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Seating Your Guests

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The seating plan is the backbone of your reception scheme, and an essential part of wedding planning that is not to be overlooked. Once a decision has been made about the size of your wedding and the location, you can start thinking about your seating arrangements. Here are some tips:

There is a five to 10 percent no-show average for large weddings. Out-of-town guests tend to be included in this number. Be prepared for some last minute cancellations. On the other hand, at smaller affairs, most positive responses are honored. Seat 10 people at a table, so that if there are any last minute cancellations, the table will still feel very comfortable with eight.

Once all of your response cards are received, roll up your sleeves because it's time to decide who sits where. This task is like putting together a large jigsaw puzzle. You will want to take time to look at all of your pieces (in this case your guests) and see where they fit together best. Take your time when laying out your master plan. I have a method that I always use to keep things organized:

Tell the hotel how many guests will be attending your wedding. Ask the hotel or reception site for a layout of the room that best fits with your number of guests. This is usually an overhead perspective including tables, the stage and the dance floor. Enlarge this personalized layout to a workable size. Copy your final RSVP list. Make this process a joint effort by letting your parents coordinate the seating for their guests and family members. Then, cut out each name from the list so that it is on its own slip of paper. Place the names around the tables as you decide who sits where. Generally, it is nice to put people with other guests who they may know or share common interests with. Double check your master list to make sure you have not forgotten ANYONE. It's always a good idea to ask your stationer for extra seating cards and a special pen in case of last minute additions. Always be prepared!

It is your choice whether you want to have open seating or assigned seating, with or without place cards. I only recommend open seating for very small groups. Place cards are usually more appropriate at a formal affair than at a casual reception. If you are not sure what to do, think about which arrangement would make your guests feel most comfortable. Also, seat people in alternating male, female, male, female order. Keep couples together, with the man seated to the left of his date. If you look at your round tables as a clock, the six o'clock position facing the bride and groom is the most important seat at the table as it has the best view of the newlyweds. Take this fact into consideration when assigning seats at the table.

The bride and groom sit either with their wedding party, or with their parents and grandparents. If you have a sensitive parental situation, it may be best to sit with your bridal party instead of your family. You should choose to sit at the table closest to the dance floor. That way your guests will have a visual of you and your husband, and they'll feel like they are sitting close to the bride and groom. You can usually arrange four round tables around the bridal party -- one on each side and two between. Some couples consider having a head table for the bridal party and their parents. Keep in mind that it is difficult to make conversation while sitting at a long, one-sided table, and you will sacrifice intimacy. Head tables are appropriate for large weddings of over 100 guests.

The best way to know how many people should sit at a table is to physically place the chairs around it and see how many fit comfortably. No guessing! Try not to use armchairs since they will limit your seating. The following is a guideline for how to accommodate guest count:

• Eight, nine, or 10 people can fit at a 66-inch round.

• A 72-inch round can hold 12 to 13 people. This large table is usually used for the bride and groom's table because it accommodates an entire bridal party. I don't recommend this size for guests as it does not create an intimate environment.

• An 84-inch round can hold up to 14 people comfortably. This size table is usually only used for parties with more than 100 guests.

The table assignment cards are designed to tell your guests where they will be seated during the reception. Make every effort to get the names of all guests who will be attending. Arrange assignment cards on a special table in alphabetical order from front to back and right to left. Place the seating card table at the entrance to cocktails. This way people can find their assignment cards leisurely rather than crowding around the table just before the reception begins. A nice way to include a friend in your wedding is to invite that person to assist people in finding their cards. I also always like to place a flower arrangement at the card assignment table.

Use numerals or places that are important to the two of you (favorite vacation spots perhaps) to identify tables. It is the easiest way for the guests to quickly locate their seats. Start numbering the tables from the left side of the room to the right, from top to bottom and up again.

You and your family can have a lot of fun with this part of the wedding preparations. Just think -- by carefully matching up guests, you may have had a hand in the birth of a new friendship, or even a new romance.