How to Assign Seats for Your Wedding Reception

You’d be amazed by how many couples I've heard say creating a seating chart for their reception was one of the most challenging aspects of wedding planning for them!

Do You Need Assigned Seating?

When to Skip the Seating Chart

Some couples don't bother with assigned seating. If you’re having a cocktail reception or serving a buffet dinner to less than 50 guests, you could get by without a seating chart. Think about what would make your guests comfortable. For example, my wedding reception was in a state park with a self-serve buffet, giant picnic tables, and a loose schedule. A seating chart wouldn’t have made any sense in that laid-back setting. 

When Not to Skip the Seating Chart

While it can be challenging to create a seating chart, sometimes there may be more issues if you don’t take the time to do it. If you have more than 100 guests, just the right amount of seats, or a sit-down dinner, there is likely to be some confusion if there are no assigned tables.

  • People are used to finding an assigned table when they go to a wedding reception. When there aren’t assigned tables, I’ve seen guests wander around in confusion, trying to find their escort card.
  • Valuable reception time can be wasted if families can’t find seats together and are trying to switch chairs around with other guests. (This can also be stressful and embarrassing.)
  • It will be easier for waitstaff to serve entree options if they already know where the chicken people are sitting and where the vegan people are sitting.

Assigning Seats vs. Tables

If your servers need to know exactly where each guest is sitting, you will have to take the time to assign and label every seat with a place card for each guest’s name. In most cases, it’s more than sufficient to assign just tables, and allow your guests to choose their own seats. You won’t need any labels on the table other than the table number. You’ll write each guest’s name and table number on an escort card, which guests will pick up on their way into the reception.

When Should You Start Your Seating Chart?

While assigning seats comes later in the planning process, you don't have to put it off until the last minute. Set your RSVP date 3 weeks before the wedding so that you have plenty of time to round up straggler RSVPs and assign tables. Having a final guest count sooner than later will also be helpful for your caterer and venue manager.

Table Info

Your venue will be able to tell you how many tables you can fit in their space. Don't forget, guests and servers need room to walk between tables. You’ll need about 5 feet between each table, which may sound like a lot, but it’s not once chairs are pushed out.

An even number of people should be at each table, if possible. Below is the typical number of guests that can fit at various tables, but be sure to confirm with your venue or rental provider:

Rectangle Tables:

  • 4-6 guests: 30" x 48"
  • 6-8 guests: 30" x 72"
  • 8-10 guests: 30" x 96"

Round Tables:

  • 4 guests: 36" 
  • 6 guests: 54" 
  • 8 guests: 60" 
  • 10 guests: 72" 

Head Table

There are many ways you can choose to arrange your head table. Here are a few ideas:

  • Long rectangle head table consisting of the bride, groom, and the wedding party, while the ring bearer, flower girl, and plus-ones of the wedding party sit at a regular dinner table (Consider whether the wedding party’s plus-ones would feel more comfortable sitting at a table together, or spread out at tables with other people they already know.)
  • Long rectangle head table consisting of the bride, groom, the wedding party, and their plus-ones
  • Small sweetheart table consisting of the bride and groom, while the wedding party sits at regular dinner tables (This can provide a few minutes of alone time during your busy wedding day.) 
  • Small head table consisting of the bride, groom, maid-of-honor, and best man, with or without their plus-ones
  • Small head table, consisting of the bride, groom, and their parents

How to Organize Your Table Assignments

WeddingWire does have an online seating tool, but if you’re like me, you’ll prefer to see everything right out in front of you, and be able to easily move it around with your hands. I recommend using some notebook paper and small sticky notes. This makes sorting and rearranging super quick and easy.

Step 1: Write Down All of Your Guests' Names

Look at your guest list, and jot down one guest name per sticky note.

Step 2: Organize the Guests by Relationships/Commonalities

Label one piece of notebook paper each with a different relationship to you or your fiancé. For example, one page will say, “Childhood friends of the bride,” another will say “college friends of the groom,” etc. Then, fill up those pages with guest name sticky notes. All of your dad's co-workers will be on one page, while your volleyball team is on another page. It’s helpful to see how people are connected to each other before you try to break them into tables. 

Step 3: Divide Your Guests Into Tables

Once you’ve sorted your guests into groups, you should have a good idea of common relationships and interests, and you'll be able to divide your guests into tables. Grab some more blank notebook paper and label one page each as “table 1,” “table 2,” and so on. You can start moving guests from their group papers to the table number papers, and rearrange as much as you need to.

Once you’ve finalized your arragement, you can copy the assigned table numbers onto your guest list and make your escort cards.

Tips for Deciding Where People Should Sit

What Does Tradition Say?

Traditionally, the bride and groom’s parents, grandparents, siblings (if they’re not already sitting at the head table), and the officiant would sit at a table or two together. They would sit close to the bride and groom’s table, and be served dinner right after the bride and groom. If your parents are divorced, you could talk with them about who they would enjoy sitting with, such as close relatives or friends. If possible, seat younger guests closer to the dance floor, and older folks farther from the DJ's loud speakers.

Ask for Input

Something that could help you get started is to ask some of the people you know for their seating preferences. Asking for input will especially be helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to seat your parents’ friends.

Play Match-Maker

As you group people into tables, consider their interests, careers, and phase of life. Your guests won’t all know each other, but they could have a ton of fun meeting new, interesting people. If you still have an odd-ball friend or co-worker who might feel uncomfortable alone, it would be a nice gesture to allow them to bring a plus-one, even if you haven’t given that option to all of your guests.

Avoid Tension

Try to be considerate of anybody who might feel uncomfortable sitting together. (My husband and I have now shared a table with his ex-girlfriend at two weddings, ha!)

Be Creative

There are so many creative options to consider as you group guests together. I’ll always remember how much fun I had in high school at a wedding where I was seated with all of my cousins. At first it may have seemed logical for the bride and groom to seat me with my immediate family, but I see them all the time!

Don't Stress

It might be impossible to assign everyone the ideal table, but don’t stress out. Try your best to be sensitive to your guests’ feelings, but also remember your guests will be so happy to be at your wedding, celebrating you! You can also take comfort in the fact that your guests won’t really be chatting with their table-mates for that long before they’re listening to toasts and going off mingling, dancing, and visiting the bar anyway.

Photos by Vert Photo

Sources: vistapartyrentals.com // apracticalwedding.com // theknot.com