When Is Your Final Wedding Guest Count Typically Due?

Understand when—and why—your vendors need this key planning number.

guests toasting with champagne glasses at long wedding reception table

Photo by Jessa Schifilliti

Making sure your wedding day runs smoothly is all about the numbers—and none is more important than your final guest count. This list helps your vendors determine exactly how much you need of, well, everything, from tables and napkins to aisle arrangements and late-night snacks. Understand how to calculate this number—and who needs to have it and by when—using this expert-approved guide. 

How Your Guest List Differs From Your Final Guest Count

The guest list you make when you first start planning your wedding may go through several rounds of changes before you land on the final number of invitees. Your final guest count, though, is slightly different even from that list: It includes the exact number of people who will attend your wedding and reception. “These are the people who RSVP’d ‘yes’ to your invitation,” says Florida-based event planner Kelly McWilliams. (It also includes the people who sent the invitation: When calculating it, don’t forget to include yourself and your fiancé.) 

Meet the Expert

  • Kelly McWilliams, founder of her eponymous wedding planning firm, is based in Florida. She specializes in destination events and is the host of the award-winning This vs That wedding podcast.
  • Laura Ritchie is the founder of Grit & Grace, a Washington, D.C.-based event planning and design company that focuses on creative, personal celebrations. She has worked in the industry for over 15 years.

Why Your Final Guest Count Is So Important

Your final guest count impacts more than just the total cost of your big day. It will detail guests’ meal requests, dietary restrictions, and any other notes that make your day run smoothly, from how many guests need transportation to the hotel to how many menus your stationer needs to print, says Laura Ritchie of Grit & Grace. Giving your guests a flawless experience starts with knowing how much of everything—from paper fans to glassware—you need to provide. 

Which Vendors Need Your Final Guest Count

Most of your wedding team, from your chef to your calligrapher, needs your final guest count at some point, says Ritchie. “This dictates final meals, quantity of tables for floral centerpieces, amount of printed items like programs, and how many shuttles might be necessary for guests to be transported,” she says. Your guest count determines how many favors, welcome bags, sparklers, floral toss cones, ceremony chairs, and custom thank-you notes you need.

According to our experts, these are the vendors you should absolutely share your final guest count with:

  • Wedding planner
  • Venue manager
  • Catering coordinator
  • Calligrapher

Basically, "anyone who has a set number of things to provide based on the number attending" should be kept informed of this list, adds McWilliams.

When You Need to Have Your Final Guest Count By

Both McWilliams and Ritchie recommend securing your final guest count by setting an RSVP date that is six weeks before your wedding. “You will inevitably be chasing down some stragglers, so having a cushy two extra weeks prior to your true month-out date is helpful,” says Ritchie. Leaving yourself those 14 days also allows you to finalize day-of orders, says McWilliams, like programs, favors, custom stirrers, and escort cards, without rush-shipping charges or last-minute stress.

Expect to share your final headcount and seating list with your vendors 30 days before your wedding. “A caterer might not need final counts until 10 to 14 days beforehand, but it’s easier to solidify everything once that number is in,” says Ritchie. “Honing in on 30 days out will give you peace of mind to make all the final adjustments as needed.”

What to Do If Your Final Guest Count Changes

Whether your aunt caught the flu or your college roommate found someone to cover his on-call shift at the last minute, final guest counts don’t always stay final. “Sometimes emergencies arrive and a guest needs to drop out, or your cousin wants to bring his new girlfriend,” says Ritchie.

Identify which vendors the change will impact most.

Since different vendors act on your final guest count at different points in the planning process, this may (or may not) pose a problem. “For the florist, who likely needed to place their final floral order three to four weeks before the wedding, this won’t make a difference,” says Ritchie. “For the caterer who is securing quantities of food and staff, they might not be able to toggle back and forth after a certain date.”

Communicate the new final guest count with your vendors as soon as possible.

Keeping your vendors updated (and quickly) as the list changes is also key. “Have a checklist of everyone who needs to know your guest count,” recommends McWilliams. “When guests have last-minute cancellations, send a mass email to that list of vendors, including your coordinator or planner, letting them know that 'our guest count has decreased by [this number], and our final number is [this number].'" Include the names and table number for the guests who canceled to keep your catering team, calligrapher, and seating chart coordinator up-to-date.

Accept that you might lose some money—and spend a little more on any adjustments.

While adding a guest or two typically doesn’t present a challenge, says Ritchie, you’re not likely to get any money back for guests who can’t attend—and you might be stuck with a small charge if you need to enlist some quick help from a vendor to make a late-game change. “Knowing a local calligrapher is always tremendously helpful if you need to move guests around and change seating,” Ritchie says.

Building a buffer into your overarching wedding budget at the onset will make facilitating these late-stage changes easier; this "emergency fund" should be between 10 and 20 percent of your event's total cost.

How to Track Down Missing RSVPs When Your Final Count Is Due

Most couples use a working guest count that includes roughly 20 percent fewer attendees than they invited, says Ritchie. This estimate works well for planning paper goods and other day-of details. “Aligning your wedding day paper and personalized elements with those numbers is a good guess,” she says. But after RSVPs are due, it becomes even more important to communicate with your guests to get a firm yes or no.

Do some sleuthing.

When you start getting down to the wire, you’ll need to do more than nudge late attendees to pop their response in the mail. “Once that RSVP date passes, it’s no longer asking the guests to send [the cards] in,” says Ritchie. “We are then asking for a formal response via phone or, ideally, email. It’s also helpful to cross-reference the rooming lists at the hotels you have secured to see if someone has booked a room, but hasn't returned their response card.”

Reach out personally.

Be prepared to contact any slow responders in person. “The best way to do this is to pick up the phone and text or call them,” says McWilliams. When in doubt, blame the mail: “A polite way to ask is to say, ‘We’re getting close to our wedding day and need to update our catering team. The post office may have lost your response card/the website may have had some technical issues  and we didn’t receive your response. Are you planning on attending?’”

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