Seating Plans

Designing and finalising your seating plan can be one of the most challenging tasks for anyone planning a wedding, but putting a little bit of time and effort into it can definitely help the day to run much more smoothly.

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Designing and finalising your seating plan can be one of the most challenging tasks for anyone planning a wedding, but putting a little bit of time and effort into it can definitely help the day to run much more smoothly. Before commencing with the planning however, it is necessary to question whether in fact you need a seating plan at all. Smaller, less formal affairs often don’t need a seating plan, whilst larger celebrations definitely benefit from imposing a sense of order when it comes to seating your guests. Sometimes it is quite a nice idea to meet somewhere in the middle- indicating which table guests need to sit at, but not necessarily specifying a particular seat and letting guests arrange themselves around the table in a way they see most appropriate. But, if a formal seating plan is something that is deemed as essential to the success of the day, here are a few tips that might just make the undertaking more manageable.

Firstly, it is vital that you correspond with your venue before making any decisions independently. This is because the size or layout of the reception room may lend itself better to a particular style of seating plan, or the venue may insist on a specific design in keeping with their overall style. It is very likely that your venue will be able to assist you when it comes to designing your seating plan- they have probably had lots of weddings previously with a variety of seating designs, so can offer ideas and give you examples of how previous weddings have arranged their guests. Wedding coordinators often have some helpful suggestions when it comes to seating arrangements and address issues that you may not have thought about. For example, will you need space for a wheelchair or pram in any areas of the room and is there a particular person who would benefit from being closer to the lavatory or further away from the loud music? Your venue can be invaluable, so involve them in the process as much as you possibly can. They can also help with any decisions about the style of table. Some more rustic, barn-style venues often recommend a series of long banquet tables, with guests being encouraged to sit with strangers and make new acquaintances. On the other hand, traditional, large circular tables are commonly favoured at formal ballroom-style receptions.

When you have made a decision on the layout of the room and decided on the shape of tables (circular, rectangular, oval etc.) you then need to decide which guests are going to be seated together. It can help to categorise your guests into groups based on how you know them- close family, friends from work, friends from university, distant relatives, friends of your parents etc. You might want to consider a kids’ table if you are inviting a lot of children and some weddings even feature a singles table to try and encourage a spot of matchmaking, inspired by the love in the air! If you have invited a number of guests who may not know one another, it may be an idea to group them by shared interests- if you know two of your guests have a particular sporting passion, or musical taste, then it is likely that this can serve as a conversation opener. Start by sketching your ideas out in pencil on a big A3 sheet of paper, very loosely, so that you can easily erase or edit as you discuss who sits where. You may need to make some compromises when it comes to table placement; if grandparents from the bride’s family are seated next to the top table, then grandparents from the groom’s side should probably be placed at an equal distance too. That is assuming that you have an equally close relationship to both relatives. Think carefully about whom you want on your ‘top’ table. Traditionally, the bride and groom along with their parents and maid of honour/best man would be seated here. However, as weddings have evolved and become much more modern, there are now lots of variations to the traditional setup. Some brides want all of their bridesmaids with them, whereas some choose to have none at all and give them their own table with the groomsmen/ushers. Some couples now opt for a ‘sweetheart table’- a table of two just for the newlyweds- which can be quite a romantic idea, especially if there are a lot of potential contenders for the top table, making it impossible to decide. In fact, some couples now go down the route of not having a formal ‘top’ table at all and instead, choose for the married couple to be sat in amongst their guests, much like everyone else. This can create a more informal, laid back feel to the wedding overall. It can be more difficult if you are trying to plan for exactly the same number of seats around every table, so try to be willing to compromise and be flexible about having a slightly less uniformed aesthetic. Historically, weddings have seated guests in a male-female-male-female pattern, but this is entirely optional and depends on having equal numbers of both genders to do so. After all, an extra chair or two on a couple of tables will hardly be noticeable when the room is dressed and your guests are all in and seated.

When you have a clearer idea about your plan, you need to decide whether you are going to stick to an old-school, physical, pen-to-paper plan, or go digital. There are benefits to both, but creating a digital seating plan can make it much easier to make amendments and edit and will also minimise the risk of your plan being ruined or lost. There are a number of free sites that enable you to create a plan: check out WeddingWire, AllSeated and StyleMePretty, which all offer a free and quite simplistic seating plan creator.  You can make changes to your plan with just a few clicks and email your drafts over to your venue, to get their take on your ideas and keep them updated with any changes. One word of warning: be prepared to make changes to your plan right up until a few days before the big day! You would be surprised by how many guests have unexpected commitments or childcare problems as your day approaches and so you may find that guests have to cancel last minute, or in fact ask permission to bring along an unexpected guest. Being flexible and open to compromise is key to ensure that you don’t get too stressed out about everything going exactly to plan.

Try to see your seating plan as an opportunity to enhance your day even further, instead of another stressful task on your wedding planning to-do list. Guests are there to celebrate the union of two people they truly care about and so most will be enthusiastic about meeting new people and chatting to other guests on their table, even if they haven’t met them before. You know your guests, so as long as you think they are sat with people they can converse with and feel comfortable next to, everyone will have a lovely and enjoyable day.

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