How Many Guests?

Posted by C&G on Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How many guests? That’s the second question you have to answer in planning anything. And of course there is a differential between how many are invited and how many will actually come. We generally assume that there will be a 20-25% attrition rate from the guest list as a whole. For holiday weekends, that number will run between 30-35%. If you have a number of out of town guests and you are planning for a Sunday wedding on a non-holiday weekend, we expect attrition around the same as that for holiday weekends. Determining your actual attendance number is key for two reasons; budget and minimum guarantees. Imagine that you have an initial guest list of 200 people. We assume that roughly 160 will actually attend. From a budgeting perspective, there is large gap between costs for 200 versus for 160. Many couples
find that they cannot afford a particular wedding or venue for 200 guests, but that they can afford it for 160. It’s important that this be determined early on. There are of course certain fixed costs that wont change, regardless of the guest list (music, hair/makeup, dress, and videography) but all others from invitations to favors, will be recalculated down if the
guest list is lower.

Some photographer for instance will shoot 150 guests alone and feel comfortable that they will be able to cover the whole event. Others will have a second shooter present if there are 200 guests and or if you want photographs of each table. And of course, the per-person costs vary
widely with or without 40 extra people. Remember that in addition to the dollar amount for each guest at a venue, you also have to calculate almost 30% extra to incorporate the costs of tax (depending where you are about 8%) and service (usually anywhere from 18% to 22%). Even
your flowers will be slightly lower if you have 40 less guests – assume that you are seating 10 guests at a table and all of a sudden you need 4 less tables. Calculations per table can add up quickly if each arrangement is going to be around $200 (this is a VERY rough figure)
then you can save almost $1000 if 40 less guests are coming. In terms of your minimum numbers when you lock in a venue, pricing is often set based on how many people you expect to attend. If you lock in at 200 and sign a contract before you make your guest list and then
realize that the list is lower – I guarantee that no venue is going to be sympathetic. And as suggested above, the costs for that are pretty high. Do you really want 40 people there that you had not planned on inviting just because you locked in at that rate? The answer across the
board is always no.

Once you have your guest list set you can begin looking for the perfect location. And please note that by “set” we mean lists that are in WRITING and that include all guests from both families as well as the couples’ own list. We could write a lengthy chapter on how guest list calculation without family lists and not in writing have been as bad as not doing a list at all. Finding the venue before any other vendor is important for the process for a host of reasons. The venue sets the tone of the wedding – whether you choose it because of outdoor space, high ceilings, capacity or food. Additionally, venues do tend to get booked farther in advance than all other event related services, so checking that off the to do list is huge. Finally, the reception or party portion of your budget is always the largest and once that is confirmed, you can go start backing out all the other pieces of your wedding or event more easily from a financial prospective.

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