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A and B Guest Lists–How to Handle Invitations for your Destination Wedding

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Guest Post by: Sandy MaloneWeddings in Vieques

Invitation Designer: The Pink Orange 

Every bride ends up doing an  “A” list,” a “B” list and sometimes even a “C” list when they find themselves budget-challenged with their wedding invitation list the size of Rhode Island.  To be fair, it can be a very good way to narrow down the number of folks you’re going to have to feed and water – but you can’t get caught!  For a destination wedding, this is even trickier than navigating the same problem in your hometown.

Backing up a little, let me tell you about my own wedding guest list.  My fiancé proposed on Dec. 20, 2003, and on Dec. 22, my mother emailed me a near-completed Excel spreadsheet with 150 “must-invite” guests, who were either relatives (regardless of how distant) or close friends of the family, who had invited my parents (and sometimes me) to all of their own children’s weddings. So, it was time for reciprocity.

However, nowadays most parents aren’t picking up the bulk of the wedding tab, and as a result, many engaged couples no longer consider their parents on the “A” list. Time for compromise.

If the bride and groom can afford a maximum of 50 guests at their wedding, odds are they don’t want to invite a bunch of people they haven’t seen in ten years. So, what’s a bride or groom to do?  Here are 10 steps to help cut the guest list without losing friends:

1)    Make your own list of “must-invites” before you and your fiancé do ANYTHING ELSE.  The size of that list will indicate how many slots you can give to each set of parents to invite.  Occasionally, the reality of the numbers set in and parents, who are able to contribute more, will so that they can invite their own friends.

2)    If you’re getting married in your hometown, you can have two lists more easily than for a destination wedding – although you still have to be careful.  You must remember that in order to do staggered invites, you must have guests broken up into categories.  Focus on the personal list first.  For example, you cannot invite your first cousin and her husband, but ignore her parents and your other 13 first cousins (unless, of course, you are hoping for long-term family drama that will bite you in the butt at every future holiday for the duration of your marriage).  If you don’t have room on the list for the cousins, you can’t invite them.

3)    Same rules with work colleagues.  Set a limit for each of you (of course, this can be different based on your careers – if the bride works for a huge corporation, but the groom runs his own small real estate office with only four employees – for obvious reasons, that may decide his list is more critical) and stick to it.  Don’t let the nosy 20-something girls from your office make you feel guilty that they haven’t been invited.  When they get married, they’ll understand.

4)    Manage guest list expectations with your parents from day one.  Make your own “must-invite” list, compare notes and talk with your parents so that you can demonstrate that you’ve cut your own list and are in complete agreement with each other.

5)    Before you start inviting anybody, you can do some elimination on the front end of the list by simply talking to your closest friends to find out if they can come.  Work commitments, tiny babies or those, who are working on getting pregnant, will probably be able to give you an honest heads up allowing you to shave some numbers from the very beginning.  Already married friends are the most honest and understanding.

6)    Your lists should be pre-established BEFORE you begin sending out save-the-dates or travel info packets.  As I’ve explained to numerous clients – a save-the-date is not a litmus test to decide whether those people get actual invitations later.  EVERYONE, who receives advance materials on planning, must be on your guest list when those invitations go into the mail.

7)    Have your “B” list ready to rock’n’roll before you mail the invites to the “A” list and have the secondary list in order of priority.  You aren’t going to wait for all of your first choice RSVP’s to come back before you start sending the second wave or you are going to get busted hard by somebody, who talks to somebody else, and realizes they weren’t a first invitation pick.  You should have a travel info packet available to enclose with your invitations that are going out second round – you won’t be able to do another save-the-date at that point. So, be ready to provide everything at once to the late invitees, even though the invites may still be going out eight months ahead of the actual wedding date.  Remember, the invitation rule for destination weddings says that you can mail the invites at any point from one year out – but the RSVP deadline is still no longer than the eight weeks for a traditional invitation.

8)    The key is to invite the entire “B” list at the same time as the “A” list so that they don’t cross-reference.  First-cousins are a good example.  Same with old college friends, high school friends, neighbors and anybody that’s a member of an organization that is important to you (Rotary club, book club, etc.).  You need to make sure that those folks receive their invites at approximately the same time so they don’t feel like second-class citizens.

9)    If you’re planning to have a reception back home after your destination wedding, it’s okay to send out save-the-dates at the same time you mail your wedding invites!  Letting people know that you had a limited list by sending out an invite to the reception only is perfectly acceptable and may save you some potential heartache down the road.  Remember, you don’t have to rent out the most expensive venue and throw a full-on reception back home – a back yard cocktail party is perfectly acceptable.

10)     Most importantly, be in sync with your fiancé and be prepared for hard questions about the guest list from family and friends.  As long as you do it with compassion and you are direct, people will be understanding.  Remember, this is you and your fiancé’s big day, and it’s not about anybody but the two of you.  While you want to include those you love and make your parents feel important, at the end of the day, who will you remember at your wedding?

Sandy Malone | Owner, Weddings in Vieques

Sandy Malone is the owner of Weddings in Vieques, a Caribbean destination wedding planning company based on Vieques Island. A former Wall Street Journal reporter and public affairs expert, Sandy has executed more than 400 destination weddings on Vieques and Culebra islands, and writes a wedding planning column for the Huffington Post.
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  2. […] A and B Guest Lists–How to Handle Invitations for your Destination … Guest Post by: Sandy Malone, Weddings in Vieques Invitation Designer: The Pink Orange Every bride ends up doing an “A list,” a “B list and. […]