Coffee Break: Guest List Planning Tips

Ah, it feels so good to be back! We took just a few days off from blogging + client work to enjoy some island time back home with family in Washington and to prep for a very special dinner event in a field {one long table family-style for 70!} in September. Boy, was it wonderful. Most of the time the sun was shining and we visited the gorgeous Port Townsend Saturday Market, feasted on Dungeness crab, and just enjoyed the beach. We’re back in gear prepping for a lovely garden-inspired wedding in La Jolla tomorrow and are in full planning {and advice-lending} mode!

So as we near the weekend we’re happy to share some of our words of wisdom about guest lists and the actual cost per guest. This is often a tricky {and sometimes dicey} subject to conquer with families as often they don’t realize what the total cost each guest equates to. Now when Aunt Suzy asks to invite her garden club friends or your brother asks to invite his friends you don’t know you’re armed with a per-head cost to help you make that decision. An important equation for those who have budget in mind.

This method of ours is tried and true and is an easy way to keep tabs on your budget and corresponding guest list: every 10 guests = 1 table {60″ or 72″ round or square}. Fill in the blanks:

10 chivari chairs = $___ each = $____ total

1 linen $____

1 centerpiece | candles $____

10 sets of hors d’ oeuvres $____

10 entrees $____

rental of 10 sets of glasses {wine and water goblets at least}, china and silverware $____

10 bar packages {or per-drink costs} $____

10 specialty napkins $____

10 favors $____

10 slices of cake or desserts $____

5-10 invitation suites $____ | 10 escort cards | 10 place cards | 1 table number $________

Finally, for every table of 10 there should be at least one server for a plated dinner. This then increases the labor total and is applied to a gratuity {often 18-22%}.

Now add all of these blanks up and you’ll see your total cost per 10 guests {at the minimum}. Divide that by 10 and you’ll get your per-guest cost.

Of course, if you have added elements like valet parking or other incidentals this will increase.

As you can see, there’s so much that really does go into calculating the true reach and cost of every group of 10. When you calculate in this fashion you should easily be able to trim guests whom you wouldn’t treat to dinner and don’t know well. Nick’s thought process is that if you wouldn’t take them to a $200-600 dinner {that’s truly what this can break down to} or invite them to dinner in your home, don’t feel obligated to invite them to your wedding. Of course, if your budget isn’t a concern {even our highest budget clients have budget on top of their minds}, then this might not apply. But it’s a great way to keep your list manageable.

How’s that for some weekend food for thought? How are you tacking your wedding guest list and guest breakdown? We’d love to hear your two cents!

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  1. says

    What a great way to really consider cost! It’s so easy to look past how much each seat actually costs, but this’ll put it into perspective! I’m trying to use Nick’s rule–if you wouldn’t invite them to your home, don’t invite them to the wedding, but it seems the rules are a bit different in Texas!

  2. says

    This is a great way to calculate real costs… which is vital to keeping in budget.  I’m not sure if Nick’s rule always works, however.  Weddings are more than intimate family dinners and for some people, there are other considerations as well.  Don’t forget these events are also an opportunity to create a stronger social web, build community, networking and repaying social favors in some cases.

    Obviously budget trumps everything.  

    If Aunt Suzy wants to invite her bridge club, perhaps a better setting is a luncheon for the couple with just that group after the wedding… welcome back from the honeymoon.  The celebration doesn’t need to stop after the big day!

    • admin says

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Alanna!
      Even our highest budget clients have a budget. This method of intimacy has proven a great method over the years as a generalization.

      Of course, if you want your wedding to be a social networking event or a town function, the more the merrier!
      Often times the more the merrier is what people want – we had a big wedding and it was amazing, thought we knew each of our guests really well.

      But as our post was about budget calculations this method rings true to helping those who are considering whether or not to invite guests they may not know too well. We like your idea bout a luncheon – or even a shower she could host would be marvelous.

      Cheers and thanks!

  3. says

    Calculating by table is also a great way to understand how your budget can bloat when you add just a handful of people. Your mother may only want to invite two or three more people, but if that means adding a table, your costs can skyrocket quickly! As always great advice!


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