As wonderful as it would be to consider having a wedding with no budget restraints, unless you have a 10-million-dollar wedding wallet, you’ll inevitably need to stay mindful of what you’ve been spending. And thanks to our friend Jamie Wolfer, we already know that the biggest budget killer OF. THEM. ALL. is the size of the guest list. So, every couple will surely be having one of those Father of the Bride famous sit-downs at some point in the early planning stages: you know the one, when you’re sitting at the kitchen table, address book/contacts spreadsheet in hand and a glass of wine in the other, starting to go down the list of everyone you know who needs to be invited, and when you remember that ‘Harry Kirby’ died, you get psyched about the possibility of other people’s deceased-status helping you out…. KIDDINGGGGG.
Of course, close family members will always keep their places on the list, as will close friends and even coworkers/bosses who might have a stake in your future, but for all the significant others of those people, it’s not always so clear. Even though it’s hard, if you need to keep your guest list to a certain number, or else blow your budget to 💩, you’ll need to strategize TF out of those coveted plus ones - and make it unmistakably clear which guests get ‘em.
We put together a pretty solid plus-one protocol for all of our just-engaged and soon-to-be-wed couples to reference as they’re fleshing out their guest lists. In the hopes that we can help some brides navigate their nuptials without having to hear from people complaining that they didn’t get a plus one. Brides in our Wedding Chicks Brides FB group, we feel for you!!!! Who actually tries to RSVP with a +1 if he/she wasn’t invited with one?!? Write-ins don’t work for weddings, friends. They just don’t.
Anyways, here goes, the considerations first:
When it comes to close family, always extend the P1
The degree of closeness is relative, for sure, but we’re talking fairly immediate family - siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. If you know that your cousin started dated someone last year, and things still seem to be going strong, then definitely give them the option to bring their guy or girl. You’ve probably met them at family gatherings at least once, so you should have some kind of acquaintance. And if you haven’t had the chance to meet yet, that can work even more in your favor. He or she might not even be comfortable enough to come as a date. As for grandparents who may be widows/widowers, or who have been otherwise unattached for the majority of your knowing them, it’s courteous to extend them a guest invitation, but you can make your own estimations as to whether they’ll actually come with someone. When I got married, my grandpa had been gone for over 10 years, but I still offered my grandma the ‘and guest.’ I figured she wouldn’t be bringing one, but it was only right to let her know that she could if she so wished!
Consider an age limit cut-off
Look, guests can’t argue with rules involving age stipulations - you’re either over 18 or under 18, plain and simple. For my own wedding, my husband and I agreed that no one under the age of 18 would be invited with a plus one. At the time, we didn’t have any younger cousins in college; however, we figured that since we dated in college, and were invited to a few family friend weddings, together, in that time, it couldn’t hurt to allow our college-aged guests to bring their S.O.s if they had them. If you want to bump that age up to 21, and only allow younger guests to be able to bring someone, if they’re legally able to indulge in the open bar ((with the consideration that 21 years old = adult // the likelihood of stupid behavior is limited)), then so be it! You’ll just find it much easier to turn people down if you have a concrete age cap kept in mind.
Commit to a relationship-status cadence
Similarly to the age limit cadence, a relationship-status cadence can only help you keep things tight, too. We tried to stick to couples coming together only if they were married, engaged, living together or dating long-term. And we layered that, too. With a caveat that they’d need to have been living together or dating for at least a year. When you get to your mid-to-late 20s, early 30s, you’ve probably been seeing a much more definitive shift in your groups of friends for a while - people getting into ‘serious’ relationships and staying that way for some time. So, that’s easier to attach rules to. If it really comes down to it, though, where a friend says ‘Hey, I didn’t see x’s name or ‘guest’ on your invite, but we’ve been dating for 2 years,’ even if you don’t know him/her, you should honor your code. If that means you need to set up a dinner or drinks double/group date to suss them out, then do it up. We’ll allow it!
Give your bridal party the plus one
You’re already getting them gifts, but offering them a plus one is like a bonus present. It says that you appreciate them, and want to extend a token of gratitude for all the love they’ve shown you and your boo throughout your engagement. All this being said, if you do let each wedding party member bring a date, then just check in on it every once and awhile, so that you’re not blindsighted by who they bring on your day. If you’re feeling like one of your bridesmaids or groomsmen might just roundup a ‘rando’ for your wedding, and don’t want to deal with that, then make sure you have a chat with them early on. If your relationship is such that you can tell them anything without repercussions, then go ahead with your ‘umm, I don’t think it’d be a great decision to bring x, y, z, I don’t know him/her, and I don’t like him/her.’ It’s pretty likely you’ll have a sense of who in your bridal party will be bringing dates well before you get your RSVPs back, but if not, just shoot them a text and gauge their game plan before you start stressing over your guest list.
And here’s how you make sure things stick:
Be outright with how you address the envelopes. If you’re sending to a friend and say “Mr. & Mrs. Lev Halibey,” you’re asking them to come as a couple. If you say “Ms. Danielle Halibey + Guest,” you’re inviting her with a date. If you JUST say “Ms. Danielle Halibey,” then you’re only inviting her - no one else. And as for families, especially with kids living at home, it can get tricky if you don’t want the younger son or daughter thinking he/she can bring a gf/bf. So, yes, invite “The Johnson Family,” but then just make sure you’ll following up - discreetly, of course - to see who exactly that entails. If you find out from your mom that your younger cousin is bringing someone along, and you don’t want him/her at the wedding, then make sure you’re calling them out.
Wordsmith your RSVP cards to leave no room for error. Whether you need to modify your response cards to say ____ out of ____ will be attending (the second blank is the amount of people who you invited/would be OK with coming) or ask your guests to reply through an online event register (only giving them a drop down field to enter their guest’s name IF you want them to have a guest), you can help yourself out and avoid awkwardness for everyone down the line, if you make it blatantly obvious who is invited and who is clearly not.
Put some fine print on your wedding website. It can’t hurt to outline your guest list expectations as deliberately as possible - meaning writing a friendly, but assertive message on your wedding website about how excited you and your partner are to see everyone at the wedding, and hope that no one feels personally offended about being invited or not invited with a plus one, you just had to keep to a guest list that felt manageable for you and your budget. People should be able to understand that and respect the level of intimacy you wanted to have at your wedding. Emojis help, too, if you want to be passive-aggressively aggressive 😉
Be proactive about anyone who you know might say something. It’s absolutely rude for guests to assume they’ll be invited with a +1 and/or reach out to make sure their write-in is 👌. It’s not. But you also have to be smart and opportunistic when you’re dealing with these ‘what ifs.’ If you think any of your guests might be unhappy with their date-less situation, then get out in front of it. Give them a heads up that you feel terrible about not being able to give them a +1, but you and your spouse-to-be (or your parents / or collaboratively with your parents) will be handling the expense of the wedding and you need to keep the guest list as trimmed as possible. Let them know that it’s strictly logistical, and if they do have a new guy or girl in their life, you can’t wait to meet them after the wedding.
And while you’re at it… As long as you’re being transparent about their sans guest status, try to assure them that you’ve already worked out a bangin’ seating arrangement for them - maybe even near or at the same table as one of their crushes or other of your single and ready-to-mingle besties who you think they’d vibe with. Let them know that yes, you get where they’re coming from, and understand if they feel anxious about not being able to bring a guest, but that you have their back. And can guarantee they’re going to have an awesome time no matter what.
If all else fails, refer to our tips on polite ways to ask guests not to bring their kids, a lot of the etiquette is the same!