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. Thank you so much for this. We have been trying to decide whether to have a chart or not and this more or less clarifies the whole thing. Great article!

  2. I went to a wedding with no seating chart and the bride’s parents had to sit in the back with some weird friends of the groom. Basically the outcasts table. No one thought to save them a seat while they were helping with the pictures and so they were left out. It was very awkward.

    • The same thing happened at my brother’s wedding. After the ceremony my family (8 siblings plus numerous children) took wedding photos. By the time we got to the reception with unassigned seating there were only random seats left scattered around. Parents were separated from their children and almost none of the siblings could sit together. Many of us had traveled pretty far and had been looking forward to sitting hanging out at dinner.

    • I think this is the #1 reason why people do seating charts: there was a little vignette in the original (too long, I agree) article about what happens when Great Aunt Crappadocia plops down next to the bride, and the sister of the bride has to go sit in the back because nobody dares ask Auntie Crappie to move.

  3. If there is a seating chart/table assignment, there really needs to be an area that says where people are supposed to go. I was recently at a wedding where my significant other was in the bridal party, and I was shoved at the singles table, after wandering around the entire hall looking for a tiny note at a place setting with my name on it.

    • Ah, the singles table. There’s a reason why it’s a cliche.

      That’s why I strongly encourage people NOT to have one: tables with three couples and four singles, or two couples and six singles etc. come out to the *exact same number of people* at the table if you’d done all couples at one and all singles at another.

  4. We’ll be doing one. We went to a wedding once with no seating chart and nobody ended up mixing at all.

    It was a shame because we know a bunch of guys who are really lovely and great conversationalists when you meet them alone but when you get them together in a bunch they’re totally unapproachable – which is what happened. They turned into a massive clique which made many other guests feel uneasy. 🙁

  5. We are planning not to have a seating chart. Our wedding will be a backyard thing, and food will be buffet-style. We are trying to cut out most of the ‘formality’ of weddings, because we are not very formal people. We just want everyone to get together and have a good time. Plus, we trust our guests enough that even if two different people disagree about things, they’re all grown-ups, and don’t need to have a fist-fight over it.

    • I’m not all that into formality either, to be honest: we had a buffet, got rid of all the ‘scheduled events’ of the reception besides toasts, encouraged smart casual clothing etc. (though it was not in a backyard – that would have been awesome but we couldn’t have fit all of our guests, didn’t have enough bathroom options, you know).

      We did a seating chart not to be formal, but because we wanted to not only make sure couples got to sit together, but that friends got to sit near each other and people who hadn’t met but should would get to meet.

  6. I think it’s also important not to necessarily ‘force’ mingling. We didn’t have a seating chart (it was a tapas afternoon thingy), and had put different board games on each table with the hope that people would mill about and join in for a game where they didn’t necessarily know someone. Joke was on us, though, because a lot of our friends picked a table and the BOARD GAMES moved around. Part of me should have expected it when I first invited an old high school friend; he said “that’s the best thing about weddings. You get a chance to see people you haven’t seen in ages and spend as much time as you want with them”. I saw his point in the end and tried not to feel bad that they didn’t want to mingle.

    • Very true!

      I like to think of it as “encouraging” mingling – you can’t force it but you can create conditions where it’s more likely to happen!

  7. My husband and I had been to too many weddings where we were assigned a table but not a seat, and since not every gets to the table at the same time, we always ended up sitting across the table (and behind a centerpiece) from whomever we knew best at that table. People put down purses and drinks, but you don’t know who is where. It’s haphazard and frustrating, since the people we ended up next to were shouting over us to the people they actually wanted to talk to.

    At our wedding (this past October), we placed people in exact seats (though we did family style at one giant E shaped table, so it made sense to do this). Not only was it INSANELY EASY, but people made great friends with new folks. Almost none of these people knew each other before our wedding, and now they want to have a reunion celebration next year so we can all see each other again (a lot of them live dispersed throughout the USA).

    Anyway, it was very easy, everyone loved it, no one complained. Even my family from Arkansas made friends with some crazy New Englanders.

    • Re: the first part of your post with the centerpiece and the shouting: that’s the perfect situation in which to say “Why don’t we switch seats? You seem to really want to talk to X and Y, and it will be easier if you sit here!”

  8. Personally, I lean more towards the seating charts when you have a sit down dinner/meal. Last summer, my husband and I went to 2 weddings where there was no seating chart. The first time we ended up at a table by ourselves, because we didn’t really know any of the other guests there. The second time another couple ended up at a table by themselves. It can be kind of awkward when a situation like that happens. Although, I completely understand if you aren’t having a sit down meal, then there isn’t a real need for it.

  9. Seating charts are overrated and cause too much stress for the bride prior to the wedding.

    I had long rows of tables with just a few extra seats, didn’t do seating charts, and there was no problem.

    I’ve hated having assigned seats at other weddings I’ve been to.

    • They are overrated and cause stress **for some people**. The experience of some is not universal. For others, they’re life savers. They’re not one-size-fits-all suitable or unsuitable. Having one was a good idea for us, but might not fit for someone else. It might be overrated for you, but it’s no good to assume that it is therefore overrated for everyone.

    • My husband did our whole seating chart in twenty minutes while I was on the phone with my mom. We put people from both sides of our family at each table, and there were quite a few new friendships formed. We were lucky, in that we have drama-free families, but that’s what worked for us. I hate having no seating chart – I’m too shy when there are lots of people I don’t know!

      • Yeah, there’s also the fact that it’s just as much the groom’s issue as the brides: if the seating chart is causing stress, it’s not just the bride’s problem.

  10. we’re having a picnic style buffet supper, and instead of a seating chart, we’re going to assemble baskets with a blanket or tablecloth, plates, silverware, napkins, s&p etc. Each basket will have a label on it listing the people who are to share it and on the other side it’ll let them know if they should choose a patch of grass or a card table, or a couple of tv trays…

    This lets us do a little “coordinating” for maximum social compatibility, but still gives people a bit of choice in where they sit.

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