Olivia Buckley International

How to reduce your wedding guest list


From postponing dates and changing venues, to downsizing your plans and storing your wedding gown, COVID-19 has brought many changes and unexpected challenges to the world of weddings.

With government guidelines and national restrictions changing all of the time, with a strong emphasis on social distancing guidelines and guests’ safety, it may be inevitable for those planning weddings in the coming months to reduce numbers significantly. For most couples, this decision, as difficult as it is to make, is unavoidable in order to protect your loved ones.

It is very important to be mindful and respectful of the current situation. While you may have to reframe your expectations, and take time to really think about what is important to you both as a couple, try not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Don’t let this pandemic take away the excitement and joy that you should experience when planning your wedding. It is better to accept the reality of the current scenario and move on without feeling guilty. It is not your fault that the pandemic happened and everything that is currently happening is well beyond your control.

One of the most difficult decisions that so many couples are now facing is how to reduce numbers and cut down their guest list. Nobody wants to have to cut their guest list but government guidelines are in place for a reason – to protect us. If you find yourself in the difficult situation of reimagining your full-scale celebration as a more intimate affair don’t worry, there are many ways in which you can cut your wedding guest list in an effective and respectful way.

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This is the first step to take before even looking at your guest list. If you have a wedding planner, set up a call with them to see how they would recommend navigating this situation moving forward. From there, ask them how best to approach the conversation. Many wedding planners will reach out to guests directly on your behalf. If you would prefer to do this yourself, look at your options together taking into account your guest list limitations, which you can then communicate to your guests.

Wedding websites are a valuable resource allowing you the means to effectively communicate with your guests regarding the ever-changing situation. By telling guests that you are considering options and keeping their safety and health in mind, they will feel assured about any decision you ultimately reach.

While having to trim down your guest list is extremely difficult and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, limiting crowds are not a new restriction at this point and we continue to hear about limits on social gatherings every day. Your need to cut down your numbers will most likely not come as a surprise to your guests. They might even be expecting it. Managing expectations is the best we can do at the moment!

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Unfortunately, nobody is in a position to answer this question just yet. We do know that the likelihood of returning to very large numbers this year is low. It will be a slow process and because large gatherings were one of the first things to be curtailed, it may be some time before they are re-introduced. We are all waiting in anticipation for weddings, with more than 6 guests, to return with permission for larger gatherings granted down the line.

Before you do anything else, decide on the number of guests you will be able to accommodate. Talk to your venue to clarify their restrictions, as well as any government guidelines, so you have a clear number to work with.

Our advice at this stage is to make lists for several different scenarios. First and foremost, an immediate family guest list, followed by a 25, 50,100 and 150 person guest list. The first question to ask yourself is who can you absolutely not get married without. Once you start with those people, every additional guest will feel like a bonus!

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No matter what size the wedding is, everyone has a non-negotiable must-invite list. Your A-list consists of the must-have people you cannot imagine your wedding day without. These are the people that you absolutely have to have at your wedding, no matter how small of a number you have to work with. For example, your immediate family and friends, such as your parents, siblings, and your bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Make a list of everyone that you can possibly invite and then break down the list into categories A and B. Reach out to your core loved ones first about realistic expectations regarding your wedding date. Some guests may not necessarily feel comfortable travelling at this time, so have the important conversations to gauge the comfort level of your loved ones first and foremost.


Before you start downsizing your guest list, take a minute to talk with your partner about how you are feeling. There is no right or wrong decision here. The important thing is that you do what feels right for you both as a couple.
It is totally understandable to be worried about upsetting the people you love, but remember that these are not ordinary circumstances. Of course your guests will be disappointed, but given the reasons for your decision, you will find that people will be much more understanding than you thought. Your guests will know it was a difficult decision to make, and will appreciate that after careful consideration of all your options, this is the best way to protect your loved ones’ health and safety.

If you have a destination wedding planned for this summer, we would suggest contacting your guests with any changes to your original plans as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. For weddings later this year, you may also want to suggest that guests hold off on booking any non-refundable travel reservations for the time being.

Of course, any friends and family who are willing to travel far to celebrate with you would probably be on your A list, but you need to be realistic and practical also. Depending on where your guests are travelling to and from, they may be required to self-isolate for up to two weeks before and/or after your wedding day. For this reason, tell them you don’t expect them to travel for the wedding. It may be some time before international travel resumes with any regularity and may still require quarantine on either side. Letting your international guests know that you don’t expect them to attend your wedding will likely relieve the pressure on them, and certainly lighten your guest list.

Create an across-the-board rule for how you are reducing the guest list — like keeping it to just immediate family and the bridal party, for example. That way uninvited guests won’t take your decision personally.

Don’t feel obliged to invite someone to your wedding because they invited you to theirs. If it was a few years ago and you have since drifted apart as friends, you are more than allowed to cross them off the list.

Unless you have a work colleague who is also a very close friend outside of work, cutting co-workers entirely is an easy way to limit your list. Besides, you might not have seen them for some time if you are now working from home.

For COVID-restricted weddings, plus ones are a courtesy that you may no longer afford. Generally-accepted plus one etiquette is that both sides of engaged, longstanding and married couples should be invited, and perhaps for someone attending who doesn’t know anyone else. Plus ones will really add up, and if you no longer have the numbers for them, your friends will understand. Of course, you will probably know couples where you are close friends with both of them, but if you don’t know your best friend’s new partner too well, they will understand if you ask for their plus one’s space to go to another close friend instead. Again, your friends will completely understand your need to cut down on your guest list and, if you are someone they truly care about, will still be in attendance without their significant other.

We all have a role to play in safe-guarding the most vulnerable in our society. If you have vulnerable guests among your non-negotiables (like parents or siblings), it might be worth keeping some element of your wedding to immediate family members so you can accommodate and protect them.


Under normal circumstances, it would be in poor taste to uninvite a wedding guest after they have already received a save-the-date or invitation. But let’s face it, we are not dealing with normal circumstances! They will know that you don’t want to upset anyone you love but – for reasons that are often beyond your control – you simply cannot have the number of guests you want.
It seems obvious, but it is worth making the point regardless: this is not your fault. When you feel cruel for casting your cousins aside, remember that this pandemic is well beyond your control.

Once you have settled on a revised guest list, it’s time to inform your previously-invited guests. If possible, try and reach out to each uninvited guest, couple or family individually. Contact them by phone or video to say hello, let them know how much they mean to you and to see how they are doing during this difficult time. Explain the situation honestly, and let them know how disappointed you are that they will not be able to make it. If you will be live-streaming the wedding, you should also let them know this. If you intend to throw a larger celebration down the road, let them know that you would love for them to be there and they will have something to look forward to!

If you have yet to send invitations or save the dates, you don’t need to do any formal uninviting, though there may be some would-be guests you want to reach out to individually to explain your change of plans.

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Virtual Reality

Just because all of your nearest and dearest cannot be there in person, does not mean they cannot be there for you at all. There are plenty of creative solutions to share your day virtually with those at home to ensure nobody feels left out, wherever they are celebrating from.

Once you have established who will be there in person, extend a virtual invitation to those on your original guest list. During this pandemic, we have all learned how technology can keep us connected, even when we have to be apart.

Keeping the stream as interactive as you can will not only be more fun for your friends and family at home, but for those with you, too. If someone very important to you cannot attend in person, why not ask them to do a prayer or read a poem during the ceremony?
Even if they cannot be with you to celebrate, your original guest list will want to celebrate regardless. A thoughtful way to approach this is by sharing images from your wedding day first with all your guests before distributing them further across social media accounts. That way, even though you’ve had to scale back on your guest list, those chosen recipients will still feel as if they were part of your day.

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You may not be able to change the restrictions on your wedding plans, but you can work around them. Whether you find yourself with only 10 people allowed, or 100, think about how you can make the best of it.

Of course you will be disappointed if you cannot have all the people you want by your side on the day, but remember, you do have options. Try not to be disheartened, you can always have a big celebration down the line. Keep perspective that you are getting to marry your other half, and the most important people will be there.

It is best to focus on some of the advantages of a smaller wedding, rather than dwell on what you feel you are giving up with a larger wedding. With an intimate guest list, there is much more opportunity to customise every aspect of the wedding—the table settings and stationery, food and drink, accommodation, etc.

Fortunately the rule of six guests (during this current lockdown) is public knowledge so your guests will know the limitations on you from the start.

Don’t forget, a smaller wedding does not have to be the end of your wedding celebrations, you can always throw a bigger reception and party at a later date when restrictions are lifted. Another option is to just have your immediate families involved this year and have your reception next year on your one year anniversary, with a vow renewal so that you still have a ceremony with everyone in attendance!


Your wedding may be one of the most precious days of your life, but it is not the only chance you will ever get to celebrate your marriage with your friends and family. Your celebrations will be just as joyful and meaningful if they take place a year after the day you exchange vows. The most important thing is not to feel guilty. Anyone who cares about you only wants the best for you both and there will be so many opportunities in the future to get everyone together to celebrate.

The most important thing to remember through all of this is that we can remove the power of the pandemic by being strategic with our plans, and showing the love we have for our family and friends in our bid to protect them. It is better to accept the reality of the current scenario and move on without feeling guilty. Of course, it will be really difficult and may be a source of tension during an exciting time, but try your best to make the process as fun and relaxed as possible.

Remember what your wedding is all about: your marriage, love, and commitment to one another. A party can always happen at a later date, but to get married, you just need who is most important to you by your side.