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. this article was perfect! i never understood why i need to have a seating chart, these arent kindergarteners, they’re adults. but this perfectly explains why and how. THANKS!!!

  2. Ugh. My cousin didn’t do a seating chart, and my family had never been to a wedding without one. It got awkward since we were the last ones in (my sister’s kids were running around outside and we were helping my disabled grandfather). There were 8 of us (Mom, Dad, Brother, Halfsister (from the other side of the family), her husband, 2 kids (under 5), and Me). A complete table. Well, there were only scattered seats left and we had to get another table because there was no room for 4 people to sit together.

    I’m all for not having a seating chart, but I’m planning on having reserved tables for large immediate families or groups of people (school friends, coworkers, or such).

  3. We’re having a very laid-back backyard buffet wedding, but we’re expecting somewhere between 130-150 guests. At first, a seating chart didn’t even cross my mind, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense, if only to keep the elderly comfortable, the VIPs where they should be, and the ‘I only know the bride’-ers safe from no man’s land.

    I’m curious if anyone has tried ‘de-formalizing’ the organized seating process. Aside from assigning tables as opposed to seats, I’d like to make it clear that the seating is ‘suggested’ as opposed to mandatory. Maybe just adding, as some of you have said, extra seating or picnic blankets on the ground with clear ‘anyone can sit here’ notes will work. I guess I could add a very clear and simple note on the seating table headquarters (whatever that’s called) or even by the table number saying something to the effect of “Your table is the best one, but if you’d like to try out the others, feel free to mingle or move.” Am I OVERcomplicating by trying to UNDERcomplicate?

  4. Assigned tables can be very helpful, but they come with some disadvantages too. I felt that given my newly divorced parents assigned tables was a necessity to make certain the parental units were comfortably seated in drama free separation. We had a fairly small wedding and unfortunately we had 4 people no-show, and they were all at the same table. We then had one person from that table defect to another table leaving 2 couples alone at a large table, and one couple left early. It was very awkward for that last couple. If I had it to do over again I would just reserve a few tables “for the bride’s mother”, “for the bride’s father” , ” for the Groom’s family” that sort of thing and let everyone else sit where they want to.

  5. GRUMBLE GRUMBLE GRUMBLE

    I was hoping to avoid this whole thing by having a buffet dinner, but while I was eating lunch, it occurred to me that there would likely be a mad bumrush for the food table(s) when it’s time. And also that our awesome ice breaking/conversation starter ideas (mad libs, ispy, activity sheets) will be kind of pointless if people can seat themselves and just end up sitting with their own family units.

    I emailed our venue coordinator for some guidance and she said I basically have two options: some type of assigned seating system (which would be expected), or open seating and hope for the best. Neither of these options sounds ideal, because the last thing I want is all of my family at one table and all of his family at another table and nobody talking to each other. Assigned tables seems like it might be a good compromise, but my fiance’s parents have a super awkward thing going on: they’ve been divorced for many years, dad is single but his mom has a long time boyfriend. Can I seat them together??? I know his mom and dad will get along for the day (they have coexisted at other equally important events) but I am not sure if there’s anything between dad and boyfriend.

    I suppose we might be able to do open seating with “reserved for parents” etc, but that seems like it has its downfalls, too.

    JFC, I was trying to avoid this whole dilemma!

    • I’m with you….I was trying to avoid assigned seating altogether, because I want a cocktail party vibe (with heavy appetizers and a couple of food stations- taco bar, pulled chicken sliders, etc), and the LAST thing I want is everyone to plant their butts at a table and stay there all night. I want people to graze, mingle, and dance. We’re not even having a head table, because I don’t plan to be sitting much anyway.

      That said, I’m leaning toward the idea of a couple of reserved tables for family (specifically older family – my dad is 82 and in a wheelchair, and will definitely need to be at a regular table) but I’m also incorporating smaller high tables into the floor plan, where people can set their drink and appetizer plate and hang out for a few minutes before moving on. This mix of table heights worked REALLY well at my sister’s wedding celebration – I didn’t sit down all night, talked to a lot of people I didn’t know (and I’m not the most outgoing person in the world) and had an absolute blast. My sister’s party was in the neighborhood of 150 people (mine will be slightly smaller) and I don’t recall anyone having an issue with seating or lack thereof.

      My FH is also very much against a seating chart for the particular style of party we want. If it were a sit-down dinner, I suspect we’d have one.

      • Ditto exactly what clevelandkat says. Please let me know how this turned out. My wedding is in 2 weeks…eek!

        • We did our wedding cocktail-style in an old Civil-War era carriage house-turned-art gallery/studio. At first, when we visited the venue and she said we couldn’t seat our number of guests with full seating, we were hesitant. But we ended up with cocktail style and a buffet (and some passed hors d’oeuvres the first hour): there were tables and chairs but intersperse throughout the space. It was so much fun and people got to *mingle* which we were excited about; it added to the laid-back atmosphere of the day (and the groom). Nobody was stuck to their seat and people from all different parts of our life got to meet each other. In short, 10/10 would recommend 🙂

  6. My husband and I just attended a wedding at a country club that did not have a seating chart. We only knew one other person, who we hung out with all night. No one would allow us to sit by them, so the three of us ended up sitting in another room at a coffee table. We made the best of it and the servers seemed to enjoy our predicament and were very accommodating.
    This has been the only unfortunate experience that I had at a wedding without a seating chart, though.

  7. My first wedding had 200ish people on the RSVPed list and was catered with round tables and linens and the whole bit. I worked for months on the seating chart. I made a very carefully curated sociological science project out of the whole thing and I was VERY proud of my work. But then some jerk wanted to bring their kid, someone broke up with their girlfriend, someone was having emergency dental surgery, a bunch of assholes just didn’t bother to show up, etc, and my dreams got fucked. My best friend at the time was left at an 8 top table alone, and my ex-husband’s boss and family were seated with a family we invited two days before, who made their last minute invite very known so that boss and family felt like they were after thoughts too, even though I had very thoughtfully crafted a table of very interesting folks who didn’t end up coming. I am a month away from my second wedding and we are doing a laid back but rather large potluck BBQ (125-150 guests). Our tables are varied – rounds, maybe squares, and 4-5 picnic tables – and we have decided to let people figure it out. We might have a sweetheart table for just us, but we might not. Kind of playing it all by ear and elbow – and it feels really great.

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