Bethany and Brian's wedding at Skyline Lodge, Highland Forest, Fabius, NY. November 2018. Photo by DJ Peter Naughton peterthedj.com
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Peter's Pointers: Why Your Wedding Needs a Seating Chart

Peter's Pointers for Wedding Planning: 8 Reasons Your Wedding Reception Needs a Seating Chart

Collecting RSVPs and creating a seating chart can be one of the most stressful, time-consuming parts of planning your wedding. Some couples wonder, "should we even bother? Why not let guests pick their own seats?" Read on -- there are actually several reasons why a seating chart is well worth the time and effort.

When you've dozens of details to nail down in the final weeks leading up to your wedding, it might seem really tempting to throw your hands in the air and take the laissez faire (Bet you never thought you'd see that term again since high school!) approach to guest seating. But many couples agree it's best to take the time and assign seats for your guests.

Sarah & Ryan's wedding at Sinclair of Skaneateles, April 2022, photo by Syracuse Wedding DJ Peter Naughton peterthedj.com
Sarah & Ryan's wedding at Sinclair of Skaneateles, April 2022, photo by Syracuse Wedding DJ Peter Naughton peterthedj.com

The Ask: Do we really need a wedding reception seating chart?

This post was inspired by a recent ask on Reddit's r/weddingplanning forum. A future newlywed (they didn't say if they were a bride or groom, so I am not making any assumption) stated they were considering two options:

  1. Skip the seating chart and let guests seat themselves.
    • Pro: Would save the time and hassle of creating a seating chart.
    • Pro: Poster said they've been to 3 other weddings that were done this way and it didn't seem to be an issue.
    • Con: Would need to provide more tables/seats because couples or families might not fit into the exact number of seats at every table, they don't want to risk splitting people up.
    • Con: Providing more tables and seats also means more decor, and all of those things will cost more money.
  2. Create a seating chart once all the RSVPs are in.
    • Con: Can be time-consuming, especially when it comes to grouping-up guests who don't know each other or if you have any kind of "family drama" where certain people "must" sit together, or apart from each other.
    • Con: You have to spend time (and money) on a "seating chart display" or individual seating cards.
    • Pro: You only need to order enough tables/chairs/decor to meet your exact guest count.

Although the original poster (or OP for short, if you're not on Reddit) stated they had been to 3 other weddings where there was no seating chart "and it was fine," they still decided, based on all the responses, to go ahead and implement a seating chart. Here are some of the main pro-chart arguments, including my own take from the DJ perspective.

Wolf Oak Acres Wedding DJ - Theresa and Eric - September 2018 - Photo by Peter Naughton Productions peterthedj.com
Wedding reception seating assignment board

Reason #1: Avoiding the "middle school lunch room vibe"

Many of the most-upvoted responses indicated that a seating chart makes the wedding much more enjoyable for guests. User "throwawed22" suggested that not having a seating chart "can create a real 'middle school lunch room vibe' and people will camp out to save seats, end up not being able to sit with their partners, pull chairs around, etc."

You certainly don't want to see your ballroom looking like a disorganized mess when people start pulling chairs from one table to the next, all to "squeeze in one or two more people."

Reason #2: Seating charts eliminate fights over the "best" seats

User "fireflyeyes" suggested, "I got stressed just thinking about 170 wandering around, trying to find seating or fighting over who gets to sit at the table with all the fun cousins and who has to sit with great aunt Mildred who smells funny."

Reason #3: Seating Charts Save Time at the Reception

User "spookiecake" suggested that letting people choose their own seats "will make dinner so much slower to start and pretty awkward." Without any direction, guests will spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over where they want to sit, trying to figure out who else they can sit with, and so forth. This can be especially true at venues where cocktail hour is held outside of the ballroom, and guests don't even get to see the tables until the staff officially opens the doors and everyone's pouring into the room at the same time.

From a DJ standpoint, that's an excellent response -- the more time it takes to get everyone seated, the less time you have for dancing afterward. Every 3½ minutes "wasted" on avoidable delays is another song we won't have time to play later. If you give your guests direction, in the form of assigned seats, they will get seated much faster, and we'll have a much better chance of sticking to your schedule and maximizing your dance floor time.

Peter's Pointers: Why Your Wedding Needs a Seating Chart 1
Rustic windows served as a seating directory

Reason #4: Guarantee Guests Will Have Company

User "Whisoserious1293" shares an unfortunate experience that could have been avoided:

I went to 6 weddings this past year and we went to one wedding that didn’t have a seating chart. My partner and I didn’t know really anyone besides the bride & groom. There were more seats than people and we actually ended up sitting at a table alone. We chose our seats before everyone else sat down and then it was awkward to relocate. If we had seating charts, we would’ve likely sat with people we didn’t know but could actually socialize a bit more.

User "ostentia" had a similar experience:

I've been to several weddings without [a seating chart] and it was stressful finding a seat for myself and my husband. I would waaaay rather be assigned a table full of strangers than have to find my own table full of strangers! "Hi, is this seat taken?" brings back flashbacks to the first day of school for me, lol!

Again, there's that "middle school lunch room vibe" that might leave some people feeling uncomfortable when they realize they're all alone, watching all "the cool kids" from afar. Don't do that to your guests.

Reason #5: Seating Charts Help The Venue Staff

User "idrawfloorplan" pointed out that, "we had to have [a seating chart] because it also helped our venue locate people with dietary restrictions."

If you have any guests who are vegetarian/vegan, or if they have food allergies or other restrictions, chances are they've informed you of such, and in turn, you've asked your venue or caterer to prepare a certain number of special meals for these guests. There's nothing worse than having to be served dead last, 20 or 30 minutes after everyone else at your table, because the servers had no advance way of knowing where those special meals were going.

By having a seating chart, you can tell the venue in advance that your vegan meals are going to tables 3, 7 and 9, and the low-sodium meal for grandma should be sent to table 4.

Reason #6: Avoid Splitting-Up Couples / Families

User "IllustriousPassion11" has another practical consideration:

At least have assigned tables for the wedding party, if you aren’t going to do a seating chart. A friends wedding didn’t have assigned seating and when the wedding party finally arrived after pictures we didn’t have anywhere to sit and the food was almost gone. ... But it was awkward and uncomfortable.

In response to that comment, OP noted that they are not having a head table, but would instead be allowing wedding party members to "sit with their significant others / families," so therefore it "would make sense to do assigned seating."

Reason #7: Seating Charts Help Prevent Family Drama

User "Loose_Cover_1246" said the lack of a seating chart caused some problems in the family tree:

The lack of a seating chart at my relative's wedding caused major family drama, lol. My aunt and uncle, who already a tense relationship with their siblings, felt snubbed because no one saved them a seat. They actually left the wedding early and gave their siblings the silent treatment for months. Obviously, this probably won't happen for most people, but I do think that if there are any underlying tensions among your relatives, a lack of a seating chart could definitely spark drama.

Good point... I'd also add that some families have certain people that "always" sit together -- for example, there might be an elderly grandparent or great aunt/uncle who are only able to attend weddings because of a specific relative who drives them to these events. You want to make sure they can sit together.

Conversely, there are some families where it could be best to make sure certain people have plenty of distance between each other. For example, if you're inviting both sides of a couple who had a bitter breakup or divorce, they might not feel comfortable at the same table, or even at nearby tables.

Reason #8: The Wedding DJ Perspective on Keeping Guests Happy

Here was my response to the thread:

From the wedding DJ perspective: do a seating chart. This lets you seat your younger (and more likely to party) guests closer to the dance floor and seat the older guests (more likely to spend most of the night talking at their seats) as far away from the DJ speakers as possible.

There's few things more annoying than having Aunt Doris come over every 5 minutes to complain about how loud the music is and how they can't have a conversation, because she and the other seniors were seated right next to the speakers. Especially at venues that thoughtlessly force the DJ to be far from the dance floor and make us "shoot over" several tables so the dancers can hear the music.

Or maybe for other concerns, like seating older folks closer to the buffet line or the restrooms so they don't have to walk as far, especially if they have mobility issues. You don't want to force grandma or grandpa to be taking their walker across the busy dance floor every 15 minutes because it's the shortest path from table to toilet every time they need to go.

OP's response: "I never thought about putting younger people closer to the DJ/dance floor. I love that idea!"

Next: How to Group Guests at Your Wedding

Jess and Alex's wedding reception at Tailwater Lodge in Altmar, NY - Photo by Syracuse wedding DJ Peter Naughton peterthedj.com - October 2021 #KlymkowAndForever

As the thread grew and OP became convinced that a seating chart was the way to go, OP started to ask for advice on how to decide which "strangers" should be seated with each other.

The first several tables will be easy to assign because you've almost certainly got a few groups that definitely have some common ground -- your immediate relatives will have a table. Your future spouse's immediate family will have their own table. Or maybe, if the immediate families are small, they'll be together at one big table.

It's usually expected that groups of cousins, aunts and uncles will be seated together. If you have friends from high school or college, you might try to group them all together.

But you'll inevitably reach a point where the math just doesn't work out anymore and you'll have some guests who, at first glance, may not have much in common. What then?

Most of the responses on the Reddit thread suggested grouping people by age groups. This can be the easiest solution, especially if you've got a bunch of guests you don't really know that well, but they were invited because your parents wanted to invite them. But if you do know the guests well, you might be able to pair-up people with similar interests, so they'll have something to talk about.

Some responses said, don't sweat it too much... after all, it's just a wedding reception dinner, not a year-long duty assignment on a submarine. Every guest at your wedding has at least one thing in common: you! They can make small talk for the hour or so they're seated for dinner. If they hit it off, great! If they don't, that's OK too -- once dinner is over, they're free to make their way to the dance floor, the bar, other tables, or to any of the other gathering places (outdoor decks, etc.) available at your venue.

Peter's Pointers: Why Your Wedding Needs a Seating Chart 2
Guest place settings

And don't forget - room layout matters!

It's not just about who's sitting at each table, but where those tables will be located. Here are a few quick pointers:

  • Ask your venue if they have a floor plan template you can use. You can get away without one, but some people find it easier to plan table assignments if they can see how the room will be laid out.
  • Confirm how many seats per table - it's usually 8, 10 or 12. It sounds like a no-brainer, but there's nothing worse than creating a chart based on 12-tops, only to find out afterward, that the venue only has 10-tops, and you have start over from scratch.
  • Consider guests with mobility issues -- do they have a short and clear shot to the restrooms, the buffet line or anywhere else they might need to go? Try to avoid having them cross the dance floor, or any other areas that could be congested, like queue leading to the bar.
  • As suggested earlier, consider where the DJ and the speakers will be.
    • The DJ booth and speakers should be right next to the dance floor, or pretty close to it. The speakers should not have to "shoot over" any tables between the DJ and the dance floor.
    • Guests who are more likely to spend the evening sitting and talking should be seated farther away from the speakers, where the music is less likely to interfere with their conversations.
    • Guests who are more likely to party the night away can be seated closer to the speakers -- if they're going to be out of their seats and on the dance floor, they'll appreciate being closer to the speakers anyway.

From a vendor perspective, I'm not nearly as much of a fan of WeddingWire as I once was. However, when my wife and I were planning our wedding, we found WeddingWire's seating chart planner to be very useful. We imported our guest list and it made it easy for us to drag-and-drop tables onto the floor, and then drag-and-drop guests to specific seats at those tables. This helped us avoid mistakes like seating the same person twice, or leaving anyone out.

It's been over 10 years... but if I recall, once the assignments were final, I think we were even able to export the names, and table numbers to an Excel sheet, which made it a breeze for us to design and print our own place cards in Microsoft Word. I've worked some weddings where the newlyweds even included the meal choice from each guest's RSVP. When the wait staff is ready to serve dinner, this spares everyone from trying to remember what they picked when they RSVP'd several weeks earlier, and it eliminates any bad guesses that could mess-up your meal counts.

Got any other pointers to share?

I hope you found these pointers helpful! If you've got any other pointers to share, feel free to post a comment below!

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