When the wedding guest list is done, venue chosen and ceremony planned, one touchy task remains: assigning seats for the reception meal.
Don’t wait until crunch time to begin, wedding planners say. And don’t throw up your hands and not do it at all.
“Walking into a sea of tables without a seat assignment can feel like walking into the cafeteria on the first day of school,” says Susan Graham of Signature Events in Atlanta.
“It’s very important to the flow of the event,” agrees Gina Cramer of Make It Happen Events in Des Moines, Iowa.
So unless your reception is lounge-style grazing with food stations and no dining tables, buckle down and figure out who’s going to sit where.
“Assigned seating makes for less chaos,” says Maria Lindsay of Maria Lindsay Weddings and Events in Orange County, Calif. “A lot of thought goes into it. It can be challenging.”
Both bride’s and groom’s sides work together on seating. Where a guest’s table is in the room is important. Center your VIP tables (parents, grandparents, close family) in front of the head table, giving them the best view of bride, groom and wedding party. Don’t place older guests in front of the band or DJ. Consider single guests: Would he or she like to sit with relatives or other singles the same age? College buddies might appreciate being close to the bar. Seat co-workers on the outskirts of the room, but together.
“Place your guests where they’re most comfortable,” Cramer says. “You never want to put grandma in front of an amplifier, and I’ve seen it done.”
Any strained relationships? If Uncle Dave doesn’t get along with Uncle Mike, separate them by a few tables. Ditto for divorced parents, while keeping them equally centered on the head table. “Usually guests put differences aside for that day,” Cramer says. “But small things can be done to help.”
Have a few extra chairs on hand. It’s typical for guest lists to change the night before and the day of the wedding, with a few positive RSVPs dropping out or other guests suddenly able to attend. Or someone shows up with an unexpected date.
A FEW TIPS
Know the maximum and minimum number of guests you can have at each table, given style and size of chairs.
Start with a stack of blank paper; each sheet represents one table. Write each guest’s name on a single Post-it note. Start grouping the guests, moving Post-its as needed, to create harmonious tablemates.
Your guest list is likely already in a spreadsheet, with columns for title and first name, last name, number of guests in party and special needs (such as highchair, wheelchair, vegan, food allergy). Add a column for table number.
Work on seat assignments as RSVPs come in. Your plan should be nearly complete a week before the wedding.
“There are countless creative ways to communicate seating assignments to guests as they enter the reception,” Graham says. Consider a traditional escort card, with guest’s name, table number, and indication of special meal if necessary, in elegant calligraphy laid on a linen-covered table with floral arrangement. For one seaside wedding, instead of escort cards Graham used white capiz shells displayed on sand, with guests’ names and table numbers stenciled on the shells. “Look to Pinterest and your imagination to make this a show-stopping element,” Graham says.
Don’t need place cards? Use a board on an easel. Either way, arrange alphabetically by guest’s last name, followed by his or her table number. “Do not list Table 1, 2 and so on, followed by names of guests at that table,” Cramer says. “That will take guests a very long time to find their name.”
Remember to relax. It’s meant to be fun.
“I tell my brides, this is your first wedding,” Cramer says. “But I’m lucky enough to do this almost every weekend.”
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