Magic wedding math: how to estimate guest list numbers using a simple equation

How to estimate guest list numbers as seen on @offbeatbride
Photo by Mike Allebach Photography

You've got to get that guest list number to your caterer, your venue, your uncle, your cat… everyone needs this number, right? How are you supposed to figure it out when you know your guests are slacking with their RSVPs?

The best way to guesstimate this number is to sit down with your list and figure out the likelihood of each person, but if you're needing the number NAONAONAO, we've got some math that may help. Here's our advice for how to estimate guest list numbers.

Your local guest numbers

Local guests are far more likely to come to your wedding. We'd suggest thinking 80-85%. If you have a hard maximum due to venue restrictions, you may want to err on the side of 85-90% just to be safe. Don't forget to count plus-ones and children, if they're invited.

Your out-of-town guests guest numbers

If out-of-towners aren't coming in internationally, you'll mostly be focusing on how close they are to you and if they've got the means to come, financially. If money isn't a big issue, account for about 70-75%.

If your wedding guest list is large and full of less close acquaintances, lower it to 40-50% attendance rate.

Destination weddings

Typically, attendance rates for destination weddings will be much lower, in the 30-40% range.

Now, let's math it out:

Let's err on the safe side and choose the larger of the numbers we mentioned before, assuming you're not having a destination wedding and that your out-of-towners can generally afford the trip:

(number of local guests x 90%) + (number of out-of-town guests x 75%) = total number of estimated guests

So if you have 120 people on your guest list, 30 of which are out-of-towners, and 90 are local, here's how it will play out:

(90 x 90%) + (30 x 75%)= approximately 104 guests

VOILA! You've now got a kinda sorta wonky number you can give out. Just know that you'll need to be diligent about watching the actual numbers roll in to be sure. This is no guaranteed number.

Ready your B List

B List guests are those who are on your secondary guest list as declines come in. You don't have to have this list, but it can definitely be helpful. Here's an excerpt from a post all about this:

What's that you say? Crotchety Aunt Begonia refused to attend because she's always hated your father? (Yay!) And best friend from out-of-town is going to be giving birth around that time? (Bummer.) There is only one way to celebrate or bounce back from a declined RSVP: Turn to your B-list! Guess who's getting an invite now… that new friend you made two months after you sent out your invites, and a couple of your partners' favorite co-workers.

A and B lists are often a part of wedding planning realities, and they don't speak for how much a couple cares for you. So snatch up those B list invites, and have a great time! Because Aunt Begonia wouldn't even come close to having the kind of fun you're about to have at your friend's wedding.

More sage guest list advice:

Do you have any other guest list estimation advice for us?

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  1. I would hate to disagree with this, but I feel that if you send out an invitation to a friend or family member, you should tell your caterer the number of invites you sent out. Some say to plan for +10% of the RSVP's, but that is bad advice as well. We as wedding planners try to make our clients look good before their friends and family, so we tell them if your looking to save money invite less guests. It's just too easy, in the fast-paced lives we all live, to forget that RSVP.

    1 agrees
    • I wonder if they wrote this from the perspective of guessing how many people you invite to hit your target number of attendees, and not with the intention of saving money or being dishonest with vendors about how many people you invited. My caterer and wedding planner asked me how many people we expected to attend vs. how many people we invited, to make sure we didn't invite 200 and expect only 100 to show (that's a made up example). Plus, my caterer won't send me the final invoice until much closer to my wedding based on the number of RSVPs. At the end of the day, most caterers are charging per person, so if you lie to them and say only 100 people are coming, and 130 people show up, either 30 people won't have meals, or if by some miracle there is extra food, the caterer will charge you for the extra meals.

      While I don't think it was the intention of the article, I do agree that if you are that strapped that you can't afford 10 extra meals or place settings, you shouldn't invite those 10 extra people as there are weddings that do have 100% attendance. The article I think assumes that the paying parties can afford the extra meals if everyone RSVP's yes, but is helping brides figure out that if they want 100 of their friends and family there, but not much more, what is the ideal number during the invite stage to invite. People not in the wedding industry don't have any reference until they start planning their own wedding.

      1 agrees
  2. Question: what qualifies as an "out-of-towner"? We're getting married about an hour away from where we live, and no one in the wedding technically lives in that town. Most friends are about two to the hours away, and family is around the same. But some are regular commuters, so…

    • This is who I would count as an out-of-towner:

      1) Anyone who has to fly in.
      2) Anyone who *should* fly in because of distance but might not because of cost constraints or distance from a good airport
      3) People that live far enough away that they would most likely get a hotel room rather than drive home. *

      * I don't count people that just want to get a room so they can par-tay 😉

      2 agree
  3. I'm pretty sure I have been on the 'b-list' of every wedding I have attended this year. We are the friends who live locally, will show up on time, dress appropriately and will never be offended that we weren't invited the first time around. We had a blast at each & every wedding though so I think a 'B-list' is a totally appropriate way to plan a guest list,

    2 agree
  4. I have an unusual one….getting married in a destination wedding I suppose, but it's the state I grew up in, half way between both sets of parents/family. 80-90 (with kids) people invited, rented a whole retreat for them to stay at…but can only fit about 70…really hoping for 60 just so there is ample amount of space! I highly doubt 30 people will RSVP no 🙁 — one can only hope though!! 😉

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