seating plan at a wedding.

The Art of the Chart: how to organise your seating plan

Receptions // by Emily Russ

You’ve planned the ceremony to a tee, figured out your entertainment and decided on a theme, but still can’t face how to organise the dreaded wedding guest seating plan – sound familiar?

It’s a task that’s inspired clichéd ‘bridezilla’ scenes in countless rom-coms, but getting bums on the right seats is something worth devoting time to. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got everything you need to know about choosing the right tables, how to decorate them and, of course, who should sit where.

Related Article: Our 10 face wedding dance videos and 12 ways to get the party started

Table manners
Choosing what kind of tables to use at your reception is probably the most important decision you’ll make. It will not only determine the layout of your entire reception but will also influence the overall mood.

Want to keep things chilled and conversational? Round tables are the way to go. Looking for something a little more formal and elegant? Long, rectangular tables create a refined, dinner-party-like feel and have been a classic go-to for decades.

Your venue will most likely suggest a preferred option due to space or availability, but be sure to discuss your vision with them.

Space invaders
It’s obvious a reception hasn’t been well planned when you’re getting elbowed by the person next to you trying to cut their steak.

Considering exactly how the room will be laid out should be second on your priority list, and is something you’ll want to plan with your venue or wedding organiser

For a 150cm round table…
Six chairs will feel a little too roomy, while eight will allow guests plenty of elbow room and space for pulling their chairs in all the way.

If opting for standard 15cm by 75cm rectangular tables…
Six or eight chairs are again the better option, depending on whether you use the ends of the tables.

Don’t forget to also keep the space between each table in mind, so guests are able to move around with ease – especially if you’re accommodating wheelchair access.

 The general rule of thumb…
Allow for 60 inches between tables, leaving plenty of room for guests to pull out their chairs and for servers to do their job.

Unless you’re fussy about things being just right, you don’t have to measure everything with a ruler, like Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey. Just walk around the space (or get your wedding organiser to do it for you) when laid out, and go with what feels comfortable.

The guests of honour
Okay, so you’ve planned out where everyone else is going to sit, but what about the wedding party?

The traditional head table positioned front and centre is still popular, but there are a few other ways to seat the guests of honour.

The sweetheart table
A ‘sweetheart table’ can be as lovely as the name suggests. Instead of sitting with the wedding party, this option allows couples to enjoy the celebrations from their own, small table.

Intimate and romantic, it’s a great way to relax and take in the moment with your new hubby – something you just might be thankful for after a whirlwind day of pre-wedding prepping and, you know, actually getting married.

Reserved seating
For something a bit more sociable, don’t be afraid to get a little creative. It’s not for everyone, but including two spare seats at each table for the bride and groom to mingle can be a fun way to enjoy the reception.

Unless you want to look like you’re playing musical chairs, stay at one table for each course and don’t stress too much if you don’t get to every table by the end of the reception.

The traditional head table
Of course, there’s a lot to love about the classic head table. You’ll not only get the best view of the festivities but getting the chance to hang out with your wedding party is something traditionalists will treasure forever.

It’s also the standard option for most venues, reducing any extra planning stress.

Real wedding couple Sophie & Clint seating plan.

From the wedding of Sophie & Clint

Places please everyone, places
Once you’ve sorted out the actual layout, it’s time to decide how you’re going to display everyone’s places.

Don’t know the difference between place and escort cards? Not familiar with seating charts? Let’s break it down now.

Place cards
Place cards are a more formal option, telling guests exactly which seat is theirs at a table. They’ll typically be found at each guest’s place at their respective tables and are a great way to tag bonbonniere.

Escort cards
The babies only include guests’ table assignments. This allows them a little more freedom in deciding exactly where to sit – and perhaps more importantly – who to sit next to.

Seating charts
Not unlike escort cards, seating charts serve the same purpose but involve displaying every guest’s place on a large sign. A somewhat eco-friendly and cost-effective option, they’re arguably the most popular option.

Bonus tip – looking for a unique way to display your guests’ seating arrangements?

Why not name your tables after favourite songs or memorable dates? That concert you went to together, the first place you had dinner, where you got engaged – they’re all sweet ideas that’ll bring up beautiful memories.

 A few go-to tips

We’re all friends here…
Obvious tip of the day – try to avoid seating people who don’t get along next to each other. If your parents are divorced or separated it’s a nice idea to assign them their own table, with maybe a few family friends or relatives.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match..
Also, you might think it’s a clever idea to play matchmaker and seat a table of singles together, but try to resist it if you can. Forcing a group of singles together can be awkward for everyone, and it’ll leave them muttering under their breath, “yeah… subtle”.

The kids are alright..
Seating children at your wedding can present another set of challenges. Kids’ tables can be a very good idea if there’s a sizeable group of littlies, but be sure to keep a responsible adult seated at the next table.

If you’re only expecting a few children, seat them with their parents or carer..
It’s also a fantastic idea to set up a small ‘kids only’ area with a colouring-in station, board games, books and – depending on your budget – kid friendly entertainment. Bye-bye, temper tantrums!

Let’s get organised
Not sure where to start? There’s a long list of ways to plan your seating layout…

Of course, there’s an app for that! Free to use, AllSeated is a digital platform that helps you set out your reception floor plan and visualise it in 3D.

Chances are you’ve probably got a wedding spreadsheet on the go. It’s a simple tip, but adding an extra page with a column for each table and names underneath is a fuss-free way to keep all your plans together.

It’s an old-fashioned idea, but hey, it still works. Write all your guests’ names on a sticky note tab and place them on their corresponding table – an A4 sheet of paper with the table number listed. Once you’re happy with your arrangement, don’t forget to take a photo to refer to when you’re planning with vendors. If it ain’t broke…

Time to find a venue! Check out our great local receptions directory here.