When it comes to weddings with limited budget and seating, the most common problem that you’ll encounter is the issue of “plus ones”. A plus one is, essentially, a guest of a guest – someone that a named guest is allowed to bring along with them (usually a partner or a date).
While it’s nice to allow your guests to bring someone along, if every guest is allowed a plus one, your wedding guest list will soon double in size. And if you just haven’t got the space or the cash to deal with this, you’ll need to break the news to your guests that they can’t bring a date: no plus ones allowed.
It’s always best to be honest, and make it clear straight away that only named guests are invited. Here are some effective strategies that you can use to get this message across to your guests.
How to Choose Which Guests Can Bring a Plus One
Generally speaking, it’s best to have a blanket rule for plus ones: either every guest is allowed to bring a date, or no-one is.
This is, quite simply, to avoid any potential drama or hurt feelings between wedding guests. If your cousin Kate is allowed to bring a guest, but your cousin Hannah isn’t, some resentment may build up there – even if you have a good reason for it (for example, Kate is in a steady relationship with her boyfriend of five years, whereas Hannah goes through tinder dates like mint imperials).
So, try to decide whether plus ones are allowed or not, and stick with it. You could also come up with a rule to follow, such as “only guests that are married or cohabiting are allowed to bring their partner”.
Evening-Only Wedding Guests
Having evening-only wedding guests can actually be a useful tool when it comes to tackling the plus one problem.
If you invite only close friends and family members to the ceremony and wedding breakfast, it leaves you free to invite more people to the evening ‘do (which usually consists of music, dancing and a buffet).
You may find that, by demoting some of your guests (such as co-workers and distant relatives) to evening-only status, it means you will actually have enough space to allow everyone attending the ceremony to bring a plus one.
If not, you could consider inviting plus ones as evening-only wedding guests, if this would suit you better. So, only named guests are invited to the ceremony and wedding breakfast, but partners/dates can attend the evening party. Be sure to make this crystal clear by including a note on your invitation or note card.
How to Tell Wedding Guests Not to Bring a Date
Once you’ve decided who is (and who isn’t) allowed a plus one, how do you actually communicate this with your guests? Here are some ideas.
Inform Potential Guests in Advance
Even before you send out your wedding invitations, there’s scope to slip the “no plus ones” rule into casual conversation, when you’re discussing your wedding with friends and family.
Wedding planning is an exciting time, and everyone’s likely to want to discuss it with you – particularly to find out which venues you’re considering, and how big the wedding is going to be. During these discussions, you may want to mention that your venue is fairly small or that you’re trying to be strict with your budget, so you won’t be allowing plus ones.
Explaining the reason why (financial limitations, space, etc) can help soften your guests up to the idea.
Address Your Wedding Invitations Correctly
When you send out your wedding invitations (and save the dates), it’s vital to address them correctly. When you write your guests’ names on the outer and inner envelopes, word it so that there’s no doubt about who’s invited.
Weddings where plus ones are allowed will read “Mr John Smith plus Guest”. If the “plus guest” is absent, e.g. “Mr John Smith”, your guests should understand that they aren’t allowed to bring a date.
When it comes to families, and you want to make it clear that children aren’t invited, writing “the Smith family” is far too ambiguous. Instead, address the invitation to “Mr and Mrs John and Sarah Smith”, for example. That should make it obvious that only the two named people are expected to attend.
Make it Clear on the RSVP Card
A great tool when it comes to communicating the plus one rule with guests is the RSVP card (also called the reply card).
This is a slip of paper that you’ll include with each wedding invitation. It allows your guests to inform you of whether they will attend, who will attend, and any other important information (such as food allergies).
Most couples will leave the name line blank, for their guests to fill in themselves. Unfortunately, if you do this, your guests might write the name of a plus one along with their own name.
To make it crystal clear that plus ones aren’t allowed:
1. Write your guest(s) names on the reply card yourself, leaving no room for them to add anyone else.
2. Add a section saying “We have reserved __ seat(s) in your honour”, and fill in this gap with the number of people you’re inviting.
For example, if you’re inviting your cousin Mary and she’s not allowed to bring a guest, you should write “1 seat”.
Add a FAQ on Your Wedding Website
Wedding websites are brilliant for sharing vital information with your guests that won’t fit on the invitation - such as directions to the venue, your gift list, and so on.
One important feature on any wedding website is the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section, in which you can address any details that you’d like to make clear – such as the issue of plus ones.
An example FAQ may look like this:
Q. Can I bring a date (plus one) to your wedding?
A. Unfortunately, due to budget and space limitations, we simply can’t afford for all of our lovely guests to bring a guest of their own.
Therefore, we regretfully our guests to please not bring a plus one, unless they are specifically named on the invitation. Thank you so much for understanding!
This should provide a clear message for those who were previously planning to bring a plus one.
The “unless they are named on the invitation” clause leaves room for you to invite certain plus ones if you personally know them by name, and would like them to be there. For example, if you’ve decided to allow married guests to bring their spouse.
How to Respond to “Can I Bring a Guest?”
Unfortunately, even if you make the “no plus ones” rule absolutely crystal clear on your wedding invitation, RSVP card and website, there will be some guests who think that the rule doesn’t (or shouldn’t) apply to them.
So, be prepared for certain guests to e-mail or you or call you and ask “I know you said no plus ones, but I can bring Rob, can’t I?”
When this happens, you obviously want to respond in a polite way, so that you don’t burn any bridges.
1. Determine how opposed you are to the plus one. You may be tempted to say “ok, sure” to keep the peace. It’s okay if you want to make an exception to the rule – after all, it’s your wedding - but remember that this guest may talk, and tell other guests that you’ve let them invite a date.
2. Stick to your rule. If you’ve made a blanket “no plus ones” rule, or a limitation such as “only married guests may bring their partner”, explain this rule to the questioning guest.
3. Let them down gently. Obviously, try and be as polite as possible when turning down their request. Explain that you’re sorry you can’t accommodate them, but perhaps offer to get together with them and celebrate after the wedding instead?
4. Explain your reasoning, if you feel comfortable. It’s your wedding, and you don’t owe anyone a reason for not allowing your guests to bring dates. However, explaining your reasoning might help your guests to understand, and not be offended.
Remember that some of your guests might push back on your first excuse. So, telling them frankly that you will not be able to add their date to the guest list is not at all rude, even if they seem upset.
In the end, the main purpose of having guests is that you want to have a great time with all of your friends and family. So, if you do not want their date to attend for any reason at all, then you will be happy that you have declined their request - despite the fact that it felt a bit uncomfortable telling them no. And if the guest throws a fit at not being able to bring a date, do you really want someone like that attending your wedding anyway?