Do I have to assign seating for my wedding? This question comes up very often. The short answer, in my professional opinion, is YES. In sporadic instances, will I advise my clients not to assign seating in some way? Yes, but it is very rare.
First, let’s go over what assigned seating is. There are two ways to assign seating for your wedding guests. The first and most common way is to assign the table they will be seated. That means whatever chair they want to sit at that table is available to them. The second, less popular way is to assign actual seats at the table.
There are multiple ways to assign seating:
Escort cards, these cards will have the guests’ or couples’ names and indicate what table they are seated. They are typically displayed in alphabetical order on a table at the entrance to the reception
Place cards, cards that have guests’ names on them and are placed on top of or next to the place setting at each table.
Table map, table maps can be as elaborate or simple as you like. If you have a smaller guest count, you may list the names by the table, as it doesn’t take very long to find your name. If you have a larger guest count consider listing the name alphabetically or have two maps available for guests to look at, so there isn’t a bottleneck at your cocktail hour. PRO TIP: Give your wedding planner an alphabetical guest list with the table number in case the guest cannot find their name on the table map or lost their escort card.
When considering what direction you want to take with your seating assignments, consider these factors:
- Does your family get along with each other? I know this sounds a bit harsh, but it is true. I did a wedding where it was imperative that Aunt Susan didn’t sit next to Cousin Clara and Uncle Pat couldn’t be anywhere near his brother Mickey. In this case, assigning seats at a table is essential, as you don’t want family drama to interfere with your wedding day.
- Are you serving a plated meal? While you don’t have to assign seats for a plated meal, assigned tables work too; it does make it much easier on the caterer. Typically when a client has a plated dinner, I will have a list of each table guest and what they ordered that I share with the caterer. Each guest has a name card (either place card or escort card) that indicates what table they are seated and, in some way, indicates what dinner they ordered.
- Are you having a very formal dinner? Formal, white-glove dinners, call for place cards, there I said it. If you are having a decadent 6-course meal, please have place cards, it just elevates the whole experience for your guests.
- Is your guest count small? A small guest count is a great way to incorporate place cards; during cocktail hour, your guests can mingle around and peruse where they are sitting. Place cards add a personal touch to an intimate dinner.
- Is your guest count large? If so, I typically recommend assigned tables, the worst feeling in the world for a guest is looking out to a sea of tables that are half occupied and trying to find a place to sit. Honestly, it feels like your first day of lunch during junior high. You want your guests to be seated with those people they enjoy, so put your work colleagues together, your second cousins, etc. They will all have fun being at the same table and won’t have to worry about rushing from cocktail hour to “claim their spot.”
- Are you having a cocktail style reception? This is the ONLY time I do not recommend assigned seating. The idea behind this reception style is for guests to mix and mingle, not staying at one table.
I know putting together a seating chart can be very time consuming and stressful. One trick I tell my clients is to use paper plates for each table, write down each guest’s name on a sticky note. Then place the notes on each table as you build your list. It is an easy way to move them around or change out names if necessary. While assigning tables (or chairs) to guests is not the most fun thing you will do planning your wedding, it is essential. You want your guests to have enjoyed themselves, and simple things like providing them direction on seating will ensure they have a great time at your wedding.