Over the years there are two there elements of wedding planning that brides always find very stressful – first is choosing the perfect bridesmaid’s dresses and the second is the seating plan. So I thought I would put together some tips to make the dreaded seating plan a bit easier!
Deciding how to seat your guests takes diplomacy and common sense. There's no right or wrong way, but there are basic guidelines that should make the job easier and hopefully more successful.
1. Start with a floor plan that is to scale. That means that you need to know how much space you have and how many tables will fit into that space. Your floor plan will generally come from the venue, the banquet manager or sales representative that is working with you should be able to provide a floor plan of the space that will show the dance floor, the band space, bars and buffets (if needed) entrances and exits – you need to know where the entrance to the kitchen is and where the bathrooms are. Based on the approximate number of guests, they should be able to create a table layout for you. This working floor plan should be created once the bride has a pretty good idea of her guest count, so this is something that is done in the last 3 to 4 weeks before the wedding. It can be done earlier, but be prepared for last minute changes that can substantially throw off the entire seating plan. If you are using a tent, the tent company should be able to provide a floor plan for you but some of the smaller companies might not have the computer programs to do this and you will have to create your own floor plan using graph paper.
2. As a general rule of thumb, most floor plans will be based on using 60” rounds with 10 guests at each table. Therefore, if you are expecting 100 guests, you will need 10 tables. But as with everything, there are exceptions. There are basic tables that most venues use or rent.
36” round which seats 4 or 5 and these are primarily used in the cocktail space.
42” round which seats 5 to 7 guest
48” round which seats 6 to 8 guests
54” round which seats 7 to 9 guests
60” round which seats 8 to 10 guests
66” round which seats 9 to 11 guests
72” round which seats 10 to 12 guests
Now in addition to these basic table sizes there are squares, rectangles, farm tables, light up tables, high boys, ½ rounds and serpentine. Work with your banquet manager to learn what table options they offer or if you are renting tables, work with your florist/designer to find the table that is right for the design of the space.
3. When you are creating the floor plan, it is a good idea to start with a few extra tables. If you have 100 guests and therefore believe that you will need 10 tables, start with a floor plan that has 12 or 13 tables. Even though a 60” round can hold up to 10 guests you might find that you have a group of 9 cousins that need to sit together or you have 8 work friends that should sit by themselves – so you will find it easier if you have some flexibility on the number of guests that you can put at each table. Also know that often brides will mix table sizes. You might have a total of 10 tables, but 8 will be 60” rounds and 2 will be 72” rounds because you needed to have a few larger groups. Again, your options will need to come from the banquet manager as they will know what will work best in their space and the floor plan has to reflect the needs of the wait staff moving between the tables to serve and clear properly.
4. After you have an approved seating plan, take the floor plan to a copy center and ask to have it enlarged. I find it helpful if the floor plan ends up being about 3 feet by 4 feet. Then take your guest list and cut each name out or write each name on a “post-it note”. These two tools will allow you to “play” and rearrange the seating until you are comfortable.
5. Now it is time to start assigning seats. Start by assigning yourselves a table. The bride and groom may wish to sit with the bridal party – this may require a special table that can be created using rectangles. Tell your banquet manager that you would like to create a head table that will seat 17 guests and see what they suggest. Or the bride and groom may wish to sit by themselves at what is called a “Sweetheart Table”, or the bride and groom can sit at a family table.
After the bride and groom are set, seat your families, and any remaining bridal party members. The tables around the bride and groom should have immediate family or close friends. As you encounter tricky dilemmas along the way -- and you know you will – try seating the difficult person at different tables until you find the space that is best.
Sometimes the room is divided so that the bride and groom are in the middle of the room facing the band and the bride’s family and friends are seated on the right side of the room and the groom’s family and friends are seated on the left side. And sometimes the room is mixed, again – there is no right or wrong way to do this.
If you have a guest who has trouble walking or uses a wheelchair, try to place this guest at a table that will allow easy access to the door so that they do not have to maneuver throughout the entire room.
The tables closest to the band will be a bit louder so it is generally better to put the younger guests right next to the band and around the dance floor.
If you have family members or friends who do not get along or parents who are divorced and have trouble being with each other, then it is best to separate them and place their tables on opposite sides of the room. It is unfortunate when this happens but it does happen and it is best to deal with it.
6. Last minute changes will always happen so be prepared for a guest to drop out because they get ill or have a family emergency. Or you have invited a friend as a single but they show up with a date….I always go over the seating plan the night before the wedding, just to confirm any changes that have happened in the last minute. I always bring extra escort cards, a good pen and the seating chart to the wedding so that I can make these last minute changes.