Picking out your dream venue, flowers, and outfits are some of the most exciting parts of the wedding planning process. As for one of the most stressful steps? Determining your guest list. Many couples now wonder whether they should break their invitation list into two columns: an “A list” and a “B list.”
While the A list is filled with people guaranteed an invitation, the B list is made up of guests who would only receive an invite if guests from the A list cannot attend. Having a backup list allows couples to remain mindful of their venue’s guest limit while ensuring those who might not be at the top of their list still get a chance to celebrate with them.
If you’re unsure whether you should make a B list, we sat down with a handful of industry experts to gather their advice. Here’s what they had to say.
Envision your day first
Before creating a guest list, think about who you want to celebrate with on your wedding day. Being mindful of your wishes will make it much easier for you and your partner to determine who makes it on your “can’t-picture-our-day-without-you” list.
“Carefully consider who you actually want to be there for you on your wedding day,” emphasizes Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “You are asking people to be a part of your ceremony, and you want people who bring their loving energy with them instead of any potential disruptions.”
Sulak continues, encouraging couples to “consider each relationship and how you see them in your life. We all have spheres of people in our lives, from close friends to acquaintances to the people our parents insist we invite because it is ‘proper.’”
Creating a list of “must-haves” will speed up your planning process and lay the foundation for your final guest list. Plus, you’ll ensure your favorite people surround you on the wedding day. Win-win!
Keep your lists organized
If you intend to have split guest lists, you’ll want to organize them with defined rules for who gets placed where. Keeping things straightforward will eliminate stress and remove negative emotions or guilt about where guests land between the lists.
“Separate your list accordingly,” recommends Joan Wyndrum of Blooms By The Box. “For example, ensure anyone on the B list is a distant relative or perhaps an acquaintance. Depending on the relationship, you may even want to disclose that information to them so they know beforehand!”
Consider creating a spreadsheet that organizes your list you can consult as your special day draws near. The easier it is to access your guest lists, the less friction you’ll experience from having a plan B!
Group your lists thoughtfully
While you may want to keep your guest list under wraps, you can’t stop people from talking once they’ve received an invitation. So when you create each list, be mindful of who’s on each one to avoid coworkers, family members, or friends from spilling the beans and creating a potentially awkward situation for everyone involved.
As Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss explains, “if you create different lists, make sure friend groups are all on the same list. People talk, and your B Listers will quickly know they didn’t make the A-List.”
After making your first draft of each list, take a break and return with a fresh eye. This way, you won’t let anything slip through the cracks — and you don’t have to worry about a third-cousin-once-removed spoiling it for an old childhood family friend!
Don’t underestimate your stationery order
Those opting for a second list will want to make sure they have enough invitations to go around. Don’t be afraid to print a few extras when ordering your stationery.
George Wainwright of Coastal DJ & Video advises, “Make sure you have plenty of invitations ready to send out to B-listers. And since they will be invited after A-listers have RSVP’d, you’ll want to send out your invites a little earlier than the traditional two months before the wedding. This way, you can still keep the same RSVP date for all guests. Prioritize your B-listers. When you receive word that an A-lister cannot attend, send out your top B-lister’s invitation immediately.”
It’s better to have more invites than you need than to run out and scramble. Otherwise, you might deal with timeline delays, late RSVPs, or even mismatched stationery. So plan accordingly when you place your invitation order!
Address envelopes all at once
Addressing your A and B invites on the same day will save you time in the long run. You won’t have to go back to the drawing board, and as soon as an A-lister responds, you can drop a B-list invitation in the mail right away.
“Make sure to include your B list in your invitation order and have the printer address them simultaneously,” suggests Lilia Shatnaya of Plume and Stone Invitations. “This will save time, and you will be able to pop your B list guest invitations in the mail right away.”
Whether addressing your invites by hand or using a printing service, having them done all at once saves time and energy — two essentials while planning a wedding!
Consider the timing of your invitations
The last thing you want is to have anyone on your guest list (A or B!) with hurt feelings surrounding your big day. So to avoid any unnecessary drama, Nikki Golden of Nikki Golden Photography notes that couples should time their invitations wisely.
“One of the most important things when having a ‘plan B’ invitation list is to ensure you are tactful when inviting them,” she explains. “My advice would be to start sending out those B list invites as soon as you start getting RSVPs back that say no. For example, if ten people decline the invite, send out your first 10 “B list” invites. You don’t want to wait until the week before your wedding to send out invitations and make people feel like an afterthought.”
Once your first batch of invitations is in the mail, create a note in your planner or calendar to track RSVPs regularly so you can start sending out your second round immediately!
Be strategic with save-the-dates
Save-the-dates are a fun way to hint at an invitation to come, so they should only make it to guests who will get an invitation. So if someone doesn’t make the cut, you’ll need to ensure they don’t receive an accidental save-the-date!
“Since couples will not know if they can invite everyone on the B list, a save the date should not be sent to these guests,” confirms Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs. “Guests that receive a save the date will anticipate receiving an invitation, so only those on the A-List should be sent a save the date.”
To avoid mixing things up, you could opt for no save the dates altogether and instead rely on word of mouth to get your date out. But if you do send them, double-check the recipients to make sure they are automatic A-listers!
Expect people to decline
Though we’d love to have every single person on our lists be able to attend our big day, this isn’t usually the case. Both A and B list guests will decline, so try not to take offense if you receive a handful of RSVPs that say “no, thanks.”
Serena Ridino of The Wedding Duo says, “be realistic in the expectation that ‘plan B’ guests may also decline your invite. This applies especially to guests traveling or having to take off work.”
Accept that declines are a normal part of the invitation process — especially if you’re having a destination wedding. Instead, focus on the enthusiastic yeses from everyone who can’t wait to celebrate your big day!
Don’t overthink it
Losing sleep over your guest list isn’t worth your time. There are so many other fun things to focus on as you design your dream wedding day, so don’t let RSVPs cause any stress!
“While having a backup list is a good idea, don’t let it consume your thoughts and create unnecessary stress or worry,” affirms Mary Angelini of Key Moment Films. “Instead, just have faith in the process and trust that things will work out.”
Feeling stressed about your guest lists? Try talking to your family and asking for help. You can find clarity by discussing the process with others who have been through it before!
Think about your why
Struggling to map out your lists? Get to the root of your decision-making and think about your “why,” as Tonya Hoopes of Hoopes Events recommends.
“Ensure you are truly good with a plan A and B invite list if it is more important to you to have everyone at your wedding,” she says. “Consider why you are creating a Plan A and B guest list, and consider what needs to change to invite everyone on both lists. A couple needs to know what is most important to them; the number of guests, venue, meal, etc. This will help you navigate who you invite and why.”
Sarah Jobe of Twickenham House and Hall shares Hoopes’ sentiment, noting, “it is essential to remember that their wedding day is about their love and commitment to one another. If the details of an A and B-list overwhelm the wedding planning process making it unenjoyable and stressful, it may be better to avoid a B list entirely.”
Sit down with your partner and talk about your guest list woes. Together, you can avoid overwhelm and face difficult decisions as a team — the perfect way to start your next chapter!
Do what feels right for you
At the end of the day, honesty is the best policy. If you’re uncomfortable keeping your backup guest list private, bringing potential guests into the loop is always an option.
“I would definitely tell people if they are on the ‘plan B’ list,” admits Alicia Igess Jones. “But we have to be honest. So don’t keep it a secret if you want your ‘plan B’ guests to arrive ready for the event.”
Or, if the pressure is too much, you could always nix the B list, as Jobe suggested. It’s your wedding, so do what you need to do to feel good about it every step of the way.
A, B, C, D — no matter how many lists you end up with, remember that your guest list should consist of people who support you and are ready to begin this next chapter alongside you both. So keep your priorities in mind, and you’ll create a list of loved ones who can’t wait to celebrate with you!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.