The wedding planning process is peppered with necessary, yet sometimes tedious tasks that are essential for a well-planned reception. Creating a seating chart is one of the more stressful and complicated aspects. However, letting your guests play musical chairs can lead straight to seating disaster. So, the short answer is yes – you need a seating chart.
Within the events industry, events that do not have assigned tables or seats have open seating. Open seating is chaotic and awkward. It usually begins with a scurry to find the best seat available which can leave several guests asking “Is this seat taken?”, as the rest of their group finds seats elsewhere. People tend to stake their claim at open seating events, regardless of their group’s size. This can litter the room with empty chairs are random tables if a group doesn’t completely fill out the table. Open seating can also be problematic for the parents of the couple and their immediate families. If select tables are not reserved for specific individuals, there is a good chance that someone important will be stuck with a seat at the back of the room.
Open seating and kids simply don’t mingle. It is a greatly unnecessary burden to place on a family that may have to split up in order to find seating. Children attending a reception should always be seated with their parents, or at a children’s table nearby their parents if their age warrants independence.
To combat uncomfortable seating dilemmas, more than enough seating will be required to ensure that every guest has a seat. This means having more tables and chairs available than what is needed for the actual guest count so that families and couples can sit together without having to split up. Although this also means higher costs because of the higher count of linen, centerpieces and place settings that need to be set up. This won’t avoid any seating gaps throughout the room and it may make the reception look sparse if there are tables and seats are left empty.
Assigning Seats vs. Assigning Tables
For the majority of weddings, assigning guests to a specific table, as opposed to a specific seat at a specific table, is all the seating worry that will need to be had. However, if the meal service features a choice entrée (guests select their entrée on the RSVP card), individual seats will also need to be assigned. Don’t overthink the seating chart by trying to put together the most-perfect-groups-of-eight ever – there is ample time to visit with anyone at the reception and guests will only sit for about 90 minutes at max anyway.
Place Cards vs. Escort Cards & Boards
If seats are assigned, both an escort card or board and place card will be needed for each guest. The escort card tells guests which table they are to be seated, but the place cards tells them which individual seat was chosen for them. With assigned tables, you only need escort cards. However, with table-only assigned seating it is acceptable to combine names on the card. For example, “Mr. & Mrs. Miller – Table 8” or “Ms. Quinn & Guest”.
The caterer will benefit most from both escort cards and place cards. The place card will be color coded to reflect the guest’s meal choice and keeps the server from needing to question what the guest selected. Escort cards are notorious for being misplaced before a guest ever gets to their table, which is why place cards become a vital insurance policy of sorts. It would lead to a very bad dinner service if escort cards had dual purpose. Several could end up missing and many guests could end up with the wrong meal. With a place card already preset on the table, directing guests to the seat chosen for them, there is no room for the misfortune of it being lost.
Common Misconceptions about Assigning Guests to Tables
What You Think Will Happen: If I assign my guests to tables, they will think my wedding is too formal. They won’t have as much fun.
What Actually Happens: Any feeling of society anxiety to find a table to sit with will be gone. Guests will appreciate the thought put into organizing the seating.
What You Think Will Happen: I don’t want to assign tables because then guests will think they have to sit there all night and spend time with the people they were sat with.
What Actually Happens: Guests are going to find their table and sit down until dinner is over. Then they will be up and moving the rest of the evening. During dinner they will socialize with the people around them and then move on to other friends and family throughout the evening.
What You Think Will Happen: I want a laid back reception. Open seating with just a few reserved tables with signs that say ‘Reserved for Bride’s Family’ and ‘Reserved for Groom’s Family’.
What Actually Happens: There will be a relative that thinks they are part of the reserved family seating section, leading to an awkward thing to request – that they move.
What You Think Will Happen: We will sit at a sweetheart table and our wedding party can choose their own seats with the rest of the guests.
What Actually Happens: The guests find seats. The family finds seats. The couple has a sweetheart table reserved for them after their grand entrance. However, the wedding party is part of the introductions and enters the reception room last – right before the couple. At this point, everyone is seated, except members of the wedding party. They have to spread out and find available seats at remaining tables which can be uncomfortable and awkward.
At some point during the planning process, guest seating will take its place as a topic of conversation. It makes an impact on the atmosphere of the party and helps your guests feel taken care of by removing unwanted feelings of social anxiety just to enjoy their meal. Of all the items needed for a great event, a structured seating chart with table assignments is one of the more important.