Saturday, 11 May 2013

Seating your guests - Tips on Table Planning

There will come a time in your wedding planning, usually around 1 month before your wedding, that your venue/caterers/decoration companies will require final numbers of guests, a seating plan and details of where you want any extra tables (for cakes/gifts etc). 

This was one of the tasks I found a little daunting, it sounded like a lot of hard work, but once I sat down and got organised it wasn't any where near as difficult as I expected it to be. Read on for my hints & tips on planning where to put your guests and how to get all those final details pinned down in time.

  • My first tip starts with your invitations. Make sure that you request RSVP's by 3 months prior to the date of your wedding. Although this may seem very early on and way in advance of when you need the figures, it will save you any headaches later on. This gives you time to chase up any late replies. It also means you can ensure you meet your minimum head count requirements. Most venues will have a minimum amount, and if you do not have this amount they will apply a room charge. For example, my venue required a minimum of 50 day guests and 100 evening. If when we supplied our final numbers we were short of this amount, they would apply a £250 charge to our final bill. This should have been explained when you signed the contract with your venue, but if you are unsure call your venue & double check to avoid a nasty surprise when you get your final bill.
  • Also, don't forget to ask for any allergies or specific dietary requirements on your invites. We had a set menu, but if you are offering a choice then you will need to request the choice is given at the time of RSVP. If you include this on your plan it makes it a lot easier for the venue/caterers when they are serving the meal.
  • Find out from your venue what size/shape tables they offer and any room layouts they use. If they regularly do weddings they will more than likely be able to tell you what will work best for the amount of guests you have. Bear in mind their recommendation doesn't have to be used, so don't be afraid to ask if you have a specific idea in mind. 
  • Start off working out how many tables you will need in total and roughly how many guests per table you will have. Each table may have a slightly different amount of guests on it, but try to keep them as even as possible. To give you an idea I calculated it like this: I had 52 guests in the day. 10 were on my top table, leaving 42 guests to seat. I put 8 on table 1, 10 on table 2, 8 on table 3, 10 on table 4, 6 on table 5. It wasn't the same on each table as certain couples, or groups had to be sat together but it worked out with a nice distribution across the room.
  • Next draw on a piece of paper how your tables will be laid out, leaving plenty of room to write names. Here's how mine looked before the names were applied:
  • You don't have to have the same lay out, you could have rows of long rectangular tables for your guests, a round top table, square tables, all the tables in a arch, or pretty much what ever you want within reason. Put this in to a simple plan as above, showing exactly how you want the tables laid out, including where you want the cake, gift table, guest book etc.
  • Traditionally on the top table you would seat the Bride and Groom centrally and then working outwards the parents would sit either side followed by the best man and maid of honour. But you don't have to follow this tradition, if you already have children you may want them on the top table with you, or if you have divorced and remarried parents, you may want your step parents on your table too. Generally you will have about 10 people on the top table. Try and be fair, so if you have a sister or brother on the top table, don't leave out your other half's siblings.
  • Next work through your guest tables. As an example we filled table 1,2 & 3 with our families, table 4 with our dearest friends, and table 5 was good friends & colleagues. I personally felt it was right to have our families on the tables nearest to us, but it's a choice you and you spouse-to-be will need to make together. 
  • Once we had worked out who was going to be on each table I started to think of the logistics. For example, our grandparents I put on the seats closest to us, but facing us so they didn't have to twist around during the speeches and struggle to hear, I surrounded them by their children and grandchildren. Mainly because that's who they want to be sat with, not my younger friends who want to have a giggle and mess about. I put children in between adults and not together on one table separately. If they get tired, or need help with cutting their food (for example) they will want their parents to help, not another child they probably have never met before. You don't have to group your guests in this way, and if there is a family feud, you may find a table of relatives isn't a good idea. But for us we felt it worked well and everyone was sat with someone they knew well so they could have a good natter and not feel left out.
  • Once you have written down where you want each guest sat on the plan it's time to include allergies, menu choices, or other special arrangements. We wrote a key on our plan as follows: C = Child, V = Vegetarian, P = Peanut Allergy, H = High chair. We didn't offer a menu choice but if you did then either use 1 = menu 1 etc or M = meat, F = fish. Next to each person in brackets include the corresponding code. For example my table place was written as - Bride (P). The venue knew I had to have no Peanuts near my plate and knew where I was sat (as if the big white dress doesn't give it away) when bringing out the different courses.
  • I put the plan away for a week and then went back to it to make sure it was exactly how I wanted it. I gave a copy to the venue at our last meeting, and the night before the wedding we went over it with our event co-ordinator to make sure there were no changes.
  • We did our own centerpieces so I didn't include this information on the plan, although our venue were a huge help setting up. If, however, a company are setting up for you, or you have specific table names, variations on decorations for different tables or any other detail you want to be perfect then I suggest you include this on the plan. For example if half your tables are in red, and the other half in gold, then write on the plan which ones are which colour. This will avoid any last minute panics on the day.
  • If you have a decoration company, or someone setting up for you then make sure they get a copy of this seating plan. Even though you can tell companies or little helpers what you want, if it is written down they can refer back to your plan and make sure everything is how you wanted it. It just saves stress, arguments and confusion for all parties involved.
This all may seem common sense, or even rather simplistic, but I looked online and found the best thing was to keep it simple. There were many complicated plans, long blogs and articles on etiquette & tradition but it was too complex. I decided that it was best to keep it simple & include the important information such as dietary requirements. It worked for us, with the venue commenting how thorough yet easy to interpret our plan was. So I suggest you avoid big pin boards and over complicated table lay outs. Simple means less mistakes can be made!

I was lucky that my venue supplied a Table Plan outside the door of our room for guests to check where they were sat. This was part of our package. If you want to make one yourself or if your venue doesn't supply one you can do this to match your theme, without getting overly expensive. If you want my ideas on an actual Seating Plan Board for the Wedding Day then let me know in the comments below. I will do some research and attempt to make one myself before I write a post for you. 

My last piece of advice is, do not get stressed over numbers, who is eating what and who is sitting where. It is your big day, and you are marrying the love of your life. If it makes life easy on you then have a set menu, if someone doesn't turn up then it's not the end of the world. So long as your spouse is there, your wedding is legal and you two are happy then that's what is important. The rest is just added extras.

I hope you enjoyed and I hope it has helped some of you bride/grooms even just a little bit! 

As Always Thanks For Reading :)


  1. This is great advice, table and chair placement is under estimated! I once threw a party and the tables were way to crowded and small. Getting the right sized tables and putting them in the right place is super important to a good party. Thanks for posting!

  2. These are quite helpful tips on table planning. Couple of months ago, I arranged my best friend’s wedding at one of the excellent wedding venues. Arranged an excellent table centerpiece which was liked by everyone.