Seating Your Wedding Guests – Etiquette and Other Handy Tips
Your Aunt and Uncle have been fighting since the 90s, your last single friend is hypersensitive to being seated at the “wrong” table, and you have one couple coming from out of the country who only know you and your fiancé. What to do? Not to fear, with these simple tips you can create a seating plan that will make just about everyone happy!
For many couples, the seating chart is one of the most dreaded and stressful parts of wedding planning. It usually starts off easy, but can quickly become complicated (and emotional!) once it’s underway. This is because by nature, seating charts have to be finalized and made at the very end of the wedding planning process (after your all of your RSVPs have arrived) right when you have a ton of other stuff on your plate. Plus, they’re not something you can delegate to someone else (although your parents certainly can help and we recommend involving them in this process for certain groups). So to help make the seating-plan process easier, and less stressful, we have come up with some handy tips, tricks, and etiquette reminders that we hope will make this task easier for everyone involved.
• Begin by grouping guests according to how you know them: family members and friends from different aspects of life (childhood, high school, college, work, etc.).
• Seat younger guests closer to the dance floor and older guests a little further away.
• Use your seating plan to introduce people with similar interests and backgrounds. Try to make everyone feel comfortable by offering a mix of familiar and new faces at each table.
• Be tactful: Avoid seating people together who have a history they wish they could forget.
• Skip the “singles” table: If you’ve been dying to fix your old co-worker up with your cousin, you might take this opportunity to discreetly seat them next to each other. But resist the urge to create a separate “singles” table, which might embarrass your guests. Also, don’t seat your unmarried friend at a table full of married couples—use your best judgement and try to be sensitive to guests’ feelings.
• Designate a kids’ table: If you have several children at your wedding, seat them together at a separate kids’ table. If your flower girl and ring bearer are the only children present, seat them with their parents.
Decide if you want a “head table” or a “sweetheart table.”
Usually, the bride and groom opt to sit at the center of a long rectangular or round “head table” with their wedding-party. Traditionally the “head table” is set up along a wall, facing all the other reception tables with the bride and groom sitting in the middle and wedding party members on either side (flower girls and ring bearers typically sit with their parents though).
While many bridal couples decide to sit this way, you can also plan a sweetheart table (meant just for two) for a little one-on-one time. If you opt to go this route then you can plan to seat your wedding party at their own table(s) along with their significant others.
Assigning specific seats is optional.
Unless you’re having a very formal reception (or have chosen to have a plated dinner over a buffet style), assigning guests to tables but not to specific seats at those tables is totally fine — they’ll be able to choose a seat on their own. However, if you do decide to assign seats, keep in mind that you’re going to need both escort cards/clearly marked seating chart (which get displayed at the reception entrance and tell your guests their table number) and place cards (which are already displayed on the table and tell you which seat is yours).
With assigned tables you only need escort cards or, a large seating chart listing everyone’s names and table numbers.
Yes, you should assign tables.
While we certainly understand that you may feel like skipping a formal seating plan, especially when you have so much to do at the end of your planning process! We don’t recommend it. Taking the time to develop a thoughtful seating plan will save guests from experiencing high-school cafeteria flashbacks and ensure that everyone feels welcome and comfortable.
The only scenarios where you can get away with not having a seating plan is if your reception is more intimate (50 guests or fewer), or if you’re having a cocktail party-style reception where guests can mix and mingle on their own. (Just make sure your elderly guests have a place to sit down.) Otherwise, for the majority of weddings, assigning your guests to tables is the simplest, most straightforward way to organize your reception.
Create a Spread Sheet and/or paper trail
Create a spreadsheet on your computer and insert columns categorizing all your invitees by relationship: bride’s friend, bride’s family, groom’s friend, groom’s family, bride’s family friend, groom’s family friend etc. This way, you’ll be able to easily sort the list and break it down into more logical table assortments. Then all you’ll need to do is separate these lists into distinct tables.
However, if you’re feeling more low-tech, draw circles (for tables) on a large sheet of paper and write names inside them. Or you could write every guest’s name on a sticky note and place it accordingly.
Enlist your parents’ help.
If you have no idea where to seat your parents’ friends or even some family members, let your parents help you arrange those tables — they’ll be happy to be involved. It will also help keep your parents feeling involved by allowing them to arrange where, and who, their friends (and other family you are not sure about) with.
The Parents Table
Speaking of parents… Traditionally, both sets of parents sit at the same table, along with grandparents, siblings not in the wedding party, and the officiant and his/her spouse if they attend the reception. However, if either of your parents are divorced, and are uncomfortable about sitting next to each other, you might want to let each set of parents host their own table of close family and/or friends. This could mean up to four parents’ tables, depending on your situation — or you can always have the parent who raised you (or your partner) and his/her spouse/date sit at the table with still-married parents. (Yes this part can be confusing and stressful we know!) Thankfully, the parent-seating question is a flexible one. Set it up in whatever way best suits everybody. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to talk to your parents about it before you make the final decision.
And finally… When in doubt, trust your instincts. And remember that no matter how perfect you think your final seating plan is, you will undoubtedly receive at least one last minute phone call begging you to change something to make a guest happy. Try to be accommodating, but don’t let it make you crazy. Chances are, after the dinner, everyone will want to get up and mingle and dance anyway.