Seating Guests at Wedding Receptions

Wedding reception seats

I’ve previously discussed Five Things to Remember When Planning a Wedding. Here’s one more to consider: how to seat your guests. The bridal party is traditionally seated at an elevated, rectangular table in the front of the room. The day is all about them, after all. The parents of the bride and groom are seated nearby. For everyone else, it’s kind of a free-for-all, unless you plan the seating arrangement yourself.

If your wedding is small, you may not need to plan seating arrangements. However, if the reception is going to be large, organizing where everyone sits is something to at least consider.

Planned Seating

Ideally, planned seating guarantees every guest will be able to sit at a table full of people they know and like. Without a plan, some people may find the only open seats are with a bunch of strangers. Also, if there’s an unfortunate feud between certain guests, planned seating ensures they don’t end up at the same table…or even the same side of the room, if you so choose.

If a caterer is serving a plated meal, and the guests chose from multiple options when they RSVPed, planned seating makes it easier for servers to correctly deliver meals. With unplanned seating, name tags indicating meal choices are left at the entrance and guests bring them to their seats. If the tag gets lost, things get complicated.

Table nnumbered at wedding reception
Centerpieces include a number for each table so guests can find assigned seats.

The most common way of organizing planned seating is to post an alphabetical list of guests at the entrance, with each guest assigned a number. Tables then bear corresponding numbers so guests can find their seats.

Unplanned Seating

The biggest plus of unplanned seating is convenience for whoever is planning the wedding. Large weddings can mean organizing hundreds of people. And heaven forbid you miss someone who then has to be awkwardly fit in somewhere.

Planned seating also implies you know best about who should sit with whom. Your guests are adults. Shouldn’t they be able to figure it out for themselves? Maybe they want to better know a cousin they don’t see often. Maybe there’s a feud you don’t know about. Unplanned seating gives guests the freedom to choose their dinner companions.

Setting cards on a table at wedding reception
For unplanned seating, setting cards bear each person’s name and something to indicate their meal choice. They will place it at their chosen seat.

If you are going with unplanned seating, make sure the few seats which are assigned are clearly marked. While the bridal table is usually obvious, the parents’ table is not.

However you arrange seating, make sure you have a plan well in advance. Like most choices involved in a wedding, decisions should not be made at the last moment. It may impact other aspects of the wedding, such as how the caterer approaches serving the meal, so it’s best to have plans ready well in advance.

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