Do you need a seating chart?

Guest post by Channamasala
denisse & jay 32
To me, having a seating chart just seems like an exercise in futility/stupidity.

Won't guest get up and mingle with who they want to anyway? Why would I want to tell my guests where to sit if I'm not planning a sit-down dinner reception? Wouldn't it be nicer just to provide enough tables and seats and let people chose their own places?

Am I missing something?
-Heather L.

Do you need them or not? They're so incredibly complicated (your loved ones don't fit into perfect little packets of eight or ten) and given this complexity, you may be inclined to skip 'em. Let's take a look at the pros and cons…

Why you might not need a seating chart:

  • Your reception does not include a sit-down meal. If you are having a cocktail reception, tea, cake and punch, dessert, picnic-style or other party format, then there is no reason to have a seating chart. These formats are flexible enough that people can more freely move around.
  • Your reception is very small and not in a typical reception hall. If you're having your reception at a restaurant with ten or twenty people, there is no need to assign seats.
  • You have various tables and seating options of different sizes. If your venue has a mix of large tables, small four-seaters, couches with coffee tables, bartops and other more lounge-like options, you can safely skip the seat assignments.
  • If your wedding is on the small side and everyone genuinely knows each other (and their relationships are mostly drama-free).

The benefits of a seating chart:

  • You can ensure that everyone's dinner companions share common interests. It is simply good event planning to arrange for guests in this situation to sit with people they either already know and like, or are likely to get along with, so they'll be more likely to sustain engaging dinner conversation. It is true that people will get up and mingle before and after the meal; what you are planning here is mealtime socializing.
  • You can make single guests, or guests who don't know others, more comfortable. This also somewhat alleviates the need for +1s: we had a few single guests who knew only one or two other people at the wedding. By seating them at tables with the few guests they knew as well as others they didn't know, but with whom we felt they shared common interests, we could safely invite them without +1s.
  • You can work around the “standard table size” problem to guarantee that people who will want to sit together can do so. Imagine you and your significant other mingled a little too long at cocktail hour while others were sitting. You enter the dinner area, realize that there is no seating chart, look for a table and don't find one. Every available seat is a single, and nobody seems inclined to move. Finding people to move for you requires complicated cross-table negotiation.
  • It's like a blind date for your loved ones! I love “setting up” my friends with my other friends (not in the romantic way, although that has also happened).
  • It manages drama. Usually. Do you really want your Socialist-leaning lesbian academic friend who just got back from Peace Corps and volunteers for the “Rent is Too Damn High” party to end up sitting with your Libertarian uncle who likes hunting and tells kids to get off his lawn? Probably not. If, however, that's the only open seat your friend can find –- well, that'll just be a box of giggles, won't it?
Seating Chart, Escort Cards, and Table Numbers

Regardless of what you decide is right for you, here is some advice for managing your wedding seating.

If you don't create a seating chart:

  • Provide more seating than is necessary. Exact ass-to-chair ratios can make it hard for couples to find seats together. Extra seats can alleviate that issue.
  • Try to vary your seating options and table sizes if possible.
  • Consider a reception that doesn't include a full meal. This is not mandatory, simply advised. It opens up mingling and reduces the time when people need to stay in one place.
  • Try to introduce people who don't know other guests around before the wedding. This way, they will be able to seek out familiar faces later, or consider a cocktail hour that will allow them to meet and chat with potential table mates.
  • Consider allowing single guests to bring +1s.

If you do create a seating chart:

  • Avoid the dreaded Singles Table. Varying it a bit helps the social experience.
  • Create “Interest Groups” to keep people together. For example: “older family and friends who like guns,” “travelers and expats,” “young hippies,” “old hippies and academics,” “overachieving young professionals,” “raunchy friends and relatives.” It worked beautifully.
  • Create “Groups of Tables.” It's okay if people who are friends don't get to sit together — the best way to encourage mingling before and after dinner is to seat them at tables near each other.
  • Don't assign exact seats, just assign tables. This gives people flexibility even within the structure you create. Of course, this assumes round tables. For family-style events, having a seating chart means assigned seats.
  • Be prepared to make last-minute changes. Even if nobody crashes the party, someone will get sick or have a sudden emergency and be unable to attend. Have some back-up seating cards and be ready for some last-minute re-arranging.
  • Listen to suggestions, but don't let anyone try to dictate seating to you. Go ahead and hear your Mom or Grandma out on her seating chart ideas, but make the final decision yourself and own it. If necessary, don't share the final chart with them and do not engage in discussions about it after it's finished.

This may seem like a lot to consider. Just remember: all you need to do is reflect on what kind of party you are having, what the venue is like, who your guests are and apply these general guidelines to determine of a seating chart is, for you, a useful tool or an exercise in futility.

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Comments on Do you need a seating chart?

  1. Fabulous article to sum up what us party planners know – there is a time and place for a seating chart. And if you have a seating chart, it’s another fun feature to personalize your wedding with!

    • To me a seating chart is another task I am made to feel that I “have” to do in order to have a successful wedding. I feel that it is unnecessary stress to figure out which guests are going to seat together. At every other type of party (BBQ, Graduation Parties, Birthdays) people are able to socialize and then find a place to sit down together – this honestly shouldn’t be any different.

  2. Also, if you’re having a seated meal with the guests having to choose between options, it’s sort of vital that you have a seating chart so the servers know who gets what meal.

  3. This really helps me out a bit. I am stressing out over the seating chart. The problem is my family is separated and having those members sit together who strongly dislike each other kinda scares me. Is any one else having issues with divorced families???

    • I’m dealing with that with my fiance’s family. His mom and dad had a messy divorce. So we’re doing this:

      Seating his mom and dad (and their families)separately, and a few tables away from each other.

    • Both my husband and I have divorced and remarried families who basically have nothing to do with eachother these days, except for us. We had a top table of bridesmaids, bestman, their partners and few of our other close friends. We gave people a table to sit at but did not assign seats – this way we could make sure we avoided any problems. It all worked really well.

      Looking back, however, I would say that our having a relaxed and easy going attitude to the whole day was really reflected in everything we do. Eventhough our parents and step-parents will never be friends, they were celebrating, cheering and dancing together on the day. Love conquers…at least for a little while.

  4. i went to a wedding a little while back that had, i thought, a nice setup. it was in a restaurant with multiple smallish rooms, and there were assigned seats for family, the bridal party and a few other folks, and then two “open seating” rooms. simple, formalish, not too awkward for me, there by myself.

    • Do you remember how these people dealt with only partial seating assignments? Did they have sign on the table (might be weird) or did they still have escort cards for all?
      I prefer not to have seat assignments, because we are doing more of a cocktail party thing, but I think for family they would appreciate.

    • I’m looking at a similar set-up for our reception, and something’s had me stumped – for toasts, cake cutting, etc, what do the people in the other rooms do? Just move to the main one temporarily? I don’t want to leave grandma stuck in the back, missing the important bits.

      • Did you ever figure out what to do with people placed in other rooms? My reception venue is split into a main room and then outside that 2 small areas. I have no idea how to handle those guest who cant be in the main space. help!

  5. We’ve got almost exactly as many guests as our venue will accommodate, so we’re doing assigned tables but not seats, and strategically organizing blended tables of both our families and friends, blind date-style. We’ve got a “getting to know you” game that will be on every table, so there will be built-in conversation starters, and given that the meal will be served family-style, if anyone is miserable, they can just move!

    • I want to do a get to know you game…what are you doing? I am still a little unsure of how my “game” will work.

  6. Can you explain why under ‘don’t assign exact seats’ you say ‘For family-style events, having a seating chart means assigned seats.’ I don’t understand why, I feel like I’m missing something!

    • I think that they are referring to a type of seating where everyone sits at one large (usually very long) table together. This means that everyone is already at the same table, so if you assign anything, it would be the seats.

      Folks in the know, correct me if I’m wrong.

      • ThisLittleRedCat is correct: at family-style events there is one (or maybe two or three, but not many) long tables rather than lots of round tables…so you can’t assign a “table” – there is only one! Therefore if you assign anything at all it has to be the seats.

    • When you go to weddings, you are assigned a TABLE. And when you get to the table, you choose your own seat at that table. However, sometimes, you go to weddings, and you are not only assigned a table, but you are assigned a seat as well. Guests don’t usually like this because it’s very rigid, and you can’t choose who you sit next to.

      But for a family-style event, it’s best to assign seats, because there’s just family style-seating (think of the big long table you sit at during Thanksgiving). So you would be assigned a seat, because there is no specific table to be assigned (usually only 1-3 tables).

      • I think it’s just a terminology issue — “family-style” for a fancy dinner to me means food will served in large plates to each table, but the tables can be any shape, including 8-10 person rounds.

        • Yeah…”family style” generally means one long table (think like a dining room table at home) or maybe two or three tables depending on size, but of course people will choose to define things differently.

  7. We aren’t having a seating chart! Woo-hoo! We are planning to have a “game night” type reception (plus either pizza or potluck), so one of the first things we decided was that we could let people sit where they wanted and ask some of our “Wedding Ninjas” to help make sure people circulated and got to know other people. (It helps that we’re having a 50-person wedding, of whom 10-15 are family members, and all of whom are relatively sane and polite and know who we are and are okay that we are the liberal-hippie-Christian-improvisers-who-like-guns type!)

  8. We’re having a seating chart for pretty much every reason given there.

    We’re having a large wedding (looking like 150 people) so it’d be a bit chaotic if everyone was trying to find a seat and we’re tight on space so it’s very, very likely the last people in to the room would find only single seats.

    We’ve also got a lot of strong and differing opinions we’d like to keep tactfully seperated, but at the same time strangers we’re just dying to get talking.

    But I think we are going to keep it to just assigning tables and let people seat themselves within that. I think it’s a good compromise between planning and choice.

  9. Another thing to deal with: RANK! We had over 120 guests, about half military or police, so we had to make sure the new privates weren’t sitting with the RSM, so we had junior ranks tables, sergeants, and officers tables. We even had a navy table, and put them closest to the bar!

    The other consideration is if you have divorced families. In case they’re not on the best of terms, you can put them at different tables and put some “buffer tables” in between them.

    My hubby was initially against the seating chart, but when I mentioned that some conservative family members might end up sitting with some raucous army friends, he relented and eventually agreed that it was a really good idea.

  10. This is why we went with assigned tables, but not seats. We wanted to sit some people together ’cause we were fairly certain they’d have a great time, and there were others that we *knew* shouldn’t sit anywhere near each other.

    Of course, once the dancing started, people got up and wandered around anyway – but the basic need for civility while there was cutlery (read: potential weaponry) around had been met. Plus, we were able to sit single (some newly, painfully so) friends with people that they knew or had at least met once or twice already, instead of them ending up crammed in amongst schmoopy couples.

    And assigning people to tables doesn’t have to be boring: besides all of the fabulous examples on OBB, there are tonnes of alternatives to differentiating the tables. As well, just because you put people at specific tables doesn’t mean you have to tell them where to sit; they’ll figure that out all on their own.

    The only actual assignments we made for seating were in regard to my cousin & uncle, both of whom are in wheelchairs. We gave them spaces near the end of the tables, closer to the doors and washrooms so that they could easily access whatever area they needed to – and we made sure that people knew that those areas would be occupied and to not put chairs in those spots. In the case of guests with mobility issues or other requirements, sometimes assigned seating can come in handy.

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