The date of your wedding is quickly approaching. Your RSVP’s are coming in, and now you are facing the question of whether or not you should assign your guests to tables or let them choose their own seats (“Open Seating”). Your Wedding Coordination staff will be the ones assisting the guests with finding their tables regardless of the set-up you choose, so here are some common misconceptions we hear from our clients, followed by the reality of what actually occurs as guests are finding their seats.
What You Think Will Happen: “If I assign my guests to tables, they will view my wedding as too formal and rigid and not have as much fun.”
What Actually Happens: Your guests will appreciate the thought you put into assigning them to tables with other guests with whom they will likely enjoy spending dinnertime. It does cause some social anxiety for guests to enter the ballroom and have to find their own seats without a table assignment. They don’t want to sit in the wrong place, and they don’t want to end up at a table with people far removed from their age group. How do we know this? Because we when we have Open Seating, as guests enter the ballroom and we tell them that it’s Open Seating, we hear about 75% of them groan and sigh in frustration.
Solution: Take the time to assign your guests to tables. You don’t have to pick their seats, but a table assignment reduces the time it takes for guests to enter the room and relieves social anxiety. Worried about the cost of creating escort cards and table numbers? Just do one card per couple/family in order to save cost. Also, you most likely already have a spreadsheet of your guests that you created to send invitations. You can buy an inexpensive set of escort cards from any office supply store and do a quick Mail Merge to import those names into the provided template. Just be sure and print their names in a font that is sized and designed for quick and easy reading. That gorgeous, small script font you used for your invitations is not easy to read when 200 people are trying to find their escort cards all at once.
What You Think Will Happen: “I don’t want to assign guests to tables because then they will feel like they have to sit there all night and have to hang around with the same people all night long.”
What Actually Happens: Whether you assign guests to tables or not, they are going to find a table immediately when they enter the ballroom and sit down in a chair in preparation for announcements, first dance, dinner, etc. They will sit at this table until dinner is over and dancing begins. Then they will be up and moving for the rest of the evening. Even if you allowed Open Seating, most guests will return to the table where they had dinner when they want to sit down.
Solution: Understand that your guests getting up and interacting with each other has more to do with the environment you and your Wedding Coordinator have created in the room with the timeline, room layout and, most importantly, the quality of the DJ or band who is providing the entertainment.
What You Think Will Happen: “We need to have an extra table or two for guests who show up who didn’t RSVP. And it’s going to be a big problem when those guests show up and don’t see their names on an escort card.”
What Actually Happens: You will have guests arrive who did not RSVP; however, you will also have guests who don’t come to the wedding who told you they were coming and for whom you have reserved seats.
Solution: If you follow up with every guest you invited to get an RSVP (yes, this takes time and is frustrating), then you can give your venue/florist/caterer a hard number of guests, knowing that 10% of those guests won’t show up and that 10% who didn’t RSVP will end up coming. With most cultures, it ends up being a wash, and there are always extra seats. If you know your culture tends to have a large number of guests who don’t RSVP and still come to the wedding, then planning for overage with tables, food, centerpieces, etc is a good idea. Also, hiring a Wedding Coordinator will give you a person to stand next to those escort cards and let the non-RSVPers know that everything is okay when they can’t find their escort cards and to just find available seats once everyone is seated.
What You Think Will Happen: “I have assigned everyone to tables. Our parents’ tables are most important, so we have assigned them to Tables 1 and 2.”
What Actually Happens: The table where the bride and groom are sitting is typically in the front and center of the room, often with the rest of the tables surrounding it in a U-formation. Tables 1 & 2 are usually at the far side of the room in a corner and couldn’t be farther from the center. The parents and the bride & groom get upset on the wedding day when they realize this mistake.
Solution: It’s a very simple solution but one that is often accidentally overlooked. Make sure and number the tables on your floorplan BEFORE you make your escort cards. Then you will see that your parents really belong at the tables nearest to the center, which might be Tables 11 & 12, as an example.
What You Think Will Happen: “I want to have Open Seating with just a few Reserved tables for family. I want to put “Reserved for Bride’s Family” or “Reserved for Groom’s Family” signs on these tables.”
What Actually Happens: You have an aunt/uncle, stepparent, etc who thinks he/she is supposed to sit at this table, but you did not intend for this. This person has to be asked to move away from the table. This is an awkward thing to request (We know, because we are usually the ones who have to make the request and see the expressions on the family members’ faces when we ask them to get up) and can cause family resentment for years to come.
Solution: Put the “Reserved for Bride’s/Groom’s Family” signs on the tables, but also put place cards at each seat for the family members you intend to sit there. This way the family members can see who was intended to sit there and there is less of an awkward situation created.
What You Think Will Happen: “If I have enough seats for everyone, when I do Open Seating, everyone will have a seat and no one will get upset.”
What Actually Happens: The majority of your guests will find a seat, but there will be that large group of family or friends who lingered too long in the cocktail hour area enjoying each other’s company. They enter a ballroom where most of your guests have picked their tables, assuming they will get to sit with their group of 6 with whom they spent time with during cocktail hour, only to find that there are only seats of 1 or 2 left at various tables around the room. They get upset and ask the venue staff or your Wedding Coordinator if they can attempt to move chairs from other tables and squish them into a table all together. Sometimes they even do this after you tell them not to.
Solution: Assigning guests to tables alleviates this problem.
What You Think Will Happen: “We will sit at a Sweetheart Table, guests and family will have Open Seating, and my Wedding Party will also choose their own seats. They are young and personable; they can mix well with anyone!”
What Actually Happens: The guests find seats. Your family finds seats. You have your Sweetheart Table for the two of you. However, your Wedding Party enters the ballroom last – right before the bride and groom. At this point, everyone is seated, and if members of your Wedding Party don’t have a date with the forethought to save a seat for them, they have to spread out and find available seats at tables, which usually have only 1 or 2 seats available. This is awkward and uncomfortable for your Wedding Party. Then, if you are dismissing to a buffet and are allowing the Wedding Party to eat first, now they have the even more uncomfortable situation of being the only one at their table with a plate of food, or their entire table has to be immediately dismissed to the buffet. This results in virtually the entire room being dismissed all at once and causes long lines at buffets.
Solution: If you are doing Open Seating, be sure to have Reserved tables for both your families and your Wedding Party. Be sure the Wedding Party knows whether or not their dates are to sit at this table. You can always make place cards for these tables as well.
At Significant Events, we know that smooth logistics and crowd control are absolutely essential to helping your event run smoothly and successfully. We take pride in placing ourselves in areas where your guests will have questions and answering the questions before they ever ask them. One of the best investments you will make in your wedding is having a strong Full Service or Day Of Coordinator to significantly reduce the stress of a potentially high stress situation.