Let’s begin this conversation with personal experience.
My husband and I strolled into the reception hall and were asked to find our placecards, the placecards were beautifully printed and we both were marked with a “6″. We located Table 6 and discovered we were seated with two guests we knew, two we did not…two seats remained open. At Table 8 were our friends who we rode with to the wedding and reception. We were sad we were unable to sit with our other friends but tried to make the best of it. We said our greetings and began chatting about how we all knew the bride and groom.
Shortly after our arrival, another guest joined our table, one we did not know. Shortly after that, another guest arrived at our table…with his girlfriend…he did not RSVP for. Awkward. He walked up to find there was only one seat open; he and his girlfriend headed back to the host and hostess. Within just a few short moments, a parade of servers came to our table holding all the necessary items to “add a seat”. We were asked all to squeeze together and the non-rsvping-girlfriend had a seat. We had no elbow room and were forced to eat with some creativity. It didn’t help as the social and dinner progressed the last-arrival-guest and his non-rsvping-girlfriend became fond of the drinks and grew exceptionally loud.
Let’s just say I was already on the fence about assigned seats at a wedding reception and this little incident threw me into a wedding planning tizzy!
If you are trying to decide whether or not you want to do assigned seating or open seating at your reception, let me provide you with some advice.
SOCIAL or DESSERT RECEPTIONS
If you are hosting a social or dessert reception, there is no reason for doing assigned seating.
If you are hosting a buffet reception, I strongly advise against assigned seating (with a few exceptions). Why open seating for a buffet reception you ask? Although buffets are nice and completely acceptable, they are less formal than a sit-down plated meal. This slight lessening of formality does mean guests will be puzzled if you do assigned seating knowing they must get up to go through a food line.
I do think; however, it is polite to do “assigned seating” for your wedding party as well as your Reserved tables. It never fails, wedding party members never know where they are suppose to sit. Avoid the “where do I sit dance” at your head table after your grand entrance and mark wedding party seats. When doing assigned seating with Reserved tables, be sure to provide your hosts and hostess with a list of who is at the Reserved tables (this clears up any issues with special guests being placed in the wrong location, especially grandparents).
PLATED DINNER RECEPTIONS
Plated dinner receptions are the most popular option for assigned seating; however, it does not mean it is required. If you are doing a single entree for all guests (no color coding or marking meal choices), open seating is acceptable (and often times more enjoyable for guests). Wedding party and reserved tables are still recommended to be assigned.
If you are doing more than one meal choice, requiring you to do a color-coded placecard system, you still do not have to do assigned seating. An alphabetized placecard table in the main entrance of your venue can still keep multiple meal choices organized without the headache of assigned seating. Again, wedding party and reserved tables are still recommend to be assigned.
When are assigned seats an absolute must for receptions? When it is black-tie affair. If you have followed every formal aspect of every detail of the wedding/reception and are requiring tuxes for guests, then yes, by all means, assigned seats are a must.
ASSIGNED SEATING WOES
When brides share with me they are doing assigned seats, there is no doubt a look of anguish and stress crosses my face (not for me so much, but rather for them). It is a huge undertaking to do assigned seats, often times way more of a task than brides realize. My honest advice if you do plan to do assigned seating?
1) BE FLEXIBLE, you will have guests changing their mind even up to the last week. Don’t let their “date” changes get you down. Be ready for adjustments (which means, if you have guests that could potentially surprise you with a date, leave one open seat at those tables).
2) START EARLY, FINISH LATE, ask your venue for a map early on, if they are unable to provide one, at least know how many guests will be sat at each table. Use an alphabetized spreadsheet of guests you have invited (tracking meal choices and RSVPing). For those tables you know you can fill immediately (parents, grandparents, host/hostess, personal attendants, ushers) do them. For all other guest tables, pencil lightly and plan to do final decisions much later in the planning process.
3) BE RESPECTFUL, do not seat ex’s together, do not seat divorced couples together (unless you have permission), do not seat the priest/pastor with your party-animal-friends. Be respectful and realistic about assigning guests at the same table. Provide a detailed map, spreadsheet, list or however you have the assigned seats organized to your host/hostess, the venue, and at least one set of parents.
If you are struggling with completing the task of assigning seats, ask for help. It is a daunting project and often times requires outside opions (and eyes) to be sure it will work.
No matter what you decide to do assigned seating or open seating, I wish you happy planning!