How to Determine the Room's Overall Layout
As bride and groom, you must first decide where you're going to sit. Rather than do a traditional dais, many couples now seat themselves and their attendants at a standard round or rectangular table among the guests. Avoid a sweetheart table (a table for two)—it keeps you too isolated from everyone else. Guest tables can be round or rectangular, seating 8 to l0, or square, seating six, or a combination of shapes. Ask your caterer what style tables and chairs are available.
How to Decide Who Sits with Whom and Where
"Start grouping early," says Allison Smith Van Every, a bridal consultant in Santa Cruz, CA. "Doing a seating plan is trickier than it might seem." Split people into broad groups first—bride's family, groom's family, immediate relatives, more distant relations, friends, colleagues. Place groups in relation to the head table in order of priority: immediate family closest, friends and colleagues farther.
When putting tables together, go through your list and draw parallels—join up guests with similar hobbies, jobs, or interests. Also, make sure you're up on any drama. Is Uncle Dave still sore at Uncle Max? Are your college friends all on speaking terms? Old conflicts, bad vibes, or just plain incompatibility can mute a table for the entire evening. "When serious thought is put into the seating plan," says New York–based wedding consultant Susan Chagnon, "it makes for a better party. Always."
How to Think About the Single Guests
Most experts used to suggest keeping all the single guests together (weddings were—and are—a great place to meet someone). But now it's more common to seat people based on their shared interests, not marital status. If your single cousin Amy is crazy about scuba-diving and so are your married friends Joe and Mandy, seat them at the same table.
How to Help Your Guests Have More Fun
Try this icebreaker: Write out index cards with surprising tidbits about each person at the table ("Someone here has a python/was a pro wrestler"), and ask guests to figure out who's who. People lose their inhibitions when given an excuse to interact with one another.
How to Create Your Own Seating Plan
If you're having a formal reception, you need a seating plan. Here, the low-tech/high-tech options:
Oak tag or poster board
It couldn't be simpler: Draw large circles or squares on the oak tag to represent every table, then write each guest's name on a Post-it and start shuffling them around.
Get your hands on a step-by-step guide that addresses seating plans, like BRIDE'S Wedding Planner (Ballantine Books).
Click with a wedding-planning program like Smart Wedding 3.29, Wedding Magic, or Seating Arrangement.