Unless you are planning a cocktail reception with hors d'oeuvres or an informal buffet with partial seating, you will need to have a table layout. Guests (especially those who do not know many people at your reception) often feel uncomfortable without assigned seating.
It is best to realize early on that no matter how hard you try, someone is bound to be unhappy with some aspect of your seating plan. The easiest way to approach this project is to get input from both sets of parents. Parents will know the ins and outs of who feels comfortable with whom within your family and their friends. Your friends are typically the easier part of the equation.
If you're planning a formal wedding, escort cards and sometimes place cards are necessary for guests. What is the difference?
Escort cards — these cards are placed at a table outside the reception area. They are placed in alphabetical order. Each card shows guests which table they are assigned to. Etiquette calls for married couples to be listed on the same card and all others to be written individually (even if unmarried couples are living together).
Place Cards — this type of card is important if your guests have chosen their entrée prior to the wedding. Every guest is placed individually at each table. Typically the cards are marked slightly for the catering staff to know which entrée goes to each individual. Typically the marks or variations in the cards can be in the color of the card, ink, or with a sticker, ribbon, or some other small decoration.
Another option is to set up a large seating diagram with all of your guests' names in alphabetical order. This type of diagram works well if the diagram is made available during the entire cocktail hour.
If you do not want to number your tables and want something more creative, consider naming your tables. You can name your tables after places you have been together or the types of candy you both like. The more creative you are with naming your tables, the more conversations you will spark!
Save Me a Seat!
The head table is wherever the newlyweds sit and tends to be the focus of the reception. This table can either be a long table facing the other tables or the same type of table that the guests are seated at. As long as you place your head table in the center of the reception, your guests will be able to find you easily.
Traditionally, the two of you along with honor attendants, bridesmaids, and groomsmen sit at the head table. The two of you will sit in the middle of the table if it is a rectangular table. The best man typically sits next to the groom (followed by the rest of the groomsmen) and the maid of honor next to the bride (followed by the rest of the bridesmaids).
You may also choose to have a table just for the two of you. This is typically called a sweetheart table. Some couples feel that it makes more sense for them to sit with their parents and siblings, leaving the attendants with the ability to sit with their spouses, significant others, and dates. This last option also makes the most sense when you have a large wedding party.
Child attendants should sit at a regular table with their parents. Spouses of attendants also typically do not sit at the rectangular long head tables. If the spouses or significant others don't really know anyone else at the reception, try to seat them with someone they might have something in common with.
Depending on the type of family you have, many parents end up having to have their own table with extended family. Entertaining family who come from out of town is extremely important during the reception. The officiant from the ceremony should always be invited to the reception and should have a place of honor at one of the tables near the head table. Be sure to invite the officiant's spouse if he or she is married.
Make sure that after you have made out all the escort cards and place cards and have properly placed table markers for your guests to find their way that your wedding party knows where they are supposed to sit. This point is especially important if your wedding party is being announced into the reception. If not all of them are sitting at a head table per se, be sure to let them know where their tables are in proximity to the head table before they are to be announced. The best way to do this is to have a printed layout with marked tables. This is extremely helpful for your wedding professionals as well. Most venues will provide you with a general layout of the space and you can draw tables on it or recreate it in a presentation worksheet. All of your planning will pay off as you are announced for the first time as the newlyweds into the reception!
Where do I sit my divorced parents?
Your divorced parents should obviously not sit together at the same table and neither should they sit far away from you as the couple. Separate tables at opposite sides of the head table tend to work the best. The trick here is to place each of them at tables where they don't actually have to hear each other's voices.