How to organise the seating at the wedding

In Weddings by Joni

The simplest way to plan seating for any large event is to use an online seating planning tool.

  • Draw up the guest list
  • Mark guests as VIP, child, wants/does not want to sit with etc
  • Mark guests with dietary preferences
  • Make a plan of the space including fixed items
  • Add the moveables – tables, chairs
  • Rearrange moveables as yes/no/maybe RSVPs come in
  • Get sign off from the couple
  • Print the seating plan for display and email to caterers and venue

On the face of it planning where everyone will sit for the wedding meal doesn’t seem such a big task.  But it is.

So why not offer to take responsibility for this important aspect of the wedding? It’s one less thing that your daughter and her fiance will need to worry about. Because the seating plan will need to change in the run up to the big day you’ll have to monitor it every day or so whilst also keeping in close touch with the wedding couple.

How to start your seating plan

If you start with a sheet of paper and a pad of post-its you will very soon be buried in paper even if the event is quite modest.  So don’t even begin to make a preliminary sketch of the venue or pencilled notes of ideas. 

Because today, as with most planning tasks –

  • There’s an app for that!  Whatever the numbers always use a seating planning tool.

As soon as the guest list is drawn up the planning needs to start.  So be ready with your planning software.

There are lots of wedding planning apps available.  The Knot and Wedding Wire are large wedding websites which have wedding planning tools.  But for ease of use and simplicity my choice is definitely Top Table Planner.  So for the rest of this article I’ll use their format to go through the steps of how to start, change and finalise the seating plan.

Before you start your seating plan

Here’s the information to collect before you start:

  • The list of VIP guests – bride and groom, parents, other family, special friends, best man and chief bridesmaid.  The couple will know who qualifies as VIP in their eyes.  But ask your daughter for notes on each of them to help with seat allocation. 
  • She also needs to let you know how the VIP’s will be organised.  Does she want a top table and if so who should sit there? 
  • Does she want divorced parents to host their own tables?  If so which of the guests should be allocated to these tables. 
  • And can other guests be added or will these VIP tables be closed to general guests?
  • To learn more about this watch my video Who sits where at the wedding?
  • The full list of invited guests.  Again, you need notes to understand how they will be seated.  Ask your daughter for simple categories plus any extra information she thinks relevant. 
  • Categories might include friends, relatives and colleagues of the bride and of the groom. 
  • Ages help too.  Not just whether the children are teens or tinies but an approximate age of the adults.
  • Notes on pairs and groups who prefer to sit together. Then you need clear instructions on those who cannot be seated on the same table. 
  • Any group will have a couple of people who are feuding or some ex-husbands and wives who need to be kept far apart.
  • To learn more about how to seat divorced parents read Divorced parents of the bride – where do we sit?
  • Basic decisions about mixing people at a table. You need to know whether your daughter wants to mix ages or categories on the same table. 
  • Or would she prefer all the relatives together, all the long-term friends together and so on.
  • You need a plan of the venue.  All professional venues will have a plan with measurements on.  As they will be supplying the tables they will probably also have a recommendation on how many of which type and size of tables can be accommodated. 
  • They normally have several layouts and your daughter can select which plan she prefers. 
  • This plan should also show anything else that will be in the hall.  Will the bar be there?  Are there any pillars or other obstructions? 
  • Check all measurements in situ. If the wedding breakfast or meal is being organised in a space where tables and chairs are being hired separately then be sure all measurements are correct.
  • When you or your daughter visit the venue or decide on a tent remember to sketch in anything that will influence the seating such as pillars and tent poles.
  • To learn more about choosing a tent read Tents and marquees – styles, size calculation and costs.

Add the guest list to your plan

Now you’re ready to start.

List the guests in an excel spreadsheet and upload to the Top Table planner.  If your daughter hasn’t made a spreadsheet you can just type the names in one by one.

For each guest you add some basic details:

  • Male/female
  • Boy/girl/infant
  • VIP
  • As RSVP’s come in update with yes/no/maybe
  • Meal choice (the planner gives you a vegetarian option plus a maximum of 10 other numbered choices)

Add the tables and chairs to your plan

The planner gives you every possible seating around a table – circular or rectangular with seats on one side, two sides, three sides etc.  You choose the table shape and seating and add the number of people for each table.  So the top table might be rectangular with seating on one side only for 8 and the rest of the guests may sit at round tables of 6.

Add any other furniture and the dance floor to your plan

As the tables ‘appear’ on the planning board you can move them around.  So at this point you need to put in anything else in the room.  The planner has the suggestions below but of course you can use size and shape to indicate anything you want to add to the space.

  • Dance floor
  • Bar
  • Pillar or tent pole
  • Cake table
  • Gift table
  • Other object.

Some of these can’t be moved in the real venue so add these to the plan straightaway.  You can resize every one of these objects by dragging the edges in or out. 

Once you have the immoveable objects on the plan you can add the moveable objects such as the cake table then shift the guest tables around the room until you everything looks good.  This won’t be the final layout because you don’t yet know how many guests will be able to come, but it gives you a good start.

The bride's hand shows her ring as she sits at the wedding table
Decide on where the bride and groom sit first

Now start to seat your guests at the tables

You can probably seat the top table, if there is one, now.

It’s a good idea to know which are your other VIP tables too – for parents and so forth.

As the RSVP’s roll in you will be updating your plan often.  Each guest is dragged from the list across onto the plan and ‘placed’ in one of the seats.  Then as the wedding day gets close and final numbers are in you can start fine-tuning your seating plan. 

The great thing about the software is that you can drag any table, any object and any guest to anywhere in the room.

Get sign-off from the wedding couple

You’ll want to send the unfinalised plan to your daughter and fiancé for their comments.  Once they see it all mapped out they may realise that changes are needed. 

One parent’s table has three family and three other guests but these aren’t an ideal mix.  The other parent’s table can’t accommodate all their close family so will they feel left out if placed several tables away? 

Just keep editing the plan until everyone is happy.

Print out the plan and send

Once it’s fixed remember the caterers will need the plan so they know where the vegetarians and other food choices are seated. 

Print out plans for the venue and for the arriving guests to check their places.

That’s a good job done.  And done so much faster and more efficiently than using pen and paper. 

So now you have time to make the place names!

How to trial the Top Table seating planning tool for free

Click here to go to the Top Table Planner website. You’ll find a free trial waiting for you. Play with this until you feel comfortable with how it works. Then you’ll want to save your plan. To do this you need to buy a subscription.

Top Table Planner can be accessed and edited on any device logged on to the internet.  There’s no need to download an app.  The cost is UK: £10; USA: $20; Europe E13. This allows you to use the software for 6 months.  They have professional packages too but you don’t need these. 

It’s really easy to share with everyone involved and to print out.

Once you start using it you won’t believe that some people still use big sheets of paper and post-its. 

Welcome to the 21st century, Mum!

This wedding planning tool is invaluable if you are hosting the wedding reception at home. Get a checklist of all the tasks that you need to do for a home wedding here.