You thought the hard part was creating your wedding guest list, right? Wrong! In retrospect, the guest list will seem like a piece of cake compared to assigning all those people to tables for the reception. So this week we spoke with Ani Keshishian from the L.A. Banquets and Anoush Catering team and got some great advice on how to ease the stress of seating your wedding guests.
Before we begin, we want to stress the importance of having seating arrangements for your guests. Even if you’re having a buffet, it’s best to assign people to tables. For one thing, you don’t want guests to wander awkwardly through the room saying, “Are these seats taken?” For another thing, you could wind up with many tables having one or two empty spots and many couples or families unable to find a table where they can sit together.
Now that you are ready to work on the seating arrangement, here are some tips to help with the planning:
#1: Decide where the bride & groom will sit
The first thing to do is decide if the bride and groom will sit at their own “sweetheart” table, at a table with their bridal party, or with their parents and grandparents. It’s up to you. If you decide to sit alone or with your bridal party, then have another table shared by both the bride’s and groom’s parents, grandparents, and other close relatives. Alternatively, the parents of the bride and of the groom can each host their own tables. A lot will depend upon how many people have to be accommodated at these special tables.
#2: Avoid any "bad" tables
Speaking of “special” tables, you really want everyone to feel special. There shouldn’t be a “bad” table in the room, and certainly no one should feel as if they are at that bad table. One way to have everyone feel included in the celebration is to have the bride and groom — and whomever else they’re seated with — at a table in the center of the room. This way, everyone has equal access to them and no one feels as if they are sitting in the boonies.
#3. Consider family dramas
The standard method is to seat folks with people they know, so assigning the bride’s extended family at some tables and the the groom’s extended family at other tables. Unless your families are picture-book perfect, there can be some touchy issues to watch out for: the sisters-in-law who haven’t talked to each other since 1990, the uncle who shouldn’t be seated at the same table with the nephew he hasn’t promoted in the family business, the cousin who married another cousin’s old boyfriend. All families have some drama, so keep those issues in mind as you work through the table arrangements. We always hope people will behave like the adults they are and, for the duration of a wedding reception at least, will smile through any disagreements they otherwise have. And sometimes miraculous reconciliations can happen when people are in the glow of romance and sentiment.
#4: Mix up your guests
While there’s nothing wrong with assigning your guests the standard way, a wedding is a coming together of two families, so why not mix it up and let everyone meet the other side? Toss in some friends among the relatives, too. It needn’t be a strict half-bride’s/half-groom’s group at each table. Just think about what people may have in common with each other, and maybe seat a relative who’s an English teacher with a friend who’s a writer, seat new parents with a couple who is expecting. Cousins from both sides might enjoy talking with each other, and don’t forget to discreetly seat single ladies with equally single gentlemen, but certainly never at a table alone with married couples. (A “single girls” table is an equally bad idea.) If you’re left with a few people who don’t know anyone else or have nothing in common with anyone else, at least they have you in common, so don’t worry too much. If you can keep your wits about you as you visit each table during the course of the reception, remember to make sure people have met each other. Mentioning something you know about each of them will move things along: “Susan, have you met Leon? He also grew up in Lebanon.”
#5: Mix up table sizes & shapes
Tables don’t all have to be the same size, either, or be set for an identical number of people. The most common size, a 72-inch round, will seat 12 people comfortably but can accommodate 13. (14 at a 72-inches-round table is a squeeze but doable if necessary. You just don’t want to set a 72-inch table for fewer than nine people or it will feel too empty). You can also mix up round and rectangular tables or have one or more very long tables. Talk to the catering manager at your venue and see what she has available or what she can rent for you. Get a floor plan of the room — have it blown up if necessary — and cut templates to scale from colored paper and then move them around until you’re satisfied. Make sure you leave 60 inches (5 feet) between tables, though, so people have enough room to pull their chairs out and waiters have enough room to walk between tables. That 60 inches seems like a lot of room, but once you add chairs and people sitting in them, you’ll be glad you allowed for it. Don’t forget the dance floor and space for the band or DJ and his equipment.
#6: Wait until a few weeks before your wedding to finalize
You can definitely get started by writing your guests’ names on sticky notes and moving them around from table to table. You can even write people’s names on seating cards well ahead of time. But we recommend not writing the table numbers on the seating cards until close to the date so you can still make switches based on last-minute RSVPs. While you included a deadline on the RSVP cards, we all know there are some guests who are major procrastinators, and unfortunately you are bound to have a handful of guests not respond in a timely manner. So hold off until close to your wedding date to finalize your table arrangements to accommodate those procrastinators and last minute changes.
Let L.A. Banquets and Anoush Catering help you with your next event’s seating plan. We’d love to make your big plans a reality!