Who to invite
Compiling your guest list can become the most contentious part of your wedding preparations since it is usually not possible to invite all your family and friends due to the constraints of your budget and venue capacities.
In particular, difficulties will arise if you both have large families and circles of friends, since you will need to decide where to draw the line between family and friends you know well and those that you don't. Usually, parents will want to invite many relatives, whereas you may want to invite more friends. Consequently, unless you have a budget and venue that enables all your family and friends to attend, difficult decisions may need to be made. Therefore, great tact, diplomacy and above all, tolerance will be needed if conflicts are to be avoided.
When to compile your guest list
One of the first tasks you should undertake once you start your wedding preparations is to make an approximate assessment of the number of guests you and your families would like to attend. Taking into account the size of your families, your circle of friends and your budget. This will then help you with the task of choosing your ceremony venue and, in particular, the reception venue to ensure that they have the capacities you need. Once you have booked your venues you will know the maximum numbers that can be invited to your wedding.
You should then consider compiling your detailed guest list at least six months before your wedding. This will allow you two to three months to carefully consider exactly who you will be inviting and to overcome any difficulties that will undoubtedly arise.
Who to invite
Since weddings are family occasions, you and your partner's immediate families and relatives (usually one step removed such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) are always included. You would also invite your close friends and possibly work colleagues who you have known for some time. Both of your parents may also have close family friends that they would like to attend, especially friends that have taken a close interest or involvement in your upbringing.
You should also consider inviting important people in your lives that you know will not be able to attend due to, for example, infirmity or because they live a great distance away. An invitation would be seen as a very thoughtful gesture. It is also customary to send invitations to your bridesmaids, your best man, your groom's parents and the church minister (but not the registrar in the case of civil marriages).
It is considered that the perfect wedding guest list should provide a balanced picture of the lives of the bride and groom and their families, regardless of who is paying for your wedding. Therefore, as a starting point, it is recommended that invitations are allocated using the following ratios: one third the bride's parents' guests; one third the groom's parents' guests and one third for the friends of the bride and groom.
However, it is often the case that adjustments to this ideal solution will need to be made, especially where family sizes differ greatly. For example, it would be unfair to exclude one side's close family and friends while the other side's numbers have to be made up of distant relatives and slight acquaintances for the sake of making up the numbers.
Although both families will be involved in compiling the list to ensure a good representation of family and friends, ultimately the host who is paying for your wedding, must give the final approval.
Inviting guests' unmarried partners
Whether to invite the unmarried partners of your desired guests is a common and contentious dilemma. Although it is usual for each party to adopt a system to help them ration the number of invitations they have, long term unmarried partnerships are almost socially equal to marriages. However, short term relationships are not and therefore do not need to be acknowledged socially at an important event such as your wedding.
Whether to invite children to your wedding is an emotive and therefore important decision to make from the outset, since venue capacities make no distinction between young and old (from a numbers point of view). For some couples, especially those who are having several children in their bridal party, children are an essential ingredient to the day. For others, the thought of young children disrupting their wedding ceremony and running riot at the reception is too much to bear!
If you decide to have children at your wedding, there are a few things you can do to help minimise the possible disruption:
Ask your ushers to request that guests with children under the age of five seat at the rear of the church (or marriage room in the case of civil ceremonies). Therefore, if the children become noisy, the parent can remove them quickly.
Arrange for a children's entertainer to amuse the children at the reception venue while the ceremony is taking place. This could also be extended to cover the wedding reception during the meal and speeches.
A less expensive option than the above would be to provide a children's entertainer or crèche facility at the reception venue during the meal and speeches only. You can obtain a list of registered child minders from the local authority that covers the area that the reception venue is situated.
Make up or buy children's activity packs to keep them occupied during your wedding reception.
If you decide not to invite children to your wedding, therefore omitting their names from the invitations, the hosts will probably receive enquiries requesting clarification. Therefore, it would be wise to have a prepared response along the lines of "Because of the restriction on numbers at the venues (or limitation of your budget), we are unable to invite children because we have so many close family and friends we wish to invite". Most people will be understanding and even welcome the opportunity to have a break from their children! However, you will no doubt, receive some refusals, especially from those with very young children and from women who are breast feeding.
How many guests to invite
Although this point may seem to have been covered above, not all those you invite will be able to attend your wedding due to prior commitments such as holidays or the inability to get time off work particularly if your wedding is held on a weekday.
Therefore, you should draw up a reserve invitation list comprising of about 20 per cent by number of your main list to cover for refusals. It is important to bear in mind that there is no problem with sending out a second wave of invitations so long as you do not leave it insultingly late and thereby making it obvious to the recipients that they were not your first choice!
There is also the need to split your invitations between those guests you would like to attend your ceremony and wedding reception and those you wish to come to the evening reception only. This split will, obviously, depend upon your venue capacities, your budget and the closeness of family and friends.