First you have to decide if you will dictate where people sit or not:
This is when you make a seating chart of what guests will be at which table number and indicate to them prior to entering the reception area what table they will be at. This can be done with “escort cards” or a favor with their name and table number or a big chart.
- This is absolutely the easiest and least stressful from a guests point of view- they know where to go! Also, they have a “home base” for the night where they can stash their stuff.
- Everyone stays organized and gets seated smoothly.
- Guests may not like where you put them- they don’t like their companions, they wanted to sit with someone else, they are too far away, they are at the “bad” table.
- You have to make a seating chart and figure out something to display the table numbers and do escort cards or a chart. It’s generally more work for you.
This is when you set up a bunch of tables and chairs and everyone comes in and chooses a seat.
- Less planning work for you!
- People can sit where they want and with whom they want.
- Can end up with a bit of a musical chairs situation where everyone rushes in to grab a seat. Or even worse, a high school lunchroom where a oddball guest (ie someone who ONLY knows the bride or groom) doesn’t know where to sit. (And yes, I get that people are grownups and will deal, but it CAN cause a lot of anxiety and stress for many people.)
- Difficult for people with mobility issues to get to a spot. (Consider setting aside a table for elderly relatives.)
This is where everyone has a chair at a table.
- Everyone gets a chair!
- If you do unassigned seating, you might consider making a few extra places so couples don’t have to split up if you end up with a bunch of tables with one seat left. And people inevitably move chairs around. Just a thought.
- Full sit down meals involving cutlery.
- Long receptions- cocktails, dinner, dancing, etc.
This is when you have a mix of high tables, regular chairs and tables, and lounge seating.
- It’s fun and lets people move around.
- People really do like having a “seat” where they can stash their stuff for the evening. And people who DO get the seats at tables generally will not give them up.
- If you don’t get a seat, it’s difficult to manage a drink, a plate, and cutlery.
- Difficult for people with mobility issues (consider setting aside a table for elderly relatives).
- Cocktail receptions with finger foods.
- Shorter receptions- just drinks, finger foods, and cake.
Ultimately, people will be fine and enjoy your reception whatever style you decide to go with. And there will ALWAYS be whiners who aren’t happy with what you chose. But there is a fine line between doing what you want and what you envision for your big day and doing something because it’s easier or cheaper for you at the expense of your guests comfort. So I do urge you to consider your guest list. Mostly older relatives are going to be more comfortable fully seated with food service that they recognize. People your own age are going to be a lot more flexible.
And, I mean, I have been to and I’ve heard about weddings that we absolute disasters as far a guest comfort went, but they still created fun memories and people had good times at them.
And even I can’t even begin to decide if a wedding with somewhat bland plated food that all arrived at the same time and allowed me to eat with the people at my assigned table and a wedding with awesome, unique food where I maybe had to stand in line or be the last one to sit down at the one remaining table with a bunch of strangers was better! They were both great!
And sometimes, the best you can do is the best you can do when working with limited space, time, and budget.