In any wedding that we plan or design, we ALWAYS recommend that the client has assigned seating. There are a variety of reasons we insist on it, but below highlights our top four reasons that we always want a client to have seating assigned for guests.
1) Guest like knowing they have a spot already saved for them
Picture this,,,,, ceremony is over and now its time to party! You imagine guests mingling during cocktail hour and starting to get loose for the evening, but instead it's like a clip from the Hunger Games where everyone is making a mad dash to find the best seat or making sure they can get a seat together with their desired party. Ok that's a LITTLE dramatic but having guests being really worried about finding a seat is very real. Guests like knowing they have a spot already picked out for them so they can set their things down and immediately jump into cocktail hour and socializing.
2) You don't have to rent as many tables, chairs, plates, etc.
If you do not have assigned seating, you can't just set the reception to the exact number of guests you have. Why? Because your guests will likely be in groups of 2 at minimum and even more for families and will want to sit together. You will have single seats at a lot of tables when people start seating themselves and you will need to account for that so that these groups can all sit together. Usually you will have to add 10-15% more in seating to account for the fact that people will be unable to group themselves efficiently at each table. At a 200 person wedding that can account for over a $1000 in added costs when you start factoring in extra chairs, plates, silverware, glasses, napkins, 4 added tables, centerpieces and tablecloths for those tables....I think you get my point.
3) A seating chart, table numbers, and/or place cards can be great design elements
What can I say? We LOVE details over here at Rustique. Seating charts, table numbers, and/or place cards can be super fun elements that will awe your guests and add to the overall ambiance of the event. There are SO many fun ideas for these elements and don't have to cost a ton of money to execute.
4) Ensure that the most important guests get the best seats
I am certain that it is very important to every bride and groom that their close family and friends are as close as possible to the head table and dance floor where a lot of the key moments will be taking place. Without assigned seating, you can attempt to do this by putting "reserved" on a table or folding the chairs up and leaning them against the table. However, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people sit at these tables that think they are VIP when in reality, they aren't quite as VIP as they thought. I have even seen vice versa where you have guests you think would know that they are at these tables, but because they are humble or shy, decide to veer away to allow for the "real VIP's" to sit there. Bottom line, assigned seating eliminates this confusion and ensures that you have the right people at the right tables.
Alright I'm sold! Now what?
Ok...ok..... so I have sold you on the assigned seating bit, but how do you get it done now? Basically it boils down to two options:
1) Assigned Tables- where guests are only assigned a table and they can pick their seat at that table.
2) Assigned Seats- where the guest is signed to a specific table and then has a place card denoting their specific seat.
We will elaborate a bit more on each style and the pros and cons below. Either way, the first step will be to make a map of of your venue with the tables drawn out (if you or your planner hasn't done so already) and number each table on the map in a logical flow. Then proceed to which ever style appeals to you and your situation the best.
This is arguably the much simpler and cost effective of the two choices. You take your guest list and group them in groups of 8 (typically) based on dynamics and where you would like them to sit at in the reception. You will then assign each to a table number based on where you plan to seat them, using the map I referred to earlier. Now comes the fun part.....you work with your planner or hop into Pinterest to decide what type of seating chart appeals to you most. There are so many fun ideas, but basically you will have to choose between three basic options.
1) You can have your chart group by table number like below. This option will take people a bit longer to find their name, so it's best for smaller weddings (150 or less people), but can be done with any size if you have someone there helping guests find their seat.
A few things to keep in mind when choosing any seating chart and then when executing it on site.
Make sure the chart is large enough to be legible for your older guests and set in a well lit area (yes- we have made this mistake before).
It is best to have someone standing near the seating chart (your day of coordinator or a friend) to ensure that people see it and to help them locate their seat if it's not in alphabetical order. It works great for them to have a list in hand that has people in alphabetical order to help people find their table number quickly.
Do not put the seating chart in a place where traffic will start bottlenecking. It is ok for a line to form while people find their seat, but not ok to completely block an entrance where other guests, wait staff, etc cannot continue to walk freely.
If it the reception is outdoors, the wind is a real thing, especially in Montana where we do most of our weddings. The escort cards can and will blow away if they are paper and not weighted down. Keep that in mind when planning the style you plan to use.
Make and bring multiple copies of the floor plan with your table numbers. It is so easy to get busy, set it down and then forget where you placed it. People start cleaning up and it can easily get thrown away! You don't want to lose the one paper that you needed to get the floor plan and tables set up.
If someone gets forgotten on your table assignments, your coordinator should be prepared to set up a place setting quickly and efficiently so as to not make that person feel even worse. A little "white lie" like the escort card must have fallen off or we printed an older version of the table numbers wouldn't be out of question here either. You don't want someone to feel as if they were less important than others. You should just make the best decision possible in the moment and make it as quickly as possible.
This is the more difficult choice, but does make for a nice look at the tables. You can get REALLY creative with place cards and who doesn't love seeing their name on things? That personal touch can really elevate the vibe of your event,
The execution of this is really the same as above with the addition of a place card at the table. You will pick the style of seating chart or escort card display and then choose coordinating place cards that you will place at each place setting.
Same helpful tips mentioned above apply here, but with a few additional ones for assigned seating that I think are worth mentioning.
If you decide to do assigned seating, you will need to be extremely organized with your guest list and RSVP's- double and triple checking your work. You do not want to inadvertently miss assigning someone a seat.
You or your planner need to have extra escort and/or place cards on hand with a calligraphy pen just in case someone does get missed or a place cards gets misplaced. It won't be as big of an issue if you are prepared to handle mistakes and/or people showing up who did not RSVP.
Be prepared for guests to sit where they want at the table anyways. Sometimes people just want to sit where they want to sit and we think that's ok (within reason).
WIND- already mentioned above, but seriously....its worth mentioning again. If your wedding is outside and in Montana, it will be breezy at a minimum. Pick a unique place card that is not made of paper or if you are set on card stock, make sure it is secured with a holder or weight of some sort.