Whose invited? A complete guide to plus-one etiquette
It’s one of the most common questions couples ask when figuring out who they should invite to their big day: What’s proper wedding plus-one etiquette?
While there aren’t any set rules as to who you should and shouldn’t invite (it’s your wedding, after all), there are plenty of best practices to help make the process a whole lot easier. That’s where this blog post comes in.
But before getting started, keep in mind that every wedding is different, and what works for one couple may not work for the next. It’s important that you keep your budget, your vision of the day, and your guests’ needs in mind when plus-one planning.
Everything you need to know about wedding plus-one etiquette
In a perfect world, everyone would get a plus-one. Nobody would have to go to weddings alone, and engaged couples could invite unlimited guests without worrying about the cost. In reality, however, most of us have budget restrictions to meet, limited space to work with, and so on.
Don’t be surprised if you’re not able to accommodate a date for every single wedding guest. A few tough decisions are likely to arise, but following the wedding plus-one etiquette outline below will help take a lot of the stress or guilt off of couples who are struggling to trim their guest list.
What is a plus-one at a wedding?
In general, the term “plus-one,” most commonly used in reference to weddings, grants an invited guest permission to bring someone with them to an event. When engaged couples allocate plus-ones, it’s important to note that the plus-one does not apply to every guest.
Often sent to unmarried guests, invitations that extend a plus-one give single guests the opportunity to bring a date with them to the wedding. It’s usually not an open invitation to bring a friend along to take advantage of the free food and drinks.
Most couples also choose to extend plus-one invitations to friends and family in serious or long-term relationships, especially if they don’t know the primary guest’s partner well. Out-of-town guests who may not know many other attendees are commonly given plus-one privileges so they don’t feel out of place or lonely. If you’ve ever been to a wedding alone, completely surrounded by strangers, you can probably attest to the awkwardness.
Which wedding guests should get a plus-one?
Ultimately, your wedding day should reflect what you and your partner want. Whether you want to have a 200 person blowout party-style wedding reception, or an elegant, intimate affair — that’s up to you.
However, standard wedding etiquette dictates that the the following wedding guests should receive a plus-one:
Members of the couple’s immediate family.
Wedding party members.
Outlier guests who won’t know many other attendees.
Couples who are engaged, live together, or are otherwise in a serious or long-term relationship.
If you’re struggling to keep your guest list at a reasonable length, create an “A” list with all of the invited guests who should absolutely receive a plus-one. Then, create a “B” list of guests you would like to include if possible. After taking care of the “A” list, see where that leaves your total guest count. From there, assign the “B” list members plus-ones with what remains.
Can any guests be left off the plus-one list?
Many engaged couples find themselves facing pressure from friends and family who want to attend the wedding. It can be difficult to keep your wedding budget in balance without excluding or disappointing anyone. If you can afford it, sure, include a plus-one for all of your guests. But if not, some of your guests will probably be receiving solo invites, and that’s OK!
Don’t beat yourself up for leaving any of the following people off your plus-one list:
New couples or those who are casually dating. Engaged couples shouldn’t feel any pressure to include new couples on their plus-one list. It’s up to you, but Cousin Tim probably doesn’t need to bring his Tinder date to your wedding ceremony, OK?
Single guests who know everyone. Do you have a close family or circle of friends where everyone knows everyone? Will your single guests have friends or family at the wedding? If so, there’s no pressure to extend a plus-one. They will have a great time surrounded by the comfort of familiar faces, even without bringing a date.
How do extra plus-ones affect the cost of a wedding?
Most areas of a wedding’s budget are affected by the number of guests in attendance: food costs, bar expenses, venue setup fees, and more. Therefore, engaged couples have to accurately track plus-ones in order to stay within their budget guidelines.
The per-person cost for a wedding guest varies greatly depending on the reception service. Weddings with buffet-style receptions typically cost $50-$100 per guest, while formal plated dinners are more expensive, ranging from $100-$200 per guest. Surprise plus-ones will likely lead to unexpected food costs and those unforeseen expenses can pile up quickly. Some venues even have strict accommodation guidelines or guest limits. Unconfirmed plus-ones could lead to additional setup requirements, last-minute event expenses, or additional service fees charged by the venue.
Proactive plus-one planning tips for engaged couples
Make managing your guest list a wedding planning priority. Trust us: Being proactive will eliminate a lot of potential stress later down the line. Use these tips to help you keep track:
1. Get the name of every guest. Be sure to include a space for the primary guest to write the name of their plus-one on your RSVPs. Couples need this information for seating chart preparation and reception place cards. Asking for the name of the invited guest is one of many RSVP wording secrets. It will help cut out the possibility of a stranger or problem-guest showing up at the last minute.
2. Be prepared to respond to requests. While single guests who don’t receive a plus-one shouldn’t usually ask for one, be prepared for the possibility. Have a kind, but firm explanation prepared for anyone who may reach out. “We’d love to include everyone, but unfortunately our budget only allowed us to invite close friends and family. We appreciate your understanding and really hope to see you there!”
3. Consider seating arrangements. Grab your potential guest list and make a mock seating chart or use an online seating chart tool. Will it be relatively easy to accommodate seating for the guests who are offered a plus-one? Take personalities and relationships into account as well to avoid unwanted drama at the reception. Seat guests or plus-ones away from others they may have issues with. Newlyweds want to celebrate a stress-free and safe wedding. Guest drama is the last thing you should have to worry about.
4. Use proper plus-one invitation etiquette. When designing your wedding invitations and RSVP cards, swap out the term “plus-one” for “invited guest” to add formality. Take your time, keep it neat, and address your invitations appropriately.
Invitation wording for single guests granted a plus-one: It’s best not to make assumptions as to who your single guests will bring. Choose between either of the following formatting options when inviting single guests:
Address the invitation to the primary guest’s name and “invited guest.”
Address the invitation to the primary guest only, and include a plus-one note inside with the RSVP card.
Invitation wording for unmarried couples: Serious couples may live together or not. You may know both parties well, or only be close with one of them. Follow this wedding invitation advice for unmarried couples:
Living together: Address both parties on the outside and inside of the invitation.
Living separately: Ideally, each party will receive their own addressed invitation. If you don’t have that information, however, it is perfectly acceptable to address the invitation to the primary guest only. You can include the name of their significant other on the materials inside.
Uncertain: If you are unsure of the relationship status of any of your guests, it’s best not to include the name of their significant other, just in case. Use “invited guest” in this circumstance.
5. Keep track of wedding RSVPs. Set up an invitation organization system that works for you. Keep track of RSVPs as you receive them and double-check them for completion. If you receive an RSVP confirming a plus-one, but no name is provided for the additional guest, follow up. Track guests that you are awaiting responses from and reach out to them as the RSVP date approaches.
Wedding plus-one etiquette for guests
Plus-one etiquette doesn’t just apply to invites and the engaged couple. Wedding guests who are extended the courtesy of a plus-one should behave accordingly.
1. Don’t sneak in a name substitution. If a second guest's name is included on an invitation, or it is addressed to two individuals, that invitation is specifically intended for those named. Don’t RSVP and swap out the second guest’s name for someone else. If the included person will not be attending, politely notify the couple in your response.
2. Never bring an uninvited guest or trouble-maker as your plus-one. If your invitation did not include a plus-one, under no circumstances should you arrive at a wedding with an uninvited guest. If the person who was originally going to attend with you is not coming, ask the couple if you can bring someone else instead. Politely accept their response — even if it’s “no.” Furthermore, “invited guest” typically refers to a date, not your best friend. It’s a wedding, not an excuse to party for free with your pals.
3. Only include a plus-one if they’re guaranteed. It can be difficult to plan a relationship months in advance, but don’t RSVP for a guest if you’re uncertain they’ll be attending. The engaged couple could end up spending more than necessary on empty seats. Always be considerate of the time, effort, and money couples are doling out for their wedding guests.
4. If you bring a guest, your gift should reflect that. If you’re coming as two guests, bring a gift that would account for two guests. However, if your plus-one doesn’t know the couple, you probably shouldn’t ask them to pitch in.
5. If you bring a new partner as your plus-one, find time to introduce them to the couple. No one wants to see a stranger at their wedding, so find a calm, low-key time to introduce your date to the newlyweds. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but it also shows the couple your appreciation for footing the bill for your date.
Put this wedding plus-one etiquette guide to use!
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to plus-one etiquette. All you can do is prepare ahead of time so you know how to handle situations as they arise. No matter what, we know you’ve got this and that your big day is going to be incredible.