Creating a seating plan for your wedding reception can be a hassle. But unless you’re having an informal buffet, seating plans are always necessary. Otherwise, you may end up dealing with confusion or awkwardness.
A great wedding seating chart helps guests feel comfortable and at ease, while facilitating new introductions. Guests generally prefer to be told where to sit – and it can also help out your caterer, if not everyone is eating the same food.
As you can imagine, my role as a Northern Ireland wedding photographer gives me an insight as to how people plan their seating arrangements. Generally the more guests you have, the more difficult it is to plan the seating chart, especially if you have an uneven number. What makes this so difficult is that you can’t make the final plan until all of your guests have RSVP’d – which many be only a few weeks before the big day.
Our guide will walk you through wedding meal seating options & etiquette. We’ll explain your options for table formations, who should sit at the top table, and how to seat couples, kids and single guests.
Before you start planning who will sit with whom, you need to decide on what shape tables you’re having.
There are a few different options:
• Round tables are the most common. They can typically seat up to 12 guests. They’re great for saving space (and money on table decorations) as you won’t need as many tables as if you used rectangular ones.
• Rectangular tables are formal looking and the best for making conversation. Each guest can speak with the people sat either side of them, and the people opposite. But they require more space than round tables, and they typically seat fewer people each (6-8).
• Square tables can look particularly stylish, seat more guests than rectangular ones, and offer more legroom. However, they are more awkward than round tables because they have corners.
• One large U-shaped table (or a few long banquet tables) make it easier to organise guests than when using several small tables. However, large tables can make manoeuvring around the room more difficult.
You could also use a mixture of table shapes. For example, a long rectangular table for the wedding party, but circular tables for everyone else.
Talk to your venue to decide which table formation would work best. They’ll be able to advise how many tables of each shape the room can fit. If the venue only provides rectangular tables (for example), they may allow you to hire in round ones from elsewhere – but check first.
Once you’ve decided on your table shape and formation, now it’s time to plan who will sit where. You can either assign guests to specific seats, or simply assign them to a table, and have them choose how to arrange themselves.
Assigned seats tend to work best. That way, there’s no opportunity for confusion or disagreement between guests, and you can use cute place cards. Your caterers will also appreciate assigned seats – if any of your guests have dietary requirements, they’ll know where they’re sitting in advance.
The general rule is to try and seat partners, friends and family members together. It’s fine if some people don’t know each other, but everyone on the table should know at least one other person there. This allows for introductions and easy conversation.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of who should sit at what table.
The top table is where the bride and groom sit. It’s usually a long, rectangular table, with seats only on one side. It’s placed at one end of the room so that the bride and groom can see all of their guests as they eat.
So, who sits at the top table, other than the bride and groom? As you’re facing the table, the maid of honour sits at the far left, with the groom’s father next to her. The bride’s mother sits on the groom’s father’s left.
The bride and groom sit in the middle, with the groom on the left as you’re facing the table. Next to the bride are her father, the groom’s mother, and finally the best man at the end.
If you’re not adverse to breaking tradition, you can organise the top table in a different way.
If you would prefer not to have a top table, the alternative is to have a sweetheart table. This is a small table-for-two that the bride and groom sit at alone. The bride and groom’s parents, along with the best man and maid of honour, sit at another table (usually the wedding party table).
Having a sweetheart table instead of a top table is a great idea if there’s any conflict over who should sit at the top table. For example:
• If you haven’t got a maid of honour or best man
• If your maid of honour and/or best man would prefer to sit with their partners
• If the bride’s or groom’s parents are separated or divorced and would prefer to sit with their new partners
Sweetheart tables also work well for less formal weddings.
The table nearest the top table (or sweetheart table) should be for the wedding party. This means the bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers and their partners. Depending on how large your wedding party is, it may make more sense to have two or more tables rather than one.
The bride’s and groom’s immediate family members, such as grandparents, siblings and children, should sit together. Traditionally, the bride’s family would sit on different tables than the groom’s family. However, if you know they’ll feel comfortable, feel free to mix and match. For example, perhaps the bride’s siblings might sit at the same table as the groom’s siblings.
Then, you should have some tables for extended family – aunts, uncles and cousins. Try to seat people together who know each other and get on well. Keep the dynamics of your family in mind – for example, if you know that some of your family members don’t like one another, or tend to argue, it may be prudent to keep them apart.
Friends and Colleagues
For friends and colleagues, feel free to mix guests from the groom’s side and the bride’s side together. Try to match guests of similar ages and personalities.
If possible, everyone should be at a table with at least one person that they already know. If you have any guests that won’t know anyone, try to ensure they’re sat with friendly, like-minded people that they’ll find it easy to make conversation with.
Close friends typically sit nearest to the top table, with colleagues and casual acquaintances further away.
Having a kids’ table, for all of your younger guests to sit together, is optional. However, it can be a good idea. It allows the kids to socialise with others their own age, and it gives their parents a break to do the same.
If you choose to have a kids’ table, you may wish to provide some entertainment such as puzzles, small toys, colouring books and pens. Children under 5 should sit with their parents, as they require adult supervision.
Let parents know about the kids’ table before finalising the seating plan – some may prefer to have their kids sit with them. If you have lots of children at your wedding, set up a table for the younger ones, and a table for tweens and teens.
Should I Have a Singles Table?
Some wedding seating plans include ‘singles tables’. These tables are specifically for guests that do not have romantic partners, and did not bring a date to the wedding.
The idea behind a singles table is to play matchmaker. If you sit single people of a similar age together, they’ll get to know one another and may even meet a future significant other.
Unfortunately, things rarely work out well. Singles tables are generally frowned upon and not enjoyed by anyone who has to sit there. It’s a little like being forced into a date with a stranger, and one which you can’t escape, as you’re not free to move to a different table. Most people attend weddings because they want to celebrate their friends’ marriage – not because they want to be ‘set up’.
We’d recommend skipping the singles table, to avoid causing any offence or awkwardness. Instead, don’t draw attention to guests that didn’t bring a date. You should seat single guests alongside people that they already know – ideally a mixture of families, couples and other singletons.
Always seat couples at the same table. Anyone who is married, engaged, in a long-term relationship or has brought a date has the right to sit with their partner.
If you’re having round or square tables, try to seat couples next to one another. For long rectangular or banquet-style tables, couples traditionally sit opposite one another – but you can seat them side-by-side if you prefer. It’s up to you.
The only couples at a wedding that don’t usually sit together are the maid of honour and her partner, and the best man and his partner. This is because, traditionally, the maid of honour and best man sit at the ‘top table’ – whereas their partners don’t.
You have a few options for seating the maid of honour and best man’s partners:
• Seat them at the wedding party table, alongside the bridesmaids, groomsmen and their partners.
• Seat them on tables with their friends or people they already know.
If your best man and maid of honour would prefer to sit with their partners, feel free to break tradition. If your top table is big enough, the partners can always sit up there with them.
Alternatively, reserve the top table only for the married couple and the parents of the bride and groom. Seat the best man, maid of honour and their partners at a separate table, along with the rest of the wedding party.