There’s no getting around it: planning a wedding is tough. With so many decisions to make – cake flavours to sample, table decorations to choose, finalising that all-important party playlist – having a clear idea of where (and how) your guests will be seated is key. Beyond preventing a scramble on the day, seating plans allow you to maximise venue capacity. If your reception includes a serviced dinner, they can also help caterers avoid menu mix-ups – and when it comes to ceremonies, guest placement often plays a role in preserving religious traditions.
That said, designing a seating plan is no small feat. What is the etiquette, exactly (and does it matter)? Round tables, or rectangular? Rows, U-shape, or cabaret? How do I make sure my plan is wheelchair accessible? What about guests with children?
Here at The HAC, we’ve hosted hundreds of weddings of all shapes and sizes; we know that seating matters, and importantly, there’s no one right way to do it! With this in mind, we’ve put our heads together to come up with a guide to designing the ultimate seating plan for your wedding. From traditions to tables, here are our tips to making sure you – and your guests – are seated to enjoy every second of the celebration (minus the stress of impromptu musical chairs).
First things first: get hold of a complete RSVP list and floor plan
It goes without saying, really – before you can design your seating chart, you’ll need to know who’s coming. It can be helpful to choose a venue with a variety of room sizes available – for instance, here at The HAC, we offer four versatile rooms with capacities ranging from 40 to 350 guests. It’s important to us that couples can tailor the space to their individual celebration – and when it comes to ironing out the details of your seating plan, this in-built flexibility could prove invaluable.
Once you’ve settled on a setting, and have an idea of which (and how many) guests will be attending, ask your venue for a floor plan. This will let you visualise in greater detail where you’d like to position people, tables, and other elements, such as the DJ or cake stand. Plus, it’ll allow you to get a feel for the space’s unique features, which you may want to tie into the occasion. Our Long Room, for example, has its own minstrel’s gallery for live bands and quartets – perfect for show-stopping entrances or serenaded dining experiences – without taking up vital floorspace.
Take heed of tradition…
If you’re envisioning a traditional celebration, it’s likely you’ll want to incorporate a head table into your reception plan. Positioned at the top of the room, the couple typically sits in the centre, flanked by the main wedding party on either side. This arrangement is a great way to acknowledge the special role your parents, siblings, bridesmaids and groomsmen have played, both during the wedding and beyond. Having a head table also means you’ll be surrounded by your nearest and dearest, with a panoramic view of the space; it’s the best of the best, reserved for you and your loved ones.
Likewise, if you’re choosing to honour religious traditions, these might influence your seating plans. Historically, in Christian weddings, the bride’s parents sit in the first row on the left side of the aisle, whilst the groom’s parents occupy the first row on the right. For Jewish weddings, however, this formation is reversed: the groom’s family sits on the left, while the bride’s family is on the right. Some Jewish Orthodox and Muslim ceremonies divide attendees by gender; in Hindu weddings, the parents typically sit beneath the mandap.
…or disregard it completely.
On the other hand, you might wish to sidestep the formality of a head table. The “sweetheart table” offers a more intimate alternative – a simple table for two, set up for just you and your partner.
You could, of course, forgo a detailed seating plan entirely, particularly if you’re looking to celebrate a smaller wedding of 75 guests or fewer. If matching mutual friends or grouping guests by category (school friends, work friends etc.) feels impossibly complex – perhaps certain guests don’t get along, or there’s a complicated family history – then it can help to skip the single place allocation and assign general tables instead. That way, you’ll provide a general framework, but ultimately allow guests to choose who they would like to sit next to.
(Note: With larger weddings or serviced dinners, this might not be feasible, as caterers may require advance notice to ensure the right food gets delivered to the right people.)
Table types and their benefits
The kind of table you’ll choose will probably depend on a combination of factors: venue size and floor plan, guest numbers, and personal preference.
For the reception, rectangular tables are fantastic for maximising space; alternatively, circular tables allow guests to talk more freely. With regard to the ceremony: rows are the most traditional, and again, make good use of the space available; for smaller ceremonies, however, a U-shaped seating arrangement can provide a more relaxed, sociable atmosphere.
Creative functionality: place cards & their uses
Sometimes, it’s the finishing touches that truly make an event. Place cards are a wonderful, functional way to personalise your tablescapes and guide guests to their seats. Whilst there’s a certain elegance in the simplicity of a single piece of folded card, there’s also plenty of scope to get creative: paint names onto polished pebbles, tie into miniature bouquets, chalk on small slates – or inject some humour with a film quote or joke. This is your chance to put your stamp on your seating plan. Have fun with it!
Consider accessibility and individual requirements
When you’re drawing up your seating chart, it’s important to factor individual needs and requirements – for example, you’ll want to leave plenty of space for disabled access and prams (or seat specific guests on aisle-facing seats, to ensure ease of mobility). Similarly, if children will be present, you could set up a table just for them; stock it well with pens and colouring materials (busy parents will thank you!). Little accommodations and adaptations like these can really make a difference.
Digital versus old-school
Ultimately, how you choose to design your seating plan very much depends on the type of organiser you are. A scrawl-able, wipeable whiteboard might be useful if you’re a tactile planner – but if your seating chart is starting to resemble a quantum equation, it might be time to go digital. Do away with sticky-notes and opt for a virtual seating planner such as SocialTables: this free chart creator makes visualising – and changing – your arrangement easy, with options to link up with suppliers, add custom tags, and allow guests to check in themselves.
Weddings at The HAC
Your wedding is one of life’s landmark occasions: whether you’re guided by seating traditions or ripping up the rule book, such a significant day warrants a spectacular setting. The HAC is a historic venue right in the heart of London, providing the perfect backdrop for timeless, elegant celebrations. Our four fully-licensed indoor spaces are as unique as they are versatile, with each room boasting its own stunning period features. Step outside, and you’ll find five acres of verdant green lawn: the Artillery Garden is London’s largest garden, ideal for weddings in the warmer months. To speak to one of our dedicated events team, get in touch here, or call 020 7382 1533.