Brides Want to Know: Guessing the Guest Count

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We often get questions from stressed-out brides, worried about everything from receiving-line protocol to last-minute venue changes. More often than not, we turn to our trusted Certified By The Guide wedding professionals for the answers.

Dear Here Comes The Guide,

I’m inviting 178 guests to my wedding and I want to get a better idea of what the final count will be. Is there any way to estimate how many people won’t attend?

—Kim, Apple Valley, California

Hi Kim,

Pryor EventsIt sure would be great if everyone you invited showed up. It would also make planning a lot easier if they a) RSVPd promptly; b) attended if they said they would; c) didn’t bring uninvited guests; and d) stayed home if they said they weren’t coming. Then you could organize your seating chart with the precision of a state dinner, and you wouldn’t be forced to pay for Macadamia-crusted halibut served to an empty chair or to several unexpected attendees.

Alas, it’s not a perfect world, so how can a couple estimate their expected wedding guest count? We consulted Southern California event diva Julie Pryor of Pryor Events, who offered: “The rule of thumb is 80 percent acceptance, but I caution clients not to ever count on that as it can vary greatly. Some factors to keep in mind are the time of year; the location (destinations that are hard to reach typically have a larger percentage of regrets); and holiday weekends, which can be a difficult time for some people to travel.”

Joyce Scardina Becker, award-winning wedding designer and author of Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding, also advises: “If you’re planning a destination wedding, the average percentage of guests who will be unable to attend is about 30-40%.”

That said, though you may feel safe extending an invitation to more people than your desired guest count, Julie cautions: “If your space is limited, then by all means do NOT invite people assuming they will not accept. You never know who will end up changing plans and come to your wedding.” Even if space isn’t an issue at your chosen wedding location, it’s prudent to talk to your caterer about what you think might happen with your particular guest list and plan accordingly. You may need to put aside a little (or a lot of) extra cash for that hefty “per person” charge, just in case you get more acceptances than you anticipated.

The concept of a “B” list is a controversial one in the wedding biz, but Julie Pryor confesses that, “Some of my clients do a second mailing of invitations after they have gotten regrets back and know how many additional guests they can invite.” But be careful here—you don’t want your colleagues or gym buddies finding out that their invitation was sent out two months after someone else’s!

Need some help putting your guest list together? Check out these 7 Tips for Tackling Your Wedding Guest List.

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