Open seating may seem like the friendly way to go about handling your reception tables, but it actually kind of sucks for your guests.
Some of your guests know each other well but they may be part of a very large group of friends or family who won’t all fit at one table, and nobody wants to find out at your wedding that they are the couple voted off the table when space is limited to eight seats.
The world has been weird lately, to say the least. Add to the usual challenges, when guests have to seat themselves, family politics and actual ghastly political polarization of our world today, plus sprinkle on COVID concerns – it’s a recipe for disastrous levels of discomfort to seat guests at unplanned wedding tables!
As a planner, it sucks to see twelve people squeezing at a table built for 8 just to look across the room and see the sad couple not talking to each other, eating quietly at a big empty table – all alone. This is EXACTLY what happens, without fail, every time a couple doesn’t listen to this important advice: organize your seating!
You want to create a welcoming reception where everyone fits somewhere, feels wanted, and can relax. If you’ve never felt social anxiety pre-COVID, and you haven’t done much getting out with large groups since, you may not fully understand the kindness it shows your guests to plan your table seating arrangements.
Now before you get overwhelmed considering this task with all you have on your plate, relax and let’s go over the types of organized seating and the actual how to for completing this task.
Assigned Tables With Open Seating
Unless you are hosting a very intimate or very formal affair, assigned tables with open seating, is going to be the easiest and most practical form of organized seating for you. So what does it mean?
With assigned tables, but open chairs, you direct your guests to sit at exact tables set up for specific people to sit at, but at those tables the assigned guests can sit wherever they want.
This method is great because you generally put people who may know each other, or who would likely get along, at the same table and from there they can decide who they want to sit by. If you know you have large groups of friends who can’t fit at one table, you can decide how you want to randomly break them up at adjacent tables. It’s not going to be a big deal to your guests if you put them at one table vs. another. If you need a few tables of 7 or 9 to make the numbers work, that’s typically not a problem, especially at rounds. Your catering staff and design team will make sure the number of seats you assign to a table, match the number of place settings at that table on your wedding day.
Table Charts vs. Escort Cards
Should you use a table chart or escort cards? The simple answer is escort cards are almost always a great idea with assigned tables and open seats. Table charts are fine if your dinner service is family style or buffet ONLY.
What’s the benefit of an escort card? If you are serving plated meals, your catering team needs to know each guests exact meal choice. How do we communicate that if you don’t have assigned seating? The simple answer is on the back of the escort card. We either use color-coded stickers or write the word “Fish”, “Vegetarian”, etc.
What are the down sides to escort cards, the only huge one for Oregon weddings = windy outdoor weddings. We often have to plan ahead to weight them down and if you hope for the best vs. plan for the worst, outdoor escort cards can be a true disaster!
Escort cards should always be in alphabetical order by last name, so guests don’t struggle to find theirs – but they don’t have to be cards at all! Get creative, especially if they need to be weighed down or if they don’t need to communicate meal selection to servers (if dinner is family style or buffet).
If using just a table chart, always have a list of the guests seated at that table on the back of the table number or table name sign at the table. This may seem like an extra step, but some guests may miss the chart on the way in or forget their table number. It helps to have that info at the table.
Assigned Tables And Seats
If you are hosting an intimate wedding or a very formal wedding, it is nice to assign exact seats.
If you are having an intimate wedding with everyone seated at one large King’s Table, you only need place cards and they should be preset at each place setting by your planner and design team.
If you are hosting a large formal wedding or there are more than just a few tables involved in your set up, you should assign table numbers to each table or segment of table for extra long tables, and have both a table chart – to direct people where to go, and place cards pre-set at each seat by your planner and design team.
The How To’s of Organized Seating
Step 1 hire a planner/designer.
Step 2 You need to know your service style, floor plan, and plated options if hosting a plated meal.
Step 3 Include RSVP cards in your invitation Suite send them with a deadline for RSVPs at least 3-4 weeks prior to your wedding date. They should be returned to your planner, yourself, or a designated other (mom, etc.)
Step 4 We highly recommend having us create a custom Google form designed to capture all of the details you need if anyone doesn’t send in an RSVP card, prefers to RSVP online, or doesn’t do it correctly to start with. I’ll be the first to tell you I absolutely hate the wedding platform RSVPs found on websites like The Knot or others. They’re difficult to customize perfectly, difficult to use as collaborative docs, and don’t have all the awesome ease of the auto generated Google form response data sheets plus the magic we can work with these simple, free for you tools, on the back end. You can, text, email, and share your link to the response form on your wedding website, through social media, etc. It’s super simple for anyone you want to collaborate on the response data, and easy to add information you receive in the mail or from mom, etc.
Step 5 once you have your RSVPs, plus one names, meal choices, etc. it’s time to assign each guest to a table using the floor plan created by your planner/designer.
Step 6 If you have long farm or collections of 8’ tables seating guests make sure your floor plan reflects a number for each connected long table (ex. it’s not one table of 32, it’s 4 tables of 8) and if you’ve named your tables creatively instead of using numbers, make sure your floor plan reflects those names.
Step 7 Your Planner will use all the RSVP info, and your table assignment info to create a master table chart and list for you or your calligrapher to write out or print your cards and/or table chart. Your planner will also use this info to notify the caterer of final head counts, meal counts, counts per table, etc.
Step 8 Your Planner needs finalized table charts and place cards in hand at least a week to several days before your wedding to alphabetize, prep for your design or add any design touches planned, and check for errors, etc.
This may sound like a lot, but it’s not with the help of a planner and attention to detail.