How to Organise your Seating Plan

Via Etsy

If you’re struggling to work out how to organise your seating plan, you are not alone. The seating plan is an important (and very political) part of wedding planning, to ensure your guests enjoy themselves – and avoid any possible family feuds.

When do you Organise your Seating Arrangements?

One of the tricky elements to organising your wedding reception seating plan is that you need to know exactly how many, and who, are attending. It’s a job that can really only be done almost last minute, or you risk having to redo it again anyway.

Once your RSVPS are in, the dreaded seat planning can begin.

Tip: we did this with a bottle of wine.

A Preliminary Note

Organising your wedding reception seating can be really tricky, partly because you have to leave it so late, and also because it’s like playing tetris like people. Don’t overthink it. Guests will only be seated for an hour or two, and if there’s great food (and a few drinks) available to enjoy, they’ll surely graciously accept your choices and plans when it comes to seating.

Specific Seating vs Choose Your Own?

Of course, depending on the style and formality of your wedding, it’s up to you whether to assign tables. For a cocktail wedding, just ensure there is space for guests to sit, rest and eat.

Personally, I haven’t attended a wedding without one, and at many weddings have appreciated the thought couples have made to seat us with like-minded people we’ve then made friends with.

If you choose not to allocate seating, still consider:

  • the amount of time required for guests to find a seat and be seated;
  • the space and ability of guests to move around tables to find a space;
  • it may not suit a set menu/plated meal if there are guests with dietary requirements;
  • whether you still want to delegate a head table, bridal party table and/or children’s table.

You can display a cute sign to inform guests, i.e. “come as you are, stay as long as you can, we’re all family, so no seating plan”, or “we’re all family now, please sit yourself”

Starting the seating plan

The head table (or ‘top table’) is where the bride and groom sit. The most traditional seating plans (and often still UK weddings) have the parents of the couple as well as the best man and  maid of honour, whereas more modern weddings have the entire bridal table (US custom).

So that the couple can see the guests (and vice versa) and those making speeches can be seen and heard, usually the head table is a long rectangle one.

Alternatively, a sweetheart table is just for the bride and groom, and if the bride and groom have children already, they may want to have them at their table.

Round tables – it’s not necessary to specify actual seats, but rather you can just choose to group guests to tables. If you choose to have specified seats, you’ll also need place cards, which will add to your stationery budget. For a 60″ table, you’ll want 6-8 guests (10 at an absolute maximum and not for large guests)

Rectangle tables – depending on the length of rectangle tables, it may be easier to have guests with specific seating. Commonly, rectangle tables are 6 x 30″ and seat 6-8 people depending on whether you have guests on the end.

When spacing tables, consider the amount of room required for wait-staff, or more room if guests will be moving around a lot (i.e. for a buffet).

Mix, mingle and blend, or seat together?

Between your two families and two (or more) groups of friends, you may have at least four distinct ‘groups’ of guests, so your first choice when it comes to seating will be whether to seat ‘groups’ together, or mix them all up so that they can get to know new people.

Begin by organising your groups according to how you know them: family members and friends from different aspects of life (childhood, high school, college, work, etc.)

A combination of both often works well, such as seating clusters of 2-4 people who know each other close to each other, with other guests or family they don’t yet know. Between you and your partner, you’ll know what’s likely to suit your guests. Particularly for singles, or guests who don’t know many others, they’ll feel more comfortable being seated next to someone they do know.


If there’s many children of similar ages attending, considering putting them together, or alternatively seating them with their parents, and having groups of parents together (they’ll be more understanding of noisy, possibly distracted, kids.

Get crafty

We used a wooden alphabet set to play around with (you could also use scrabble letters) instead of post-it notes, but you can write each guest’s name on a post-it note, and line up as many as you have tables, then move people around until you are satisfied with the arrangement. If you have couples, have both names on the post it, and if you’ve thought about a cluster of guests to be together, write all those names on the post it and move those around tables (saves time moving 2 or 4 different post its)

Take a picture of the spreadsheet, ready to send to your stationery designer, but of course don’t finalise anything until you’re 100% certain of your guest numbers and RSVPs.

Really, do what suits you – don’t stick to ‘tradition’ if it makes you (or someone else) uncomfortable.

There’s an app for that!

If you prefer to work with technology, consider for $20 (USD) and drag and drop each guest into place until the seating plan is just right.

A few tips

  • Seat younger guests closer to the dance floor and older guests a little further away.
  • Seat children further away from the head table and speeches, so as not to distract other guests (close to the bathrooms, ideally)
  • Resist the ‘singles table’ – go ahead and introduce your single friends on the dance-floor later, but don’t put all the singles together, it’s embarrassing. But in the same vein, don’t put one single with a group of all couples, unless they’re friends already.
  • Be tactful, don’t make anybody feel uncomfortable. Avoid seating people together who have a history they wish they could forget.

Once you’re sorted, consider these beautiful seating plan designs, these two from my friend Amanda of (and she did our stationery too!) and the rest via Etsy.

Via Etsy (click to link).

Featured image via Morgann Hill Designs

Now check out the wedding planning index and the little white book!