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Helpful Advice For Tackling Your Seating Plan

  |   By David Connolly

Coming up with a seating chart is one of the wedding tasks that can drive future brides and grooms up the wall. We're talking 'let's just elope!' levels of frustration. But if you want to share a special day with your nearest and dearest, you'll have to roll up those sleeves and get cracking because open seating isn't a walk in the park either. With the help of celebrity wedding planner and guest blogger David Connolly from Rich Bride, Poor Bride, we've got tips to make the process less arduous and to ensure your wedding seating plan works.

Q: David, what is the easiest way to do the seating plan? - Stephanie Ricciardi via Facebook

A: Hi Stephanie,

Firstly, I applaud you for deciding to tackle the challenge of a seating plan. I believe that predetermining the table and seat at which each of your guests will sit is appreciated as a convenience.

No.
01

Why seating plans are important

Predetermining the table and seat at which each guest will sit is convenient for various reasons.

  • Seating takes place more quickly, meaning food can be served according to your schedule. Remember, you'll hire your DJ, photographer, or other service providers for a set period, so sticking to a plan can get your ducks in a row and prevent you from paying extra.
  • It allows you to identify specifically to the servers which chair is getting which meal, who has allergies, who is underage, etc.
  • Left on their own, people sit without leaving spaces for couples, resulting in an eventual shift or the couples sitting apart. This is a wedding—you don't want to separate love birds.
  • It enables you to assign preferred seating to view the head table, speech podium, screens, etc. Imagine a scenario where some of your best buddies have to crane their necks to see over Bob from HR's head—no bueno.
  • If there is sensitivity to certain family members being in the eye-line of others, strategically-placed seats keep disaster at bay. For your reception to remain a comfortable, conflict-free zone, put space between adversaries.
  • It can be a clever matchmaking opportunity! Your wedding purchases, like that killer pair of heels you wore to your rehearsal, need another chance to shine, and someone else's wedding is the perfect place to make those dollars count.

So with justification made, on with the fun.

No.
02

Table types: traditional head table

I've experienced first-hand success with all of these layout options, beginning with the traditional head table. Here, the groom sits to the bride's right, at the centre, then the wedding party alternates male and female along the side of the table facing the guests. If your wedding party's too large to fit on one long table, there can be two-tiered tables. The bride and groom sit at the centre of the top table with no one directly in front of them on the lower tier. The wedding cake often fits into this gap. Alternatively, there's no gap, and the bride and groom are elevated enough or spotlit by special decorative elements to make it obvious who the main attractions are.

No.
03

Table types: traditional with a twist

The only difference between the traditional head table and this one is the inclusion of the dates/spouses of the wedding party. Again, you can have one or two tables that wrap around the front of the room, and the bride and groom sit at the centre. This layout works well if your wedding party is small and inviting other halves doesn't involve hiring the longest table in all of Canada.

No.
04

Table types:  table for two, aka "sweetheart table"

Having a dedicated table for the bride and groom has a practical purpose. If you're 'visiting' guests during dinner instead of having a receiving line, being at the same table with close friends and family members could disrupt their meal every time you leave or return from working the room. Sometimes, it's simply a much better fit, given the room's configuration. Don't worry; your pals will be close enough to help you with makeup touchups and special requests, if necessary.

No.
05

Table types: table for two plus two

Keep it tight with a semi-circle four-seater. It allows you, your maid of honour, groom, and the best man, to have pride of place. A smaller head table could also help you relax and savour the occasion, especially if you're the introverted type who feels drained by the idea of performing for people within earshot of you.

No.
06

Seat like with like

Now for the rest of the room. Here are some guidelines to consider and apply (or completely disregard) based on your situation. The universal law of magnetism will not cease to apply during your wedding. Seat the 'obvious' together: families, workmates etc... Then sub-divide into matched age groups and interests. This is where Post-it notes come in handy as you try various combinations. You're essentially a puppetmaster, so be benevolent and put some time and thought into this step to ensure your guests have the best time possible.

No.
07

Think of the special cases

Being a good host means anticipating your guests' needs as far as possible. Seat the elderly, disabled, pregnant and guests with newborns:

  • near doors, bathrooms, and relevant facilities
  • away from loudspeakers
  • at tables that will remain in the reception space throughout the night (not those that might be removed to create a dance floor)

For example, guests with newborns may appreciate not being placed near baby-waking loudspeakers, and if you have a buffet, you'd do well to seat the elderly close to the food. Guests in wheelchairs won't need a Tiffany chair, but they may require more space, and the table will need to be at the right height to accommodate them.

No.
08

Accommodate old friends and new

Weddings are special events where your favourite people can get to know one another—how rife with potential is that? Strive to place your guests next to one person they already know and one they don't, but you feel they will be compatible with. Many a social circle will widen by the end of the day.

No.
09

Divide the guys and gals

Try for an equal number of alternating males and females unless one of your common interest groups dictates otherwise. Balancing masculine and feminine energies at a table makes things interesting.

No.
10

Consider the kiddos

Children under the age of 10 should sit with their parents, and it's a good idea to seat parents with young children together at family tables. If there are enough pre-teens and teens, let them thrive at their own tables, but remember that older teens prefer being with their parents to predominantly 'baby' corners. You can place younger kids on the plan's worst-located table, as they don't care about the speeches—they care about goofing around.

No.
11

Ask about small people seats

Ask your guests to specify their needs for high chairs and booster seats. The latter takes its own place on the seating chart as it is a chair. High chairs, however, generally don't, so you have room to include someone else at the table.

No.
12

Get a second option

Share your completed plan with someone you trust in time to implement their suggestions should you agree on any changes. A second or even third opinion could give you much-needed perspective, particularly if you're having a larger wedding and are less tuned into extended family dynamics.

No.
13

Prep your plan early

As soon as your digital RSVPs start arriving, you can commence seating chart draft arrangements. Giving your guests a cut-off date should aid your cause. Creating a framed seating chart, either by table or alphabetically by name, must be completed in time for oversized printing and framing, so confirm the logistics—when's the latest date you can send your chart to the printer, in case there are last-minute changes?

No.
14

Don't group the maybes together

Avoid having a 'leftovers' table comprising those without dates and people you thought would decline your invite. If guests don't know anyone or don't RSVP for a plus-one, you can slot them into tables with common interests.

Finally, consider these suggestions, then do whatever suits you and your family best. Remember, as Abe Lincoln said: "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."

This article was originally published on Feb 25, 2015
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