Do I Really Need Assigned Reception Seating?
In Reception Seating Part 1 – Assigned Seats or Not – we answer the wedding question that brides have been struggling with for as long as there have been wedding receptions. Admittedly, it is a lot of work to plan seating for your guests, but this is one area you really need to tackle. (Don’t panic, we’re here to help.)
84% of wedding guests surveyed prefer assigned reception seating to open seating. The results were particularly clear for guests aged over 50, where only 8% like unassigned seating. Only 8 out of 100 guests wanted to select their own seats. The message is clear:
Assigned Reception Seating = Happy Guests
Why Can’t People Select Their Own Seats?
In theory, unassigned reception seats sounds like an awesome idea. It could save you time in your planning, but when it comes to the wedding day you are likely to find:
- There may be a stampede to get to the “good seats”. While it is rare, I have seen guests pull chairs from each other and save seats for late-arriving guests. It can get ugly.
- The opposite can also be true. Guests may take all the back seats in the room, leaving empty seats near the front empty if you have no-shows.
- Guests not assigned to a table will take longer to select their seats. Some are likely to still be wandering around when you are ready to serve the food.
- Arriving guests will see coats draped over chairs, chairs tipped to reserve, and other place-saving tricks. Your carefully planned wedding vision may get swallowed in the jumble.
They Can, But They Won’t Be Happy
- Couples and families who arrive last will probably not get to sit together. They’ll have to fit into the single seats that are open because of odd numbered parties who are already seated.
- Consider that elderly guests may not be able to hear or see as well as other guests. And equally important, they will not want to sit too close to the music.
- You are going to need more seats, and some tables will have empty seats when you have unassigned seating. It is impossible for everyone to find a seat unless you split up couples or families when you have unassigned seats equal to your number of guests. You generally plan at least 10-15% of extra seats to accommodate your guests with unassigned seating.
- Uninvited guests or those who did not RSVP make take seats intended for your invited guests.
The simple fact is, that unless you assign seating, your guests’ wedding experience will not be memorable in the way you planned. Before you panic, let’s look closer at what assigned reception seating can mean to you and your planning.
Assigning Reception Seating Could Mean Assigning Tables Only
When most brides think of assigned reception seating for their guests, they think of a huge complicated chart with each person assigned to a specific seat. They quickly develop a sense of fear, dread and an overall nightmare descending on their dream wedding.
In the USA it is becoming far more common to assign tables and allow guests to select their own seats. In other countries, assigned seats may be more common, so this is your opportunity to be a trend setter.
Both are effective ways to seat guests. Choose based on your personal preference, size of wedding, and the time you can dedicate to this planning task.
|Pros of Seat Assignment||Pros of Table Assignment|
|You can seat VIP guests in the most appropriate seats||There is less planning work for you than assigning individual seats|
|If you are serving a seated meal with multiple menu selections, the wait staff will know where to deliver meals to specific guests.||No need for place cards – but you can still lay the appropriate meal designation tags on each table and asks guests to place their selection in front of their place when they are seated.|
|Most popular with senior guests||Guests get to select their dinner partners|
Remember you can mix and match your choices. If you know there are preferences in family seating, for example, you can create place cards for those tables, and assign other guests just by table. Mom still gets to face the bridal table, and you do not have to arrange individual seats for every guest.
Number of Guests Matters
As you would expect, the larger the wedding reception, the bigger the need for assigned seating. Many brides avoid it because of the time involved in assigning seats.
But this really does not have to be a huge chore. There are many free online apps you can use to assign seats. You can also use the tried and true post it note method or an excel spread sheet saved to Google-docs so you can update anytime or anywhere.
If you have 50 or fewer guests, and can provide extra seats, people who know each other, or a very causal wedding where guests will not spend much time sitting at tables, you may be able to get away with unassigned seating. It is up to you to decide if it is worth the risk of potentially unhappy guests.
Compromise – Assigned Tables and Guests Choose Their Own Seats
The perfect compromise to keep guests happy is to have reception seating assigned to tables, and then allow them to choose their position at the table. You’ll reduce your planning time as well as the number of seats you will need. And guests only have to choose between 6 – 8 seats, so everyone is happy.
Remember you can mix and match your seating plans. If you know there are preferences in family seating, for example, you can create place cards for those tables, and assign other guests just by table. Mom still gets to face the bridal table, and you do not have to arrange individual seating for every guest.
Use these helpful tips when deciding which tables to assign to guests:
Reception Seating – Consider Guest Comfort
You may want to seat guests with people they know for a comfortable feeling. Of course, you could also seat guests with people they do not know so they will meet new friends. (Surveys tell us that guests prefer option 1, but if you are adventurous, there is also the second option.)
Seat people together with similar ages or interests.
Be aware of prejudices and preferences of individuals. This is not the time to make a social statement by seating your very liberal friend at the same table with your staunchly conservative Aunt Martha.
Reception Seating for Family
Seat families together, if they get along well. If not, separate tables are the ideal way to allow everyone their own space to enjoy your wedding. They are all here for you. Your goal is a happy, stress free reception, not a family reunion.
Reception Seating for Divorced Parents
Don’t even think of seating divorced parents at the same table. It may mean an additional table, but this is better than the discomfort (and possibly aggressive or upsetting behavior) you can avoid by seating them separately.
I know, you are thinking “Can’t they just be adults for one day?” But why take the chance of ruining your day?
It may take some extra planning on your part but do everything you can to make table placement equal for divorced parents. I have seen so many brides dream reception shattered when a parent felt slighted. Distance can be your friend. Use it.
Reception Seating for Children
Seat young children with parents unless you have a separate supervised area set aside for them. The key to success is “supervised”, especially for younger children. Otherwise parents will spend their time between tables or their children seated on their laps.
Be sure you have enough booster seats and high chairs for children who will need them. And include children in your table count. No one is happy when you squeeze a high chair into their table.
You can seat older children at a table together or with their parents, depending on your preference and knowledge of the children. We recommend supervision and planned activities just for them if seated separately, even for older children.
If you have locations with limited viewing space place your children’s area there. Children probably will not be interested in speeches anyway and other guests will be less distracted by their activities.
If you have many children attending, consider having a separate children’s lounge where children can eat and play without disturbing other guests. Make sure you plan adequate supervision and a comfortable place for little ones to lie down later in the evening. Planning quiet time with a movie and sleeping bags is a fantastic way to sooth tired and cranky kids while giving parents a much appreciated break.
Reception Seating and Creating Balance
Try to create balanced tables, with even numbers of males and females. If you are also assigning seats, it is traditional to alternate male-female-male-female guests.
Be aware of former relationships and do not seat exes together, unless you know them very well and are confident, they will be okay with it. (We don’t believe it is worth the risk, but you know your guests.)
Speeches and Toasts
If you are having speeches or announcements, try to seat the speakers where they can easily move to the front of the room when it is time for their presentation.
Reception Seating for Special Guests
If you have elderly or disabled guests, pregnant ladies, or guests with small children, they will appreciate it when you seat them near bathroom facilities.
Seat guests with mobility issues close to the door and out of heavy traffic areas. They will appreciate it.
If you are planning to move tables for a dance floor, avoid seating these guests at those tables.
Older guests like grandparents may have poor hearing and eyesight. Seat them where they can see and hear speeches. Seat them away from any loud music. They will thank you for it.
Reception Seating for Singles
Don’t wait until the end of your planning to place single guests at a table. You’ll end up with them feeling like the last kid picked in the lunch room when they are all bunched together at a single table. Be sure to fit them in as you distribute your guests among tables. If it means odd seating at a table, that is a small price to pay to keep guests happy.
If you do need to have odd numbers at a table, go for one less instead of crowding in one more at the table. Overcrowded guests are never comfortable and will remember how they felt as an add-on.
So, there you have it. The basics of assigned and unassigned reception seating made easy for you. If you still decide to go for unassigned seating, that is your choice and you know your guests better than anyone else. But with a little time and attention to detail, you can create a wedding experience your guests will enjoy from the moment they walk through the door.
This article is the first in an series to assist you, the bride, in your reception seating challenges. Other articles will include table sizes and number of guests, room capacity and more. If you would like to receive future articles automatically, subscribe in the comments area or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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