For many couples, the reception seating chart is one of the most dreaded and stressful parts of wedding planning. It usually starts off easy, but can quickly become complicated (and emotional!) once it's underway. Plus, since you have to wait for all your RSVPs to be in before you can start working on the seating plan, that often means you're juggling this gigantic project along with dozens of other down-to-the-wire tasks. To help make the seating-plan process a whole lot easier, follow our best advice:
1. Yes, you should assign tables.
Some brides may feel like skipping a formal seating plan, but if you've ever attended a wedding without one, then you'll know how anxiety-inducing it can be when it comes time to find a seat at a dinner table. Taking the time to develop a thoughtful seating plan will save guests from experiencing high-school cafeteria flashbacks and ensure that everyone feels welcome and comfortable.
The only scenarios where you can get away with not having a seating plan is if your reception is more intimate (50 guests or fewer), or if you're having a cocktail party-style reception where guests can mix and mingle on their own. (Just make sure your elderly guests have a place to sit down.) Otherwise, for the majority of weddings, assigning your guests to tables is the simplest, most straightforward way to organize your reception.
2. However, assigning specific seats is optional.
Unless you're having an ultra-formal affair, assigning guests to tables but not to specific seats at those tables is totally fine — they'll be able to choose a seat on their own. However, if you do decide to assign seats, keep in mind that you're going to need both escort cards (which get picked up at the reception entrance and tell you your table number) and place cards (which are already displayed on the table and tell you which seat is yours). With assigned tables you only need escort cards; or, to simplify things even more, you can skip the individual escort cards and opt for a large seating chart (above) listing everyone's' names and table numbers.
See More: Wedding Planning 101: What to Do First
3. Decide if you want a "head table" or a "sweetheart table."
Oftentimes, the bride and groom opt to sit at the center of a long rectangular or round "head table" with wedding-party members and their significant others. If you can only fit the best man and maid of honor along with their significant others at your table, then go ahead and do so, and seat remaining attendants and their "plus ones" at another table. Alternatively, other couples choose to sit at a small "sweetheart" table for two, which is a more intimate way to enjoy the reception together.
4. Enlist your parents' help.
If you have no idea where to seat your parents' friends, let your mother and mother-in-law arrange those tables — they'll be happy to be involved.
5. Some general guidelines to help you get started:
• Begin by grouping guests according to how you know them: family members and friends from different aspects of life (childhood, high school, college, work, etc.).
• Seat younger guests closer to the dance floor and older guests a little further away.
• Use your seating plan to introduce people with similar interests and backgrounds. Try to make everyone feel comfortable by offering a mix of familiar and new faces at each table.
• Be tactful: Avoid seating people together who have a history they wish they could forget.
• Skip the "singles" table: If you've been dying to fix your old co-worker up with your cousin, you might take this opportunity to discreetly seat them next to each other. But resist the urge to create a separate "singles" table, which might embarrass your guests. Also, don't seat your unmarried friend at a table full of married couples—use your best judgement and try to be sensitive to guests' feelings.
• Designate a kids' table: If you have several children at your wedding, seat them together at a separate kids' table. If your flower girl and ring bearer are the only children present, seat them with their parents.