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If you’re having a small, intimate wedding, a wedding chart probably isn’t an issue. The fewer people you need to deal with, the less problematic seating becomes. But as the guest list grows, so does the problem of where to seat them.
You may well become the director of your own play positioning your cast of characters in the most sensible way possible without causing hurt feelings and family trauma. If you are hiring a wedding planner, discuss your guest list with him or her for optimal seating ideas.
Start by creating a layout of your venue as your basic guide. You can do this electronically or the old-fashioning way, using pen and paper or a big board. This will give you the chance to move your guest around until you find the best mix.
This may not always be easy. When dealing with any large group of people, you need to consider the personalities involved – as well as remember who is currently feuding with whom. Throw in exes, extended families, and step-relations, and you need to channel Cecil B. DeMille for the best staging.
Creating a seating chart for your wedding will definitely make your big day flow more smoothly, though. People will know where to head at the reception instead of hunting for a table, and with thoughtful grouping, you will have ensured that conversation flows easily. It will also your Goth cousin and her date from plunking herself down next to your stick-in-the-mud boss.
Start your seating chart a few weeks before the wedding, when most, if not all, RSVPs have arrived. Remain flexible to last-minute changes and surprises. A few people who did not respond WILL show up.
This is your special day, but you want your guests to have a great time, as well. There are specific apps and other digital tools that can allow you to design your seating arrangements electronically. Otherwise, a big board and colored post-its make it easy to shift guests around.
Color-coding your guests into specific categories is a great help, i.e., red for family, green for friends, and purple for others. Be sure to leave a few empty seats to accommodate unexpected arrivals. Some couples deliberately leave an empty chair or two at each table for easy mingling and socializing. It’s a thoughtful touch and keeps the aisles between the tables clear.
You need to decide on the type of table setup that is best for your reception. Many couples have a long table for the newlyweds, bridal party, and parents that face the guests. Keep in mind that spouses or significant others of the bridal party are not a part of the group. Seat them at a table with friends.
Some couples dispense with a head table and fill the room with smaller tables for everyone, including the bridal couple, who may well occupy a sweetheart table of their own separate from everyone else but still at the center. Normally, six people are ideal for a normal-sized table, eight people should be the maximum. This gives people enough room, yet it’s intimate enough for a group conversation.
Whatever the seating, use yourself and your spouse as the focal point and create a ripple effect starting with the two of you and work outward. Close family members get the choice seats closest to you, then the wedding party, further out are dear friends, Aunt Irma from Dubuque, and must-invite VIPs such as the boss, with everyone else in the outer periphery. In old society circles, this was called being seated below the salt shaker.
Keep age in mind. Older guests may not see too well and may be driven to distraction by a rambunctious band, while younger guests will love being close to the music. Older guests may enjoy being seating around the dance floor, however, where they can happily watch the action instead of participating. If you have any doubt, simply ask the parties involved.
Age is one, but not the only, seating criteria. You may find that grandma and grandpa would love to meet your colleagues or college friends. The best tables include a few people who already know each and some new, interesting others. This makes for the most stimulating conversations.
Keep couples together. If you are inviting children, they will undoubtedly have a better time at a table of their own. That’s a great use of a table that is way beyond the salt shaker and perhaps not so desirable. The kids won’t care.
When it comes to mixing couples and singles, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. A “singles” tables may be deemed to be for losers only or a mass attempt at matchmaking, so try to avoid that, if possible. But do use this opportunity for some creative and discreet matchmaking. Is your co-worker the perfect match for the groom’s cousin? You can ensure a delightful coincidence when they just happen to be seated next to each other.
Sometimes, family dynamics can be a headache at weddings, but you can alleviate most problems by following a few, simple rules. Regardless how you feel about a stepparent, he or she comes as a package deal with your parent. They should be seated together, including at the head table. In extreme cases, this can mean two sets of parents for each of you. Your wedding day is a time for joy, not family discord.
Sometimes, it’s the parents who can sow disharmony. Angry exes can be a bride’s worst nightmare. If this is the case, seat them at separate tables, along with their current significant other. Ensure that their tables are of equal importance and equidistant from the bridal couple so that each parent feels equally loved.
If you have family members who are hostile toward each other (other than parents), seat them at opposite ends of the room. They will surely appreciate it. On the other hand, if you have a whole group that belongs together (your sports team, college friends, or co-workers), by all means seat them together and let them enjoy themselves.
You may have a guest who doesn’t know anyone else at the wedding, such as a college roommate who is flying across the country to attend. Make sure this person is seated among a few other friendly singles or couples who will make him or her feel welcome.
After finally deciding where everyone sits, help your guests find their place at the reception by using place cards or escort cards. These two types of cards are not the same. Place cards are more formal and will direct your guests to their assigned seat.
These place cards may be color coded for the benefit of the caterer to indicate meal preference. Escort cards won’t guide your guests to a seat but to a table, where they seat themselves. It is slightly less formal.
You’ll be spending a significant amount of time on arranging the most congenial seating possible for your wedding. Once you have resolved sensitive family issues, there is no need to overly stress the rest.
Keep in mind it’s only one meal, and hopefully, your guest will behave like adults. You won’t be able to please everyone, but a good seating chart is your best battle plan for a successful reception.