Decided to do assigned seating for guests at your wedding reception, but not sure where to start? Look no further! Here is a step-by-step guide to wading through one of the most logistically challenging waters of wedding planning: assigning guests spots in the seating plan.
Not sure if you want to assign a seat to each and every guest, or just assign a table or do open seating? Check out Part 1 on the different seating approach, and the pros and cons of each..
Once you know how many guests can fit at each table, divide that by your total number of guests to determine how many tables you will need in total. Confirm with your reception venue that this number of tables will fit comfortably in the reception space (along with a head/bridal table, dancefloor, stage for the band, cake buffet and any other areas that will eat up space), and find out the measurements of the room and these extra amenities (see above).
Before you begin the human jigsaw puzzle of putting all your guests at particular tables, decide who will be seated at the head/bridal table, as those people will be separate from your bigger discussion of guest tables. Will you and your new spouse have a “sweetheart table” for just the two of you? Will the newlyweds plus the bridesmaids and groomsmen be at the bridal table? Will parents or other family members sit there? Will spouses of those people be seated with them at the head table, or at the guest tables? Once you know who is at your bridal table, you can see how many guests still need to be arranged at the guest tables.
If those questions don’t resolve the friends vs strangers dilemma for you, riddle me this: how do you feel at weddings when you are seated with strangers? If you feel strongly one way or the other, it’s highly likely your friends and family will have the same opinion. (Speaking for myself, the weddings where you have to force small talk strangers while longing to see your friends are the most dull nuptials I’ve been to.) If you do decide to mix people up, at least don’t force the two people in a couple apart; this is particularly awkward for plus-ones who may not know anyone else at the wedding. Even if you decide on the friends approach, it won’t be possible to always seat guests with other people they know; it’s highly likely there will be one couple who doesn’t know anyone else attending, or that you’ll have 12 school friends attending but only space at each table for 10.
Unless all your single buddies have asked you to matchmake, do not – repeat, DO NOT – have a singles table. Once conversation gets going, they will quickly realize they’re all unattached. Some people not in relationships can find weddings a little depressing, and singling out the singles might only make them feel worse. If you’re seating guests with people they know, let the singles sit with their friends and family; if you’re mixing everyone up, scatter the singles amongst all the tables. If a few solo wedding guests have asked for a match or you secretly want to play cupid, seat those targets together, but also alongside other attached guests.
There are many websites that offer free seating plan tools, or – offline – you can make drawings (with an eraser at the ready) or put each guest’s name on a post-it note. I’m not a very visual person, so for me it was easiest to put guest names into an Excel file in the approximate layout of the reception room.
If you’re seating guests with people they know, start with the “easiest” tables. Let me explain… At the Reflective Wedding, my groom’s family totaled eight. Since our tables could fit 7-10, that was one table sorted. Boom! My groom’s school friends plus wives? Nine guests. Boom and boom! My college friends tallied 15, for one table of 7 and one of 8. That was four of our seven tables covered, so we were more than halfway. (This is why you start at the easy end, so you feel earlier like you’re progressing!)
Soon you’ll hit a point where the group sizes are not a perfect match to the table sizes. Here, you’ll simply have to match one group with another so that they add up suitably. You could match them by age (young’uns with young’uns) or how you know them (groom’s football friends and bride’s hockey friends), so they have a little something in common.
Mixing up your guests to meet new people? You have two options for arranging them: randomly, like drawing names out of hat (less time-consuming) and assuming everyone will socialize well on the day, or matching people to who you think they’d get along with. Are their two guests with the same humor who’d get along like a house on fire? Do you have friends who work in the same industry? Are some guests very involved in church? Any common ground can help get conversation going, for a nicer dinner atmosphere..
When it comes to deciding exactly who sits in what chair, again you can approach it randomly or plan it out. If you’re planning it all out, go by table. Start with one person/couple and figure out who they know best and would get along best with, out of the people assigned to that table. Continue from that second person or couple and who they’d be best next to, and keep going until you finish the table. Unsure who a guest would most like to sit with? Just ask them! For example, I have one university friend who’d moved abroad and not seen the rest of the group for eight years; I simply asked her who she’d most like to catch up with, and put them together. I also asked my mother if she’d prefer to sit beside her mother, cousin or sister-in-law, and took it from there.
If you have two groups sitting at one table, like I did with my younger family members and friends from my groom’s country, seat the more outgoing guests on the edge of each group, to get conversation flowing more easily. Or if your brothers and sisters do know some of your school friends, make them the buffer zone between the two groups.
If you want to get really fancy, formal wedding etiquette says that guests should be seated boy-girl-boy-girl, and within any couples the male should be seated on the left of the female. We did this because it’s traditional in my groom’s culture, but of course it doesn’t work so well at a table full of your girlfriends from school. I would advise against this extra step, unless formal wedding etiquette is particularly important to you or your guests; but if you are pursuing it, only enforce it where relevant.
Now you know who is seated at each table, but where exactly is that table in relation to the room? The standard approach is to seat family toward the front, closest to the bridal table. If you have a group seated across two tables (like how my college friends took up two tables), place those tables next to each other so the two groups can still make contact easily.
Other than that you should consider if your guests have any special needs that should dictate their location. Tables with pregnant guests should be closest to the bathrooms, tables with deaf guests might prefer to be by an amplifier, your master of ceremonies should be near the microphone so they don’t have to run across the room every time they have to introduce the next speaker, and mothers who have to get up often for a walk because of a bad back should be by the exit. (All these were considerations at the Reflective Wedding!)
Outside or at the entrance to your reception room should be information for guests about where they are seated. If you are assigning guests to tables (but not to particular chairs), escort cards with their name and table number is sufficient, like these fun pinwheels. If you are assigning guests to chairs, their name card must be on the table so they can find the exact spot they’ve been allocated… so escort cards would just require double work. For assigned tables or assigned chairs, you can display a list of who is at which table. Adding a diagram of where the table is in the room will help guests find their spot faster, and/or you could place large numbers on each table so that guests can easily see their table from across the room.