You’ve planned and organised all the big ticket elements for your wedding – venue, caterer, florist, stationer, production, cake, photographer, videographer and band – and now it’s time to start putting some of the detail to your day, in particular the often dreaded table plan! Couples often leave this until the last minute and whilst it’s true that you need to leave the printing of it until the last minute due to unavoidable drop outs in the run up to your big day, I always advise that you have a working table plan right from the start, when all the RSVPs are in, as it can take a lot longer than you think to get right! Here are my tips for how to keep it as simple and stress free as possible.
If you don’t have a wedding planner to do this for you then definitely use an online wedding seating plan app – you upload your guest list in excel and then you can drag and drop the names to each table. It even cleverly ensures that no guest has been missed off and that the number of guests seated matches the number of RSVPs you have – there’s nothing worse than a guest coming up to you on your wedding day to say they can’t find their name on the table plan.
Top tables were traditionally rectangular shaped and facing the guests, which leaves the two guests at either end with only one ‘neighbour’ to speak to, which can be awkward. Round tables – whilst less formal - are a lot more friendly and are gaining in popularity.
You’re not obliged to have a traditional top table – if family dynamics make the thought of this too stressful, or if you feel like you don’t want to leave empty seats if you plan to circulate amongst your guests a lot, then consider a feature sweetheart table just for two instead.
Traditionally, those closest to the family sit on tables closest to the top table. With regard to the other tables, think through some of the logistics such as who might need to be nearest the door or the bathroom, who would or wouldn’t want to be near a window or a draught, which table is closest to the catering access doors so will get waiting staff walking past a lot and which tables are closest to the PA – elderly guests in particular tend to be sensitive to loud speakers – and perhaps keep the young and loud tables away from the more elderly relatives.
I always suggest to my couples that each table has a host – whether that be the most senior member of the family on that table or a special friend. Decide exactly which seat that person has – usually the one with the most direct view of your table, ie not with their back to you, and then decide who sits next to who on either side of that person, then fill in the other chairs around the table as appropriate.
Tables come in different sizes and therefore seat different numbers of guests. As a rule, 5’6” tables seat 8-10 guests and 6’ tables seat 10 – 12 guests, but this also depends on the size of the chairs and if you are having charger plates which can both take up more space around the table. If you don’t have a wedding planner then always check with your caterer how many guests can fit on each table to be on the safe side.
When planning who to sit on each table, start with the easy groups - family, friends, work colleagues. Alternate male/female where possible but accept that there will be seats where this is not possible. In my opinion couples should sit on the same table but not necessarily next to each other. Never ever create a table for singletons, it’s too obvious! Instead mix them in with people they are comfortable with – there will be plenty of time for mingling later!
If you have children at your wedding, if you don’t have a wedding planner then bear in mind the following – babies and their parents should ideally be allocated a table with sufficient space near a wall where a buggy or pram can be brought in as well, for pre-schoolers you’ll need to remember to request high chairs from your venue or caterer and whilst young children should sit with their parents, older children quite enjoy having a separate table to themselves, perhaps with craft activities at each place setting to keep them occupied.
To ensure that you don’t cause a bottleneck as guests stop to look at the table plan as they move through to take their seats, it’s ideal to have two table plans and if one of them has been visible during drinks reception as well, so guests can have a look in advance, all the better.
In addition to your seating plan (listing who is on each table?), if you don’t have a wedding planner you will also need to prepare an A-Z version of the seating plan to give to the caterers as this is much quicker way to answer the “which table am I on” question than scanning the whole plan table by table, and you’ll also need to have given a layout plan to your caterers in advance indicating which table is exactly where in the room, and the dietary requirements on each table.
My final word of advice is, if it’s too much of a headache to decide who sits next to who, then don’t! Keep it simple and simply allocate carefully grouped people to each table but let them decide in the moment exactly where they sit on that table and who to sit next to. It’s your day after all so you can organise it however you wish.