Chances are you’re going through that generic wedding planning checklist you found on Pinterest or The Knot. You saw that you needed to create a seating arrangement for your wedding reception. More specifically, that you should do this 2 to 3 weeks before the big day. (As if you didn’t have enough to do, right?) However, you’re soon to realize that you have no idea how to get started. You’re overwhelmed scrolling through Pinterest asking yourself,
“What are escort cards? How are they different from place cards? or my favorite… Why does assigned seating even matter?”
Figuring out a seating arrangement for your wedding reception doesn’t have to be one of those times only wine will get you through. This is actually something that a wedding planner can very easily walk you through. They would also be able to determine what kind of reception seating and meal service is best for your day. However, you may be here on my blog because you don’t have a wedding planner. (Can I suggest you get one?) Lucky for you, I’m about to give you a general crash course on how to seat your wedding guests.
RELATED: Should You Hire a Wedding Planner?
Wedding Reception Seating 101
Cocktail receptions are basically just slightly longer cocktail hours. These are planned by couples who pass on the seated dinner maybe for something more casual and informal. They are also planned for financial or logistical reasons. You will often see them with smaller weddings or weddings taking place in the afternoon where the reception would not fall during a meal time. Rather than a formal meal being served, there are usually just light eats (either passed or a spread), a few drinks, and more mingling. These receptions feature mainly highboys spread around with a mix of a few normal tables for older guests who need a seat.
If you are thinking of having a cocktail reception rather than a formal reception, it’s important to remember that you tell your guests what to expect. This can be as simple as stating, “Cocktail Reception and Cake to Follow” on your invitations. Keep in mind that if your wedding and cocktail reception are planned around a standard meal time, your guests will be expecting a meal. As sad as it may sound, it’s true.
Photos: Lydia Brannen Photography
When it comes to open seating for your seated reception dinner, your guests will ultimately choose where they sit. This seating option is used for cocktail receptions (what limited tables you have) as well as for buffet and served buffet style dinners.Frankly, many brides choose open seating to not have to deal with the perceived stress that comes with seating charts. For this seating option, you will not need escort cards, place cards, or table numbers unless your DJ will be dismissing tables by number to head to the buffet. (As a certified wedding planner, I personally think table numbers are always a must unless you’re opting for a cocktail reception.)
One issue I also find with open seating is that it hinders the initial flow of a reception. As you know, there’s a timeline when it comes to your whole wedding day. When the doors open and your guests are invited from cocktail hour to find their seats, your wedding planner wants everyone seated as quickly as possible to start introductions, welcomes, and dinner so that the reception stays on schedule. However, with open seating there is often a lingering awkwardness among your guests about where they are suppose to sit and who they want to ultimately sit with. It’s like the first day of school all over again. Save your guests the awkwardness. Organize them at least by table with escort cards.
If you were anything like me, I wanted my family to have the prime tables at the reception closest to my sweetheart table. There’s nothing worse than the family that you hold dear (and may have helped pay for this day!) stuck in the back corner of the reception hall because guests you may not care about 3 years from now all swarmed to the tables closest to you.
If you are considering an open seating option for your reception, having small reserved signs for your family and bridal party is a great way to give them those prime seats without having to even say a word. Just simply tell those family members you want sitting at those tables before your big day to locate the signs to find their seat.
Photos: Linda Threadgill Photography
Reserved Tables + Place Cards
For the sake of family dynamics, there are also some brides that choose to have additional place cards only for their reserved tables. If there’s one thing I could say about wedding guests in this blog post, it’s that they all think they’re the most important. Needless to say, everyone thinks they’re ‘family’ at a wedding. This is especially true when you have ‘Reserved for Family’ signs on a few of the tables, and Aunt Sue thinks she fits that bill.
Having reserved signs as well as place cards with specific family names on them on your choice tables is a great way to eliminate that entitled nature that causes awkwardness among your family. It also insures that all your closest and important family members have the optimum place to sit and are not pushed to the back of the reception hall.
Photos: Kati Hewitt Photography
Escort Cards + No Place Cards
If you don’t know the difference between escort cards and place cards, I promise you’re not the only one. Escort cards are cards displayed on a table outside of the reception space during cocktail hour. They will have your guests’ names listed along with their assigned table number or name. (You can see an example of an escort card in the photo below!)
An escort card simply let’s them know what table number they should go to when they are invited inside to be seated. However, it does not tell them the exact spot at said table they will sit at. Not only does it keep your guests organized and grouped the way you want them to be, but it helps the flow of your reception by eliminating that awkwardness of your guests not being sure where to sit. Another thing to note is that, if you do not have assigned seating at the table itself, the guests’ escort cards can also be used as a place card when they bring it to their table.
Photos: Once Like a Spark Photography
Escort Cards + Place Cards
Escort cards and place cards often go together. An escort card tells them what table they will be sitting at when they walk into the dining space. Meanwhile, a place card will tell them the exact spot at which they are to be sitting at said table. Some brides like to have them regardless of the meal type to keep their guests organized. (Also, it just looks so pretty!) Thus, place cards without a meal option are to be used if you’re not having a plated meal but instead a buffet or served buffet.
Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that plated meals will require both escort and place cards. The place cards will also need to indicate what the guests have requested as their meal. Meal options are often displayed with animal symbols in the corner or even the back of the place card. This is so your banquet staff will know exactly what dish to place in front of the guests without having to ask. Not only will they be able to serve quicker and more efficiently to make sure everyone has a warm meal. But, it also saves you from guests changing their mind once they see what Aunt Molly got next to them. (aka. Saving you money!) You can see an example of a place card displaying the guest’s meal option in the photo below.
The idea of having an escort card as well as a place card may seem a little redundant to some. Luckily for those people, there’s a lot of great alternatives to escort cards. Many times, brides will have a large display of some sort at their cocktail hour with table numbers followed by names of guests sitting that each table. Guests would simply find their name and then locate their place card at the table to find their seat. It’s super easy, and it can act as a beautiful decor piece for your cocktail hour space.
However you decide to seat your reception guests…
I like to tell my couples to make sure that you at least have cute place cards for you and your significant other. Not only will seeing ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ on your place settings right after officially tying the knot make you even more excited, it will be a great photo opportunity for your photographer. I mean, really, how cute is marble place card from Fifty Four Degrees!
These are fantastic ideas! I will pin this for a few years from now when I am planning a wedding reception!
Thank you, Candice! I hope this post is a big help to you in the future. 🙂 Cheers!
First of all, these are beautiful photos! Secondly, where was this when I was planning my wedding hahah?!! I used no blogs or helpful resources like this, would’ve saved so much headache!!
Awh, Thank you, Nicole! I felt the same way when I planned my own wedding, so I wanted to make sure that I am also a resource to the community in my wedding planning business! 🙂 I’m so happy to hear you found my post helpful!
Calleigh - TheForkBite says
I agree that the wedding seating chart is one of the stressful parts of wedding planning, it’s like Tetris but with emotions. lol
HA! It most definitely is, Calleigh! There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, but I think the time spent on it is so worth it.
Ok, first of all, I have to say: YOU HAVE SOME SERIOUSLY STUNNING PHOTOS HERE!!! Kudos! And second, the tips you provide are super helpful! Love the marble place card!!!
Thank you, Andrea! 🙂 Other than the two photos pulled from SMP and Southern Weddings, these are photos from my client weddings and styled wedding shoots. They were fabulous!
Brittany comeaux says
I’ve always loved escort cards. Especially at a big wedding. I always feel a little ridiculous walking around every table and having to bend down to check the place card for each seat.
Amen, Brittany! There’s nothing more awkward and inefficient than wandering wedding guests trying to magically find their seat at a wedding reception. 😉