One of the key markers of the formality of a wedding reception is the use of a seating plan. This guides your wedding guests to their tables, ensuring they sit in appropriate spots. The seating chart can’t be finalised till your wedding guests have confirmed their RSVPS, meaning you have to leave working out who will sit where till right when you already have a heap of stuff on your plate… stressful!
Of course, there is always the option to go with unassigned seating, however surveys have found guests much prefer having a seating assignment. For some wedding guests, they won’t know many guests (or any). You might have family politics to consider, or tensions between exes. Your pushy Aunty would plop herself down at the top table if left to her own devices. These reasons and more are why I recommend planning out a formal seating plan.
Assigned Seating at a Wedding Reception: Assigned Seats vs Tables
There are some different ways of displaying your seating plan covered off here, but there’s also several different ways of assigning seating, each with their own pros and cons:
If you go with assigned seating, you’ll need place cards at each place setting. This gives you the most control over where people sit, but it also means more work (= stress). The seating plan can be optional, though this means your guests will need to go table to table to work out where they are sitting.
If you assign guests to a table only, you’ll need a seating chart. You wouldn’t use placecards at each placesetting as your guests would figure out which seat they’ll sit at themselves. Instead of place cards, you can look at using escort cards. Escort cards sit near the seating plan (or in replacement of the seating plan) with their name and table assignment on it.
The top table
Regardless of the seating arrangements for the rest of your guests, there is one table that is typically assigned – the top table.
The top table is (very) traditionally reserved for the newlyweds, their parents, and the best man and maid of honour. Very few weddings these days have this set up. However, for reference, this would make a typical top table arranged from left to right, facing the guests: maid of honor, groom’s mom, bride’s dad, the bride, the groom, the bride’s mom, the groom’s dad, then the best man. We’ve got some alternative ideas for the top table (also known as the head table) here.
Another important tip, remember that in assigning seating arrangements, the bride should always be seated to the left side of the groom.
The typical top table these days is (from left to right, facing the guests): groomsmen, best man, the groom, the bride, maid of honour, then the bridesmaid(s).
Planning your wedding seating arrangements
This is a bit of wedding planning that’s difficult to delegate. Your fiance, your close family, and maybe a trusted bridesmaid just have to sit down and nut out who will sit where at the reception. Only you have the appropriate knowledge of past dramas and family feuds… and know which guests will (potentially) hit it off.
How to plan out your seating plan
For the visual types and low-tech among us, draw tables onto a large sheet of paper, and use guest names written on post-it notes. This makes it easy to shift guests around and visually see the spread of guests. Then type out the assignments, ready for going into the formal Seating Plan.
If you’ve used Excel for your guest lists and/or want to use Excel to map out your seating, then check out this post by Southern Bride Verified member Be My Guest on figuring out your seating arrangements.
If you fancy being a little bit flash, there is software out there that can manage your whole guest list and RSVP process, right through to working out the seating plan. The downside is you’ll need to learn a new software.
Don’t panic if you get it wrong! At the end of the day, your guests will only be sitting each other for a couple of hours, with food and speeches to distract them.
Seating plans – any advice or questions?
Are you tackling your seating plan? Are you having any problems and need a hand, or do you have any tips or advice that you’ve picked up?