How Should You Seat Your Wedding Guests?
Planning a wedding reception can start to feel like you’re holding down a zookeeping job. You’ve got to make sure every animal family has the right food and toys, you’ve got to keep the ostriches away from the crocodiles, and you’ve got to keep the budget low enough so the whole business doesn’t get shut down.
When you’re putting together a guest list full of cliquey friends, feuding exes, and a few gluten-intolerant nieces, there’s only one way to seat them all so they’re happy–and you’re running out of time to find it!
1. Seat Social Groups Together
The easiest way to make sure your guests like their table buddies is to group them with their friends. This is the most common approach when it comes to seating arrangement planning, but it comes with some disadvantages.
First, your guests won’t have a big incentive to mingle, so your reception can become cliquey and insular.
Second, dinner tables only seat so many people. When you seat the majority of a social group at one table, you risk alienating the few inevitable stragglers.
Plus, “seating social groups together” doesn’t address the problem of feuding friends within a social group. How do you decide who gets to sit with their friends and who doesn’t?
If your wedding guests’ relationships are straightforward and everyone belongs to a separate group of friends, then this is the best approach. (And congratulations–you’ll have an easier time of it than most brides and grooms planning their receptions!)
If your guests don’t quite fit into easy table charts, however, don’t panic. There are still plenty of ways to seat everyone for an enjoyable meal.
2. Play Matchmaker
You found your perfect match, after all; if your confidence is running high, it’s time to make new matches among your wedding guests. Are you always telling your best friend from college how much she reminds you of your best friend from high school, and vice versa? Now’s the chance for them to meet and decide for themselves.
Did you always secretly hope that your perpetually-single girlfriend from Tucson would hit it off with your adorable-but-shy cousin? You can finally throw them together and see. For the duration of dinner, your guests’ fates are in your hands. But use your power wisely, or it could backfire!
When seating guests, you must follow the cardinal rules. First, always seat couples together. They arrived at your wedding as a unit and should be treated as such. You can still matchmake for them platonically, though; find another two couples you think they’ll enjoy talking to and toss them together into table six.
Second, never leave your guests floundering without a social lifeboat. If you’re tossing strangers together, include a fun fact or two about each guest on his place card. Since you have the advantage of knowing all of your guests well, choose facts that you know will pique the interest of his seatmates. When your guests find their places, they’ll also find some easy icebreakers to get them started.
Be careful with this approach, though, since your more introverted guests (as well as some very old and very young guests) will prefer to sit with people they already know and may resent you for kicking them out of their comfort zones.
3. Use One Big Table
Don’t feel like explaining your reasoning to guests who hate their seating assignment? Use a long banquet table instead of round, restaurant-style ones. A single banquet table, arranged in a circle around the perimeter of a room, can seat a hundred people if the room is big enough.
Even several long banquet tables placed in parallel create a feeling of unity, since your guests aren’t sequestered in groups of six. With tables that sit large groups, there’s less pressure on you to split your guests into factions. Everyone can carry on conversations with those around them, and everyone gets to feel included.
4. Embrace Luck of the Draw
There’s no reason you have to assign seats to your guests. If you feel like the pressure to fit everyone into the right arrangements is too much, just sit back and let your guests decide for themselves. You may wish to abandon the idea of serving sit-down dinner altogether and opt for food stations instead.
Encourage mingling with an extended cocktail hour and ample hors d’oeuvres–or skip straight to dessert and offer a champagne and cake reception. When you do away with seating, you often end up with a much livelier party.
If there are specific guests whose paths you hope don’t cross, assign a few trusted members of your wedding party to damage control. When she sees Aunt Monica swallow her tenth cocktail and start swerving towards Aunt Melissa, your bridesmaid can throw an arm around Monica’s shoulders and swerve her in the other direction again. When the “problem guests” are taken care of specifically, the rest of the seating arrangements seem to take care of themselves.
Above all, don’t let the seating arrangements cause you too much stress. Even when you plan every guest’s table partners down to the probable conversation topics, there’s always some combination of personalities you couldn’t have predicted. The good news is that assigned seats are only important for the duration of the meal.
So rest assured: even if you do make a grave error and seat two people next to each other who have nothing to say, you’ve just given them more motivation to leap up when the music plays and get your dance floor started.