Reserved vs. Open Seating at a Wedding
Do We Need a Guest Seating Plan? What are the pros and cons of reserved seating vs. open seating at a wedding?
We get asked these questions all the time. Our answer to the seating plan is always, YES, unless it is a small intimate wedding. Let me explain why. We know it sound stressful and like a lot of work to assign every single guest to a table, but our experience shows us that the guest experience is much better when there is a plan and feelings don’t get hurt.
You may ask, “If we rent the exact number of chairs as our guest count, why would there be any problems if we just have open seating?” One of the first things that comes to mind is that “people will be people”, and everyone is afraid of missing out on what they perceive to be the best table. We’ve seen the mad rush happen too many times into the dinner reception room, and if your immediate family is taking photos, they may end up sitting in the corner. Secondly, it never works out when there’s open seating for large weddings unless you pay to have a few extra-decorated tables. The reason is because families come in odd and even numbers; if a family of 7 sits at the last open table, and there’s a family of 4 left standing who can’t fit seats together, they will complain that there is nowhere for them to sit, even if there are seats available at several other tables. Make sense?
A seating plan will ensure that couples, friends and families who want to sit together, can. Elderly guests will also thank you, as they may not want to sit close to the speakers or far from the bathrooms; they also appreciate sitting where they can see and hear the formalities. Although some guests may not get to sit exactly where they would have preferred, assigned seating will greatly reduce the amount of unhappy guests and create an overall better guest experience. Keep in mind, that guests can always move around if they please or squeeze in a few people from another table too.
A Sweetheart Table or Large Head Table For The Entire Wedding Party?
More often than not, your wedding party members will have spouses, dates or families they would like to sit with during dinner. This is why so many couples choose a sweetheart table over a large head table that only includes their wedding party. A nice alternative is to have the sweet heart table in the center, and tables on each side of it assigned to your wedding party and their significant others. This option keeps everyone close by the married couple, and gives the wedding party the opportunity to enjoy their families also. Believe it or not, the married couple does not sit at their dinner table very long. Typically the couple gets bombarded with loving guests who want to congratulate them; they will then eat, and eventually get up and begin visiting each table fairly quickly.
However, many brides have dreamt of a large head table with their entire wedding party on each side of them. If this is something that is very important to you, it is absolutely your preference to choose this option. A long, beautifully decorated head table is always a wow factor and main focal point of the reception room. It’s your choice.
Family Seating at a Wedding
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s not uncommon for divorced parents to want their own tables. This is another plus for creating a seating plan. Every couple’s situation is unique. If both of your parents are friends, they may want to all sit together in front of your table. If they are close to the officiant, and there are several grandparents, you may choose to have two or three tables near your table. It’s best to work this out with your venue and draw up the floor plan at least a month prior to your wedding to begin thinking this through. The farther in advance you start thinking about this, the less stress you will have as you approach your big day. Get your Mom’s involved, if it becomes too stressful, they will be thrilled to be involved and help you with your seating plan.
How to Assign Guests to Dinner Reception Tables
As for the rest of your guests, it’s always best to put people together who know each other, or who have common interests and would enjoy sitting together. The main thing to remember is that the dinner segment doesn’t last all night. Eventually your goal is to get your guests up and on the dance floor or actively involved in your celebration, so don’t stress too much about the seating arrangements. Set a plan, and remember there may be some guests sitting with people they may not know very well. It will be ok! If your table is centered in the middle of the room, everyone should have a great seat. If your head table is at the far end of the room, it will be more challenging to keep the guests happy who are at the back of the room. Keep this in mind before choosing a venue.
Seating Plans for Children
If you have children yourselves, you may want to seat them with you at your table. However, many times they have more fun sitting with cousins and grand parents since you will be pulled in many directions. Although the idea of a kids only table, with coloring books and fun activities sounds like a great idea, most of the time children won’t remain at that table when dinner starts. It’s sort of like Thanksgiving where they want to sit at the “big table.” Most children want to sit next to their parents instead of at a kid’s table in the corner. This doesn’t mean they won’t visit the kids activity table at some point in the night to draw or do activities, so it’s not a bad idea to still have a kids activity table.
Seating Chart, Place Cards or Escort Cards?
Once you’ve gotten your final guest count completed and figured out where to put everyone, all you have to do is decide how to guide guests to their seats.
A Guest Seating Chart or Poster
One of the easiest ways to do this is with a Guest Seating Chart that is placed in a highly visible place during the cocktail hour.
Usually displayed alphabetically near the entrance of the reception, seating charts provide a large visual of all guests’ names with their designated tables. This option is the least stressful in our opinion, as it doesn’t require you to type out every guests name on a card and figure out where they will sit at their table. We provide a template for our couples that they can fill out, and then we send it off to our local printer for them. We display it in the cocktail reception on an easel, and the guests simply read their name on the chart or poster and look for their table number. You can also choose to make this a DIY project and create your own. The venue director or DJ/Emcee will inform the guests how the table numbers are arranged before they begin seating everyone.
These tented cards can be used along with an escort card or alone. Displayed in alphabetical order on a table near the entrance of the reception, they usually include the guest’s name and table number. Once at the table, guests can select their own seats.
These are the most formal, and take the most work. Used in the most formal seating plans, escort cards usually contain the guest’s name on the outer envelope, and their table number on the inside card. Place cards will then be placed at each place setting at each table, designating their seats.
Before creating your seating plan, ask your venue coordinator for the floor plan for your total guest count. You can experiment with various arrangements before making your final decision for where to seat everyone. When in doubt, trust your instincts. Anticipate some last minute changes to happen, as this is just part of planning an event of this magnitude. If you haven’t received all of your RSVP’s by the date requested, plan on calling those guests. It will save you a lot of stress and frustration if they were to call you at the last minute and tell you they are coming. On the flip side, you don’t want to pay for guests who don’t show up. Your venue and caterer will need your final numbers by a specific date, and most times that number cannot be changed without a change fee.
Written by Elisabeth Montoya Co-owner and Lead Designer of The Bella Sera Event Center