Wedding Reception Seating Etiquette

Wedding Reception Seating Etiquette

Arranging family and friends at the reception can be tricky. Here’s the rundown of where everyone should sit and how to get them to their seats.

Your cousins have been feuding since the ’80s, your last single girlfriend is hypersensitive to being seated at the “wrong” table, and you have one couple coming from out of the country who only know you and your fiancé. What to do? With a little tact, diplomacy and common sense, you can create a seating plan that will make, well, almost everyone happy.

Why a Formal Seating Plan?

You may feel you’re not up to the task of developing a formal seating plan. The logic: If you provide enough seats, can’t everyone just figure it out on their own? The answer is: Yes, probably. But if you’ve ever been to a wedding without a seating plan before (and survived the riptide of guests trying to find their places), then you know why having one is a great idea. Taking the time to develop a plan will reduce your guests’ anxiety of trying to find a seat (and your involvement in mediating issues), and it ensures that couples who want to can sit together.

On the other hand, if you’re having fewer than 50 guests, you may not need a detailed plan if you don’t want one. You could also choose to designate the head tables (including you two, your wedding party and parents) with place cards, and allow the other guests to seat themselves. Some couples opt to have a cocktail party or buffet with a few tables, so guests can alternate sitting and eating. If this is what you plan to do, make sure your elderly guests have a place to sit down, possibly even by designating a separate table for them.

Who Sits Where?

Bridal Table

The newlyweds may sit at a long rectangular head table or round table at the focal point of the room, or alternatively, at their very own sweetheart table. Some couples choose to have no table at all, but to leave a few seats empty at every table so they can mingle throughout the reception. No matter which configuration you choose, the bridal table is usually set apart from the others by some type of decoration, such as flowers.

Classically, the groom sits to the bride’s right and the best man sits to her left. The maid of honor sits to the groom’s right. Depending on how large the table is, the other attendants can also be seated near the bride and groom. Back in the day, spouses and significant others were relegated to different tables, but this tradition is now generally ignored. If you can only fit the best man and maid of honor along with their significant others at your table, do so. Seat remaining attendants and their plus-ones at another table.

Wedding Reception Seating Etiquette

Family Tables

The parents of the couple often sit opposite each other at a large family table, with grandparents, the officiant and other close friends. Another option is for the parents to head their own tables, with their family members and close friends. In the case of divorced parents, each parent may also host his or her own table, smoothly diffusing any awkwardness or discomfort.

Mix and Match

As for the rest of your guests, should you put friends together or seat them with people they haven’t met? The answer is a bit of both. While it is a great idea to mix in a few new faces at each table, remember that people are most comfortable when they know some of their dinner companions. Be considerate. Not even your most gregarious friends will want to sit at a table full of complete strangers, so put acquaintances together when you can. If you have guests who don’t know anyone, seat them near guests with similar interests. If you have a group of friends that cannot fit at one table, split them down the middle, and fill in each table with other guests. Whatever you do, don’t leave one of the gang out.

If you have no idea what to do with your parents’ friends, let your parents and future in-laws arrange those tables. They’ll be thrilled to be involved, and this may keep them from trying to control of the rest of your seating plan.

Singles vs. Couples

If you’ve been dying to fix your old roommate up with your fiancé’s sibling, you might take this opportunity to discreetly seat them next to each other. But resist the urge to create a separate “singles” table, as this might embarrass your guests. On the other hand, don’t seat your unmarried friend at a table full of gushing newlyweds. A little sensitivity and some good common sense are the best guides.

Seating Children

If you have several children at your wedding, seat them together at a separate kids’ table. If your flower girl and ring bearer are the only children present, seat them with their parents.

Place Cards, Escort Cards or Seating Chart?

Now that you’ve figured out where to put everyone, decide how to lead them to their seats.

Place Cards

These tented cards can be used alone or with escort cards. Displayed near the entrance of the reception in alphabetical order, they usually include each guest’s name and table number. Once at the table, guests usually select their own seats.

Escort Cards

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 card inside. Place cards await guests at each table, designating their seats.

The Seating Chart

Usually displayed alphabetically in a pretty frame near the entrance of the reception, seating charts list your guests’ names with their designated tables. Additional place cards may be used at each table to designate assigned seats, if you wish.

Wedding Reception Seating Etiquette

Name Tags

This is a wedding, not a convention, so skip the name tags. Your guests are capable of making any introductions you haven’t made previously.

Note: Guests should never alter seating arrangements or switch seats at a wedding reception, but it’s perfectly acceptable to mingle at different tables after dinner.

Before creating your seating plan, it’s a good idea to obtain the floor plan and make several copies. This way, you can experiment with various different arrangements before making your final decision. When in doubt, trust your instincts. And no matter how perfect your final seating plan seems, you’ll undoubtedly receive at least one-last minute phone call begging you to change something to make a guest happy. Try to be accommodating, but don’t let it make you crazy. Chances are, after the dinner, everyone will get up and mingle anyway.

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