Okay, truth be told, seating guests was the part of wedding planning that Zee and I enjoyed the least.*
But I'm sure if we'd had a wise wedding planner to guide us through the process and help on the day it would've been a doddle!
And thankfully for you lovely lot, London wedding planner, Andri, of Always Andri Wedding Design is sharing her super helpful advice and top tips on seating guests at weddings.
(Chalkboard / mirrored table plans that you can easily wipe off and adjust = genius idea!)
Take it away, Andri…
onelove photography via Style Me Pretty
The Great Seating Debate
So, you’ve chosen the venue, assembled a crack commando of amazing suppliers and received all of your RSVPs. You think you’ve got this wedding planning nailed – and you have, but there’s something else you need to do now: you need to decide how you are going to seat everyone.
The first thing to think about is the kind of wedding reception and wedding breakfast you’re having. If you’re having a traditional meal you’re probably going to want to create a seating plan to allow guests to navigate their way to their tables, but if you’re having a more relaxed affair, you could just have loose seating where you trust your guests to be able to choose their own seats. This could end up being tricky if you have a lot of guests, so you could meet them halfway and allocate them a table but not a specific seat.
Also consider whether you want a traditional round table set up or family style, long, rectangular tables – both options work well for relaxed buffet style meals or more formal plated services. Your venue choice will play a big part in this decision but remember, you can always mix and match table shapes and layouts. Speak to the venue co-ordinator about the different options available.
One and Only Paris Photography via Style Me Pretty
The Top Table
If you’re happy with an easy top table, tradition states that the bride, groom, best man, maid of honour, and parents of the newlyweds take up place around a conventional rectangular table looking out at the rest of the wedding party. Some say this is a bit antisocial, others love the intimacy of it and yet more quite like the elevated status of the position.
But what if your family is not traditional? What if your parents have split up or passed away?Or if there are new partners to consider?
All of a sudden family politics starts to exert its influence a little over your seating plan, so you can:
Mix it up a little with your seating plan, don’t worry about your guests being surprised.
Caroline + Ben Photography via Style Me Pretty
Have a round table instead of a long, rectangular one for your so-called ‘top table’ that is just for you and your bridal party, i.e. best man, bridesmaids, ushers and their partners. Your parents (and grandparents) can then host their own tables’ with their immediate family and friends.
Have a small sweetheart table just for the two of you – during the meal it will be the only time you get to spend a little quiet time together on your wedding day.
Sweetheart table styled by A Vintage Affair Events & Rentals photo by Laura Murray Photography
And as for the rest of your guests?
Think about grouping family, friends from different areas of life: school, uni, work colleagues etc
Put younger guests near to the dance floor, older ones a little further way.
If tables need to be removed after dinner to create a dance floor, seat the younger guests who you’ll want up on the dance floor anyway on the tables that will eventually be moved.
Want to mix the seating up a little in order to get your guests to mingle?
Do be careful of breaking up groups of people too much, as one of the things many people look forward to at a wedding is catching up with old friends and family.
Although some people LOVE making new friends and will be more than happy to sit next to a stranger, you do run the risk of having a wedding breakfast with no atmosphere as guests feel too shy to talk to people they don’t know.
Isabelle Selby Photography via Style Me Pretty
You could try to partially mix groups: split the table up into small groups of friends/family so at least everyone will know at least some of the guests at their table.
Make sure the people you are mixing have something in common other than just that they know you; they’re more likely to get on if they’ve got more to talk about.
If you do split people up, put some kind of icebreaker or game on the table to encourage people to chat with each other – perhaps a quiz about you both so they can be unified in laughing about you.
Edyta Szyszlo via 100 Layer Cake
So what about the actual table plan?
Put it somewhere your guests can see during the drinks reception so there’s not a bottleneck when they get the call to dine. Hopefully they’ll look at it beforehand and know where to go.
If you’re having a large wedding with many guests, consider having two duplicate plans positioned separately for better visibility.
Give the venue coordinator an alphabetical list of guests with their table name/numbers and ask them to be nearby to guide guests to where they are sitting; if you have a wedding planner they should do this for you anyway.
If you’re worried there may be last minute changes, create a table plan that you can easily update the names for rather than have the whole plan reprinted (like a blackboard or mirror where chalk writing can be quickly wiped and rewritten).
Alternatively, you could have an escort card table where you display cards inscribed with guests’ names laid out alphabetically and each card has the table number/name on it. You can also get quite creative with the display of escort cards and make a feature of it.
Caroline Tran via Elizabeth Anne Designs
Don’t let the table plan get you down! You’ve survived the rest of your wedding planning and this is just the last hurdle. Give yourself time to do it and draw on helpful websites that will do most of the work for you, such as Top Table Planner. Alternatively, use the old fashioned method of post it notes around a plate that you can easily arrange and rearrange.
At the end of the day, your wedding guests will just be delighted to be part of your wedding, so if they’re not sitting next to their BFFs or to old Aunt Sally or cousin Jeff, they’ll be more than happy to move around and make the most of the occasion.
Thanks to Andri for this brilliant advice, hopefully seating your guests doesn't seem quite so daunting now. And just think of all the creative and pretty ways you could display your escort cards / table plans! (Be sure to check out this fab post by Andri on creative table plan ideas.)
If you’ve missed any of the Wedding Experts Planning Tips series be sure to take a peek – there is SO much helpful information I wish I'd known in the run up to my big day!
Learn From My Mistakes
*We opted for a rectangular top table and round tables for our guests – but with our unconventional family set up choosing who sat on the top table (without offending anyone) was difficult to say the least!
Then there was the table plan…
Zee and I kept putting the table plan off our to do list until it eventually involved a last minute dash to the printers where, in a panic, I managed to spell one of my closest friend's name's wrong (haven't lived that one down yet) and ended up confusing an elderly aunt who was apparently supposed to sit at two different tables!
Then, of course, there was a couple of last minute changes and no-shows which meant that the tables were lopsided – some filled with guests, others looking a bit sparse. Sigh.
Also, in hindsight, I would not have had a top table – I felt rather weird just staring out at everyone and it was impossible to talk to the people on either end. It's definitely a matter of personal preference but I think I'd have preferred a sweetheart table.
So, dear, sweet readers, the moral of the story is…give yourselves enough time, follow these tips and if you can, get some help on the day!