Whether from necessity or preference, many brides have reduced guest lists for upcoming weddings to close friends and family. Inviting a smaller, more intimate group to your wedding can create unique challenges for navigating wedding etiquette, as well as your own relationships. It can be difficult to break the news about wedding guest list limitations, especially if it may upset a friend or acquaintance that had expected to be invited. However, the trend of small ceremonies, and even small receptions, will likely continue to appeal to future brides. Follow proper etiquette and the example of brides who have already downsized their weddings to celebrate your day without offending friends and distant relations.

Read on for our guide to proper invitation etiquette for small guest lists.


minimalist wedding invitations with greenery

Send Invitations As Early As Possible

It is already a common courtesy to send out wedding invitations as early as possible. It is especially important to follow this rule when inviting a smaller guest list. Most couples send out save the dates, then invitations three to four months before the date of their wedding. At least eight months in advance is standard for destination weddings. However, you can never be too early with an invitation.

Wedding invitations are typically sent early enough for guests to ask off work, make travel accommodations, and arrange for things like childcare. With a smaller invited party, your guests will still need time for these things, but you will also need time to talk with friends that were not invited to the main event.

If you are anticipating having difficult conversations about why someone was or was not invited, sending invitations early gives you ample time to talk with friends individually about your small guest list decision. One on one conversations over a cup of coffee or a meal at home allows you to connect and explain your decision in a way that still honors your friendship. The time allowance also gives word early, so no one is waiting and expecting an invitation before being let down.


Be Specific About Names on the Envelope to Avoid Plus 1s

Guests will sometimes assume their plus one or ‘plus kids’ come with their invitation. To avoid accidentally doubling your intimate guest list, be very specific about the names listed on the outside envelope of your wedding invitations.

The standard rule states that names on the outer envelope indicate exactly who is invited to your wedding. Be specific and write out the complete name of each invited guest. For couples, Mr. and Mrs. followed by their name is standard. For singles, just their name.

Many brides struggle with how to delicately word that children are not invited to their wedding and reception. Standard etiquette states that the entire family is invited when the phrase “The ____ Family” is used on the envelope. Avoid using this phrase and specifically list the names of invited guests if you do intend to invite only the adults. It is commonly understood that invited guests are implied, and is considered rude in most circles to specifically state ‘No Children Allowed’ anywhere on your invitation. If you are still concerned about unexpected guests showing up on your wedding day, though, you may want to add a kindly-worded note about keeping your wedding intimate to only invited guests on your wedding website.


Word Carefully

In addition to wording the names of invited guests carefully, it is important to word information about your celebrations with great care. There’s a recent trend of brides hosting intimate ceremonies with larger, more informal receptions. The guest lists for the two may be different. To avoid guests arriving at the ceremony who were only meant to attend the reception, word your invitations clearly.

When working with a reception-only guest list, it is standard to note that you will be married at a private ceremony earlier that day, or have been married at a private ceremony. Word the invitation to specifically include that the guest is “invited to the reception in celebration of our marriage” using this line or something similar. Guests invited to both ceremony and reception should receive a more standard invitation, noting details for the private ceremony.


RSVP Cards

An RSVP card is a standard addition to any wedding invitation, but it becomes a great way to ensure guests understand the guest list is staying small. RSVP cards should be returned as quickly as possible after guests receive their invitation. RSVP cards should be requested no later than three to four weeks before the wedding.

The typical RSVP card should include the RSVP date, a line for an invited guest to put their names, and checkboxes to accept or decline the invite. The RSVP card is also used to keep track of who does and does not plan to bring a plus one. If a plus one is invited, a corresponding checkbox should be included. By leaving that field off, a bride can indicate once again that only the guest listed on the envelope is invited. You may also include a wedding website URL on the RSVP card, where guests can read more information and any kindly-worded notes about keeping the ceremony and reception intimate.


Change the Date

For many brides, their reduced guest list is the result of events that are completely out of their control. With added health concerns and limitations changing the industry, spring 2020 brides are all too familiar with reducing their guest lists. Many couples chose to marry in small, family-only ceremonies while planning large reception style celebrations with all their family and friends later in the year. Guests are, of course, understanding of brides grappling to make the right decision while celebrating their marriage. They understand that this may mean changing the guestlist for the ceremony and reception.

Many brides opted to tell guests of their change in plans with creative ‘Change the Date’ cards. A fun spin on the classic ‘Save the Date’, these cards politely relay your change of plans to your entire guest lists. Remember to send these cards as soon as possible. Deliver by mail or virtually if necessary. Be sure to follow up with personal calls or kindly-worded messages to check in with guests that have any questions.


Whether your wedding is large or small, the most important thing is to keep love at the center of your celebration. Follow these etiquette tips to politely and kindly bring attention to your wedding day plans.

Still have a question about planning your small ceremony or reception? Contact our Seabrook Island wedding coordinator.



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