If you're having 50 or more guests at your wedding reception, you should seriously consider making a seating chart for your guests. Give them direction on where to sit. This eases so many things...tensions, awkward family/friend dynamics, wondering whether or not a certain table is reserved for the Wedding Party or other VIPs, and making sure everyone has a seat next to his/her date. If you're lost on where to begin with this task...here is your step-by-step guide.
Don't wait until the last minute; it'll just cause you a headache. Start early. I'd suggest start at least two weeks out from the wedding, and you can make little changes here and there as you need to.
Categorize your guests between your friends, his friends, your family, his family, your coworkers, his coworkers, etc. Unless you're one of our clients and have access to our online planning suite of tools, you can easily make these categories in a spreadsheet. Add a column to your guest list, and categorize each guest by appropriate role/group. By categorizing your guests, you'll be able to more easily sort the list into something that makes sense for seating.
Assigning Seats vs. Assigning Tables
Decide if you're going to assign individual seats or just assign tables. For most weddings, you can assign your guests to specific tables and let them decide where to sit at the table. However, if you are having a plated meal, you definitely want to assign each guest a specific seat. If you assign individual seats, you will need both escort cards and place cards. Escort cards are picked up at the entrance to your reception and tell you which table you are sitting at, and place cards are placed at each individual place setting to tell you which seat is yours. If you're just assigning tables, you only need escort cards. Another option for escort cards is to use a poster or chart like Erin & Matt did:
Head Table vs. Sweetheart Table
Decide whether or not you want a Head Table. A traditional Head Table is a long rectangular table where the bride and groom sit in the center. The maid of honor sits on the other side of the groom, the best man sits on the other side of the bride, and then it proceeds from there, alternating boy/girl. Of course, you don't have to do it that way. There are no rules. You can place the maid of honor next to you, and the best man next to the groom. You can place all the bridesmaids on one side, and all of the groomsmen on the other. Or...you can let your wedding party sit at a round table like all of the other guests, while you and your new spouse sit at a sweetheart table for just the two of you (which gives you a little more alone time).
Decide where your parents are going to sit. Traditionally, both sets of parents will sit at one round table together, along with grandparents and any siblings who aren't in the wedding party. However, if yours or your spouse's parents divorced and don't get along, you may want to consider putting them at separate tables with other family members and friends. Potentially, this could mean up to 4 parent tables, but it's totally ok. Do what works for your family and situation.
As for the rest of your guests, you can mix and match as you seem appropriate. Most people will feel most comfortable being at a table with others they already know. However, there will likely be at least one couple who don't really know anyone else. In this case, put them with others who are most like them, and/or others who will be welcoming to them. If you have a large group of friends who all know each other, and if they don't all fit at one table, just split them in half, and put them at two tables next to each other. Just don't leave anyone out. Be considerate.
Your Single Friends
And for the love of everything...resist every urge to create a "singles" table. This could be embarrassing to your friends. However, you could slyly sit your single gal next to that guy you've really wanted to set her up with. Or at least put them at the same table.
The Kids Table
As for kids, try sitting them all together at a Kids Table. You could even provide kids activities at this table (coloring books, Legos, special placemats, etc.). If your flower girl and ring bearer are the only kids, then seat them with their parents.
# of Guests Per Table
If you are having 60" round dinner tables (pretty standard size), you don't want any less than 6 guests per table. Any less than this, and your table is going to look awkward and empty. 8 guests at a 60" round table is ideal. It's not too cramped and not too empty. Guests will have elbow room, and if you're having full place settings with chargers, everything can fit nicely. 10 guests per table is the maximum number of people you can sit there. Chairs will not be able to be pushed all the way in, and if you are having full place settings with chargers, they won't fit on the table top. So...try to keep it at 8 per table if you can.
If you are having rectangular tables, you'll likely have 6' long tables. You can fit 3 on each side of the table, and if you want end caps (a guest sitting at the head and foot of each table, aka the short sides of the tables), then you can fit 8 at each rectangular table.
One of the things many people don't take into consideration is the layout of the venue and how many tables you will be able to fit comfortably in your venue space. Keep in mind that your guests will need to be able to get in and out of their seat and walk between tables easily and comfortably. Ideally, you want each table to be 60" apart from each other to allow ample space for walking and pulling out chairs.
Again, unless you have access to our online planning software, there's a really easy tried-and-true method of creating your seating chart. Grab a posterboard or foam board, and draw your round or rectangular tables all over it in the same way they'll be placed in your venue. Label each table "Table 1," "Table 2," and so forth. Then, grab a bunch of small bookmark Post-It notes, and write each guests' name on them. Then, go ahead and start placing each guest at the respective tables. Move the Post-Its around as you need to, until you are happy with the arrangement.
TIP: Place elderly far away from the speakers/dance floor. And consider placing elderly and disabled guests near bathrooms for easier access.
No matter what, don't stress about this. Your guests are adults, and they can deal. Don't overthink it. Get a friend's opinion if you need to, but once you think you have it where it'll work, leave it alone.
Anyone have any additional seating chart tips they want to share?