On keeping the number of wedding guests down

I’m attending my first Nigerian wedding in Canada this weekend. Two years ago I attended my cousin’s wedding in Nigeria, which was the first bride-and-groom-are-Nigerian wedding that I had attended. Even among Nigerians in the same city as I am, it’s a bit odd that I haven’t attended many Nigerian weddings but my excuse is a)none of my (few) Nigerian friends have married (yet!) and b)I don’t go to weddings that I am not explicitly invited to. I’ve attended two Yoruba-style engagements and one wedding between a Yoruba girl and an Angolan guy so far but this is the first Nigerian wedding I’ve been invited to. I’m really looking forward to it, especially since the bride and groom met at a Nigerian wedding four years ago this summer (God: please let my life echo this story!)

I was talking to the bride-to-be last weekend and of course her biggest problem is how large the wedding is getting due to all the uninvited guests that will be attending. If you’re not Nigerian or African, this might seem strange to you because most North Americans I know don’t crash weddings, no matter how popular the movie Wedding Crashers was. As of last weekend, the bride-to-be was expecting 500 people, which is more than she had invited. She sent out invitations and what baffled her most wasn’t that Mr. & Mrs. X included the names of their children on the RSVP card that they were returning (even though in some cases the kids weren’t invited), but the fact that Mr. & Mrs. X included the names of Mr. & Mrs. Y, people that the bride and groom do not know at all! And this happened more than once.

Personally, I don’t understand it. Let’s imagine that Mr. & Mrs. X have visitors staying with them and they feel bad leaving them at home to attend a wedding. First of all, Mr. & Mrs. Y don’t even know the bride and groom, so why would they want to attend the wedding? Why can’t Mr. & Mrs. Y spend a quiet evening at their friends’ home, understanding that due to plans that were determined before their arrival, their hosts won’t be available to entertain them for that evening? I think most houseguests would be understanding about that. But in many cases, RSVP or not, Mr. & Mrs. X will bring their houseguests along, not caring if their guests take the seats meant for someone who actually knows the bride and groom and who received an invitation. It’s aggravating for brides especially. Imagine: you invite 200 people to your wedding and you could have 50 extra people show up – or more! Regardless of whether or not you’re serving buffet style food or by the plate, an extra 50 people makes a difference.

I have heard of Nigerian brides and grooms who have managed to pull off small, intimate weddings that don’t include their cousin’s university roommate. I’ve heard of some different tricks that worked:

Sending the invitations on very short notice, hoping that people will be busy on the wedding day
I don’t like this idea because sometimes the people you really want at your wedding may not be able to attend. You could tell the people you really want to attend to “save the date”, but I wonder if word of mouth would cause the information about the wedding to spread to people you don’t want to attend anyway.

Insisting that wedding guests bring their wedding invitation to the venue and not admiting anyone to the wedding who does not have the wedding invitation | By invitation only weddings
This one works, especially if you have a list of all the invitees on a checklist for those who will forget their invitation but who are actually invited. Bouncers at the wedding would also be an important component of this plan. How mortifying would it be to show up for a wedding you were not invited to, and be turned away? Yikes.

Having a destination wedding
This is a good way to keep numbers down: don’t get married where most of your family and friends live. If the destination is one of those one or two week vacation package deals you can guarantee that due to time or money restrictions, you won’t have a full house of guests…unless you give them lots of notice so they can save money (and vacation time) for it.

When my turn comes, I intend to keep things small by Nigerian wedding standards at around 150 people (keep in mind how random this number is since I have no idea if my future husband will have a trillion family members, all of whom are very special and dear to him). If I have my way I will get married in Canada (and do my engagement in Nigeria) so that will automatically keep my wedding numbers low. I would love to do the guestlist/bouncer thing, but that’s a bit much for what I expect to be no more than about 150 people. Instead, I will beg my mom on my knees to please not mention my wedding to anybody except the people she asked me to invite.

Then I’ll pray very very hard the only thing I’ll have to worry about is the length of my very long-winded father’s speech!

  1. How have you or friends of yours successfully kept the number of wedding guests down?
  2. Do you think keeping numbers down is the biggest wedding-related concern after ‘Where do I find my bride/groom in the first place?’

26 thoughts on “On keeping the number of wedding guests down

  1. Dont even worry about the number of guests yet, I believe its in order to find the man first.

    I come from a big family and if they give me any hassle about guests. I will just go to a registry one afternon and cut them off. I dont need the stress. As long as its 'my' wedding. They will have to dance to my tune.

  2. Lol. I couldn't help commenting on this one. This is VERY, VERY tricky! I mean, months ahead of my brother's just-concluded wedding, we'd agreed to keep the numbers low. I swear I couldn't believe my eyes on the wedding day, especially at the reception. In fact, the numbers at the service venue was triple-dwarfed by the horde I discovered at the reception venue. A lot of people went straight to the reception venue and took seats, waiting till the service ended. It's totally crazy!

    I like the bouncer idea. In an environment like Naija, some people will feel terribly offended and give you 'bad blood' as they say. But then, people would learn to respect 'emselves and the couple's wishes.

    So yea, I think you have it on point:

    1. Finding the groom (or bride) is up there

    2. Having an organized wedding ceremony (and all that goes with it: logistics and accommodation, feeding, budget etc) is second.

    Have a good one out there… :)

  3. at least they even RSVP'd they tried…people just turn up with people and no prior notice to you

  4. at least they even RSVP'd they tried…people just turn up with people and no prior notice to you.

    Freeksho and Sirius pulled off a 60 or was it 70? guest wedding in Lagos recently…so its do-able

  5. A destination wedding is the best way to keep guest list 'relevant'. My cousin is getting married next year. And like Nigerians, Filipinos come in bunches too. But she bluntly told family its strictly a family thing. She even told her friends they wont be invited BUT will hold a special dinner for them.

    I still stick to 'running-off with my groom' strategy. hehehe!

    and GNG!!! I should be one of the 150!!! I am so flying to Canada….and oh, can i bring one more? (lol!!)

  6. Destination wedding is the best, if you ever turn Nigerians away from your wedding, you're pretty much in the shit list for life.

  7. i am not from nigeria but this is a common problem in Africa generally. my close friend got married back in zim a couple of weeks ago did a strictly by invitation policy ( even for the 2 family parties afterwards). she initally sent out unofficial invites to all the people they wanted to attend (since the wedding would be in zim and not here in the uk) and people were asked to confirm by email (relatives and friends back home had something similar but not by email). No confirmation no invite. Those who confirmed got their proper invitations about a month or so towards the wedding.

    It worked really well for them. you just have be very sly and clever with it coz where I come from weddings are big event and you find someone will bring their wife or hubby and 4+ people.

    wish ur friends all the best with this one though xxx

  8. Ill be lucky if i get away with my plan of immediate family members only, im not a fan of big weddings! The only way to stop people from coming is tell no one:) They dont hear they dont come chikena. 25 people or less is ideal wedding size.

  9. My friends had their wedding on a cruise ship. That really shot the numbers down. I think that's a good idea since you can just take the cruise to your honeymoon destination.

  10. I'm from a big family we lots of uncles, aunts and distant relatives with lots of friends too. The crowd control has to do with my family members and their guest. My wife is Nigerian but her family setting is the complete opposite of mine. We opted for a destination wedding in the carribean. It was an excellent way of crowd control, the only people that showed up were immediate family members that needed to be there. The flight + hotel was a stretch for alot of them. Though some of them are still beefing us because they knew what we did by opting for the destination wedding. They kept saying things like we will see if you will fly away to have your naming ceremony when you have kids :-)

  11. i wished this was a concern for me..in my dreams it was..intimate small wedding but in reality no way considering I have a large family. I didnt think about it…because whether i liked it or not ..na big wedding. it was in Nigeria so u can imagine. maybe if it was in the UK i would be fussy..

    I didnt worry my head over anything except my dress, my cake and my bridesmaid..i didnt care if anyone got food to eat o…I was busy smiling at the high table..i cannot fit to have hypertension because of large crowd or people fighting over food..lol

    i like the idea of a destination wedding,,,yet again in my dreams!

  12. Chinese people have traditionally had big weddings (my parents had 300 people) and sometimes would "crash" or RSVP their (adult) kids, even if they weren't invited (caterers/restaurants usually make enough food for an additional 20 or so). However, (for the most part), those who've been in Canada for a long time or are under a certain age (late 50s or so) know better than that. For my wedding, I only had ONE INCIDENT of someone RSVPing their adult children, and in that case, the guy got his 80-something mother to notify my family. He was probably too embarassed to do it himself.

    Question: How do caterers and halls accomodate all the extra people? When couples are planning, what do they tell the caterer/venue? For ~500 people, food alone must be hitting the mid five figures (based on Toronto prices)!

  13. â–ºNaked Sha

    Well this is the problem: when you can't know for certain how many people are going to show up, how do you make sure there's enough food without making sure that there's too much food. It's quite a challenge.


    How was that received? Did they have any issues with interlopers?


    hehe…I have to agree…my groom must show himself asap.

    lol…your plan if you're hassled is bold but something in the way you said it makes me believe you'd do it!


    It's always great to get a man's perspective. Thank you for bringing up the point about people going straight to the venue and skipping the church ceremony entirely. If that doesn't scream "I'm only here for the food and freebies" I don't know what does.

    Thanks…I hope to have a good time…and maybe work on Operation Find-A-Groom at the same time ;)


    YOu're right…I recall reading about their wedding and it was indeed a small crowd…someone should really ask her for pointers…I think CaramelD wrote a bit about the wedding.


    lol there's something about you that screams "free spirit" and I just *know* you'd rock the destination wedding.

    Of course you're one of the 150…there is no question. I pray that you'll be able to make it when the time is nigh.

    â–ºOmosi T

    lol…you've said it succintly but you're right. There was one woman in our Isokan Yoruba group whose friends organized a reception for her son and his wife because she (the guy's mom) was pretty much left out of the white wedding plans. Maybe I could have a reception for Nigerians, but make it more like a cocktail party…just come and celebrate with the family…no gifts required.


    I definitely agree with you that this is not a problem unique to Nigeria.

    Ooooh…I like the idea your friend used…and there's got to be a nice way of communicating that for the purposes of having accurate numbers to give to the caterer, you have to do things this way.

    Thanks…I'll report back for sure!


    I'm impressed! Where did the weddings take place?


    25 or less! If you manage to pull that off it'll be a real coup!

  14. for this reason, we are planning a destination wedding in Malta…nonetheless, the guest list is at 210 already and doesn't include all our friends – the family members are using it as their family vacation …sigh… I guess we can run but we can't hide…

  15. Eurgh, tell me about it! I've been (dragged) to two weddings this summer, neither of which concerned any people I personally knew!

    It's one of my main concerns getting married and probably why I'm delaying it as long as I can…

    My main problem is my mum – She insists that my engagement is actually her chance to how off her daughter, and she will invite all her friends, because for her, it's a matter of pride.

    The more I think about it, the more eloping starts to look good….

    @Cynthia: In my experience, the caterers just make a HELL of a lot of food. A lot of it is wasted, since guests can be a bit greedy, and pile up their plates and then not eat it, or one dish is not popular, so the catering staff usually end up taking it home.

  16. I tried all the above and they didn't work for me because my parents were paying for the majority of the wedding and they wanted things done their way. They were not hearing my pleas for a small intimate wedding so I just gave up and resigned myself to a large wedding. In the end it was a wonderful occasion, but I could have done more with the money we spent on the wedding if I didn't have to worry about budgeting for my 400 invited guests plus an estimated 200 wedding crashers. I believe with time this will get better. When my future children get married I will NOT do what my parents did by inviting every single person they have ever talked to!

  17. Hi GNG…long time no comment.

    Being a private person I have always imagined that I will go off and get married first (maybe in Vegas…I wish) and tell friends and family later and also put a "to whom it might concern add" in the papers notifying the world in general. But of course since I cant do that I imagine it will be the registry bit and a "small reception" (not if my mom can help it) after

  18. I am in South Africa and same happens here but the one that takes the cake is people going stright to the reception !!!! haaaaiiiiiiii what to do vacate first before the real guests can sit. I have taken pointers and just included this on the invite

    "Strictly by invite, confirm via sms/email for your name to be added for gate pass

    LOL I am not taking chances

  19. Na wa that strictly by invitation thing is so difficult in Naija. I fantasise about 100 guests. And have been giving my Mom and Dad hints this past 10 yrs. lol. keeping my fingers crossed.

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