There are several planning aspects of a wedding that can cause a bride some stress, and seating arrangements tend to be at the top of that list. Deciding between table shape, size and who sits where can seem like an extremely daunting task. However, by using the “divide and conquer” method, coming up with a plan for both the ceremony and reception becomes much easier. Start with deciding on table style and size, then decide on the set up/arrangement of the tables, followed by how guests will find their seats. Lastly, be sure to take into consideration a few important factors related to seating, and you will be able to stay organized, while saving yourself some headaches.
There are two standard table styles for general guest seating at a wedding. Banquet tables are rectangular shapes, and round tables are circular. The most common sizes used for banquet tables are 6’ and 8’ lengths. For round tables, they are 5’ and 6’ sizes. When deciding on which table to use, consider the amount of guests that are you are inviting, the amount of space available for tables, and the number of guests able to fit at each size of table. The 6’ banquet tables will comfortably fit six guests, with three on each side, and the 8’ banquet tables will comfortably fit 8 guests, with four on each side. The number of guests at each of these tables can be increased by two, when seating guests on the ends of the tables, however it starts to get a bit tight on elbow room. For round tables, 5’ rounds comfortably fit 8, and 6’ rounds comfortably fit 10. You can squeeze two more guests at each of these tables, however, as with putting guests on the end of banquet tables, it starts to get a bit cramped. Remember that just because a table can fit more guests, does not necessarily mean that is the best size for a large event. A few more 5’ round tables may actually be a better choice than a few less 6’ round tables, in order to properly fit within your venue space, while also giving your guests room to move around.
8’ banquet tables are often used for buffet tables, as well as guest seating. 6’ tables are typically used for drink, dessert, guest book, memory, and gift tables. Other table sizes, such as 4’ banquet tables, 4’ round tables, and 3’ round tables are traditionally used for cake tables, or as a sweetheart table for the bride and groom. Farm tables are similar to banquet tables, as they are rectangular in shape. The biggest difference, other than the look and material, is that Farm tables are about 40” wide, which is 10” wider than a standard banquet table. This is very important to keep in mind when deciding on which style of table to use in your available space. Cocktail tables are a great addition to any event, as they provide guests with a place to congregate, and set down a drink, without having to return to their seat.
Once you have decided on the sizes, and amounts, of tables you need, the next step is to decide how they will be set up. Traditionally, a head table, or sweetheart table, faces the rest of the guest seating. However, for a more casual event, there may not be a specific head table, and the bride and groom may simply sit at the same table as family members. Head tables will typically seat the bride, groom, and the bridal party. A variation on this would be to have immediate family on either sides of the bride and groom at the head table, instead of the bridal party, or simply the parents. If you are unable to decide between having your bridal party or family sitting at the head table with you, a sweetheart table may be a better route. This makes it so the bride and groom sit alone together in front of guests, and ensures no one feels left out. With this option, VIP tables for family, and the bridal party, are typically the closest tables to the sweetheart table.
Guest seating arrangements are based on the style of table and the amount of available space. Round tables are usually set up individually, while banquet style tables give you the option to set them up separately, or cafeteria style, meaning placed end to end. It is also becoming popular to have two banquet tables set up together to create a square seating arrangement. You can also mix and match banquet and round tables to add some extra decorative flair. Remember to account for at least 100 square feet per table, when deciding on a set-up, as guests will need to be able to comfortably navigate around each table. If you are unsure of what will fit in the venue space you are using, try downloading a free version of a party planning program. There are several free versions available online, and these will allow you to input the size of your space, and select your table size, in order to ensure everything will fit.
After figuring out how you would like to configure your seating, the next decision is to choose between assigned or open seating. Using a basic template of your table layout, with post-it notes to assign tables, or individual seats, is the easiest way to get started. It is most common to have guests assigned to a specific table, without assigning specific seats. In this case, having a seating chart, or escort cards, would be the most efficient option to guide guests to the correct table. If doing assigned seats, start with a seating chart, and then have place cards at each seat to let guest knows which seat is there’s. This works great if you are doing a plated service, as it makes it easy for the serving staff to know ahead of time where each plate will be set.
For the ceremony, the front row of seats is traditionally reserved for immediate family, or VIP guests. Reserved seats for deceased loved ones are also typically in the front row. Hanging signs on each chair can ensure that other guests do not sit in a reserved seat. Be sure to have a noticeable sign for guests on the way to, or beside, the ceremony seating area, providing seating instructions. It has become very popular to have guests sit in any available seat, rather than be separated by sides for bride and groom. Some families may be much larger than others, so having general seating can compensate for possible uneven guest seating that would occur if seats were split up by bride and groom sides. Having a sign instructing how you would like your guests to be seated for the ceremony can prevent any confusion if you do not want to assign ushers.
Finally, taking into consideration a few important details will complete your seating arrangement planning! Be sure to account for any items beyond guest seating that will take up space in your reception area. Buffet tables, gift or guestbook tables, lounge seating areas, and even photo booths all need to be accounted for when dividing up space for guest seating tables, if they are all being set up in the same area. The dance floor also needs to be taken into consideration, as you will want to find out if it will need to be covered with guest seating during the meal and then cleared for dancing afterwards, or if there is enough room to have it clear the entire time. Also, try to make sure that as many guests as possible are able to see the head table, or sweetheart table. No guest wants to be staring at a wall all night, and although in some cases it is unavoidable, it is a good idea to keep this in mind while deciding on your layout. This is another example of a situation where using free party planning software can be a huge help in preventing anyone from feeling left out! If you are working with a personal attendant, or an event planner, seating arrangements are a great time to have them provide assistance. However, if you are doing the planning on your own, by following the recommended break down of steps above, planning your seating arrangements should be a breeze. So remember, by taking each part of the planning step by step, it is easy to stay organized without feeling overwhelmed. Thanks for reading, and happy wedding planning!