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. Food for thought.
    I thought I had my mind made up but now I’m more confused than ever! We were planning on definitely NOT having a seating chart. FH is very against the idea. We have 3 super long tables for 120 people. But I hate the thought of my parents being shoved in a corner somewhere. Or my conservative granny being seated with my hippy friends.
    Oh dear!

    • You can do a special reserved section and leave the rest unassigned – so you can pick out where you want your and your parents/wedding party/special whoever to sit, including your grandmother (seating her near you as a part of the ‘special’ section effectively keeps her away from your hippie friends). Then leave the other 100 or so seats unassigned.

    • WEdding is in 2+ weeks and we originally planned on having open seating except for immediate family, bridal party and bridal party, grandparents. We have 3 head tables (also helps cause Fh’s parents are divorced and haven’t spoken in 17 years) Mom is on one – dad is on another. The rest of the guests are welcome to pick their table based on their moods/degree of party-vibe. We had a blast coming up with out table names but I have no idea if anyone else would get it :). “Habitual Line Steppers”, Band of Misfits etc. plus some softer, nicer ones for the more mellow guests. I’m guessing/Hoping that the table names will draw certain types/groups of people who would get along. Will just have to get back to you ladies and let you know how it pans out.

  2. There’s some great seating chart advice here.

    Yes, definitely don’t try and matchmake singles! It will be painfully obvious and they really won’t thank you for it.

    Certainly be prepared for the inevitable last minute changes, but don’t leave sorting out the whole seating chart until the last minute as it’ll take longer than you think!

  3. I so agree. I was seated at the “singles” table at a friend’s wedding and all my friends (the only people I knew) were seated at a different table because they were couples. I moved to sit with them and the bride hasn’t spoken to me since.

    • Yes yes! Down with the Singles Table! It is sooo easy to substitute two or four singles for one or two couples – there is no reason to trot out a tired cliche.

      If you instead plot tables around “interest groups” rather than coupled status, you’ll get people who simply like each other more and will have a better time.

  4. We are going to have a seating chart (assigned tables) to discourage the whole “high school lunch room” thing of people only sitting with whom they know, and to encourage mingling throughout our different sets of friends and family with 1000 miles between them who may otherwise only get to chat during cocktail hour. We know everyone will try to meet everyone, but having that downtime while they’re waiting for their turn to hit the buffet is a great time for them to chat even more.

  5. We are having a venue that holds 90 people. I wasn’t planning on having a strict seating plan, however the manager of the venue insisted, as they serve a modern Asian menu, it will make it easier for them to identify anyone with food allergies etc. They suggested at least giving each table a name and letting our guests figuring out where they’re sitting for themselves. It’s my experience that people tend to move tables during a wedding anyway.

  6. I always feel compelled to tell my horror story when the topic of seating comes up.
    Derrik was in a wedding last year and thus was at the wedding party table. The table I ended up at was on the other end of this huge ball room. Being stressed by other forces I started crying. Derrik did help me get settled with friends which helped a lot, but the whole ‘scene’ was really
    embarrassing.
    So I’d encourage using a seating chart if you have a lot of people that might not know each other.

  7. Nice one 🙂 I think the seating plan was the first thing to go when we started planning our wedding. None of your ‘pros’ seem to really apply to us, so I feel we’ve made the right decision.

    Our wedding is small (about 40 people), so the guests will only have four tables to choose from. I figure that any combination we chose for them, they’d choose for themselves anyway.

    Having said that, the tip about introducing people with common interests is a good one, as well as introducing people before the event. I think we’ll organise a small drinks night for those in town a couple nights beforehand.

  8. I can definitely see the need to have a seating chart, as well as not having one. But I agree: down with the singles table! I ended up at one at a wedding my hubby was in. I didn’t really know anyone at the table (I’m not a very social creature out of my element), and the corner we were in was rather dark, crowded, and quite far away from the head table. Made dinner with a squirmy toddler interesting.
    My two cents: I definitely agree with the earlier post about making sure people’s needs are met (more space for individuals in wheelchairs, etc.), I would only add to that, if applicable, highchairs! Things would have been 10x easier for me if someone had pointed out that the venue had highchairs (albeit hidden away by the bar :P) that I could have used.

  9. “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.”

    Last wedding I went to did this, which would have been awesome, but I got put in the “graduated from the same high school” table. That in itself would have been fine but I didn’t know the other people AT ALL, we had nothing in common, and it ended up be awkward. At least it was a buffet reception which gave me an excuse to walk the room and mingle with people I did know lol.

  10. I agree with almost all of this, however, i would love to seat my “libertarian” (meaning only when it agrees with his points issue to issue) uncle with my loudest liberal activist friend. If you are going to have strong opinions you better be prepared to defend them at any and all times.

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