Pros and Cons of Wedding Seating Styles

In Part 1, I discussed the variety of food service options you can use at a wedding, and now I will follow up with your options for seating.

First you have to decide if you will dictate where people sit or not:

Assigned Seating

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.

Unassigned Seating

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.)

Full Seating

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.

Best for:

  • Full sit down meals involving cutlery.
  • Long receptions- cocktails, dinner, dancing, etc.

Cocktail Seating

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).

Best for:

  • 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.

Pros and Cons of Wedding Service Styles

So, when you are planning a wedding or other large event, you will have to make a number of choices about how your event will be run. It can be difficult to consider all the choices available and make the best decision for your event. So I’ve run through some of the popular options for serving food and made pros and cons list for them so you can be sure to make your guests as comfortable as possible (which is your main aim as a host).


This is your traditional food service style- all the guests are seated at tables and waiters come around and bring them prepared plates of food, possibly in several courses.


  • Tables are generally served together and the people at that table get to sit and talk with each other while they wait and while they are eating.
  • Generally fast and convenient for hosts and caterers.
  • Everyone gets the same thing and you are unlikely to run out of food or leave people hungry.
  • You can do speeches and dances in between courses.
  • Is practical for everyone regardless of mobility.


  • Less mingling time for the guests.
  • You generally need to assign seating, especially if the guests had to indicate beef or chicken or whatever ahead of time.
  • Guests who are at a table they don’t like are stuck with it for the whole meal (too bad for them!)
  • Less choice of food and less ability to offer unique food options.


This is one or two very long tables set up with a variety of dishes. People get up and serve themselves and bring their food back to their tables.


  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and everyone can choose what they like.
  • People can mingle a bit while waiting in line or waiting for their table to be called.


  • Some popular dishes may run out (when doing a buffet, it’s best to plan on too much food so the last people to go through aren’t stuck with dregs)
  • Difficult for guests with mobility issues to navigate. Also difficult for parents with small children (if you have many at your wedding)
  • Can have long , slow lines (hard for people in heels!) (Can be fixed by having duplicate buffets and/or utilizing both sides of the table)
  • If you call people up by table, the first group may be done eating by the time the last group gets their food, creating a lull in the party (keep those lines moving fast!)

Family Style:

This is when everyone is seated at a table and the waiters put big platters of food in the center of the table so everyone can serve themselves.


  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and people can choose what they like.
  • Combination of the best of plated service (everyone sitting and eating together) and buffet (being able to select your food).


  • Some piggy guests might take too big portions of a dish leaving not enough for the rest of the table (make sure your servers know to keep an eye out and refill as necessary)


This is where there are several stations of food set up around the room (such as a carving station, a taco stand, a soup bar) and people go to each one and then bring their plates of food back to their table. Kind of like a spread out buffet.


  • You can get REALLY crazy and fun with the food- think mashed potato bar, build your own tacos, fresh carved roast beef, etc.)
  • Like a buffet, people can select what they want and in what portion.
  • People can mingle and compare the different options.


  • Guests can spend even more time in line than a traditional buffet since they will probably have a wait at each station.
  • A line for each station may mean guests’ food from the first station might get cold as they’re waiting for the fourth.
  • Hard to coordinate eating with your table companions since everyone is jumping up and down to visit the different stations.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.


This is when you just serve small bites and appetizers either passed by waiters or at stations.


  • Can do really delicious foods and a big variety.
  • Can be cheaper than full meals (though not always!!!)
  • Encourages walking around and mingling.


  • Generally cannot serve as a full meal. Current etiquette says that if you have your reception over a generally recognized mealtime (11am-2pm, or 5pm-8pm), you need to serve a full meal.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.


Part 2 will be different seating styles!


How Being in a Sorority Prepared Me to Be a Bridesmaid

Last weekend, Jaya and I were bridesmaids in a college friend’s wedding. It was the first time I have been a bridesmaid, and it occurred to me that being a bridesmaid is a lot like being in a sorority (the bride happened to have been one of my sorority sisters). So these are the ways that being in a sorority prepares you to be a bridesmaid:

  • You are accustomed to wearing matching outfits (including teeshirts for the bachelorette).
  • You are used to walking and standing in heels for many hours.
  • You don’t blink at the suggestion to wear Spanx and/or pantyhose.
  • You are comfortable with all women events (for the shower, bachelorette, and getting ready the day of)
  • You know the value of a kit full of emergency supplies such as bandaids, medicine, Tide pens, sewing kits etc from long days of recruitment parties.
  • You know how to express extreme enthusiasm for EVERYTHING.
  • You are used to posing for group pictures.
  • You know how to deal with drama.
  • You can make conversation with people you have never met (people really like to talk to bridesmaids for some reason.)
  • You can (hopefully) hold your liquor and not embarrass yourself.
  • You know all the words to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • You can stay out on the dance floor for hours.
  • You are good at crafts (if necessary to help the bride DIY).
  • Theme parties make you happy.

Not all of these are unique to sorority women, of course, but there is an alarming amount of overlap, don’t you think?

Inviting Parts of a Group to the Rehearsal Dinner

Soon your rehearsal dinner is gonna look like this.

Soon your rehearsal dinner is gonna look like this.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

For the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, we are planning inviting all our out-of-town guests. However, I have a large group of friends who I met while we all lived in the wedding location. Some of these friends have since moved away from the wedding location while some still live there. Is it okay to only invite the ones who now live out of town to the rehearsal and exclude the ones who still live in town, though they are part of the same set of friends?


Not Wanting to Exclude

Official Etiquette

Officially, you don’t HAVE to have a rehearsal dinner and even if you do, traditionally you only have to invite your bridal party and immediate family. It is a nice gesture to invite out of town guests and it’s fine to draw clear lines if you can’t afford to host everyone.

Our Take

Jaya: My idea is that everyone can understand setting a hard line between people who had to travel and people in town. This isn’t a “we liked these 5 people more so we invited them” situation.

Victoria: Exactly. Although, I will bring up the point that if we are talking about 10 people out of town and 1 person in town….maybe at that point just bite the bullet and invite all of them. But if its a fairly even split, then yeah, people will understand. I am interested to know when this whole “invite the out of town people” thing started. And at what point it gets ridiculous. Like if 3/4 of your wedding list is at the rehearsal dinner….

Jaya: Yeahhhh, I mean, I think it has decent intentions. If people have traveled you want to make them feel welcome.

Victoria: Totally!

Jaya: And then I think it went to “all out of town family” which again, reasonable. And then all out of town everyone.

Victoria: Haha yeah, I think so. My cousin got married in… 2008? And did not invite out of town family to the rehearsal and we were fine. I think maybe we arrived the morning of the wedding anyway. We will see if that holds true at our next family wedding this fall.

Jaya: Yeah, I also think it depends on where it is. Like, if you’re getting married in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing to do, it’s nice to offer a fun dinner instead of your guests sitting around ordering room service in your weird suburban home town.

Victoria: Yesss!!! That’s a very good point.

Jaya: But sometimes I’ve gone to weddings in fun destination places and it’s like, quit it with the events, I want to explore! That’s a sad thing to measure, though. “Is your wedding destination boring as hell? If so, entertain people.”

Victoria: HAHAHA. I mean, you could just be practical about it….like, okay, our hotels are actually miles from any food and people didn’t bring cars, so let’s entertain them vs. we are downtown in a big, cultural city, people will be fine.

Jaya: Right.

Victoria: Or like, we decided to make everyone camp in the middle of the woods for four days so we are providing ALL the meals.

Separate Thank You Notes for a Joint Gift

[Via Emily Orpin]

[Via Emily Orpin]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

If a mother and daughter gave me a joint gift for my wedding shower, do I need to send them separate thank you notes? They live at different addresses.


Splitting My Thanks

Official Etiquette

In this situation, you would send separate thank you notes. The exception is a large group gift, such as a work team chipping in on something, you can write one note and send it to the main organizer to pass around.

Our Take

Jaya: Do you need to write a thank you for both of them?

Victoria: Yep! That was easy!

Jaya: I think so too.

Victoria: Yay, we agree!

Jaya: With the caveat that, if the daughter is like in college and likely just threw her name on the card (like I did and still do too often), a card to just the mom will probably be fine.

Victoria: Just like, if you are inviting a family of parents and kids but the kids are grown up and live on their own, they also need their own invitation.

Jaya: That’s a good rubric! If you sent separate invites, send separate thank you notes. Which made sense cause like, in college, invites to things like that got sent to my parents house.

Victoria: Oooh yessss, that is a good summation of my point!

Jaya: Yeah. God why are thank you notes so involved?

Victoria: Haha I mean, you could just send them for everything and not worry about it.

Jaya: Side note: handwritten notes are oppressive when you’ve injured yourself and can’t actually handwrite (ED: Jaya recently shaved the tip of her thumb off using a mandolin. Stay away from mandolins!). Stop being so ableist, handwritten notes.

Victoria: LOL, yes, well, I think people will understand in that case and also then your husband or partner should write them (which they should be doing anyway.)

Jaya: what if he’s come down with a terrible case of having illegible handwriting?

Victoria: Raise your sons to have good handwriting! Don’t let women to continue to carry the full burden of emotional labor!