How to Deal with Wedding Guest No-Shows

Wedding no-shows are more common than you might realise. Though you might have already thought about extra guests – people that turn up uninvited, or bring surprise plus-ones – you may actually find that fewer guests attend than you’d bargained for.

We’re talking specifically about guests that RSVP ‘yes’, but don’t make an appearance. We don’t mean people who simply fail to return their reply card (that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
The reality is that even people that confirmed their attendance may, on the day, fail to turn up. The more guests you’ve invited, the higher the likelihood that this will happen. Unfortunately, this means you may lose the money that you’ve spent on their food.

This guide will talk you through the ins and outs of wedding guest no-shows. We’ll discuss the reasons why some guests might not show, how often it happens, and how you can deal with the problem gracefully.

Why Might a Wedding Guest Not Show Up?

If you’d never considered the possibility of no-shows, your first thought may be: but why? Why would someone simply not turn up to a wedding – especially if they’d confirmed they’d be attending?
In reality, there are many perfectly understandable reasons why a wedding guest might not turn up.

For example:
• Family emergencies
• Sudden injury or illness
• Childcare problems, such as the babysitter calling in sick
• Car breakdowns, or other transportation issues, such as the taxi not showing up
• Bad weather, e.g. a sudden bad rainstorm or snowstorm
• They overslept, and now they’re running late – they may feel that it would be less embarrassing not to attend at all, rather than bursting in halfway through the ceremony
• They’ve been made to come into work on their day off (although employers can’t force this, social pressure is a real thing – they may fear repercussions if they don’t)

Most no-shows will have the decency to call on the morning of the wedding (or the day before) and explain why they can’t make it. But some scatter-brained invitees may simply forget.

How Common Are Wedding No-Shows?

As a general rule, you can expect 5-10% of those who RSVP ‘yes’ to your wedding invitation to not show up on the day. This figure may shock you, but unfortunately, it’s a reality of life. Emergencies happen, people get their dates mixed up, and cars fail to start.
This means if you’re having a small wedding with only 40 guests, you may get only two or three no-shows. But a large wedding with 200 guests may end up hosting only 180. That’s a lot of empty chairs.
Of course, this figure isn’t set in stone- it can vary from wedding to wedding. The weddings that see the most no-shows include:

• Weekday weddings
• Weddings held at busy times of year
• Destination weddings (held abroad)
• Winter weddings (bad weather, colds and flu are rampant)

At this point, you may be panicking. But try not to worry too much. No-shows aren’t a huge world-ending disaster – you will enjoy your big day nonetheless. However, you should plan what you’ll do if guests don’t show up, just in case.

How to Handle No-Shows on Your Wedding Day

The reality is that you probably will have some no-shows on your wedding day - especially if you’re having a large celebration with a hundred or more guests. Sadly, emergencies like illnesses do happen.
The best way to deal with no-shows is to prepare for them in advance. Then, after the wedding, reach out to any guests that failed to turn up in a diplomatic and civil way. Here’s a 6-step plan for handling wedding guest no-shows.

Assign an Emergency Contact

As the bride or groom, it’s not your responsibility to deal with no-show wedding guests. It’s your right to spend the entire day enjoying yourself – let someone else take control of all the technical details.
At least a month prior to your wedding, assign someone to be your guests’ day-of emergency contact. This will be someone that your guests can get in touch with to let know that they’re running late, or can’t make it.
It could be a bridesmaid, for example, or the mother of the bride or groom. Put their phone number on your wedding website so that your guests will know who to contact if they have any problems.

Send out a Reminder

A few days to a week before your wedding, send out a reminder to all of your guests. You can do this in the form of a mass email or text, or by calling each guest (usually only feasible if you’re having a small wedding).

Sometimes, people don’t show up for weddings because they’ve gotten their dates mixed up, or forgotten about it altogether. So, sending out a reminder of the date and time of the wedding may help prevent this from happening.

If you don’t want to be obvious about it, you can frame it as though you’re checking that everyone knows their way to the venue, or knows where to park. Include your emergency contact’s phone number, so that guests who have suddenly realised they can’t make it can get in touch.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Nobody ever wishes for no-shows on their wedding day. However, despite your best efforts and reminder emails, you have to face the fact that it’s something that could happen. So, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: make a plan of what you’ll do if there are any no-shows. Here are some ideas:

• Give your ushers a guest list, including a phone number for each guest, and a pen to mark off the guests as they arrive. Have someone call any guests that don’t show up, to check on them.
• Tell your ushers to try and fill up both sides of the aisle evenly (rather than sticking to the ‘bride’s side’ and the ‘groom’s side’). That way, no-shows will be less obvious during the ceremony.
• Talk to your venue about what they’ll do if several guests don’t show up. For example, they may be able to quickly remove a table and readjust the place settings, so that there aren’t any large, obvious gaps at dinner.

You can also discuss the attrition rate with your caterer. Most of the time, you’ll have to pay for all the meals you’ve ordered, even if they’re not all claimed. However, some caterers may offer you a discounted rate for no-show guests (as long as there are only one or two).

Focus on What’s Important

If you do find that some guests fail to turn up without an explanation, please don’t let it ruin your day. Remind yourself that there’s probably a really good reason, such as sudden illness – it’s unlikely that your guests went AWOL purely in order to upset you. Focus instead on what’s important – your wedding!

After all, you’re marrying your true love. This is the one day that’s all about you and your partner, so don’t let a random no-show spoil it for you. If you do, you’ll regret it in the future, when you look back on a day that you could have been enjoying instead of fretting about missing guests.
Trust us, nobody will notice or care about a few empty seats at the reception. Just relax, enjoy yourselves and focus on the positives. A drink or two may help!

Be Understanding

After your wedding day, you may find that your no-show guests eventually contact you to explain their absence. Give them a grace period of about a week after your big day to get in touch. Remember that they might have experienced a medical problem or family emergency.

If you don’t hear anything from them, reach out. It will make things infinitely more awkward if you ignore it and never bring it up. Broach the subject in a kind and gentle manner.

For example: “Hi [name], is everything OK with you? We were so sad that you didn’t make it to our wedding last week!”
Chances are there’ll be a reason for their nonattendance. Try to avoid deliberately making them feel bad, even if you think their excuse is a bit thin. And certainly don’t mention the money side of things – sunk costs are an inevitable part of wedding planning, and there’s nothing you can do about it now.

Move On

After broaching the topic with your no-show guests, you need to decide if this is (or isn’t) something you can forgive. This might depend on how close you are/were with the person, and what their excuse was for not showing up.

If you don’t feel you can forgive the person, you may decide to distance yourself from them from now on. It’s entirely your prerogative – but do so gracefully, rather than causing a big scene or publicly denouncing your friendship. You don’t need that kind of drama in your life. Making a ‘big deal’ out of it won’t achieve anything, except making you both more upset and angry.

If you decide you can forgive them, do so, and move on. Try not to hold a grudge, and definitely don’t keep bringing it up to guilt-trip them. Be grateful for everything you do have, and focus on the future.

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