Recently we discussed the how-to of conquering the human jigsaw puzzle that is the wedding seating plan. Now we turn to the final piece of that puzzle: the bridal table. Here are some factors you might want to consider, and how we approached the puzzle at the Reflective Wedding.
These days there are many ways that you can approach the arrangement of the bridal table, also known as the head table. You could have a separate “sweetheart” table for just the bride and groom (see below), or the newlyweds could be joined by others – like their bridesmaids and groomsmen – at the head table. This then raises the question of where the partners of your bridal party will sit; do they sit with their dates at the bridal table, or out at the other tables with the guests? Also, should both the bride’s and groom’s parents (or other family) be at the head table, in addition to or instead of the bridal party?
Some important factors to consider when deciding on the head table are:
• What table sizes and shapes does your wedding reception venue offer? If your event space only provide round tables that fit 8-10 people, you may not have capacity at your head table for family or a large bridal party.
• How many guests do you have at your wedding? If you’re planning a small wedding, a large bridal table might not leave many guests to sit at the other tables.
• Are there any politics to consider? For example, if your parents are divorced and don’t get along, or if there might be drama among the bridal party, it might not be the best idea to seat those people together… and especially not on display at the front of the room.
• How much time do you want to spend with your guests, versus quality time with each other in your first hours as husband and wife? If the latter is most important, a sweetheart table might be the solution for you. However, note that a sweetheart table communicates to your guests that you are indeed prioritizing time alone together, and guests may be reluctant to approach you during the dinner.
So here are how things went down during the planning for the Reflective Wedding. My husband and I are from different countries; we live in his country, which is on the other side of the world to my home, where the wedding would be hosted. Because of the distance we only return home to my country once every 18 months or so, so we knew that we didn’t want a separate sweetheart table… We absolutely wanted to chat and catch up with our guests, since we see some of them so rarely, and didn’t want an isolated table of our own discouraging friends and family from approaching us.
In my groom’s country, weddings are rather formal and more focused on family rather than friends. As such, in his culture it is traditional for the parents to take centerstage at the head table along side the bride and groom, and for the bridal party to be on the outer edges – if they are at the head table at all. Grandparents plus aunts and uncles could also join. And, my groom added, the seating order should alternate man/woman; tradition dictates that he and I sit together, with the father of the groom beside me and the mother of the bride beside him. “Do you mean that you want one of us to sit beside my mother?” I asked incredulously. “She’ll be criticizing the food and music all night, and complaining about how tired she is. She’ll get on our nerves and make us both miserable at our big day.”
So that quickly became a moot point! We realized that if one set of parents is being removed from the bridal table, then the other pair would also have to go – so that it wouldn’t be too conspicuous. And if our parents would not be seated at the head table, then we couldn’t very well have grandparents and aunts or uncles there. As a result, we settled on just having the bridal party with us at the bridal table.
Next arose the next question of whether to include partners of the bridal party at the head table. Of our four bridal party members, two were single, one was taken but her date couldn’t come to the wedding, so only one member would have a partner there for our big day. As this would mean adding only one extra person to the bridal table, we thought that it might look a little random – and maybe rub in the fact that the others didn’t have dates there. Skipping plus-ones would mean our bridal table would consist of six of us. This also suited us well for our total number of guests; we had originally hoped for 80-100 friends and family to join us, but our RSVP numbers eventually put us at only 66 (the challenge of having a wedding on the other side of the world). Keeping our bridal table small meant that we would have more people sitting out at the guest tables, helping us avoid our wedding looking smaller than it already would be.
So we now knew who would be at our bridal table… the next question, to our surprise, was where. We had assumed a long table across the front of the room. However, during a site inspection, our wedding venue manager suggested another configuration: that the bridal party is seated in the middle of the room, at another round table like our guests. That way, we would be very approachable to our guests, because we would be seated among them. We liked the idea of being more accessible to our guests, but at the same time just being at another round table like everyone else didn’t feel very… special. As such, we stuck to our plan of a long table across the front of the room.
Another variation on the bridal-party-seated-among-the-guests approach, which I read about in a wedding magazine, was not having a head table at all. Instead, the bridal party could be scattered at tables throughout the room, so that all the guests feel a bit special by having one of the esteemed bridal party at their table. That would make the bride and groom super approachable for guests! But then, the Reflective Groom and I discussed, wouldn’t the guests feel not so special if they got a bridesmaid or groomsman at their table rather than the newlyweds? Could the newlyweds rotate tables throughout the night so that everyone got a chance to dine with them? Would we then have to remember to bring our own cutlery and glasses with us everywhere we go throughout the meal? And the Reflective Groom and I would obviously know all the guests at the wedding, but would the rotating bridal party have to repeat the same small talk with strangers at every new table? We dismissed that idea and stuck with our plans for a long head table at the front.
The last question then was the order we would sit in at the head table, with our three bridesmaids and best man. My groom again pointed out that we should be sitting boy-girl-boy-girl, but the over-representation of females at the table meant that would not work so well. Also, he did not seem super enthused about spending the evening beside one of my best friends when he could be sitting with his own best friend… So we settled on the best man next to him, and the bridesmaids next to me.
I then needed to decide on the order of the bridesmaids. One bridesmaid lives in my groom’s country so I see her all the time; the other two are in my home country. As such, it made sense for the bridesmaid from my groom’s country to sit furthest away from me, so that I could spend more time with the other two. However, of those other two, one is prone to being critical and short-tempered, so – much as I love her to bits – I might find it too stressful to sit next to her during the wedding. As such, she sat in the middle of the bridesmaids, with the calmer friend from my home country right beside me. This order worked well, because it sat the two bridesmaids sitting furthest from me closer to the lectern, and they were the ones that would be giving the speech together at the reception. I told them that this simple matter of speech logistics was the reason for the seating order, to avoid anyone wondering why they weren’t sitting next to the bride.
And so how did those plans for our bridal table turn out? Tune in next week for the post on “After”!