Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Sometimes it can seem like there can’t possibly be another decision you have to make. Kids at the reception, or no kids? Open bar, cash bar, or something in between? Does anyone do a garter toss anymore? Do we want a videographer? The decisions might feel endless and understandably so. But this article is here to help guide you through one decision so you can quickly move to the next: reception seating!
The floorplan of your reception is one of the many things that will set the tone for the evening (or mid-morning brunch or lunch or whatever your special day will consist of). The floorplan can encourage a more casual tone, a dance-promoting vibe, a formal setting, or something somewhere in between. So, where do you start?
STEP 1: SELECT OPEN SEATING OR ASSIGNED SEATING
Open Seating: A variety of tables and chairs assembled in the reception area and guests are welcome to sit anywhere they want with little or no direction
Assigned Seating: The couple pre-assigns each guest a place to sit for the duration of dinner (typically including speeches, cake cutting, and the first dance)
Pros and cons: Assigned seating is generally the way to go. Assigned seating avoids the chaos of musical chairs, guests dragging chairs across the room and cramming them at one overly full table to sit by their friends, or the agony of secluding the couple that doesn’t know anyone else at the event. A little (likely stressful) pre-planning on your end will pay off to avoid a poor guest experience. However, open seating can work for weddings that have a very low guest count where everyone is close and happy to sit wherever. Cocktail-style receptions also work well with open seating since there is no need for guests to sit for an extended period.
The style of your reception may help determine the type of seating. If you’re having a cocktail-style reception where guests are expected to stand, have the option to sit in lounge seating or at limited tables, and mingle while snacking on appetizers, assigned seating will not be necessary. If you are having a formal dinner with multiple courses and multiple events like speeches and cake cutting in between, you will need to provide each guest with a place to sit. Whether guests sit at round tables with 6-12 chairs each, long tables of 10, or family-style with many tables pushed together to create one long great table, assigned seating in some format will create an easier guest experience.
Types of assigned seating
If you think assigned seating is the way to go, you have another decision to make. How precise do you want the assignment to be? The exact destination of the seating assignment can vary. Que the next decision!
Table assignment: The most commonly used form of assigned seating is table assignments. Generally, displayed at cocktail hour is a highly visible presentation of escort cards. There may be one escort card per guest or one escort card per couple. The escort card lists their name and their table number. When it is time to sit, the guests find the table that has their table number on it and may sit at any chair at that table.
Chair assignment: The most concrete version of assigned seating is assigned chairs. In this instance, rather than using escort cards, place cards are used. Unlike escort cards which are all placed in one location for guests to pick up and find the area where they should sit, place cards are set directly at a specific place setting to dictate the exact chair each guest should sit in. This style of assigned seating is more commonly seen in smaller weddings or receptions that have a family-style floor plan (explained later in the article). If you plan to assign chairs and the guest count is on the mid to large size, a combination of escort and place cards may be necessary. For example, if you have 100 guests and wish to assign chairs, guests will need an idea of where to look for their seat – it would be impossible (and chaotic) for guests to go up to each of the 100 chairs and read the name to find their seat. When assigning chairs, I always recommend having a seating chart (some type of poster) that lists all guests names alphabetically and the table of where they will sit. When guests go to that table, they will see the place cards at each setting and be prompted to find their name. This type of seating assignment is definitely the most time-intensive. Still, there are various reasons a couple may feel assigned chairs are the best fit for their party: accommodating guests that want to sit near many other guests, guests that must be kept a part, a floorplan consisting of long tables, or simply because place cards make for a beautiful tablescape!
Assigned... something else! With weddings becoming more personalized than ever, couples are finding new and unique ways to do just about everything – seating assignments and floor plans included. If the physical seats your guests will sit on are anything but actual chairs – benches, couches, rows of hay – you can assign guests “rows.” For example, a seating chart could display all guests’ names alphabetically and list their assignment as “row 1”, guiding them to a certain area of where to sit but not a specific seat. This format is a little abstract because it will depend on what exactly your floorplan and chair type will consist of. With a bit of creativity and time, this option can allow for thoughtful seating placement and a unique guest experience.
STEP 2: SELECT THE TYPE OF TABLE
Now, taking into consideration whether you want to have open seating or assigned seating, you can select the type of table you want. This decision should be a balance of what you want visually and what makes the most sense for your venue and your events (speeches, dancing, buffet, plated dinner, etc.).
Cocktail-style tables: If you will not be serving a plated dinner, cocktail-style tables make sense. When having a cocktail-style reception you should consider the age and interests of all guests. If there will be older or elderly guests, keep in mind that they will prefer to be seated for the majority of the reception so having a comfortable place to sit will be necessary. Kids may also need a place to take a break from running around and busting a move on the dance floor. While round cocktail tables are the most common and necessary type of table for cocktail-style receptions, you should also include one or more of the following to allow guests the option to sit if they wish:
Bar tables: similar to cocktail rounds, these are high-top tables that are typically rectangular in shape and paired with tall chairs for seating
Lounge seating: booths or couches are standard types of lounge seating that serve as beautiful décor and a practical place for guests to sit
Seated tables: Regardless of the shape of the table, a low, standard-size table with banquet chairs is the most common setup at a reception. Whether the food is a buffet, served family-style or plated, assigned and seated tables are most conducive.
Round tables: 72” round tables that comfortably fit 10 guests are most commonly supplied at banquet halls and other venues. 60” rounds are also common and can accommodate 8 guests. Spaced evenly throughout the space, round tables are the most classic type of table.
Rectangle or square tables: Rectangle tables create beautiful lines and can create a more modern look. The standard rectangle table is 8’ long and comfortably seats 8 people. A larger 10’ table can accommodate 10 guests. Some venues do not supply rectangle tables at all, and some will provide them for an additional cost. If you are set on having rectangle tables and your venue does not provide them, you can rent them from a rental company. Rectangle tables provide the opportunity for various layouts, too. Tables can be spaced separately around the room or pushed together to accommodate a large number of guests sitting together at one table. This is considered family-style.
Family-style: When using rectangle tables, they can be pushed together to make one long table. They can be arranged in long rows, in a u-shape (maybe even a u-shape around the dance floor), or a hollow rectangle depending on the spacing of your venue and your desired seating arrangement.
Serpentine: Long family-style table arrangements can be made more interesting by using serpentine tables. Serpentine tables are most commonly seen as the curved tables at buffet stations. These tables, typically 10’ on the long side and 5’ on the short side, can be pushed together to create long, winding family-style seating, or even a hollow circle or rectangle.
Mixed seating: Can’t decide which tables you like best? Have a venue with ample space and a resource to get different types of tables? A variety of table types may be your best option! You’ll have the flexibility to seat guests in a variety of ways and create a visually stunning layout. Just be prepared to spend more time on the logistics of linens and centerpieces for a variety of table shapes and sizes.
Separate kids seating: If you’re allowing kids to attend the reception and have extra space in the reception area, a kids’ table may be something to consider. In addition to whatever table type you choose from the options above, you can give your youngest party guests a seating assignment that will keep them entertained, too. Kids’ tables can be the same type of table as all other guests but include kid-friendly centerpieces like no candles, crayons, playdough, or Legos. Or, kids’ tables can be something entirely different like a low tables with pillows as seats. Providing something special for the kids is not only fun for them, but thoughtful for parents, too!
IMPORTANT: An important consideration when providing a kids’ table is whether all kid guests should sit exclusively at the kids’ table or have an additional seat with an adult. In most circumstances, the parents will adore you for making their night more enjoyable by helping entertain their kids! However, it may be more stressful for some parents to have their child at a separate table. Some parents may want their child sitting with them while eating, but be comfortable with them sitting at the kids’ table before and after dinner is served. The age, maturity-level, and comfort level of both the child and the parents should be considered. It could cause more stress on the parents to feel obligated to kneel next to the kids’ table, or have the child sit on their lap at the adult table to watch over them. The child may be too shy to sit with other kids. The parents may not trust that their child will sit there unsupervised and not run off. If you’re having a kids’ table, the best thing to do is ask the parents where they prefer the child to sit and offer that the child has a seat at both tables… if your space permits and the parents prefer that option. If you don’t have the time or the space to consider the parents’ and children’s needs, it is best to keep families together at one table.
Before moving to the next step, consider the type(s) of tables you want and how to you want to lay them out - i.e. will they be pused together to create long rows, spaced evenly around the room, or a mixture of both? You’ll use this consider in the next step!
STEP 3: SELECT WHERE YOU & THE WEDDING PARTY WILL SIT
You’ve decided how you want guests to find their seats and used that decision to determine what type(s) of tables you want. Now, it’s time to consider how you want to lay those tables out and where you and your wedding part will sit among them. Of course, you can always dream up an entirely new and unique way to create a head table but here are the 6 most common arrangements:
Traditional: Rectangle tables are pushed together horizontally; the couple and their wedding party all sit on one side of the table facing outward towards the rest of the guests. This arrangement is ideal for small to mid-size wedding parties. If the wedding party is large, you will run into additional complications. For example, if you have 18 people to sit at the head table (the couple and 16 wedding party members) you will need 5 8” tables. Spatially, that setup may be less than ideal or even impossible in which case you would be required to have a tiered head table where 3 tables are elevated on a stage and 2 tables are in front of it.
Sweetheart: A small table for only the newlyweds with 2 chairs on one side of the table, facing outward towards the guests. This arrangement gives the couple an opportunity to have an intimate dinner. However, a sweetheart table makes the couple the undeniable center of attention so you should be comfortable having all eyes on you (although, all eyes are on you for most of the day anyway!)
No head table/with family: If you prefer to spend dinner with those who mean most, your family, you can ditch the idea of a head table entirely. You’ll need to ensure you can accommodate a table large enough to fit both sides of this newly formed family, but if you can, sitting together in this format is a more casual – and inclusive – way to celebrate.
Family-style (King Arthur): A King Arthur table is exactly what you would imagine, a large rectangular table with you and the wedding party sitting around it. Usually formed with rectangle tables pushed together both vertically and horizontally to create an even larger rectangle table, a grand King Arthur arrangement is a fun focal point that allows the wedding party to interact with one another during dinner.
King Arthur + sweetheart: By setting up a typical King Arthur arrangement with two chairs called out at the head, you can create a special spotlight on yourselves while also having the wedding party sit together in a spatially economical layout.
King Arthur + wedding party: With the added seats that come with a King Arthur table, opposed to a traditional head table, you may have the option to invite the wedding party’s guests to sit with you at the head table. Inviting the guests of your wedding party to sit with them at the head table is a thoughtful gesture that avoids the situation of finding a place to seat 1 person that may not blend well with other groups/tables. More so than not, the guests of your wedding party are also important people in your life since their significant other is so close to you.
With so many aspects to consider – your reception and dinner style, guest ages, venue layout, size of the wedding party, and more – the task of designing the best floorplan for you wedding can be daunting. But, you don’t need to stress! Follow these steps and take it one decision at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed… and if you need some assistance, Aces Event Planning is here to help! Happy Planning!