I am planning a pre-invitation survey to get a guest list headcount. Will this work?

Guest post by J.
I am planning a pre-invitation survey to get a guest list headcount. Will this work?
Funny RSVP card from What the Duck Cards

I have been scouring all the posts and comments threads about RSVPs and guest lists, and haven't seen an answer to a tricky question. How do you deal with guest list ambiguity when you live in an extremely expensive area, 2/3 of your desired invites are from out of town, and venues require guaranteed minimums on catering?

Is it over okay to make a survey for your friends and family to gauge best-guesses for will they/won't theys for a wedding a year and a half or two years away?

I was thinking of something along these lines:

“Dear (loved one), we are in the process of figuring out where to have our wedding in June 2020, and you are one of the people we would love to be there when we get married. The thing is, NYC venues make you book based on specific — and, yowza, pricey! — guest list numbers. I know this is unusual, but to figure out if we need a smaller or larger venue, we need to get a pretty good guesstimate of who is likely to attend. We swear you will not offend us no matter what your answer and we'll love you no matter what, so no pressure. That said, it would help us out a lot if you could tell us whether, if we hold our wedding on a Friday or Sunday in June 2020, you would:

A. Definitely attend, barring emergencies
B. Probably attend
C. Interested/maybe attend, but unsure because of money, time, or logistical constraints
D. Unlikely to attend because of money/time/logistics
E. Definitely can't attend because of money/time/logistics

This may seem super awkward, but I am at wit's end about guest list ambiguity because:

1) We have to book a venue between 18 months and two years ahead of time because we're in Brooklyn, NY — where the lower and mid-range priced venues sell out for summer weddings that far ahead, even in the surrounding cities and upstate NY;

2) Most venues force you to use their caterer and require a deposit far in advance, while guaranteeing that you will pay food/booze for a minimum number of guests (some 125 people, some 150 people, etc, at anywhere from $150 to $250 per person!). Note: we've looked into raw space venues hoping they'd be cheaper, and they can save a little bit, but they can be almost as expensive in NYC when food-tables+chairs+table linens+dishware+silverware+lighting+sound+wifi+certificate of insurance+more decor than an inclusive wedding venue because raw spaces here are often plain to ugly until you decorate them;

3) 2/3 of the people we love/plan to invite live out-of-state, and several in Canada and England;

How can you figure out how many people from your guest list will be likely to come to a wedding under those circumstances? We have to be reasonably sure how many people are coming in order to choose a venue. We would love our 150 guest list (or 125 if we are brutal) to come. But one venue requires paying for minimum 150 people at #toomuch$perhead, another venue requires a minimum spend of 125 people and we wouldn't be able to fit more than 125 into that space (also at too much money per person — sense a theme?), and another requires minimum catering for 75 people, but the maximum guest count allowed there is 100. Once we choose a venue, we are locked in to a financial scheme that won't change even if fewer people are able to make the trip to NYC than we anticipate — or if MORE people say yes than we thought, and then we wouldn't be able to fit them all unless we already chose the largest/priciest venue.

Even if we have financial help, we want to not be wasteful. If you have a “cheap” wedding in one of the lower cost venues in Brooklyn or the surrounding area, even with a ton of DIY and no flowers whatsoever, is around $30K. NYC is reportedly the single most expensive place for weddings in America, and reportedly the average is now $77,000!

We'll be doing a lot to reduce costs in other areas (DIY, Friday or Sunday dates, etc.) but for the most part, our fixed costs will still be high and knowing an approximate headcount would be so helpful.

Does the survey idea sound reasonable? Do you think people would throw a fit about it, or feel offended? Are there pitfalls I'm not anticipating about sending out a survey like that?

Comments on I am planning a pre-invitation survey to get a guest list headcount. Will this work?

  1. I agree with most of the above responses, but I’d like to include that the time frame may include others people’s lives changing too; a birth, divorce, death and/or remarriage by potential guests. Keep in mind that having an empty seat next to Aunt Sally only reminds her of her loss. Or maybe Cousin Ted is coming alone because his wife is still recovering from giving birth.

  2. Thanks, everyone! I spent some more time thinking about wording before this post went up, and I already took out the reference to how much it costs to host a wedding in New York. I did leave in a thing about money for travel in a long list of reasons why people may not want/be able to come — I have a big community of writers/activists/artists, and many of us are lower income (including me, up until I moved in with my partner, who has a more financially rewarding career than my journalism/activism has been). I wanted to acknowledge that not everyone can afford to travel, that I’ve been there, and I completely understand that.

    I also decided at least for now to not send it as a blanket survey to everyone, but to some of the out of towners we either 1) most want to be there, or 2) are most unsure of whether they can/want to travel or not. I’ve already started individually sending this as a personal note, rather than a full on survey (with some preamble). I’ve gotten great responses so far, and no one has been offended or weirded out as I worried they might, but that could also be because I have sent each note individually. It’s some work, but I have the time since it’s so early.

    This is what I pared it down to:

    (Personal hellos at the beginning)

    You know that potential theoretical future weddding we mentioned mat happen at some point? It just got a little less theoretical. We haven’t set a firm date yet, but we’re planning to get married in the summer of 2020, ideally June 2020 on a Fri or a Sun. Or possibly the Sunday before Memorial Day in May.

    I have a handle on who would definitely WANT to come, but not who would be able to afford to fly here and etc, or could take time off of work, or travel from the West coast or internationally (3canadians, 2 Londoners, maybe 1 from Australia, plus their spouses/+1s) etc.

    I know it’s way too early for anyone to guarantee anything, and it feels weird to even ask… but for dear dear friends who have a good sense of humor (LIKE YOU!), we’re sending this weird little survey:

    Hey, we love you! in fact, we want to invite you to our future wedding, eventually, nearly two years from now (what? yeah, wedding planning in NYC is freaking weird, y’all.) So NO PRESSURE, but NYC wedding venues book up two years ahead and they require deposits and eventually full payment on ridiculously strict numbers of people who will attend — even though they book up 18 months to 2years ahead of time. This means that in order to figure out which venue to choose, we need at least a rough guesstimate of how many people think they are definitely or very likely to say yes. Not a guarantee (we know life happens!) but a best guesss. We totally understand if you can’t or don’t think you would have time or money or logistical ability to travel to NYC, and we promise we won’t be upset no matter what you answer.

    Here goes: if we were to get married on a Friday or Sunday in June 2020 (or possibly the Sunday before Memorial Day, 2020), would you:

    Definitely attend (barring emergencies)

    Probably attend, unless something really unexpected happens

    Maybe? I’d like to, but c’mon, it’s way too @*$&2! soon to know what my work schedule or bank account or health will look like yet

    Unlikely to attend (dude, you know I’m broke/have a fear of flying/hate crowds/am going to be finishing my post-doc at the time/can’t take time away from knocking in every single door in America to prevent another four years of fascism, etc)

    Definitely can’t attend (no need to tell us why, we love you anyway)

    • Holiday weekends are hard for people. When my cousin got married. She got married on 3 July (that was on a long weekend that year for the 4th of July) in a resort town in FL thinking it will help people with time off. She did the same for her Daughters Bat Mitvah (over MLK and Labor Day weekend in the same resort town). Hense to say people complained about the pricing people too high (esp. over July the 4th weekend and Labor Day weekend) for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

      That is something to consider for the Sunday of Memerial Day weekend (esp. I am assuming in NYC for hotel rooms and flying into JFK, La Guardia and Newark rooms are outta sight. Which my understanding they are already outta sight when it is not a holiday).

      Either way, even if it was not a holiday weekend. Having a Sunday wedding people will still need to take Monday off vs. taking Friday off if a Saturday wedding.

      I know when I got married. I got married on a Friday. It was hard for people who were not local to take Thursday AND Friday off. My cousins who live in GA. Two of the Three came. But they just left after work Thursday and drove the 6 hours from ATL to Jacksonville, FL. That is something to consider too. Alot of people won’t be able to take two days off. If they are, it is easier to request to have a Friday and Monday off then a Thursday and Friday.

      • That’s definitely true about Fridays, which is why we are leaning toward Sundays. I hadn’t thought about higher prices for holiday weekends — thanks for that reminded. I figured that maybe a holiday weekend would allow us the Sunday discount but also allow guests to not have to take a day off of work. But maybe “helping” like that wouldn’t actually help.

        (I wish the fall wasn’t such a hard time for many of our guests or U would consider October for the discount.)

        • You figure Columbus Day weekend. While a holiday weekend. It is not a big holiday weekend like if 4th of July was on a Friday/Sat/Sun or Monday, Memorial Day, Labor Day or even New Years (or Christmas). Of course assuming not all companies give Columbus day (or MLK, Presidents Day or Veterans day) off. But something to consider. Figure even in NYC weather is still nice and possibly the leaves are turning, not too cold, not too hot. Maybe more of a possibily!

  3. We sort of did this, but we were only planning 1 year in advance. We were also planning a wedding that was going to be a destination for about 95% of the guests. We sent a digital save-the-date and had a response survey included in it. What I think you will probably run into is that people might RSVP in the affirmative and then as the date comes closer have some reason to decline, and you may also have many people fail to respond at all. It was very difficult asking people to commit to an RSVP answer three weeks in advance, I can’t imagine how hard it would be 2 years in advance. This may all lead to you overestimating your headcount and spending far more than you intended. We had lots of people tell us they would come, but had other family weddings come up, and a few had babies close to our wedding date and thus couldn’t make it. If it helps, we invited 140 and had 85 attend, with several last minute cancellations. We had guessed we’d have 120, so we estimated way too high because we were trying to be safe.

    I’m sure this has been mentioned by others, but it was helpful for us: We broke up our invite list into tiers, where we started inviting people in the lower priority tiers once we started seeing “decline” RSVPs. Another thing we did was went through the guest list one by one and gave each guest a probability of attending. So for example if we thought family members or people who lived close by were more likely to attend, we gave them a 1 or a 0.8. If we knew someone didn’t like to travel, were coming from particularly far away, or we weren’t very close to them, we gave them a 0.5 or a 0.3. Then we added all of those up to give us an estimate of what our final count might be.

    Just some ideas. Good luck!

    • This is super helpful information!! We’re trying to guesstimate who will actually come (we lived in Europe for 4-5 years so lots of friends are still there, and we’re having it on the west coast of Canada where he’s from, and I’m from the east coast of the US, so guests are EVERYWHERE), and seeing actual example numbers and percentages is super super helpful.

  4. Update: I asked probably 25% of our near and far-flung friends via email or PM with a version of this survey, and they all responded really well. I got a sense off how many said they will do their utmost best to attend not matter what, how many way to attend though it is way too early to know about work and health so can’t 100% promise, and how many are maybes. That helped so much.

    We finally ended up setting a date (end of May, 2020) so even though it is still way too early to send official save the dates, we are starting to just give a heads-up to those folks we most hope will attend. A lot of our friends are struggling financially (writers, activists, artists), and many are people who do a lot of work travel, so we want them to have more than enough time to prepare to fly to NYC.

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