Your wedding reception is the ultimate party. It’s a celebration of love and commitment, shared with those who love you most. Plus, it will most likely be your only opportunity to laugh and dance and nibble on delicacies while garbed in the finest clothing your credit card can finance. So you want everyone to have a great time. And in your efforts to make your guests happy, you should not overlook the seating chart. No one wants to end up sitting alone, shut out of the conversations around them. And while you may be friends with a couple long since broken up, just because they want to support you doesn’t mean they want to sit together. If your guests are at ease at the reception, the party will thrive.
The Wedding Reception Must-Haves: Before You Begin
Before making any seating-placement decisions, be sure to know your venue’s floor plan, your guest list (after the RSVPs return), and the shapes and sizes of the tables you’ll be using. Most venues should be able to provide you with a plan of some sort. Take note of where your head table will be, where the dance floor is, and if tables will have to be moved to make room for dancing. Also be prepared for changes to your reception up until two weeks before the wedding, as your guest list will most certainly change.
Wedding Receptions: When You Don’t Need a Seating Plan
If your wedding reception has less than 20 guests, or if your guests all know each other, you can get away without a seating chart. Of course, if there’s no formal sit-down meal, you can also choose to just have casual seating arrangements without place cards. You may still want a head table set apart, along with a table designated for elderly guests or those in need of special consideration.
The Wedding Reception: About to Begin
This is one part of the planning that suits parental (and parent-in-law) input. It’s likely that the parents will know some guests better than you and may have some inside knowledge of family politics. So if anyone knows not to put Uncle Bob next to Great Aunt Sue, they would. Once you have your planning team, choose your method of chart making. Today, there are endless creative options when mapping out seating charts. Some like to physically move around cards or strips of paper with each guest’s name scrawled across them. Others use labeled poker chips. For the technologically savvy (or those without huge solid surfaces to sprawl out plans-in-the-making), spreadsheets are a great option. Wedding-planning software is the new thing; use a simple program to design (and redesign) your layout. Be flexible and creative as you start out.
Before you seat your guests, seat yourself. There are no longer any steadfast rules for seating at the head table. You may want your entire bridal party with you; you may opt for just the maid of honor and best man. Determine if you want the maids on one side and the men on the other, or if you want them paired. And since it’s your wedding, you can switch it up with parents and grandparents at the table, or just a sweetheart table for the two of you. Find an arrangement that best suits you as a couple, and try to make sure you’re visible to guests who will undoubtedly want to be staring at you and taking your picture all evening. The rest of the seating will revolve around the placement of this table.
Parents and Family
The general rule is to place family closest to the head table. Depending on the size of your wedding reception, you may place all the parents together or divide them by family. If your parents are divorced, consider letting each parent host his/her own table. You don’t want to promote awkwardness. Have your parents and grandparents closest to the head table, with the rest of the family spreading out from there. Don’t feel obligated to keep family groups strictly together; cousins may prefer sitting together rather than with their parents. And your aunts and uncles may prefer sitting with their siblings over sitting with their adult children. Instead of a table consisting solely of one family group, find a way to promote some interfamily mingling.
Wedding Reception Special Considerations
Consider the needs of your elderly, disabled, and super-young guests as you plan your seating. If tables will be moved to make room for the dance floor, try not to seat those who require seating at those particular tables, as you don’t want to displace them. Make sure that guests using walkers or wheelchairs have easy access to their tables and the exit. When in doubt, inquire in advance as to how you can best serve their needs.
If you choose to have children at your wedding reception, you have a few options. You can seat them together (strategically supervised), hosting them at a fun kids’ table. This can be a relief to parents and other guests who don’t want to babysit all evening. Offer little activities to keep them occupied and involved. Some would warn against this, especially if the children are young, loud, or unfamiliar with each other. You don’t want a crowd of kids distracting the rest of the guests. Seating them with their parents might be more favorable. Just make sure that you keep guests who are unimpressed with little ones at a different table. Kids fit in best with people who love kids.
Friends will make up the majority of your remaining guests. For starters, divide these friends into groups: coworkers, college friends, neighbors, etc. The trick is finding a balance between seating groups of friends together and encouraging mingling with new people. If you have a group of inseparable friends from your school days, by all means, seat them together. But if the group is too large for their own table, divide them into half tables, seating them with other guests. Never place a sole outsider with a tight-knit group. You want to make the evening comfortable for everyone; avoid situations where people will feel excluded. If you have a friend coming who doesn’t know anyone, try to introduce him or her to an outgoing friend before the wedding. When you do seat strangers together, match them according to similar interests. You may be tempted to play matchmaker with a singles table. Be careful. It’s probably best to have a mix of couples and singles. Yes, you can be strategic. But don’t be so obvious that it’s uncomfortable. Single people at weddings are very aware that they’re single. You don’t need to remind them.
Let Them Know
Once you have a plan, you need to determine how you’re going to inform your guests of this perfect seating arrangement. The more formal the reception, the more specific you’ll end up being. Some insist on individual place cards at each table, with chair assignments (not just table seating). In this case, you’ll seat dates next to each other, alternating males and females at round tables. Rectangular tables often have dates facing each other. In most cases, you’ll be assigning people to tables. Near your venue’s entrance (or in a very obvious place), have a list of your guests in alphabetical order. Some have a literal list; others use this as an opportunity to be creative. You want to make it simple for guests to find their names; a table number, then, will be associated with each name. Resist the urge to pin up a map of the reception venue with names scattered on it. You don’t want a crowd of people swarming at a chart, desperately trying to find their places.
After you’ve finalized your plan and created place cards, let it go. People will sit and eat and have fun; don’t stress once it’s out of your hands. Have some extra tables and chairs available in case you have more guests than anticipated, set out a table for the DJ and photographer, and watch your loved ones mingle and celebrate your awesome commitment to the love of your life.