How should you tackle the topic of seating at your reception? Should you assign a seat for each guests, or just a table? Or perhaps you want to give your guests the freedom to choose where in the reception they want to sit?
If you’re planning on having a plated dinner, assigned tables (and sometimes assigned seating) is a must to help the catering staff serve meals more efficiently (you’ll want to give the caterers a list of your tables and the menu choices of each guest at those tables). If you’re having a buffet or food stations, it’s completely up to you whether you want to designate seating for your guests.
If you decide to have an open-table reception, make sure you reserve tables for you, your wedding party and your families; this can anywhere from two to six tables depending on the size of your wedding party and families. We recommend you place name cards on the reserved tables as well as reserved signs; this will keep Great Aunt Margie from sitting at a spot reserved for your mom’s favorite sister.
If you do decide on designated tables and/or seats, the first thing you need to know is that it will be more difficult than you expect! Brides are always optimistic about this being a quick and easy task; in reality, we rarely hear about it taking LESS than 4 hours to complete. Yep, 4 hours; even longer if you ask moms to help out. But if it’s something you really want to do, don’t shy away too much! Grab a glass (or bottle!) of wine, curl up in front of the television or put on your favorite Pandora station, and have fun with it!
To get you started, we’ve created an easy-to-use spreadsheet to aid you in the process; download it here!
Before you jump in and start filling out names, check with your venue or caterer (whoever is providing the tables) and find out how many guests you can fit at each table. Eight people per table is pretty standard, but sometimes you can get 10 people around a table. If your venue is big enough, go with 8 people per table; tables feel less crowded that way, and smaller tables make cross-table conversations much more likely to happen. The next steps depend on your group. If your friends, family and guests tend to be more on the outgoing side, mix and match by seating four people from your groom’s list with four people from yours! Otherwise it’s always a safe bet to seat groups together based on how they know each other; collage friends at one table, work friends at another, and so on. Know that no matter how much you perfect your seating chart there is a good chance that people will switch tables, and if they do, don’t worry about it! You want your guests to have fun at your wedding, and if sitting at a different table is what it takes to accomplish that, so be it!
Now start thinking about how you want to identify your tables! Table numbers are the simplest and most straightforward approach—just make sure that the table numbers are visible. I was at a wedding recently where the table numbers were painted on small stones and placed on the tables. This was cute and fit well with their theme, but in a reception hall with 22 tables, guests spent a lot of time wandering between tables trying to find the small rock with their magic number on it. If you want to add a more personal spin than numbers on cards, you can name the tables after something meaningful to you: cities that you’ve traveled to together; places you’ve gone on dates; favorite activities to do together; dishes that you both love to cook; the possibilities are endless! You can also go for table names that fit with your theme for the day: if you’re wedding is at a winery, name the tables after different grapes (name the head table Champagne!); if you’re having a beach wedding, name the tables after beach-friendly activities, or after famous beaches around the area and/or world; if your wedding has a Parisian theme, name the tables after different famous sites around Paris…you get the idea.
The last piece you need to consider is how to let your guests know where they’ll be seated. Some couples will post a large list of names and table numbers; others use small, tented name-cards with each guests’ name and table number printed on it; we’ve seen couples print one card for an entire party (aka “Mr. and Mrs. Anderson and kids”), then print the individual’s names on cards at their table. If you really want to go all out, custom-print personal menus so each guest has a menu with their own name on it! However you decide to do it, you should have a large chart or map set up with names and table names/numbers for guests to find, or a small table set aside with the tented name cards on them; you don’t really need both, but can if you want to. Set these up during the cocktail hour so guests can find their table numbers at leisure rather than having a mad rush of everyone at the start of the reception. You can get creative with how to display these too! Word of advice: we’ve seen instances where names are hung from tree branches or something similar; while it looks cool, it can be really difficult for some guests—especially older guests—to find their card. Check out these fun, hand-illustrated ways display seating! If you want to get creative, do so with what you print the cards on, but lay them on a table in alphabetical order to make it easier on your guests.
Once you’ve arranged everyone where you want them on your Excel sheet, save it and print out a few copies: one for your wedding planner, one for the venue, and if you have an outside caterer coming in print out an extra copy or two for them. And just remember, they’re only going to be sitting there while they eat; if you’re worried about how people will get along, just make sure to get everyone out on the dance floor after dinner to party the night away!