Regardless of the number of people who attend your wedding, the blending of two families and the witness of marriage brings together a joyful crowd. Part of wedding planning involves making decisions about managing this group of people who may or may not know each other. There are options in how you guide wedding guests through the reception not only for smooth transitions, but also to create community among your most beloved family and friends.
Relationships so often begin as strangers share a meal around a table. While considering the flow between seating arrangements and food service options for your reception, I invite you to also consider the possibilities of initiating new relationships among your wedding guests at the dinner table. Here, we list and compare three options for seating assignments and unique considerations for building community.
Open seating is open-ended. As guests enter your reception venue, they will have the freedom and flexibility to choose what table and chair they will sit at for the evening’s festivities. Will your guests have an opportunity to meet and mingle at a rehearsal dinner or social hour the day before your wedding? If many of your guests will make connections with new people prior to your wedding day, open seating provides former-strangers a chance to continue those organic relationships. Perhaps your extended families live in the same town but have never met each other; this could be a beautiful invitation for new relationships that can begin and continue beyond your wedding day.
Open seating is the most budget-friendly option because it doesn’t require the purchase of a seating chart or place cards. You may consider providing more place settings than necessary in case guests choose to sit in small groups across several tables, rather than filling every chair at one table.
The most appropriate food service with open seating is a buffet, which parallels the flexibility and flow of the crowd through the reception.
Assigning tables can be fun to play with during your wedding planning as you create collisions between groups of people. Weddings bring together the old and the new, childhood friends and college friends, family and “friends who become family.” The reception is a chance for those worlds to mix in a way that strengthens your network of love and support for your new life as a married couple.
There are so many ways to approach assigned tables in order to quietly instigate new relationship among wedding guests: do the bride and groom’s childhood friends all sit at one table? Maybe it’s a chance for your childhood friends to spend time with your college friends. The options are endless, and the process is exciting.
Assigned Tables work well for a limited space because each table can be filled to its capacity. It provides both structure and flexibility for your guests. A large escort board can be placed near the entrance of the reception venue where your guests will see it and can note their table. Alternatively, you can create escort cards labeled with the guest’s name and table assignment, so they can find their table then claim their seat with the place card. If you prefer, couples or families that will sit together can be listed on the same escort card. This option requires a financial investment towards creating or purchasing the escort board or escort cards and table name signs, as well as a commitment to intentionally plan the table assignments.
Either a buffet or table service works well with assigned tables. Note that caterers may need to be aware of the tables with guests who have dietary restrictions.
Assigned seats are the most structured method for guiding your guests to a place at the reception. Both an escort board at the front of the venue and escort cards at the table are used to help guests find their way.
Similar to seating chart, assigned seats offer a more structured invitation for new relationships or dynamics among guests. If you plan to mix bride and groom’s guests at the same table, assigned seats can offer both diversity and structure for these encounters. Sometimes, assigned seats are helpful in creating a positive environment among guests who have a negative history by organizing people among the space.
Assigned seats are the best option for your reception if your guests select an entree and food will be delivered in courses. Name cards can be marked in a specific way to communicate dietary needs and/or entree selections to the catering staff.
Planning these parts of your wedding is not all about logistics and details. It is about building relationships and connections and bonds between you and your fiance by bridging your families and friends together.
True love is fruitful. The relationships that take root and grow beyond your wedding day is an irrefutable fruit from the celebration of love between you and your spouse.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the options in planning a wedding, it may be helpful to work backwards. What kinds of words do you want your guests to use when they describe your wedding and reception? How do you want to remember the atmosphere at your celebration of marriage? Once you and your fiance determine a vision together, it may be easier to make decisions about the social environment for your big day.