Proper seat planning for the wedding

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Smart seating: Careful planning of where to seat people at a wedding reception should be considered to avoid table guests who don't get along. | Photo by Fotolia

If you thought the guest list was daunting, wait until you have to tackle the seating plan. Forget divorced parents for a second and think about your friends, which groups get along, and which don’t.

Some are from very different walks of life. A classic situation is when you’ve been to a private school and have an element of sophisticated friends, but also have friends from other aspects of your life — perhaps some less worldly. You love both groups equally yet the differences are noticeable.

Likewise, the families of the bride and groom sides may very well be from completely different backgrounds. A classic case is if the groom’s family is extremely posh, has a big country estate and oodles of money, while the bride’s family is more working class and shows up at the reception already inebriated. Of course the posh side turns up their noses. The bride and groom probably arranged the seating plan with his family on one side of the room and her’s on the other, and the marquee quickly becomes a split camp with bad atmosphere.

Mixing the seating plan up doesn’t work well. Yes it forces people to mix, and on the odd occasion with very outgoing people it can result in a great ambiance with lots of new friends made. In most instances, it just invites small talk and this doesn’t enhance the festivities at all.

The traditional head table can be odd, too. The bride’s father and mother sit next to the bride and groom, and the groom’s parents sit on either side of the bride’s parents, despite the fact they’ve probably only met once or twice or in some case not at all. There aren’t actually any rules that state where people sit. (Even if there were, they could very well be broken or challenged). Why not put the bride’s parents next to the bride and the groom’s parents next to him, so at least the conversation is natural and relaxed?

Another option is to have an oval head table where the guests sit three-quarters way around, still leaving a gap at the front but basically sitting on a curve. It’s much more sociable and everyone enjoys the meal more. Round tables are becoming more popular as everyone can see the head table. It’s easier during the speeches, as no one will have their back to the audience.

Don’t over-think it

When you create the seating plan, the best thing to do is do it once, go with your gut feeling, get someone to check it, then leave it be. The more times you go over and alter it, the worse it gets.

One word of advice is to do it a few weeks before the wedding. Seat all the relatives who you know get along together, all your friends together, and have a couple of family tables for respective grannies and aunties. There will always be a few odd guests left over, maybe family friends or the priest or an eccentric uncle you don’t want to spoil anyone’s day by inflicting him on them. Such a table often has funny consequences, and can be the loudest in the room. Don’t be tempted to put together people you know don’t gel, and hope they can settle their differences. It rarely works.

Moving on, divorced parents and respective partners can be tricky. Basically, if both your parents are alive regardless of whether they are still married, they all sit at the head table. If anyone or all of them have remarried then either they and their respective partners sit at the head table or the new partners sit on a table near the head table with senior members of the family or very good friends.

One of the things that comes up regularly is whether to have a children’s table. Again it very much depends on circumstances. If they are all family, kids who know each other, it’s a great idea. They feel special and responsible, and tend to behave better and enjoy the day more. If you simply gather up all the kids in the room and put them together it’s painful, especially if they aren’t very old. They tend to migrate back to their parents and end up sitting on knees.

Once you’ve done your seating plan and sent it to be printed, let it go. If someone cancels at the last minute don’t worry. Have a separate rough copy for the hotel and caterers marking where everyone is sitting with special diets marked clearly along with kids’ meals, and any other special requests. Another idea is to do the seating plan without place cards, so everyone knows what table they are sitting at but can choose whom they sit next to. Don’t ever be tempted not to have a seating plan at a formal wedding, as it is a disaster. A family of four comes together and ends up being placed at four separate tables. Partners get split up and start demanding extra place settings on tables where there quite clearly isn’t room. It’s a bad idea.

Plan ahead, do your research, stick to your guns, and the reception will go off without a hitch.

Karen Rhodes is a wedding and party planner who has been a wedding coordinator for more than 20 years.

Courtesy of Article Alley