Bring in the Backups: How to subtly invite your B-list guests

by epi on November 19, 2012

Q: Reply cards are starting to trickle in for my daughter’s wedding this summer, and we have a few more “no’s” than we anticipated/ Is it too late to invite our B-list guests?

A: It’s OK, but do it soon. The best way is to do it discreetly and quickly. Even hinting that someone was on a secondary list can cause hurt feelings. Ideally, invite your full guest list up front to avoid awkward ” B-list” situations.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Winifred Rosenburg November 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

I’m not a fan of B lists for weddings. I understand that space and financial limitations sometimes prevent people from inviting everyone they would like to invite. However, I think if you really wanted to have these people there, they would have been on the A list. So why invite them at all if you would have been okay with them not being invited? Plus considering how easily word spreads these days and how most people know how wedding invitations are usually timed it seems nearly impossible to keep the B list from realizing they’re the B list. In general, B lists treat guests like seat fillers instead of people, which a host should never do.

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cathy August 31, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Winifred – I am one of those B listers – I live in a small town and a daughter of a friend that we have known for almost 30 years is getting married this month. Being in a small town I knew we had been left off the list. We invited the family to my daughter’s wedding (and we included a guest so she didn’t have to come alone) and her parents also came. I was hurt when I realized that we were the only ones of the group that had been left off the list for such an important event. We spent years at family gatherings, school activities, sports etc.
This had nothing to do with finances as the family is well off. I am so hurt that
I am inclined to say no – If I do am I obligated to buy a gift.

Thanks

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Winifred Rosenburg September 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

You are only obligated to give a gift if you go to the wedding. If you aren’t going your only obligation is to promptly respond that you won’t be going.

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Zakafury November 19, 2012 at 11:24 am

I’m generally a fan of B-List wedding invitations. Anyone (rational) who would be offended by being on the B list would be harboring resentment for not making the cut at all (Especially if there are B list invitations going out!).

You should be careful not to advertise to other guests who was on the B List, which might be embarrassing.

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Winifred Rosenburg November 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

It’s not irrational to not want to go to an event when you know you are not really wanted except to fill a table, especially when going creates an obligation to give a gift and usually other expenses. Hosts need to avoid anything that looks like gift grabbing, and this falls into that category.

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Elizabeth November 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I don’t think that being on a B-list necessarily means that the hosts only want you to be there to fill a table. It CAN mean that, but I can imagine a scenario in which, because of certain constraints, a couple felt they could only invite family to a small wedding but then, when RSVPs came back, suddenly found that they were able to invite some close friends. B-List does not automatically equate to gift grab. The general consensus around here is that people should plan their guest list first, and then plan a wedding to accommodate that list according to what they can afford. This is the optimum scenario. However, things don’t always work out this way, and there are situations when this kind of approach doesn’t work.

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Winifred Rosenburg November 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Appearances matter when it comes to etiquette. It’s not enough to have good intentions; a polite person is aware (or at least tries to be aware) of how their actions will be perceived regardless of his or her intent. That’s why it’s never okay to put registry info on a wedding invitation. Is it possible that some people want to do so not because they want to encourage their guests to get them gifts? Of course! But even if they have the best of intentions it will be perceived by some as a demand for gifts so they shouldn’t do it. The same applies here. Some people may have good intentions with regard to their B lists, but enough people have already used them to try to get more gifts so B lists have a bad reputation. That’s why B lists should be avoided or at least done in a way that isn’t obvious.

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Jody November 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I would caution the host to make sure the B-list invitations look exactly the same as the A-list invitations. There’s no need to make it obvious you’re sending out a second round of invitations.

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Vanna Keiler November 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hmmm….B lists. No one wants to be on one, or thought of as a B-list invitee. Since this is really an insult, there are two risks when inviting someone as such: (1) rejection to invitation and; (2) potential discovery of being invited later than others, leading to possible hurt feelings, drama and then rejection. Therefore, if you must fill the seats, expect rejection with the invitation, and the possibility that those seats may remain unfilled, anyways.

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Gertrude November 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hello,

My question about this actually has nothing to do with A or B lists. It is more of the fact that it is currently November, and there are invitations sent out for the wedding in the summer! This seems quite premature to me, but I assume this is a question that is recycled.

-G

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Joanna November 20, 2012 at 10:21 am

I don’t see anything wrong with that, Gertrude — in fact, I think it shows thoughtfulness and foresight. As many people go on vacation in the summer, and often plan their trips months in advance, especially if they are cruises or resorts, I would imagine that the bride and groom want to ensure no one who wishes to attend will find themselves inadvertently away during their special day.

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Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

I’m not sure if I agree…typically wedding invitations are sent out 6-8 weeks in advance. Unless its a destination wedding, the proper thing to do is to send a ‘save-the-date’ card, which does not obligate the guest to reply. I think it is rather overbearing and presumptuous to ask any guest to commit to something that far in advance. And, depending on the relationship to the bride and groom, the guest may actually prefer to go on vacation should the opportunity arise rather than go to the wedding! Sending them out so far in advance puts the guest in a bind, in which they feel they have to respond, but also simply can’t know their schedule so far in advance. This is why save-the-date cards exist, so you can let people know the date in advance, but you don’t actually invite them and ask them to commit until much closer to the wedding.

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Jerry November 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

Wait a second . . . “the guest may prefer to go on vacation should the opportunity arise”? How would the “opportunity” all of a sudden “arise”?

One either plans on going on vacation during the summer, or one does not. (We normally vacation in the winter to ameliorate the effects of SAD.) And if one would prefer to go on vacation (as opposed to the wedding), all one has to do is decline the wedding invite. Is your concern that (i) someone might invite you to a beach house one weekend, (ii) but for the wedding commitment you would have accepted that beach house invitation, so (iii) it’s not fair for the couple to make you make up your mind so early?

If that’s the case, I’m sure that the happy couple would much rather you decline their hospitality. Joanna got this one right.

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Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Do you always make your June vacation plans in November? I don’t. I make them maximum 2-3 months in advance. My answer is specifically in the context of the question of mailing wedding invitations 8 months in advance. This is improper, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why save-the-date cards exist.

Joanna November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Elizabeth, have you ever gone on a cruise or to a resort? I have – and many others today, as they seem to be increasing in popularity. If so, then yes, you typically make the arrangements a good number of months ahead – even six or more months ahead, as prices and availability can change quickly and drastically.

Also, depending on your culture, many people plan long trips back to their homeland in the summer months, so they won’t have to take their children out of school. (Of course, I know that even though this is very common in my area, it’s not to many other people in other areas, so I don’t blame you for perhaps not knowing or considering it.) It’s not unusual among people in my city, largely from Europe or the islands around Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, to be gone overseas for a month or two.

But, bottom line, I think that save the date cards are just a modern thing, like many other details that have suddenly cropped up in the past few years. While they’re NICE, I don’t agree that they’re necessary. Most wedding invitations I’ve received have given quite a generous timeframe to respond. Also, importantly, I think that given some sudden and unforeseen circumstances, most people know right off whether the wedding is one they want to attend or not. If you give them a year to “keep it in mind” and to respond, then they will take a year, probably to the day, to respond. That’s just human nature, in my experience.

Vanna Keiler November 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I agree with Elizabeth. There are good reasons wedding invitations are sent out three or four months in advance – not sooner and not earlier. For heaven’s sake, so many things can and do happen to individuals and families in the span of a year. It is incredibly hard to commit to something that far in advance when the future is so uncertain on a daily basis. Planning the wedding one year in advance is fantastic, especially for the honeymoon and booking, if the hall or venue is highly popular. However, except for close family and/or people you really want to be there, even informal date giving this far back is going to raise eyebrows. One can “unofficially” tell the curious and excited the date you have picked, but to presume to receive an RSVP a year in advance is pretty close-minded, if I may be direct. There will always be people who plan to attend a huge event like a wedding, and because of life events, are unable to make it, even last-minute.

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Alicia November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I think the summer is that it is a main question of the day. Those questions build up and often do not get answered by the official emily post staff for months. That is why the more informal comments here which get you answers from emily post readers not staff is a quicker but unofficial answer. I would assume that the original question was written in the spring

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Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I agree, Alicia. It is highly unlikely that a bride will send out the invitations 8 months in advance.

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lisa December 10, 2012 at 4:45 am

Winifred is correct. You do not have two guest lists! Why are these people sending out invitations for a summer wedding in November? No wonder they are trickling back as no!

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Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I’m probably the wrong one to ask about planning in advance – I just booked a trip to the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East a couple of days ago (I’m in the US), and we’re leaving in a month. Yes, you can absolutely plan travel months in advance. You naturally also can (and mostly do) plan weddings months in advance. My contention was only that it is odd (and I would go so far as to say – an imposition) to invite people 8 months in advance to a wedding, unless it is to an exotic destination. An invitation requires a response. A save-the-date card does not, nor does it obligate the person to a particular response. That is why they are helpful. You can note it on your calendar. If you are planning that months long trip away over the summer, sure – you will already know you can’t make it. But there are plenty of people who don’t know their summer plans 8 months out, and would be put out having to commit to something. It obviously depends on your relationship to the couple. If it’s my best friend’s wedding or my sister’s wedding, then I will arrange my summer so I can attend. If it’s a second cousin twice-removed’s wedding…well, I could go, but if something else comes up (like I get a paper in a conference, or my friends arrange a week somewhere and that’s the only time we can do it), I might skip it as well. (Obviously, if I RSVP that I’m coming, I’m not going to cancel. That’s my point – I can commit to something a couple of months in advance, but not 8.) It is accepted custom, at least in the US, that wedding invitations (for local weddings, or those with minimal travel) 6-8 weeks in advance. Google it. I just did, and the consensus is, pretty universally, 8 weeks.

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Jerry November 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm

You’re hanging your argument on the wisdom of the masses? I don’t know if you’re on solid ground here. Your argument also proves too much: just because many people send wedding invitations 8 weeks in advance doesn’t mean that it’s improper to send them earlier. According to the wedding etiquette of which I’m familiar, you don’t put the year on the wedding invitation, suggesting that you may issue an invitation up to 364 days (365 days if you’ve got a leap year) in advance of the actual wedding.

If the wedding isn’t important enough to you to commit yourself eight months in advance, why go at all? (I’m absolutely serious with this question) If you know you would rather go out with your friends, or present at a conference, or do . . . well . . . almost anything else, why go to the wedding at all? Why not spend your precious time with people you would rather see, or doing activities you would rather be doing? Weddings come around once in a lifetime. The people in them are either important to you, or they are not. If they are not, why go to all the trouble (not to mention expense!) of dressing, traveling, buying a present, doing the chicken dance, and seeing great aunt Myrtle who (for whatever reason) still wants to pinch your cheeks as if you were a five-year-old?

If you can think of something better to do, do it. Otherwise, accept the invitation joyfully and stop grousing about how RSVPing in the affirmative means you cannot accept a better invitation should one come along in the future.

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Just Laura November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I am like Elizabeth in that I tend to plan vacations only a month or so in advance, or less (and yes, I take cruises overseas and visit Disney World Resorts). Many airlines and hotels run last minute sales; since I don’t have children, I prefer to take advantage of those.
I prefer Save-The-Date cards over formal invitations months in advance, in that if it’s a friend’s wedding I’ll post the STD on my fridge for two reasons:
1) It reminds me that I need to decide if I want to attend (unless it’s a very close friend/relative, I’m not committing 8 months out. I recognize that may make me a fair-weather friend. Again, for close friends/family, I don’t have a problem committing).
2) It reminds me to get a gift.

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Elizabeth November 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I think you are missing my point, but it’s ok – we can agree to disagree. Social engagements aren’t a zero-sum game, and I’m not talking about skipping a wedding so I can go play Pinochle. My point is that I don’t KNOW what I’ll have going on in 8 months. If I get a paper in a conference, that would trump a lot of other things that I might like to do. Do you live life every moment doing exactly what you’d like and nothing else? No – social engagements are always a mix of pleasure and pain (financial, perhaps), social connection and social obligation. I reject your argument that the only things worth doing are those that one can commit to with whole heart. Further, we have norms for a reason, and doing something way out of the norm can cause stresses on people. What IS etiquette other than the codification of social norms that are built up over time? Etiquette is not religion, it is not handed down from on high. Lastly, my reference to the ‘internet’ was to highly regarded sources like The Knot and Martha Stewart, for example. Hardly Joe Shmo. Sorry, Jerry, I think you just need to concede this one.

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Alicia November 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

How could you not know what you are doing in 8 months. Well lets say you are job hunting (many people are) Hopefully within those 8 months you will have gotten a new job but what is that new job that you do not have yets vacation policy? The job vacation policy could totally change your accepting or declining. If anyone asked me 8 months from now to 100% commit one way or another I would say no. That said there are hundreds of people I would say yes to for 8 weeks away.
Or a woman trying to get pregnant; Many doctors suggest not traveling by air past 6 months. So she might not be pregnant for 2 months yet and still be unable to promise she can or can not attend.

Save the dates 8 months out
Actual invites no more then 10 weeks in advance

People have a hard enough time getting RSVPs when you ask at a time when people know yes or no asking when they have no idea yet and you will either get all nos( to the sadness of you and those guests you corner into saying no) or you will never get a response.

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Winifred Rosenburg November 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Jerry November 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I don’t know that I concede, particularly since you never addressed my second point. In any case, we can agree to disagree with respect to timing. I hope that you join me in agreeing that it comes with particular bad grace to complain about the timing of receiving an invitation, particularly a joyous invitation.

With respect to your question about “social obligation ” that’s not a concept I buy.

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