A “seated” wedding reception means that there is full seating or, put another way, a seat for every guest. We recommend that there be full seating for guests whenever possible. Even if your reception is a cocktail party or just cake and punch, providing insufficient seating puts the burden on the guest to find a place to sit or set down a plate or purse. Who hasn’t attended a wedding where you couldn’t find a seat and left early because of this?
The type of seating offered—full or partial-- is an important distinction when asking a venue about the number of guests it is able to accommodate. The question to always ask: “is that for full seating?” You’ll often find that the capacity quoted by a venue is not for full seating and you will be very disappointed if you were planning on providing a seat for every guest!
A decision to have full seating does not necessarily determine how food will be served. Meal service may be either a served, plated dinner, or buffet/stations.
Seating may be assigned or open. Sometimes it is best to have a combination of the two with reserved tables for the wedding party and immediate family, and open seating for all other guests.
If there is assigned seating for all guests, it is communicated in one of several ways:
Escort cards – these are cards that include the guest’s name and table number. There are many creative ways to provide this information and samples are found in just about every bridal magazine. The cards are always arranged alphabetically by last name. If the escort card is also a favor consider giving on to every guest. If it’s just a little card, you can include married couples on a single card (for example, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith). Plus-ones should have their own card if you know the name. Unnamed plus-ones may be listed with the named guest bringing them (ie. Mr. John Smith and guest).
Place cards – these are cards put at the actual place setting to indicate exactly where at the assigned table the guest is to sit. It is usually sufficient to only assign a table and let the guests chose their own seat at the assigned table. But if you need to be very specific about who sits next to whom, place cards are the proper choice. The place card is used in conjunction with either the seating chart or the escort card.
Whew! Deciding where to seat guests can be a lot of work and you may decide to just offer open seating. If so, please keep these few tips in mind:
Always provide reserved seating for the wedding party and the immediate family. These folks are usually busy with photos right after the ceremony and remain busy greeting guests at the reception. By the time they are ready to sit-down, there may be no seating available! It’s a simple task to reserve several tables for family and the wedding party.
With open seating, you are letting all of your guests chose where to sit and with whom. Relatives, neighbors, school friends, etc. like to sit with each other and don’t always neatly add up to a table for eight or a table for ten. The result is that some tables may end up having chairs and place settings added and other tables may have open seats. It’s important to provide enough tables and chairs to accommodate what may be an irregular seating pattern. We always plan for at least one more table than we think we will need when there is open seating.