There are two little words that send a chill down the spine of many a bride – seating assignments. This can be a painful process, but a useful one. There are two different ways you can approach this conundrum: are you looking at seating assignments or table assignments? Assigned seating means that a place card will be set at every seat in your reception, letting your guests know exactly where you want them. Assigned tables, however, are a little looser, because while you are directing your guests to a specific table, you are not requiring them to sit in a certain seat.
Many couples avoid any sort of assigned seating for their reception. There are a couple of reasons we hear on why they do this. The first is that seat or table assignments create an air of formality that doesn’t reflect the rest of the wedding. We find this to be untrue. There are many ways to make assignments seem less formal, based on presentation – maybe you have a framed list or a map, rather than a card for each person. Also, assignments make your guests feel like they’ve been taken care of – you know where you want them to go and you’ve tried to find them people to sit with whom they either already know or would find pleasant dining companions.
Another reason we hear is the stress and pain of picking a seat or table for everyone is too much. Why can’t everyone just sit where they want? As planners, we always encourage our brides to do table assignments. Do we have reasons? Sure – we don’t want you doing unnecessary work! Thus, we come to a universal truth held by wedding planners: if you give guests a choice, they will not sit next to each other. It’s like when you go to the movie theater, and you leave that courtesy chair open between you and the next group in the row. The problem is that, as the bride and groom, you’ve calculated on a certain number of chairs and tables for your reception, which fits the number of people who responded in the affirmative. Without seat and/or table assignments, we generally suggest adding one to two additional tables to the room to give people the space they will require. That’s two extra tablecloths, two extra centerpieces, maybe an additional 20 chairs to be covered – not to mention the loss of an extra 12 by 12 foot section of your reception space! That can be costly.
So, what are some good methods for actually doing your table assignments? Many people use sticky notes, or flags, so that guests can be color coordinated by category. We love color coordination, but we find that sticky notes lose their ‘stick’ too quickly, not giving you adequate shifting capabilities. Here’s what we like: get some wooden clothespins and paper plates. Number your plates. As guests RSVP, write their name on a clothespin in Sharpie (you can color coordinate, if you like – say, blue for bride’s family, green for groom’s family, red for bride’s friends, etc.). Then, divide your guests into groups and clip them on the plates. This gives you the ability to easily switch people around, and it’s easily stored when you’re tired of working on it.
Photograph courtesy of Hiram Trillo Photography