It isn’t lifelong commitment that makes weddings strike the fear of god into mankind. It’s not even coughing up for a free bar (though that isn’t great). Nope, it’s the danger of combining said free bar with your prudish aunt, your boss, and the bloke who wet himself on the bachelor party.
Before you got engaged, all you hoped to hear was the word ‘yes’. Start working on the wedding guest list, however, and you’re suddenly desperate for a few ‘no’s.
As of 2017, the average UK wedding size was 79 daytime invitees and 104 for the evening, according to Hitched. So how to make those numbers add up to happiness?
We asked wedding industry pros for the tricks to balancing obligation, expectation and the friends with those reputations.
The Loose Cannon
“We all have a friend like this. The one you know will take two champagnes from the reception drinks tray instead of one and then move onto Jägerbombs when they’ve barely swallowed the starter,” laughs Lina Orsino-Allen, one half of award-winning wedding photographers Lina & Tom.
With a no-nonsense female friend either side to keep him in check
Everyone has their own version of American Pie’s Stifler – and when you can’t say no to him coming, the key is to be very strategic about where he sits. “Always away from a group of guys – with his back to them if needed – and on a table where guests are older or more serious in order to encourage best behavior,” advises Natalie Lovett, director of Whitewed Directory, an online directory of wedding suppliers.
The ideal table has no big drinkers, no hecklers and, should things get lairy, no close family – particularly in-laws. Orsino-Allen is a fan of girl-boy-girl seating: “With a no-nonsense female friend either side to keep him in check,” she adds.
Then brief other friends to keep an eye on his dance-floor antics. More John Travolta, less Full Monty.
The One With A Revolving Door Of Girlfriends
You think the current one is Penelope. But it could be Felicity. And no one really knows what happened to her predecessor, Sarah, who vanished like the MH370.
It’s better to consider the olive-branch route of inviting her to the evening only
With plus ones at a premium, Stephanie Varda, a life coach and former wedding planner, thinks it’s fine to withhold one for the friend whose love life moves faster than Lewis Hamilton.
“No one wants wedding pictures that they have to play ‘Guess Who?’ with in a few years. Explain that you only want your nearest and dearest with you on the day, and that means only long-term partners.”
Orsino-Allen draws the long-term line at six months and over. “Before then, do you really want to offer your sixty-doller-a-head meal to a stranger who might not even be around in a couple of months?
“It’s better to consider the olive-branch route of inviting her to the evening only – by that point, you’ll be thinking the more the merrier.”
The Recently Broken-up Couple
If only one of them is a friend then you have it easy – and, to be blunt, have just clawed back a space on the invite list. But when you’re close friends with both people it’s a much more sensitive situation.
“Chat to each friend individually and explain how much you want them at your wedding, but that you will still be inviting their old partner. This upfront approach gives them ample warning so they can choose to attend (or not),” recommends Varda.
The likelihood is that one may not turn up due to the awkwardness
Depending on how raw the split is, don’t take it personally if one party does bail. “The likelihood is that one may not turn up due to the awkwardness,” admits events expert Evelyn Okpanachi, founder of wedding-gift firm, The Perfect Package Company.
If both exes do attend, and the tension is stronger than your nerves about the best man’s speech, seat them with care.
It’s also worth discretely alerting mutual acquaintances to what’s happened
“As far apart as possible and not within direct eyeshot of each other,” she adds. Think of new table buddies that they would share interests with, for example. It’s also worth discretely alerting mutual acquaintances to what’s happened.
“Make sure that anyone who needs to know, knows that they aren’t together anymore to ensure that they don’t get asked all the time or someone puts their foot in it,” urges Lynsey Littlefield of group-activity organizer, Fizzbox.
The Unruly One: Kids
Kids – one small word, one giant tantrum of potential problems. “The no-kids rule has to be the single biggest cause of modern wedding stress,” admits Orsino-Allen, who, being childless herself, wanted a kids-free wedding when she tied the knot.
We can’t wait to see you on the dance floor with no responsibility other than to have a great time
“We’re child-free and didn’t feel an affinity to having kids running around – besides, I’ve worked in weddings for almost ten years, so my planning should have been easy right? Wrong.”
While her friends were delighted to be told to have a night off and leave the kiddos with grandma, problems came from relatives who considered weddings to be family events – so insisted on bringing the brood. She ended up hiring a nanny for the wedding so the children could spend the ceremony playing in another room.
But sticking to your child-free guns doesn’t make you the wedding equivalent of the Grinch. State the over-18s requirement as early as possible so guests have plenty of time to make other arrangements.
“Be totally clear from the outset and say something like, ‘We want you to enjoy a night off on us. So we’re giving you plenty of notice to find a babysitter for our wedding day. We can’t wait to see you on the dance floor with no responsibility other than to have a great time’. This worked really well for a recent client – their friends with children were among the last to leave,” reassures Lovett.
The Return-The-Favor Guilt Tripper
Five years ago, you went to their wedding. Since then, you’ve seen more of <insert favorite TV show here> than you have of them. Your head says don’t invite them, but your softer says you should. Who’s right?
If you’ve been to their wedding in the last 18 months, they should be on your list
“Friends can be really important at certain times in our lives, but things shift: we move cities, we change jobs, we also change as people and that often means that we grow out of old friendships,” explains Varda.
“Ask yourself if it is just circumstance that means you haven’t seen that friend for a while. If it is purely logistics (you live in different countries, say) and you do want to see them, invite them. If there’s more to it, don’t feel obligated to do so.”
Okpanachi swears by the 18-month rule. If you’ve been to their wedding in the last 18 months, they should be on your list. “But if you haven’t spoken to them in the last 18 months there’s no need to invite them as you simply are not as close as you once were.”
The exception, says Lovett, is if the return-the-favor friend is close to other family members – for example, your parents have specifically requested a couple of guests, including this person. In that case, add them on.
The Distant Relative
There’s nothing like a wedding to make you realize that your extended family is about five times larger than you thought it was.
A limited-capacity venue is one of the easiest reasons to give
The easiest way to ensure they don’t eat up your entire guest list (and catering budget) is to start with the closest members and work out until you reach a saturation point that you’re both comfortable with – bearing in mind that if one aunt is invited, then all aunts must be invited.
“No matter how independent we want to be, there will always be a token invite you feel you have to send. If you have a big family, distant relatives can really put the pressure on,” Orsino-Allen empathises.
“A good rule of thumb is to think: Would they recognize you or your partner across the street? If the answer is no, don’t feel obliged to invite them. A limited-capacity venue is one of the easiest reasons to give,” she adds.
It depends on your relationship with your boss, but the general expert consensus is that an evening invite is sufficient – at the most.
“Remember you don’t owe an invitation to anyone. Would the day be enhanced by your boss being there? Do you genuinely enjoy their company? If the answers are no, don’t be coerced into inviting them. It’s an unnecessary stressor that you don’t need,” believes Varda.
You’ll probably both agree that what happens out of the office, stays out of the office
Mention that your wedding is going to be really intimate, keep plans on the down-low at work, and they likely won’t even expect to be considered. If you do extend the invitation and they accept – it’s worth mentioning that if you have a challenging or impersonal relationship, they will probably politely decline anyway – put a little boss buffering into place.
“Make sure that your friends and relatives know who the person is, just so they don’t spill the dirt on how you hate your job or what you really got up to on your bachelorette,” advises Littlefield.
Though, once you’ve seen their dad dancing, you’ll probably both agree that what happens out of the office, stays out of the office.