Your Aunt Carole and Uncle Earl have been feuding since the 80s, your last single girlfriend is hypersensitive to being seated at the “wrong” table, and you have one couple coming from out of the country who only know you. Or perhaps your parents are divorced. How can you please everyone? Seating dilemmas have cost brides and grooms many sleepless nights before the big day. You want every guest to feel special, but if you have to rearrange that seating chart one more time, you’re going to lose it. What to do? With a little tact, diplomacy and common sense (along with those deep breathing exercises you learned in yoga), you can create a seating plan that will make almost everyone happy.
Why A Formal Seating Plan?
You may feel that you’re not up to the task of developing a formal seating plan. After all, we’re all adults, right? If you provide enough seats, can’t everyone just figure it out on their own? Those of you who have been to a wedding with no seating plan (and survived the mass trampling) know that no matter how mature everyone appears to be, this type of situation reduces us all to children. Remember the school lunchroom, where everyone desperately vied to sit at the “popular” table? Except for the cafeteria meatloaf, it’s not a whole lot different. Taking the time to develop a plan will greatly reduce anxiety among guests — no one will have to worry about finding a seat.
On the other hand, if your wedding is small, you may not need to develop a seating plan. Speak to your caterer or wedding coordinator to determine this. If not, you might simply designate the bridal table with place cards, and allow the other guests to seat themselves. Some couples opt to have a cocktail party or buffet with a few tables, in hopes that guests will “alternate” sitting and eating. If this is what you plan to do, make sure that your elderly guests have a place to sit down, possibly even by designating a separate table for them.
Who Sits Where?
The Bridal Table
The bride and groom may sit at a long rectangular head table or round table at the focal point of the room, or alternatively, at their very own “sweetheart” table. Some couples choose to have no table at all, but to leave a few seats empty at every table so they can mingle throughout the reception. No matter which configuration you choose, the bridal table is usually set apart from the others by some type of decoration, such as flowers. Classically, the groom sits to the bride’s right and the best man sits to her left. The maid of honor sits to the groom’s right. Depending on how large the table is, the other attendants should be scattered around. In the old days, spouses and significant others were relegated to different tables, but let’s think about that for a minute… It seems rather unfair to separate couples during an entire wedding dinner and dance, so be sensitive. If you can only fit the best man and maid of honor — along with their significant others — at your table, do so. Seat remaining attendants and their “other halves” at another table.
Often, the parents of the bride and groom sit opposite each other at a large family table, with grandparents, the officiant, and other close friends. An alternative is to have the bride and groom’s parents “host” their own tables, consisting of their family members and close friends. In the case of divorced parents, each parent may also host his or her own table, smoothly diffusing any awkwardness or discomfort.
Mix or Match
As for the rest of your guests, should you put friends together or seat them with “new” people? The answer is a bit of both. While it is a great idea to mix in a few new faces at each table, remember that people are most comfortable when they know some of their dinner companions. Be considerate. Not even your most gregarious friend will want to sit at a table full of complete strangers, so put acquaintances together when you can. If you have guests who don’t know anyone, seat them near guests with similar interests. If you have a group of friends that cannot fit at one table, split them down the middle, and fill in each table with other guests. Whatever you do, don’t leave one of the gang out.
If you have no idea what to do with your parents’ friends, let your mother and mother-in-law arrange those tables. They will be thrilled to be involved, and this may keep them from trying to control of the rest of your seating plan.
Singles v. Couples
If you’ve been dying to fix your old roommate up with your fiancé’s cousin, you might take this opportunity to discreetly seat them next to each other. Resist the urge to create a separate “singles” table, though, as this might embarrass your guests. By the same token, don’t seat that unmarried girlfriend at a table full of gushing newlyweds. A little sensitivity and some good old common sense are the best guides.
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.
Place Cards, Escort Cards or Seating Chart?
You’ve finally solved the headache of figuring out where to put everyone, now you must decide how to get them to their seats.
These tented cards can be used alone or with escort cards. Displayed near the entrance of the reception in alphabetical order, they usually include the guest’s name and table number. Once at the table, guests usually select their own seats.
Used in the most formal seating plans, escort cards usually contain the guest’s name on the outer envelope, and their table number on the card inside. Place cards await guests at each table, designating their seats.
The Seating Chart
Usually displayed alphabetically in a pretty frame near the entrance of the reception, seating charts are lists of guests’ names with their designated tables. Additional place cards may be used at each table to designate assigned seats, if you wish.
This is a wedding, not a convention, so skip the name tags, as irresistible as they are (especially plastered onto silk). Your guests are capable of making any introductions you haven’t made previously.
Note: Guests should never alter seating arrangements or “switch seats” at a wedding reception, but it is perfectly acceptable to mingle at different tables after dinner.
Before creating your seating plan, it is a good idea to obtain the floor plan and make several copies. This way, you can experiment with various different arrangements before making your final decision. When in doubt, trust your instincts. And no matter how perfect your final seating plan seems, you will undoubtedly receive at least one last minute phone call begging you to change something to make a guest (read: your mother) happy. Try to be accommodating, but don’t let it make you crazy. It’s your wedding. Besides, why worry? After all, you’re sitting at the popular table.