THE SEATING PLAN
In one survey made by a London based company, YouGov, in February 2006, it showed that 84% of wedding guests prefer their host to assign them a seat or a table. Pre-arranged seating or table assignments cuts down confusion at the reception, and makes your guests feel that you took the time to consider with whom they'd best be seated with.
Unassigned seating or free seating is certainly one less tedious task for the couple. In truth, you can't please everyone with the seating plan, or make everyone completely happy with it. But there is a bigger risk you are taking with having free seating:
a) There may be a rush for the "better seats".
b) Relatives, friends or even couples can get split up and end up seating with persons they don't have any commonality with.
c) Elderly relatives may end up seated where they can't see or hear anything.
d) If uninvited people turn up, they may take seats intended for your invited guests.
e) The last few guests who arrive may end up feeling embarrassed walking around looking for seats.
Guests can be assigned to a table where they can choose any seat, or assigned to a specific seat. There are no exact figures available, but it seems that assigning tables is probably more common in the USA and assigning seats is more common in Europe. It is a matter of personal choice, but both styles are valid. We shall discuss here of course what is generally applicable and appropriate to the Philippine setting, where seats are assigned to the Presidential and VIP tables, and tables are assigned to all other guests.
PLANNING THE ASSIGNMENT
You cannot start assigning tables until your invited guests have replied. There are still many Filipinos who do not observe the request for RSVP, so you have to personally call up all unconfirmed guests within two weeks before your wedding. If you still don't have definite replies from some, play it safe and consider them as attending. You will then have an approximate number to confirm with your caterer and to start your seating plan.
You should, however, start doing the guest list. Have 4 columns: Last Name - First Name - Relationship - Table No. (this should be blank at first). I suggest using your computer's Excel program so it is easier to sort and to merge the bride's and the groom's list later on.
Then meet with your caterer and venue manager to discuss the following:
a) the kinds of table that can be used
b) how many persons can be seated per table
c) the floor plan dimensions
d) a sample layout so you will know how many rectangular and/or round tables can fit the venue.
As the newlyweds, you can have two seating options: you can sit at a table for just the two of you which we call the Bridal Table; or you can sit at a table with the guests you consider important or closest to both of you which we call the Presidential or VIP Table.
THE PRESIDENTIAL TABLE
The Presidential or VIP Table traditionally sits the principal sponsors (Ninongs and Ninangs) and the parents of the couple. There can be one or two of these tables depending on how many principal sponsors there are, and they can vary in style:
a) A long table which faces the other guest tables where the bride and groom sit at the center with their parents and principal sponsors. Some people have named this the "firing squad" style.
b) A table where the guests can talk and interact with each other, it may be a round table or a rectangular table similar to a formal dining table.
Nowadays, couples do the table assignment that fits their style and what they believe is most comfortable for their guests. Some choices are:
a) Presidential tables have both the principal sponsors and their spouses seated with them.
b) There can also be both a Presidential Table and a VIP table depending on how the couple would want important guests seated. For ex., All the principal sponsors are seated on the Presidential table and their respective spouses are seated at the VIP table.
c) Some couples seat their bridal entourage with them on the Presidential/VIP tables while the principal sponsors sit with the other guests they are more comfortable with.
Whatever you choose, it is important to note that seats are assigned to the Presidential and VIP tables, so you have to make a seating chart of who sits beside whom. Each assigned seat should have a place card written with the guest's name so the guest will know exactly where they will be seated.
THE TABLE ASSIGNMENTS
Once you have the final headcount for your reception, you are ready to make the seating plan. There are two options in assigning tables to guests:
A) Guests are given specific table numbers on where to sit.
1. Guests are assured of specific seats.
2. You are sure that guests are seated in appropriate places.
3. Makes it easier for coordinators to pinpoint specific guests with roles in the program.
1. You are not sure if all guests on that table will turn up or not even if they have replied. Then
the table will end up half filled.
2. Some guests bring in companions who are not part of the guest list, thus occupying the seats intended for invited guests.
3. You won't have a place for guests who did not respond to RSVP.
B) Guests are assigned thru zoning or by area according to their relationship with the couple. For ex., all bride's relatives, mother side shall sit at table numbers 1-5; all golf buddies of groom's father shall sit at tables 12-14; all rotary friends of the bride's father shall sit at tables 7&9.
1. Guests are free to choose who to sit with based on the assigned table numbers, thus
guaranteeing that they will be more comfortable.
2. You will still have a place for guests who are in the same relationship category but who did not respond to RSVP.
3. You can be assured that all tables are almost filled because guests tend to sit together.
4. You will still have a place for those who brought companions who are not part of the guest list.
1. Guests may end up seating in the area where they are not satisfied.
2. Coordinators have a hard time looking for those who have specific roles in the program.
3. Some tables may be left empty, giving the impression that so many guests did not come.
Based on my experience, the second option works well in the Philippine setting. Whenever this option is used, we hardly have complaints from guests losing their seats.
1. Enlist the help of your parents where to seat relatives to avoid unfortunate groupings as there may be "secret old feud" you are not aware of.
2. You can mix-match rectangular, square and round tables. And you can use the kind of table suited for the need. For ex.' You might seat 10 of your friends at one table, and a family of 8 at another.
3. On the guest list, include the names of all those invited including those who did not respond to RSVP or those who gave their regrets. They might just decide to attend and get disappointed when they find their names are not on the list.
4. You may also have a "kids" table with crayons, workbooks, puzzles, games and toys for the children. It is best to seat very young children (without "yayas") with their parents. Place the "kids" table closer to the entrance door as these children tend to get out of their seats and rumble with the other kids.
5. Have a suppliers' table at the back of the room.
IMPLEMENTING THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
It is a MUST to have an enlarged floor plan layout by the entrance door of the reception hall to show the guests where they shall be proceeding. Here are the various ways of letting the guests know their table assignments:
1. Escort Cards. These are usually tent cards where the name of the guest and the table number is written on each card. They are placed on a table near the entrance to the reception hall. Guests pick them up and bring them to their respective table. You can be creative on the material you use for the escort cards, and how you want them displayed.
2. Seating Chart. A chart where guests' names are printed and displayed so guests will just look for their names on it. This chart may follow the pattern of the tables on the floor plan layout, or may be a simple alphabetical listing of their names with the corresponding table numbers.
3. Guest List sheet. The simplest and most often used in the Philippines is the Guest List (with Last Names) listed alphabetically and with their corresponding table numbers. The list is either spread across the reception table near the entrance, or is held by a coordinator who informs the guests of their table number. Beside the table shall be an enlarged floor plan layout to show the guests where they shall be proceeding.
The most frequent question asked of us is: "What do you do if a person who is not on the guest list shows up?" If the person came with someone who is on the list, assume he is not a gatecrasher. Request him politely to wait awhile, assuring him of a seat. But if the person is not with anyone on the list, ask for his name and which side of the couple he is related to. Look for someone at the "Relationship" column of the list, preferably an immediate family member of the couple, who can assist in attending to the person. Unless the couple has specific instructions about uninvited guests, never turn away a guest until you have verified that he/she is really not part of the event. This is to avoid any hurt feelings among the families and friends of the couple.
Published in METRO Weddings magazine Vol 8 No. 4 (January-June, 2009 issue).