first how pivotal it was to the entire modern wedding experience.  I learned that nowadays, the guest lists of any pre-wedding parties or bridal showers depend on it.  I learned a big lesson about priorities and family communication through what transpired during the weeks of finalizing it.

Again, I think going back to my own wedding planning, the guest list seemed to be a no-brainer.  Wes and I had been on our own so long that we paid for the majority of the wedding ourselves; and our parents really had no interest in helping with planning it.  So, he and I settled on a do-able number that would include family and friends at the time, and divided that up equally.  I really had no reference point to our current situation: parents footing the bulk of the bill for the wedding of a 20-something couple who were just graduating from college and leaving the nest.

For my birthday last May, right after Amanda got engaged, she gave me an Emily Post Etiquette/Planner book for the Mother of the Bride or Groom. In it, (and in most every wedding magazine or website I looked at) I read that almost as soon as the engagement is announced, all the parties need to sit down and discuss the guest list. Did I heed this advice? Of course not...!! I figured it would all work itself out in the end...after all, the couple were looking at the wedding planning books and websites, too, right?!! So I assumed we were all on the same page of the standard ways of dividing the list up.

The etiquette advice had this to say-- usually, the division of guests goes like this:

Option 1 - 1/3 to the Bride's Family's Side, 1/3 to the Groom's Family's Side, and 1/3 friends of the couples' choice.

Option 2 - 50% to the couples' friends, and 25% each to each family. (This is more likely if the couple is older and they have lived on their own for a while, and the couple is paying for the wedding.)

But I soon learned that simple math is not the only factor in deciding on a wedding guest list...there are other angles to take into consideration, and even though it may be difficult to give up control when you are footing the bill, the wishes of the bride and groom must take precedence (after all, regardless of who is paying for the wedding, the day is to celebrate THEM.)  Lets just say that we were not on the same page with the couple in the beginning.  While we were leaning toward Option 1, they were leaning toward Option 2.  To them, the important thing was to share the day with friends, and some closer family members.

Amanda finally told me they had gotten up to 200 guests total on their latest version of the guest list, and the great majority on the list were were their friends, In other words, just the immediate family were all that we were going to be able to invite. No extra room for more distant relatives, or good family friends.

Our venue people were telling us that it only held 180 people comfortably with a dance floor, 200 bodies would actually be pushing it - so we couldn't just add on to the number of guests. (Not to mention the cost -- we had already gone from 150 guests to 200!) And there just aren't that many places in Waco, Texas that hold more than 200, at least not at an affordable price.

It was a tense few days.  We let a week or so go by so everyone could all calm down, and then I had to send Amanda a long email, apologizing for rocking the boat, but basically explaining where we were coming from.  We had come up with a number based upon the wedding planning literature's suggestions of percentages.  We explained that this is the biggest party her Dad and I will probably ever throw, and that in addition to the immediate family, there were also some other relatives and friends we would like to invite that had watched her grow up, and who we knew would want to be there if they could. We wanted the groom's parents to be able to do the same, if they wanted.  On the other hand, we acknowledged that this is their wedding, and we wanted to abide by their wishes as much as possible.

So the "compromise" came in -- they cut down their list so that we could invite a few more people. It turned out the groom's family were fairly satisfied with the number they had already.  Meanwhile, we visited the venue one day when they happened to be set up for a large wedding. It appeared that with a smaller dancefloor, and packing people closer than perhaps we would like, we theoretically could go with a few guests over the 200 limit. Considering you will usually not get 100% attendance of your invitees, it was do-able.

There was also the possibility of inviting a "second tier" of guests, depending on the RSVP's we got on the first round (although we figured out later this could get REALLY tricky so as not to offend anyone.)  Amanda also suggested that any extra leftover spots could be offered to the "dates" of some of the single people they were inviting..and that was actually what we ended up doing.

So yes -- we learned that the guest list, and most importantly the division of it, is about THE most crucial aspect of wedding planning, and needs to be decided upon right away. We actually got it backwards -- we should have settled on the count before settling on a venue. Of course in our case, we had already booked about the largest venue we could get in that vicinity, so we were kind of stuck anyway.

Once the guest list and how it will be divided is decided on, it clears the air, the couple and both families have a clearer picture of what the wedding will look like, and you can move on with the rest of the planning. And if you choose to send out Save the Dates (as we did), a timely decision on the guest list becomes even more important.