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We've all been there. You're at an event, wedding or otherwise, and are just plain uncomfortable. Too hot (or cold), strange food, long line for the restroom. You always vowed you'd do things differently at your wedding - and now's your chance. Here's our guide to how to make sure your wedding is memorable for the right reasons.
Think About Your Venue When you’re venue hunting, make sure that you keep your wedding guests’ comfort in mind. Will there be enough room to give your guests breathing room? Is there accessibility for handicapped or elderly guests? What is the climate control and restroom situation? Instead of just picking a venue for its beauty, think about it as though you were a guest.
Give Advance Notice Make sure to give your wedding guests plenty of notice when it comes to your wedding so they can plan accordingly. Save-the-dates should be sent a year in advance if you’re planning a destination wedding in a far-off locale. Six months in advance should suffice for a hometown or local wedding. And invitations should be sent out six to eight weeks in advance of your wedding. Also, make sure that you have a wedding website to provide additional updates.
Make Travel and Accommodations Easy Speaking of your wedding website, use that platform as an easy-to-navigate home base for all of your travel and accommodation information (if there are older guests who aren’t internet savvy, call them yourself or have another relative do so to keep them informed). Reserve a block of rooms at a local hotel or two, so there’s no question about where out-of-towners should stay. Direct them to airlines, train stations, and public transportation routes that will assist them on their journey.
Don’t Over-Ask Your guests want to come to your wedding to see you get married – so don’t make it difficult for them. There’s no need to ask them to wear something super-specific, bring a specific type of gift, or pay for their plate.
Welcome Them in Style Whether you’re hosting many out-of-town wedding guests or just a few, make sure they feel welcomed when they arrive to their lodging. Creating a welcome basket with ample drinks and snacks is great, but even just a kind and gracious handwritten note will suffice.
Keep Them Comfortable If you’re hosting an outdoor wedding, provide shawls or blankets if it’s chilly out and give guests fans and cold drinks if it’s super hot. And if the weather is extremely hot, cold, or just plain inclement, move the ceremony indoors. While you might not have the outdoor ceremony you expected, your guests will thank you.
Strategize Table Assignments Be sure to seat your guests at the tables where they’ll feel most comfortable. For example, put groups of people who know each other together whether they’re in couples or single. And while it’s okay to mix single people and couples, try to avoid seating one or two single person at a table full of couples. And think table placement as well – don’t seat elderly guests right next to the band or DJ.
Feed Them Well Make sure there’s plenty of food and drink for all to enjoy – and consider your guests who may have dietary restrictions or concerns. Most caterers can handle vegetarian, gluten-free, or other requests, so try to honor those whenever possible.
Get Everyone Home Safely You don’t have to provide transportation for your guests, but it’s sure a nice gesture. The goal here to avoid guests drinking and driving, so while having a shuttle bus or van bring guests to the wedding and back to their hotel is your best bet, even just providing a phone number for a taxi company in the welcome bags is appreciated.
Photo by Nancy Aidee Photography
Photo by IQphoto Studio
This may be one of the biggest wedding etiquette stumpers you’ll encounter during your wedding planning experience: How do you determine which of your guests get to bring a plus-one and which do not?
Married or engaged guests or those in a long-term, committed relationship should always be invited together – even if you have never met the spouse or partner. For those guests who are unattached or casually dating, it’s your call. You could nix any plus-ones for your single guests, or you may decide to allow your single wedding party members to bring plus-ones, but no one else. Or you could invite all of your single guests with plus-ones. The most important thing is to make a rule and stand your ground – no exceptions. And be prepared to explain your reasoning in case a guest asks you to bend the rules “just this once.”
If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to allow your single friends to bring a plus-one, it may be worth considering the rest of your guest list – if you’re inviting many couples and there are only a few single guests, you may want to consider inviting them with an “and guest” – they’ll appreciate having the option. But if you have budget or venue capacity constraints, you certainly do not have to invite plus-ones.
Photo by Jonathan Young Weddings
Figuring out where your guests will sit is an important part of wedding planning. Once you have all of your RSVPs and know exactly who’s attending your wedding, you can start creating a seating plan. Here are a few of our top tips!
Assign Tables This is a wedding, not a high school cafeteria! Even if you’re hosting a laid-back and casual wedding, you’ll still want to make sure everyone has an assigned table and doesn’t spend the evening awkwardly hunting around for a seat. While you don’t have to assign guests’ seats at each table, you may do so at more formal weddings. Also, make sure that table assignments are clearly spelled out on escort cards or seating charts.
Types of Tables While round tables are the standard, you may also choose to have your guests sit at long family-style tables or square tables or even cocktail tables! Pick the table shape that suits your style – and guest count – the best. Round tables usually can seat 6 to 10 people, square tables can seat 8, and long tables usually start at eight people, but depending on how much room you have, long tables can seat many more guests!
Sweetheart Table: Yea or Nay? It’s time to answer that important question – do you and your future spouse want your own private table at the wedding or would you prefer to sit with your guests? Some couples prefer to sit a deux to steal a few private moments during the reception, while others feel that a sweetheart table puts them “on display” and would rather sit with family or friends. Decide what suits your style best before moving forward with your seating plan.
Seat Your VIPs Think about your families and wedding party. If you’re not having a sweetheart table, you may sit either with your wedding party or immediate family members from both sides. Couples can seat their wedding party in a variety of ways – but make sure that each wedding party member is seated with his or her date, even if that means breaking the party up over several tables. It’s a nice idea to sit both immediate families together, but you may also give each set of parents’ their own table to sit with their close family or friends.
Consider Guests’ Needs Use common sense – elderly guests should not be seated near the band or speakers, people should be seated near those they know or have something in common with, and children should be seated with or near their parents. Seat younger guests, or those more likely to dance, near the dance floor, while older guests or those who might want to focus more on conversation, further away from the dance floor.
Check out some of our favorite ideas for reception tables and seating here!
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.
Your RSVPs are starting to trickle in. Now it's time to start working on your seating chart - but where do you begin? You'll need a few sheets of paper, a good idea of the table arrangements in your reception hall, and your guest list to get started. Keep in mind, your top priority is to make your guests feel as comfortable as possible and to avoid any potential disasters.
Photo: Monika Greenaway Photography
Do You Need a Seating Chart?
Unless you're planning an intimate wedding, a seating chart is a good idea to avoid confusion and to keep things running smoothly. An informal buffet-style reception is often manageable without seating assignments as well, as long as your guest list isn't too large. In most situations, however, a seating chart and place cards are expected.
Traditionally, the bridal table sits at the front of the reception hall facing the guests. You and your new husband take the seats of honor in the center, while the best man sits beside you and the maid of honor beside your groom. Continue to alternate between bridesmaids and groomsmen to fill the table.
The table closest to the bridal table is typically reserved for both sets of parents, the clergyman and spouse, and other close friends or relatives. Tables are usually seated alternating males and females with couples sitting across from each other at long tables or beside one another when the table is circular.
Remember, these are just traditions, not rules that must be followed. Some couples swap the traditional bridal table for a romantic table for two, while others include the maid of honor and best man's dates, parents, or even officiates and seat the rest of the bridal party with the other guests.
The Most Common Seating MistakesDon't sit some parents at the bridal table unless you can seat them all - including stepparents. Do assign guests to tables where they know someone, but Don't seat all of your guests with only people they've met before. Do pay a responsible preteen guest to ‘baby-sit' if you designate a children's table. Don't try to play matchmaker with your single guests. Do consider your guests personalities and interests while assigning tables.
There's really no right or wrong when it comes to seating arrangements as long as your guests are happy. Keep these tips in mind to avoid problems:
Once you have a rough draft of your seating chart, you can put it away until more RSVPs arrive. Enlist the help of your fiancé or future mother-in-law to assign the best tables to guests you haven't met.