How to Set Up the Reception Seating
As the stresses of wedding planning mount, you may be tempted to cut down the guest list to two: you and your spouse-to-be. This feeling only grows as you tackle one of the trickiest aspects of a wedding, the reception seating list. There are so many factors to consider that you may be tempted to throw in the towel and have everyone grab the first seat you can. You could always arrange a reception-wide game of musical chairs, or you could take a deep breath and follow these tips.
The first step is an easy one: find out how many guests you have (planning for those one or two who RSVP at the last minute or decide to bring another guest) and how many tables and chairs you will need. Call your reception venue and ask how they will be arranging the tables. If the venue is somewhere that you are going to set up, like a backyard, then work on the configuration first. How would you like the tables arranged, and how many people will fit comfortably at each?
Next, decide how you want to arrange the head table. Traditionally, the bride and groom sit with their attendants at a table in the front of the reception location. Some couples are now forgoing that tradition in favor of having a table-for-two to themselves. The attendants either sit at another “head” table or with the other guests. This is purely up to your preference and which option you think your bridesmaids and groomsman will be most comfortable with.
These exercises are the warm-up. Now comes the workout. It helps to enlist the aid of both sets of parents if there are a lot of family members coming or if they have invited guests with whom they are more familiar. They can give you suggestions as to who should be seated next to each other based on their prior relationship or interests.
With relatives and friends, try to seat people who know and like each other together. If, for instance, you invite your five work friends, have them sit together. If you have six or seven person tables, add a couple that you think will mingle well with them. If you have “random” guests, or those who don’t know your other guests, try to pair them with your chatty friends and family members so they feel more comfortable at your reception. If you make an entire table of these unrelated, unfamiliar guests, chances are they will become bored or uncomfortable, especially if they are more reserved or quiet.
The seating at tables is difficult, but the positioning of the place cards at the tables can be even more challenging. Your mother wants to be front and center, his mother wants to be right up there, too. Your best friend wants to be at the table closest to the couple, but your aunt thinks that is her rightful place. People seem to think that the closer they are to the table, the more important they are to the wedding!
Feelings can be hurt. Before you start worrying about that, worry about things like children and elderly or handicapped guests. Small children may need to be close to exits or bathrooms, and you might want to arrange tables of similarly aged children together. Elderly guests may need to be within short walking distance to the buffet line or among the tables that do not have to be moved for dancing. These types of considerations trump whose mom feels most important.
Seating parents can be a big challenge, especially if there are step-parents to consider in the seating chart. Your mother may not want to sit with your father and his new wife, for instance. Traditionally, the best table is reserved for the bride’s parents, with the second best going to the groom’s. If one or both sets of parents are divorced, have a table for the mother and a separate one for the father (unless their relationship is completely amicable, which may be rare). Maternal and paternal grandparents can then sit with their children. If there is room, you can seat siblings and significant others here.
In general, you then seat other close relatives closer to the head table. After close relatives are seated, you can arrange the remaining guests in a way that is most convenient. To avoid hard feelings, make sure to visit each and every table at your reception. Starting at the back is perhaps the best idea, as is spending a little extra time there.
No matter how hard you try, someone will always manage to be offended or feel slighted. There is really no way to get around this if you have friends and family members like this. The best tip is to arrange people as they and you will feel most comfortable. If the would-be offended guest is very important to you, like your mother, you could save yourself the trouble and just ask her where she would like to sit.
Another helpful resource is this article on Seating Chart Creation Tips.