In a perfect world, where wedding budgets are no object, it would be wonderful to give everyone on your guest list a plus-one. But alas, weddings are expensive as hell and often the best way to cut down on costs overall is to reduce the number of guests. Fewer attendees means less spent on rental tables and chairs, food, alcohol and even decor items like centerpieces ― all of which can add up to thousands of dollars in savings.
Determining who gets a plus-one and who doesn’t can be tricky — you don’t want to piss anyone off or hurt their feelings — but sometimes, cuts must be made. Below, wedding experts reveal the factors you and your spouse-to-be should weigh when trying to come to a decision.
According to our experts, no one-size-fits-all rules apply for figuring out who gets a plus-one because every couple’s budget and venue capacity is different.
It may be helpful to create your own set of rules so it won’t seem like you’re giving preferential treatment to some guests but not others. Once you and your fiancé come up with some guidelines, make sure you stick to them, said wedding planner Lori Stephenson of Lola Event Productions.
“My rule is ‘insult everyone equally.’ In other words, if they aren’t in a relationship, they don’t get a plus-one. Or only the wedding party gets a plus-one,” she told HuffPost. “That way, it’s easy to set the boundaries and there is less gray area for people to complain about.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding:
Are they in a serious relationship?
Generally, any couple who is married, engaged or living together is a package deal — it doesn’t matter if you’re close with their significant other or not, both partners should be invited. If the couple is not cohabitating but they’ve been dating a while (say a year or more), you may want to consider inviting both of them. That way you’re not excluding people in serious relationships just because they’ve chosen not to get married or live together.
Remember that you want to be consistent when doling out plus-ones to those in relationships. If you choose to invite one friend’s boyfriend of six months and not another’s, it can stir up unnecessary drama.
“If you are tight on space or financially strapped, people will understand a limited guest list,” said etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “But when you offer a plus-one to one friend, you should do it for everyone [in the same situation].”
Will there be other single people at the wedding?
When nearly everyone you’re inviting is in a serious relationship and only a few single folks are on the guest list, you may want to make an exception and give the singles a plus-one anyway. That way, these two or three people won’t feel out of place surrounded by a bunch of lovey-dovey couples all night.
“I advise, and I see more and more, that [couples] take a good look at their list and say, ‘If we only have one or two single friends who don’t get a plus-one, will they enjoy themselves? Will they feel uncomfortable? How can we make them have a great time? Even if they’re not necessarily in a long-term relationship, maybe they can bring someone,’” etiquette expert Amber Harrison told Vogue.com.
If a bunch of your guests are single, they’re probably OK flying solo, especially if they’re friends with others who will be in attendance.
Are they a member of the bridal party?
It’s a sweet gesture to let your bridesmaids and/or groomsmen bring a date when your budget allows for it.
Wedding party members, “who have gone above and beyond to make your day special, should be allowed to bring a plus-one,” Gottsman said. “It’s an opportunity to show your appreciation for all of their support.”
Will they know anyone else at the wedding?
If you’re inviting someone who won’t know other guests at the wedding — maybe a former coworker, a childhood pal or a friend from your semester abroad — it’s courteous to extend a plus-one to that person, even if they’re not in a serious relationship.
“Allowing guests to have a plus-one when they won’t know anyone but you at the wedding is a nice gesture,” said planner Summer McLane of My Simply Perfect Events. “Weddings can be awkward and social anxiety is a real thing. It’s generous and thoughtful to allow a plus-one.”
If this person is traveling a great distance to be there (i.e., flying in from out of town), having a companion for the trip can make it a more pleasant experience overall.
Do they need help getting to the wedding?
Guest who are unable to get to the wedding on their own — like an older guest who can’t drive or anyone with a caregiver — should receive a plus-one if their presence is important to you.
“A plus-one may be an important asset when a family member relies on a close friend to drive them to and from the wedding,” Gottsman said. “An elderly aunt, for example, may not be able to attend unless a friend or neighbor drives her to the wedding and back. Bonus is, you can feel comfortable and assured that she will be taken care of during your celebration.”
What to do when someone who didn’t get a plus-one assumes they have one anyway
Guests should know whether they have a plus-one based on the wedding invitation envelope. If it doesn’t say “and guest” or the name of their S.O., it means they’ll be flying solo. Seems straightforward, right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t. Some guests may still ask you if they have a plus-one. Some may just assume they have one. Others may know they didn’t get a plus-one, but will try their luck by adding another name to their RSVP card, hoping you don’t make a stink about it.
If this happens, you have a couple of options: you can call the person and tell them you can’t accommodate the additional guest, you can ask a family member to give this person the word, or you can just let the plus-one come anyway.
“I’ve had this happen with a few of my clients and I tell them to call the person they invited and tell them that they aren’t allowed a plus-one for whatever reason,” McLane said. “Most people feel uncomfortable doing that, but it’s necessary.”
If, by chance, you have the budget and space for another attendee, you can save yourself some grief by letting this person bring their date, Stephenson said.
“Sometimes the path of least resistance is to just let them bring the person,” she said. “But if budget or space are at a premium, you have to reach out and have that tough conversation about how you had to make some really tough decisions to keep the party within the capacity of the space, so unfortunately you can’t accommodate their date.”
And as with all things plus-one related, just try to keep these kinds of decisions uniform across the board.
“Think carefully before making the call,” Gottsman said. “If you do this for one guest, you should do it for everyone.”