Top Tips: How to Seat Your Wedding Reception Guests

It’s one of the final tasks on your to-do list. Here’s how to make playing musical chairs a breeze!

If you’re having 25 guests at a buffet, you may or may not want to give people specific seating assignments. But if you’re having 75 guests or more and serving a seated meal, you’ll want to make sure everyone has a specific place to sit. Why? For one, people like to know where they’re sitting—and that you took the time to choose where they should sit—and with whom. It’s also helpful if you’re serving several different entrée choices, because the caterer and waitstaff can figure out beforehand how many dishes a given table gets since they know who’s sitting there. Read on for stress-free tips on how to seat your guests!

Start Early

An outdoor reception with chandeliers and ranunculus

There are couples who’ve been at kitchen tables the night before the wedding (or even wedding morning) just starting their seating chart. Don’t let this be you—you’ve got more important things to think about at that point. Sure, it’s fine to make last-minute changes, but try to get the chart mostly done at least a week before the day.


Break It Down

An aerial shot of a lakeside reception

Create a new spreadsheet. If you haven’t already, insert a column into your guest list document categorizing all the invitees by relationship: your friends, your family, your partner’s friends, your partner’s family, your family friends, your partner’s family friends and so on. This way, you’ll be able to easily sort the list and break it down into more logical table assortments. Now you’ll need to separate these lists into distinct tables.


Create a Paper Trail

An aerial view of a reception with pink accents

If you’re more visual, draw circles (for tables) on a big sheet of paper and write names inside them (make sure you know how many people can comfortably be seated at each table). Or you could write every guest’s name on a sticky note and place it accordingly.


Head Up the Head Table

Newlyweds sit at their sweetheart table at their reception

A traditional head table is not round, but long and straight, and it’s generally set up along a wall, on risers, facing all the other reception tables. Usually the newlyweds sit smack-dab in the middle (where everyone can see them), with the maid of honor next to the groom, the best man next to the bride, and then boy/girl out from there. Decide to sit this way or plan a sweetheart table for a little one-on-one time.


Switch Things Up

Strings of lights at a reception add a romantic touch

But you don’t have to do it that way. All the bridesmaids can sit on the bride’s side, and all the groomsmen on the groom’s. Or maybe you’re not into being on display, or you don’t want your wedding party to feel isolated from other guests. Let your wedding party sit at a round reception table or two with each other and/or with their dates, and have the head table be a sweetheart table for the two of you. Another option: You two sit with your parents and let that be the head table, with the wedding party at their own tables.


Place Your Parents

A bride laughs with her father at her wedding reception

Traditionally, your parents and your partner’s parents sit at the same table, along with grandparents, siblings not in the wedding party, and the officiant and his/her spouse if they attend the reception. But if your or your partner’s parents are divorced and are uncomfortable about sitting next to each other, you might want to let each set of parents host their own table of close family and/or friends . This could mean up to four parents’ tables, depending on your situation—or have the divorced parent who raised you (or your partner) and his/her spouse/date sit at the table with still-married parents.


Tame Tensions

Seating arrangements are found on clipboards on a bright wall

There may also be situations in which certain family members just do not get along. Maybe they haven’t spoken in years. Maybe the last time they saw each other there was a drunken fight at the last family wedding. Understandably, you want to keep them as far apart as possible. Think about these kinds of relationships (or lack thereof) before you even start making your chart, so you can take them into consideration in the first place and begin by seating Aunt Jane at table three and Aunt Lucy across the room at table 15. Trust us—they’ll appreciate it.


Provide Reunion Time

Two pink escort cards sit next to each other at a place setting

All of your college or high school friends who studied at will be psyched to sit at a table together. It also gives them all an opportunity to catch up with each other, because they may not have seen each other for quite some time.

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