There are dozens of strategic decisions you will need to make when planning your wedding. Should walk down the aisle in the summer or the fall? Choose a large bridal party, or small? Veil or no veil? Perhaps the most mind-bending strategic planning you will have to accomplish, however, is planning your seating chart. Faced with the dynamics of different personalities, merging families, and old and new friends, the process can easily spiral out of control from a simple exercise to a full-on strategic tactical maneuver. Don’t stress your seating chart strategy. Instead, save your effort for deciding if you want a dessert table or a candy buffet and instead follow these tips for planning your wedding seating chart.
Make it an Active Exercise
Don’t work in ink. Seating chart planning is a process that requires maneuverability. Don’t think you can grab a notepad and make your decisions on the first pass going table by table. Plan to change your mind, rearrange couples, and move guests around until you are completely happy with the final seating chart. Number sheets of paper to represent your tables, and label strips of sticky notes with the names of your guests. Lay everything out on your dining room table and start working through the placements, moving guests around until you are comfortable with your decisions.
Choose a Grouping Strategy Based on Relationships
You may be tempted to mix and match grooms’ side with brides’ side, and college friends with out-of-town relatives to encourage your guests to get to know one another. Know that your guests will have an opportunity to meet and greet throughout the day, but when it comes to the dinner hour, when guests will be presented with the greatest opportunities for focused conversation, you’re better off grouping together guests who already know one another well. Seat your Father’s conservative siblings and their spouses at one table, and your fiancé’s rowdy fraternity brothers at another table. Both sets of guests will be glad for the opportunity to spend some dedicated time catching-up.
Let us be clear that your final place settings should be decided by you and your fiancé, and not by your parents, your in-laws, your maid of honor, or your college roommate who has started filling up your Facebook stream with ideas and questions about your wedding. That being said, it will help you to ask some questions of key friends and family members to help make seating decisions. For example, ask your Mother if she thinks your Aunt Kathy in Mahwah may want to sit next to Cousin Stephanie who just moved away to Philadelphia. Or, ask your fiancé if his college roommate Kevin is still mad at his friend Greg for dating his ex-girlfriend. Getting some insight into relationship dynamics that you are less familiar with may help to ease your worries and make the dinner hour as enjoyable as possible for everyone.
Avoid Creating a “Singles’” Table.
You will undoubtedly end up with an odd number of guests. Placing couples with other couples will be easier than trying to place individual guests. Whatever you do though, avoid resorting to putting all of your single friends together. Don’t convince yourself that some of them may be interested in swapping digits at the end of the night. If they’re feeling down about going to your wedding without a plus one, being seated at the designated singles’ table, may only damper their enjoyment.
Don’t Forget to Prioritize Your ‘Rents
When it comes to seating your parents, you’ll need to decide if you are going to take a traditional approach, or a more modern philosophy. Traditionally, your parents and your new in-laws would be seated at the same table with both sets of grandparents, siblings not in the wedding party, and the officiant and his/her spouse. This may not work for every family, however. For example, if one or both sets of parents are divorced, consider seating them with their current spouses, if applicable, and their other close family members, rather than together, if that would be more comfortable for them.
Remember that your final guest lists will evolve throughout your engagement. As you start to receive RSVP card responses, don’t be surprised if you start hearing pleas from your teenage cousin to bring her boyfriend, or last minute cancellations from your flighty Aunt Delilah. Don’t let last minute changes add stress to your planning. Do be appreciative for everyone who is able and willing to spend your special day with you. No matter where they sit, they will be happy to celebrate your love and commitment and to be a part of your wedding.