by Robbin Montero
Choose an informal occasion with an hors d'oeuvres reception, outdoor buffet, or food stations, and you can avoid designated seating issues entirely.

            Most people dread planning designated seating for any event, much less a wedding reception where family relationships are sometimes touchy. Particularly in the latter wedding-planning stages, seating can seem a daunting task. Choose an informal occasion with an hors d’oeuvres reception, outdoor buffet, or food stations, and you can avoid designated seating issues entirely. However, for a formal sit-down affair, designated seating is recommended. When offering more than one menu choice, it is required.

            There are different ways to approach designated seating, but I recommend the following  six easy steps: 


Step #1. Number or name each table, assigning table names related to your reception theme. Flower table names–Tulip, Rose, Lilac–might be used for a Victorian theme. Give tables hometown names of the guests joining you at a destination wedding. When naming reception tables at a winery for varietals, be sure to reserve “Champagne” for the head table.


Step #2. Create a master sheet (table layout) in Excel with spaces for seating at all tables. Ask your reception site contact if you’re uncertain about the number of guests at each table, generally 8 or 10. List the name for the head table first and list seat numbers for it. Example: Your Victorian reception head table is Rose, and it seats 6 people. Place numbers 1 through 6 under that table name. Decide where the next table will be placed according to its importance to the head table. If the Tulip table seats the bride’s family, it would be closest to the head table. If it seats 8, place numbers 1 through 8 under Tulip. The groom’s family could be seated at Lilac (the third table), also near the head table, listing numbers 1 through 8 under Lilac table on the master seating list, and so on.


Step #3. This is easy; place names at the tables on the master sheet as RSVPs arrive in the mail. If the table seat 8, just put 8 people at each table without worrying exactly whom will sit next to whom.


Step #4. Prepare place cards for each couple or for single guests when all names are on the master sheet. These cards are NOT to be placed on the table–keep reading and you’ll see how this works. Couples, and couples with children under the age of 18 can all be listed on one card:


                                      “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith

                                         and Tiffany Smith

                                         at the Lilac Table”


Step #5. Prepare double-sided table tents with table names or numbers printed on both sides for easy viewing. Make the tents decorative with flower art for flower-named tables or grape clusters  when wine names are used. At the reception, place the table tents on each table, based on your master sheet priority sequence. Start with the head table and move back through the room.


Step #6. At the entrance to the reception, display the aforementioned place cards neatly on a table, arranged in alphabetical order based on the last name of the guest: “Mr. and Mrs. Joe Abbot at the Rose Table” would be the first card; then, “Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bond at the Lilac Table,” followed by “Joan Clark at the Tulip Table” . . . you get the idea. As the guests enter the reception, they pick up their names at the place card table and immediately know exactly which table they are assigned to. Once at the table, they arrange themselves.


            One caution here. The master sheet is not for display at the reception. Doing so only  confuses guests and creates flow problems in the room. That’s all there is to it! I assure you this system keeps reception seating organized while being flexible enough to make your guests comfortable. Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?


 “Stress Free, Leave the Details to Me,” is the tried and true philosophy of Robbin Montero, California Wine Country wedding planning expert and owner of A Dream Wedding.  Robbin is the premier wedding planner in the Northern California Wine Country, transforming any vision into the perfectly designed wedding creation. Robbin and her weddings have been featured in The Knot, Brides, Elite Magazine, Your Wedding Day and Vine Napa/Sonoma magazines, and Travel & Leisure magazine calls Robbin, “The expert wedding planner in the California Wine Country.” 

©2009 Robbin Montero


This article cannot be reprinted without Robbin Montero’s expressed written permission.

Robbin Montero is a wedding coordinator and special events planner in Northern California.

©2006 Robbin Montero
This article cannot be reprinted without Robbin Montero's expressed written permission.