Most of my couples really struggle with the same two wedding planning tasks: the invite list & seating chart. I always offer to address & mail save the dates and invitations, because after tracking down 100-200 home addresses, you need a break! But, aside from some subtle suggestions, I can’t really help with seating chart issues.
Conceptualizing a wedding seating chart requires the complex knowledge on years and years of personal, familial relationships. I cannot acquire that knowledge for each of my clients. Although, that would be awesome.
However, I can offer you this: my top 10 things to consider when tackling your wedding seating chart:
1. Reception table shapes
So, this is a good place to start because the shapes of your reception tables dictate how many guests you can sit at each. For example, certain banquet rounds can comfortably seat 8, 10 or 12. Additionally, farm tables or rectangular banquet tables can seat upwards of 12. And high school geometry comes back.
2. Head/sweetheart table
Start with you & your spouse. Where do you want to sit? Who do you want to sit with? Whenever you're thinking of bridal attendants, consider their partners. You can always opt to have a large king's table, including the bridal party's partners.
Or maybe something smaller is more your style. Sitting at a sweetheart table with your spouse is always something to consider when thinking through the reception-seating chart. If you don’t already know, a sweetheart table is a stand-alone table at the reception where just the honorary couple sits through dinner.
The main pros of the sweetheart table are allowing for bridal party attendants to sit with their partners, and giving the couple time together post-ceremony. Quick cons of a sweetheart table are 1) it’s not a good seating option for couples who don’t like being the center of attention 2) particular meal styles don't work well; if you're eating family style, or all your guests have a lush charcuterie board down the middle of their tables.
3. Room layout
Firstly, if you’re doing a grand march, think about your ‘route.’ You probably won’t want the head table too far from the dance floor or venue entrance. Additionally, think of the room layout as it pertains to restroom access for older guests or even efficient routes for catering staff.
4. Style of reception meal
Quickly consider the style of your reception meal. Is it family style? Formal plated? Long connecting farm tables under café lights on a terrace doesn’t exactly pair well with guests getting up for a buffet. With room layout, think about food style. With food style, think about guest experience.
5. The ‘single’s table’ isn’t a thing anymore
I guess we’re just finally moving away from this very public form of embarrassment & torture.
6. Ask for help
Especially if your parents are inviting many of their friends, enlist them to help you assign seats. You especially won’t know your partner’s parent’s friends, so don’t hesitate to delegate some table assigning to whom it’s applicable.
*Quick note: it's customary to seat parents near the couple at reception, so whether they're at the nearest rounds to the head table, or seated on either side of you at the farm table.
7. The Pinterest Post-It tactic (phase 1)
Even if you’re not a visual person, starting with pen & paper is a good idea. You’re bound to make many changes, so why not keep it discernible and tactile. The old Pinterest Post-It seating chart trick is actually kind of genius.
8. Digital seating chart programs (phase 2)
From physical, get digital. You’ll eventually be submitting your final numbers electronically, so jump right into Excel or have fun with a digital seating chart program, where you can drag, drop & explore endless options. Here are two programs I like: AllSeated and Wedding Wire.
9. Excel (phase 3)
Almost every wedding professional I know works on seating charts in either Excel or a digital program online. Having said that, most caterers appreciate final count submissions in Excel format. It’s straightforward.
10. Your sanity
Not much is more important than your mental health. Don’t go nuts, literally, trying to work through your seating chart. And don’t take it too seriously! No one's life is at stake. Have some wine and revisit things later.