It is very exciting as the replies to your wedding invitation start to arrive in your mailbox. As you mark off the acceptances on your master list, the seating chart is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But be prepared, because once the final headcount is in, it will be time to tackle one of the most dreaded tasks in wedding planning.
You may wonder why you should even bother with arranging a seating chart. The reason is that someone has to decide where everyone will sit. Either you do your duty as the host, or your guests will be left to fend for themselves. I once attended a wedding without planned seating, and instead of mingling during the cocktail hour, the guests were going around tipping in chairs to reserve spots for their families. It was like an adult version of musical chairs, and it definitely detracted from the reception. If the bride and groom had done their job, most of the people who wanted to be together at dinner already would have been arranged that way.
The Head Table and Honored Guests
The place to start is with the head table. First of all, you have to decide if you want the traditional long table with the bride, groom, and their attendants, or the trendier Sweetheart table for just the bride and groom. If my vote counts for anything, I would nix the Sweetheart table, because it makes the bride and groom unapproachable. They will have plenty of time to be alone together on the honeymoon; the wedding reception is a good time to see your guests.
Typically, there is a hierarchy of tables at a wedding reception. The ones closest to the bride and groom are considered to be prime real estate, and are usually reserved for immediate family like parents, grandparents, and siblings (unless they are attendants, in which case they would sit at the head table). With all of the variables in family configurations these days, it is not uncommon to have three or four tables that share equal honor.
For instance, if the bride's parents are divorced, you would certainly not seat them together. Each should head their own table, seated with their spouses and other close relatives or dear friends. Do your best to maintain equal proximity between the newlyweds' table and the tables seating the assorted parents to avoid any appearance of favoritism or snubbing. (People can be awfully touchy about where they are seated! Come to think of it, that might be why some couples try to wash their hands of it altogether.)
Making Your Guests Comfortable
The groups will radiate out from there. Usually close friends of your parents will be seated closer to the head table than personal friends of the bride and groom. The far back corner by the kitchen is designated for the people from your office that you only invited out of obligation. Of course, sometimes those peripheral tables end up being where the most fun is taking place during the dinner.
A good rule of thumb is to mix groups of people from your different spheres. So that nobody has to dine with total strangers, it is nice to put a married couple with another couple that they already know, and then two more that they do not. Please do not set aside a table just for singles Â– it makes them feel like leftovers. Instead, mix a couple of single guests in with the pairs at each table.
One of your primary duties at a host is to put together people who will enjoy each other's company. You want to spark lively conversation. For example, if you know that your mother's best friend and your fiance's aunt both love jewelry, seat them together. They will enjoy complimenting each other on their wedding jewelry, chatting about the wedding jewelry on the other guests, and so forth. On the flip side, if you know that two guests have very strong, opposite views on a subject like politics, put them at tables across the room from one another.
Love is in the air at a wedding, and while you don't want to be overtly matchmaking, there is nothing wrong with seating together two singles that you think might fall for each other. Lots of married couples meet their mate at weddings. If your clever seating assignment played a part in inspiring a new romance, maybe that would take some of the sting out of dealing with the seating chart!
About the Author
Bridget writes extensively about weddings, jewelry and fashion for http://www.silverlandjewelry.com