Creating a seating plan for your wedding reception can be one of the most harrowing things about planning a wedding. Luckily the smallest and most informal wedding receptions don’t need ordered seating arrangements of any kind, but for larger and more formal receptions, you do need to provide some order if you’d like to avoid the chaos of 300 people trying to choose their own seats. Here’s how you do it.
There are two types of assigned seating: assigned tables and assigned seats.
If you’re serving a buffet or a semiformal sit-down meal, assigned tables are the way to go. You should have a table set up near the front door with a place card for every guest, arranged alphabetically by last name. Include on the place card the table number that guest is assigned to. Arrange the table numbers in the middle of each table. Be sure they’re large enough to be read fairly easily from both sides of the room. And number the tables in a logical order so your guests don’t have to hunt for their assigned table. It’s helpful to place a simple diagram of the room with the table numbers clearly marked next to the place cards at the entrance to the reception room.
If you’re having a very formal reception and would like to have assigned seating, you must provide a seating chart—one at each entrance to the reception hall, if possible—that lists the guests alphabetically with the table number where they’re assigned.
Individual name cards should then be placed above the dessert spoon and fork at each table setting, with the table number prominently displayed at the center of each table. Again, make it as easy as possible for your guests to find their seat.
On the place cards, use first and last names. Also, write the guest’s name on both sides of the card so people sitting across from them can see who they’re talking to.
When deciding who should sit where, keep the big picture in mind and use common sense. It might not be wise to sit your alcoholic uncle right next to the bar. And your grandmother probably won’t be very comfortable right in front of the DJ’s booth and speakers. Here are some general rules of thumb:
The first few tables often are easy to fill; grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are natural choices for shared tables. But then it gets harder. Consider interests, personalities, and ages when assigning strangers to dine together. You can mix guests of the groom and guests of the bride. Seat single guests together, but try to avoid an exclusively single-guest table, as that might make your single friends feel like outcasts. Instead, seat a few single friends at a table with a few of their married friends, if possible.
If you have 12 college pals to seat at tables for 10, split them evenly between two tables, and at each of those tables assign 2 couples who know each other, preferably ones who are near in age to your college friends, too.
If you’re inviting children and many are similar ages, you can seat them together at a kids’ table. But keep their parents at tables close by.
At wedding receptions, your guests’ attention will be directed to you throughout the night so, you should be seated at a head table that is centrally located and easily seen from all corners of the room.
If you prefer to share your head table with your honor attendants, the two of you should sit next to each other with the best man seated next to the bride and the maid of honor seated next to the groom. If you have more than those two attendants, seat the rest of the attendants around the table in groomsman-bridesmaid-groomsman fashion. Junior honor attendants typically sit with their parents, not at the head table. If you have both a maid and matron of honor, seat the maid of honor next to the groom and the matron of honor between two groomsmen at the same table.
This type of head table traditionally is raised from the floor and the entire bridal party sits facing the guests. Although some consider this setup a bit dated, it is in keeping with tradition and is a fine choice if that’s what you’d like.
You may also choose to have a four-person head table just for you, your spouse, the best man, and the maid of honor. If so, the rest of the attendants should be seated at a table beside yours. Seating their spouses with them is optional and usually depends on how many seats you have per table.
Yet another option for a head table is to sit with your spouse and both sets of parents. This is rarely done but works well for small, intimate receptions.
If seating parents at a separate table, the parents of the bride and groom may be seated at the same table, along with the wedding officiant and his or her spouse. You could also seat both sets of parents at separate head tables with their respective family members. Both of these tables should be front and center, the closest to the bride and groom’s head table. Unless they have an unusually healthy relationship, seat divorced parents at separate tables with their respective friends and family.
Tradition states that because the bride’s parents are hosting the party, they sit at opposite ends of the table. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, though.
This may all seem overwhelming, but once you start planning out the seating chart with these tips, things will fall into place fairly easily. For more wedding information, check out our Quick Guides Diamonds 101: Cut, Color, Clarity, and More, and Choosing the Proper Wording for Your Wedding Invitations. Good luck!
From The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Wedding Etiquette by Robyn S. Passante