In general you have 3 options for your wedding reception seating: open seating, assigned tables, assigned seats. Whichever format you choose you’ll need to communicate these preferences to your guests. For that you’ll likely need stationery: place cards, seating charts, table numbers, escort cards, or reserved signs; or a combination of it all.
Reserved signs can be used if you are not assigning guests to tables or to seats. Reserving a table ensures that you have a place to sit (where all can see you) and your family has a table next to you. Opting to forgo this is not advised, seriously, your mom might have something to say about this casual move, she needs to know where to sit.
Best practices: Have extra seats at tables (maximum occupancy) and tell family if they are supposed to sit at a reserved table (also tell your bridal party).
Seating charts can display either be a room layout with tables and their assigned label or it can list guests and their table assignment.
A room layout helps acquaint guests with the layout of the room. This is particularly helpful if you have a layout which isn’t straightforward (see layouts 1 and 2 below), if you have a lot of tables, or if you are using pictures instead of table numbers.
If you use a seating chart to list out your guests with their table assignments then you might not need escort cards. You do, however, need to list guests alphabetically and clearly designate their table assignment. Consider these acceptable scenarios:
1) Seating chart designates guests table, meal is buffet or family style.
2) Seating chart designates guests table, place cards are set at the table to designate which seat guests sit at AND their meal choice (if needed).
3) Seating chart shows which table icon/picture is where, guests have an escort card which states their table assignment and their meal choice (if needed).
It is unnecessary to have both a seating chart listing guests and their table assignment AND escort cards listing their meal choice. Why? Because most guests are more concerned about their table assignment and less about signifying to the caterer their meal choice. This means guests may only look at the chart, see their table and sit down, forgetting their card and leading to a mix up come dinner serving time. Or they may grab their card and then aimlessly walk around the reception room wondering how they are supposed to know where to sit.
I’m not painting an unrealistic picture, this is how it goes.
Think about your guest experience, how can you make them feel comfortable and knowledgeable? If you aren’t assigning an usher to assist with seating confusions, you’ll want to make your instructions stupid simple, without turning your wedding into the first grade of kindergarten.
All three examples below are custom designs by Oliver and Grace Event Studios, of seating charts listing the guest name and table assignment.
Table numbers help guests know which perfectly decorated table is theirs to sit at. You can use numbers, icons or pictures, objects etc. Table numbers help guests find their table, but they also help your caterer (should you opt for a plated or family style meals). Just like any other element of your wedding, table numbers can be an amazing way to incorporate your style, personality and wedding design.
IMAGE 1 by Alyssa Lee Photography, Champagne Press Stationery, Hailey + Hunter. IMAGE 2 by Aqua Fox, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Leslee + Billy. IMAGE 3 by Bravoda Weddings, Minted, Hannah + Jason. IMAGE 4 by Aaron Rice Photography, DIY, Meghann + Ty. IMAGE 5 by Dillinger Studios, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Alma + Mike. IMAGE 6 by Hannah Schmitt Photography, DIY, Jenna + Kevin. IMAGE 7 by Kate Becker Photography, DIY, Lydia + Michael. IMAGE 8 by Jessa Anderson Photography, DIY, Laura + Mike. IMAGE 9 by Alyssa Lee Photography, DIY salt and pepper shakers, Julia + Johanna. IMAGE 10 by Aqua Fox, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Leslee + Billy. IMAGE 11 by Russell Heeter Photography, DIY, Anna + Tim. IMAGE 12 by Kristina Lorraine Photography, DIY, Nicole + Luke. IMAGE 13 Whims and Joy, Melinda + Jake. IMAGE 14 by Alice HQ Photography, DIY, Mandy + Curtis. IMAGE 15 by Zoe Prinds-Flash Photography, Kate + Zak.
Escort cards direct guests on where to sit, like at which table. They should also include a meal choice designations if you’ve opt for a plated meal with more than one option. They should include dietary restrictions if meals are being served to guests. The meal marker on an escort card (or place card) is how you’ll communicate with servers which guest gets which meal, so make it easily visible and easily distinguishable.
Escort cards must contain first and last names and they must contain a table number, otherwise they are pointless. Escort cards can double as guest favors, they can be flat or folded, paper or otherwise.
IMAGE 1 by Alyssa Lee Photography, Julia + Johanna. IMAGE 2 + 3 by Whims and Joy Photography, Melinda + Jacob. IMAGE 4 by Brovado Weddings, Hannah + Jason. IMAGE 5 + 6 Krista Reynolds Photography, Ivory Isle. IMAGE 7 by Kelly Birch, AnnMarie + Nick. IMAGE 8 + 9 by Allison Hopperstad Photography, Jade + Seth. IMAGE 10 by Jessa Anderson Photography, Laura + Mike. IMAGE 11 by Alyssa Lee Photography, Hailey + Hunter. IMAGE 12 by Alice HQ Photography, Mandy + Curtis.
Place cards get preset at the guest place setting, they assign which seat a guest is to sit at. Best practices: anything preset requires an extensive room layout with first and last names listed (middle initial if there are any juniors in your family). This takes time to set up, so ensure your timeline allows for it. Also be mindful of the weather. Wind may blow away paper so ensure they are properly weighted.
In lieu of including your head table place cards on the place card table you can opt to preset them. This makes sense since you likely want your bridal party to sit in specific seats. Include a chart, with marked orientation, and have your planner preset these cards.
IMAGE 1 by Aqua Fox, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Leslee + Billy. IMAGE 2 by Kelly Birch, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Carrie + Dave. IMAGE 3 by Kristina Lorraine Photography, DIY, Nicole + Luke. IMAGE 4 by Janelle Elise Photography, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Megan + Corey. IMAGE 5 by Allison Hopperstad Photography, Oliver and Grace Event Studios, Jade + Seth.
I’m hoping by now you’ve got a good grasp on how you are going to communicate to your guests where they will be sitting, here are a few layouts and best practices for using them.
LAYOUT 1 | PICTURES
Cards attached to mason jars | Silverwood Park | Mike weds Cat.
Table icon pictures were printed on wine bottles. Mike and Cat chose to display a larger version of this layout, on an easel next to the place card table.
Best practices: assign someone to stand by the sign and assist guests. Have cocktail hour in the same room as dinner seating to allow plenty of time for guests to find their tables.
LAYOUT 2 | HAND DRAWN
Place cards | Hyland Ski Chalet | Ashley + Tom.
Table numbers with stands from David Tuttera and matching place cards.
Best practices: also give your caterer a copy of the room layout, especially if your table numbers aren’t particularly prominent.
LAYOUT 3 | ALL SEATED
Place cards | Bloom Lake Barn | Carrie + Dave
Seating chart and agate place cards designed by Oliver and Grace Event Studios.
Best practices: You’ll notice in the layout, tables were moved away from one another so that the names are legible. Separating and organizing the place cards in order (clockwise) beforehand makes for short work when setting up.
Place cards don’t have to be complicated or stressful, working with your planner you can create a great plan that will be both seamless for your guests and beautiful. I hope this post was helpful in sorting through the options, please leave your questions and comments below!
Prosperity, Love & Happiness,
Header image by Krista Reynolds Photography.