The Reception: Please Be Seated

Photo: Photograph Courtesy of Van Vliet & Trap

You’ve survived the perilous task of narrowing your guest list to 150 of your nearest and dearest. Now you must figure out where to seat them. Karen Bussen, wedding planner and author of five bridal guides, including the forthcoming Simple Stunning Wedding Etiquette, lays out the ideal floor plan that takes everyone’s needs—and idiosyncrasies—into consideration.

1. VIPs
Whether it’s the officiant who married you, your mother’s college roommate, or your father-in-law’s boss, every wedding has a couple of VIPs. Try to seat them nearby. Give your planner or caterer a table-by-table list with notes of any special situations. One bride actually gave us a list with photos of family and the wedding party, so we were able to greet her VIPs by name.

2. Singles
Don’t seat singles together and expect them to spontaneously bond. Putting at least one gregarious person at a table can help ease conversation. But if you’ve got a table full of shy strangers, help spark interaction by writing a fun question on a card: “Someone at this table met the bride in London. Who is it?” If there’s a couples’ table that a single friend would feel more comfortable at, seat him there instead.

3. Feuding Guests
If they’re your parents, let them each host their own table and place those tables at a distance. Make sure no one feels like they’re in Siberia. If they’re friends who had a falling-out, don’t expect them to reconcile here; apply the distance principle.

4. Kindergarten Crowd
To ensure some supervision and minimize any possible mishaps, seat kids at a table next to their parents, near the bathrooms, and away from the cake. Place coloring books, stickers, and disposable cameras at their tables, and serve a special drink, such as a Shirley Temple, to help make them feel special.

5. Elderly Guests
Keep them seated far from the band and ask your venue manager where to place quieter tables, as sometimes speakers are hidden in spots you wouldn’t suspect. Purchase disposable earplugs to be passed out by your venue manager should anyone complain about the noise.

6. The Bride and Groom
Large head tables, where the couple is flanked by their entire wedding party, are back in vogue. Whatever you decide, position your table in the center of the room, facing the dance floor, with your groom’s parents’ table on one side of the couple and your parents’ table on the other.

Table Size
If you’re on a limited budget—or have limited space—use 30-inch-wide banquet tables, as linens are readily available in this size, and the middle of the table is too narrow to permit excessive decoration. But if you plan on serving a family-style meal or having lots of glasses, this kind of table can feel cramped, in which case you’re better off using tables that are 36 inches wide.

Table Shape
For smaller rooms, round tables are best. Squares and rectangles suit larger loft spaces. Square tables often require special tablecloths as well as symmetrical seating—if you have a square table set for eight guests and one doesn’t make it to the party, you’re left with a lone guest on the edge.

The Reception: Please Be Seated