Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ye Olde Seating Chart Dilemma


I realize a seating chart question may be a little dull, but it seems like an issue that other brides may need some practical advice on. Anyway, here goes. 

We are having a small wedding. 50 guests max. Buffet-style dinner, so it's not like the caterers need to know where everyone will be seated. My parents are divorced, and not in an amicable kind of way. Some family members can't sit with others during dinner because of divorce-related tension, etc. I was planning all along to have a seating chart to micromanage this drama to the best of my ability. It's going to be a little tough to figure out how to arrange everyone so that no one feels excluded or like they got the short end of the seating stick. But I think I can figure it out. 

Anyway, now my MOH and FH are advocating for open seating. They make some decent points, i.e., that our wedding will have a more casual vibe, so assigned seating might be too formal. Another good point: if people end up sitting at a table they don't like, they can only blame themselves. However, I still worry that leaving all this to chance could lead to some uncomfortable situations.

I'd appreciate some outside perspective. 




Trust me. With divorced and/or grudge-bearing family members running around, you'll all be much happier.

Photo: Lindsey Wixson by Terry Richardson for Purple Fashion F/W 2011 via Fashion Gone Rogue via Jessica Goldfond

I won't even go into the whole introvert v. extrovert thing again. Fucking extroverts.


  1. Actually I don't agree. My wedding was actually 50 people and my dad and my mom despise each other. Plus my mom was bringing her boyfriend, who my Dad wants to kill. We thought briefly about the a seating chart to control the situation but we realized it would just be a catalyst to piss everyone off more.
    So what we did is assign a few people (my in-laws and my closest friends) to monitor the situation and keep both my parents entertained and far away from each other. And with a buffet, people move around a lot so it didn't really matter where everyone ended up seated.

  2. AGREE! Making a seating chart might be more stressful for you, but attending a reception without a seating chart is more stressful for your guests.

  3. First of all, Lindsey Wixon has the best mouth in all the land. (Yeah, I said it.)

    Secondly, I'm going with NO SEATING CHART. I hate assigned tables at weddings - especially casual weddings! We're adults. We can sit by whomever we wish.

    Speaking from experience, my divorced parents hadn't spoken to each other in years - only communicating through their lawyers - and I was nervous about how they would behave. But, surprisingly, they handled themselves like adults, exchanged pleasantries, and avoided each other just fine with no drama (and there was no seating chart).

    Good luck! xo.

  4. I really didn't want to do a seating chart either, but once we tried to make one it became clear we needed it, otherwise I'd have that random uncle pulling an extra chair up to THIS table, and those two inappropriate neighbors who we didn't mean to invite sitting with Very Formal Grandparents, and I started to get palpitations.

    seating chart FTW

  5. funny you should ask! i've gone through this three times in the last five years with my own unhappily-divorced-and-dramatic family.

    2006: my wedding, 50 people, open seating
    result: my mom called my grandma a nazi at the rehearsal dinner and made faces throughout my dad's toast at the wedding.

    2010: sis #1's wedding, 150 people, assigned seating
    result: mom was hurt that dad was seated at the groom's parents' table and she wasn't; dad didn't mention her in his toast, mildly scandalizing several attendees.

    2011: sis #2's wedding, 150 people, assigned seating
    result: i give my mom a come-to-jesus speech a few days before the wedding; no family drama, groom did a shot through a vuvuzela.

    conclusion: since you can't send your wedding five years into the future (which, more than the seating, is what made things okay at this last wedding), either lecture key combatants a few days before the wedding or put your seat-assignin' pants on and try to be as inoffensive as possible. also, tell grandma to leave her hearing aid at home.

  6. Please don't make your guests figure out where to sit. I went to a wedding without a seating chart and it was super confusing. And I'm an introvert, so yeah, it sucked.

  7. I have heard about set-ups that work where there are some tables (but not enough seats for everyone) and some high tables and some lounge areas and the catering was food stations and passed appetizers so that people had to get up and move around and mingle, so if you are going for that kind of casual vibe it could work with 50 people.

  8. I haven't been to a wedding that *had* a seating chart. All were buffet style or no real meal included. (10 or so total including my own)
    What do you do about the people that don't RSVP?
    What do you do about the *extras* that come the day of and you didn't invite eg. siblings, kids of the invited, neighbors that your parents invited w/o telling you?

  9. Seating chart.* For all the reasons above, plus, people like somewhere to leave their purse / have a home base.

    What is Julia talking about? Who just shows up at wedding? Does this happen? I've heard of people just NOT showing up at a wedding but never the other way around.

    *Confession: I am 100% in favor of seating charts and didn't have one. I basically dropped the ball and ran out of time.

    The things that, in my estimation, made it not-so-terrible:

    - wedding was super casual
    - dinner was buffet style
    - there were more seats than needed
    - tables were very close together - so you were very near all the other tables
    - it was at a summer camp so had that sort of vibe
    - most guests had been there for more than 24 hours already so strangers had become friends
    - many of our guests know each other or work in the same field

  10. I had the exact same problem- 50 guests & all divorced parents (the groom's set had not clapped eyes on each other for 14 years). I desperately wanted open seating but though the parents might appreciate a little management. In the end one of the parents got upset and dramatically left the wedding half way though dinner despite my best efforts. But for the record, it was the wedding itself and not where they were sitting that set it off.

    My advice. Wine and a time limit of 10 mins to do the damn thing. It worked for me. Plus, there are a million other reasons why your divorced parents might chuck a wobbly.

  11. have a seating chart. i once was at a wedding where the only open seat was at the table with my dad's sisters and my mom tried to sit there but they didn't make room... sad scene straight out of high school. made my heart break, even though my mom was super cool and classy about the whole situation.

    for nice people like my mom, and b*tches like my aunts, make a seating chart.

  12. you always select the best photos.

    i'm a fan of seating charts.

  13. Just do it. 50 people is enough to get shit confused.

    We got started by grouping people into their social circles, figuring out the difficult ones, and shifting it around until it's right. You should probably start by separating the Sharks from the Jets and working everything around that. It took us about 30 minutes for 100 people.

  14. I vote seating chart, and I'm pretty extroverted. (Seating charts aren't just for introverts.) Don't worry about necessarily assigning specific seats; just put groups at tables.

  15. @ Hillary: We had at least 3 uninvited guests show up (two acquaintences that came with actual friends--one wrote on the RSVP card of his housemate, "can I come too?"--and my aging uncle's new girlfriend, he wrote her into the RSVP card as well.). It happens. Some people don't know what's up.

  16. Yes, have a seating chart. It helps your introverts and prevents the "high school cafeteria rush for the best tables" syndrome. Bonus: it helps regulate the number of people swarming the buffet. If people are seated, the caterers can call each table up.

  17. I didn't have a chart, but did have two sets of divorced parents who hate each other. I really wish I had opted to seat people! Thankfully my friends were sterling and jumped in to avoid issues and separate them. No drama, just tension and some poor friends stuck out on their own with my Dad and crazy grandma.

  18. I was a planning psycho... not a bridezilla demanding more diamonds in my 13 tier cake. But just organized to the MAX. I loved my seating chart as a visual repesentation of my guests (ie. RSVP, food choice, date/child, etc). Plus, I got to make a pretty version for the reception. But if youre not warped like me, and its a buffet, you dont need to do it if you dont want to. It also takes the pressure off you to keep everyone apart, they'll just have to act like civilized adults at their daughters effing wedding.

  19. I've never put together a wedding. I've been in several and a guest at many.


    Unless you want me to feel awkward over here while you have a table for 8 with 13 people packed around it.

    And don't give the tables numbers. Table 1 sounds so dull. Now, Table Spain or Table Vuvuzela sounds like a good time.

  20. Seating chart fer sher. We did one for our 75 person food truck divorced fam bash, and even though I had to redo mine the morning of the wedding and there were people who didn't come and some who did that didn't RSVP (Hillary? It so happens, at many weddings I've been to not just mine)I can't imagine how much more chaotic it would have been with 75 people asking where to sit instead of just the 5 or so who didn't get an assignment. Plus the making the escort cards was way fun.

  21. all i've learned today is I'd like my seat next to Lauren O's momma.

  22. I guess I'm mostly confused how brides LET anyone not RSVP - I hunted those bitches down.

    @Kelsi - oh, I totally understand the people who presume they can come or bring an uninvited guest.

  23. Seating chart is key. And be aware, it will suck making it. But all good things require perseverance, right??

    If you only have parents--or two sides--that don't get along then its not as big of a risk. But your family sounds like mine, beef in many forms. For me, it took all night and half a box o'wine but it was totally worth having a day that was about my marriage and not my family members' insecurities.

  24. Seating chart. All the way. Slightly harder on you now, but easier on your guests which means easier on you when it really matters (the day of the wedding).

    To the people like "But I want to sit by so and so..." I think we can all make small talk during a meal. And if there's dancing? People will meander after the food is done anyway.

  25. For the love of god, make a seating chart! The only people who don't like seating charts are the ones who are going to be talking to EVERYONE they can buttonhole at the wedding anyways.

    We made a (seat by seat, not just by table) seating chart for 140 people with three divorced families. It was a huge pain, but so worth it not to see some poor guest marooned alone somewhere and feeling awkward.

  26. Do a seating chart, but as someone who has just come out of a night of seating-chart-making HELL, be warned. There will be fights and do it in pencil first.

  27. I was in the same situation with my own wedding this past summer. My in-laws hadn't been in the same room with my husband for more than two minutes in TWENTY YEARS. So I feel your pain. Anyway, what we did was we assigned them to tables, just not chairs. That way you avoid drama but it's not too fussy (and you save money by not printing name cards). You know people are going to have their preferences anyway - "I don't want my back facing the room", "I want to face the dance floor", "I get cold easily and hate sitting next to air vents", etc, etc... so you give them confined freedom - tell them the table, let them choose the seat. Crisis averted! Best of luck.

  28. Seating charts are not just for keeping parents who hate each other apart or introverts from freaking out. Seating charts are also for keeping your friends (like me) who invariably get too shitfaced and curse like sailors on occasion away from your great aunts and uncles and grandmas and whatnot. I'm not saying I can't put on a nice face for your relatives, but it's so much better when you're not stuck at a half-college friends, half-ancient relatives table because it was the only one left. Everyone loses.

  29. My cousin's 50 person wedding did not have a seating chart. I was one of two bridesmaids, but somehow my husband and I ended up at a table with the aunt and great aunts of my cousin's wife. The bridal party was at another table with a bunch of my cousins non-wedding party friends. We were bored out of our minds. And I know it's petty, but I felt left out and was very hurt that I wasn't sitting with the bridal party.

    So to every bride out there - I don't care if your wedding is 250 or 25. Please make a seating chart.

  30. I had a very similar wedding - about 50 people, divorced parents (luckily not acrimonious, but still), and a casual vibe. I did a table plan where everyone was assigned to a table, but let everyone figure out their individual seats within the table. It worked out really well and saved the guests a lot of confusion and hassle.

    To me, having some kind of seating organisation is just plain old courtesy for your guests - it shows that you've tried to make their day as easy as possible without them having to do the awkward high school cafeteria dance. Nobody likes uncertainty in a crowd.

  31. Wow! Thank you all for chiming in. I'm totally on board with the seating chart. But for some reason, this is the single issue so far in our planning that FH has decided to have a strong opinion about. He's really against it. I've told him I'm going to make a seating chart, just so he sees it's possible and not really that bad, and we'll take it from there. It helps to have so much back-up from you guys, too! Thanks again.

  32. @eastsidebride even better than Martha Stewart's charts... paper pie plates and tiny post it notes then you can easily move people and whole tables around. Give tables a number and draw up the final chart once all the hassles are sorted.