How to Create a Seating Plan (Without the Tears!)

By Felicity Newburry

Seating Plans: The task sounds easy enough, but ask any bride and you will quickly find that it was likely one of the most stressful parts of her wedding preparation! So save on the tears with our handy advice on how to negotiate the tricky task of seating arrangements…without being forced to reach for a bottle of wine!

Image by Coralee Stone Photography

Should You Even Have Organised Seating?

This is a fair question! You may be wondering: “What is the point of all this seating mumbo-jumbo?” and rightly so! It’s a tricky and generally time-consuming business, especially if you don’t want to offend or disappoint any of your friends or family with your seating decisions. At the end of the day, you do not need to have a seating plan. There is no law that decrees your wedding reception obsolete if you neglect to even have tables!

However, there are some very good reasons for having organised seating. Despite the stress it may cause now, a seating plan will save you from a lot more than stress on your wedding day, guaranteed.

First of all,  guests like to know where they’re sitting. It shows that you have put a lot of thought into who they’re seated with and it cuts down the confusion of “who’s sitting with who?” when it comes to dinner. You can also ensure that close family and best friends are near the top table, rather than your second cousin or a distant aunt.

It is also incredibly helpful for catering staff. If you have guests with special dietary requirements, a seating plan will ensure the guest with an allergy to shell-fish doesn’t get given the seafood chowder by accident. It is also helps the kitchen figure out how many hors-d’oeuvres need to be set at each table, not to mention champagne glasses & table settings.

Image by Jeff Tisman Photography

Consider Divorced Parents

Not every divorced couple has the whole ‘civility’ thing down to an art and that’s okay - it doesn’t have to cause you any stress when planning the ‘table of honour.’ The table of honour traditionally seats the bride and groom’s parents, along with the grandparents of both sides closest to the top table. However, this doesn’t need to be adhered to in the case of divorced or separated parents. Instead, you could easily have a table for each parent, that parent’s parents, and even some close family friends or siblings. So what if you end up with four ‘tables of honour’? Every wedding and every family is unique.

Manage Family Tensions

Family is wonderful, but they are often complex. There are often small grudges or misunderstandings, such as the secret recipe that was never returned or the lawn mower that was given back with no petrol and blunt blade. Navigating extended family tensions is a tricky business and when it comes to the seating plan, it is strongly advisable that you ask for help! Work closely with your fiancé and ask the parents about potential minefields: Was it Cousin Sally or Aunt Gertrude who had unresolved drama with Grandma Doreen?

It’s tempting to try and please everyone, but it’s important that you don’t get too caught up in these minor issues. Both you and your fiancé’s families love and suport you and if there are any serious issues on the day, they should have the courtesy to sort it out themselves. Otherwise, a well-stocked bar goes can go a long way in easing tension!

Make Your Friends Comfortable

This issue tends to crop up with the highschool, university, or work friends from old jobs that you’ve kept in touch with. Since a wedding is a fantastic party, and parties are social gatherings, you can expect most of your friends who come on their own to find people to mingle with.  

As for seating however, treat this as an opportunity to play a little mix-and-match! You never know who may hit it off! Just avoid the obvious, such as seating a single friend at a table of couples, or with people they clearly have little in common with. Stick to similar age groups, occupations or connections to you and your fiancé and everything will be just fine.

Should You Go Traditional or Mix It up?

Traditionally, the head table has the bride and groom (or groom & groom, bride & bride), with the bride on the groom’s right. The wedding party fans out either side according to role and gender. For example, to the left of the groom, sits the maid of honour, then a groomsman. While to the right of the bride sits the best man and a bridesmaid. The table of honour is usually shared by the parents, grandparents and wedding officiant. However, it doesn’t have to be like this!

In the instance of the head table, you could have the bride and groom in the middle with all the bridesmaids on one side and all the groomsmen on the other. Or you could scrap that all together and just have a sweetheart’s table for the two of you, or sit with your parents and parents-in-law. This allows your wedding party to mingle with the other guests or sit with their partners. Traditionally the head table is raised and overlooking the whole gathering, but there is no reason the head table can’t be more involved, such as in centre of the room. This would also save some guests from feeling as though they got the ‘cheap seats’!

Should You Assign Seats or Assign Tables?

This is an easy situation to navigate based on the style of your wedding reception menu. For many weddings, assigning tables to a list of guests will do just fine and all it involves is giving them a card or setting up a notice board with seating lists.

However, if your menu involves more than a buffet or one plated dish, then assigned seating is the best way to go. If you want to do this, than make sure you or the staff (in which case you might want to ask a friend to check it’s correct before the reception officially starts) to put name cards at each table setting.  Putting up a seating chart is still advisable in this case as guests may get lost trying to find their name. You could get creative and draw a birds-eye view of the dining hall on a a black-board or design a map to go in a pretty frame.

Make it Visual

Planning, mapping, and list-writing aren’t exactly fun, especially when it comes to the seat plan. However, there are some easy ways to go about making your seating arrangements visual and tangible. If you want to use software, then Wedding Wire is a great resource which allows you to visually plot out your reception hall, spacing and seating arrangements online.

Alternatively, a hard copy of the plan works just as well. For this, you could use a sheet of paper for each of the tables, named post-it notes as your guests, and your living room floor as birds-eye view of the dining hall.  You’ll easily be able to try out an array of different options. If you opt for the post-it notes, make sure you take a photo of the completed plan or transcribe it to a bullet point list. 

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