Everybody knows that formal weddings require certain seating arrangements. But many people don’t know what those should be. This article will unravel the mystery of who should sit where, even if your family situation is complicated.
The first few rows of seats are usually tied off by ropes or ribbon. This is to designate the seating as reserved. Generally, the first row is reserved for the bride’s parents. If her parents are divorced, the mother will sit in the first row and the father will sit in the row behind her. If they have remarried, the bride’s stepfather and stepsiblings will sit in the row with her mother, but the stepmother and her children will sit in the row behind the bride’s father. However, if the bride has lived with her father and stepmother and hasn’t had much contact with her mother, the father and stepmother and their children sit in the first pew.
The first row should also seat siblings, grandparents, and other immediate family members. The second row should seat more distant relatives: cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. and very close friends. The groom’s side should be seated the same way. To simplify the seating arrangements, those sitting in the reserved rows or “Within the Ribbons” can be sent a card with their invitation that designates the number of the pew or row that the guest will be sitting on. The card is simply worded and includes the name of the venue, the date, the row or pew number, and instructions for the guest to present the card to an usher upon arrival.
Wedding guests are usually divided into two groups: the bride’s side and the groom’s side. Ushers generally greet the guests when they arrive and escort them to the proper side of the room. The side of the room that is designated for the bride’s guests is usually determined by the religion of the ceremony to be performed. If the bride and groom have many guests in common, or if one has many guests when the other has few, they may choose to eliminate the division and simply have guests seated in the first available rows.
The Bride’s Table
The bridal party is seated at the bride’s table along with the bride and groom. The bride is seated on the groom’s right, and the bridesmaids, groomsmen, and ushers are alternately seated so that women are seated between two men and vice versa. If you have a large wedding party, you may wish to eliminate the ushers from the bride’s table and only have the groomsmen present. A smaller wedding party will allow you to invite your bridal attendants’ husbands and the groomsmen’s’ wives to also join you at the bride’s table. Another option is to have the bride and groom seated by themselves, with the bridal party joining the rest of the guests.
Traditionally receptions have a parents’ table, at which the parents of both the bride and groom, as well as grandparents, and godparents are seated. The officiant of the ceremony is also seated at this table during the reception, if he or she chooses to attend. If there is not enough room at the parents’ table, a second table can be set up. Also, if the bride’s or groom’s parents are divorced, the parent who did not raise the child will be seated at a second table with his/her immediate family members. To reduce family friction, siblings may be given their own tables to host so that they do not have to choose which parent to sit with.
While the bride’s table and the parents’ table will have place cards, they are optional for the other guests. For a seated dinner, you may choose to create seating arrangements for your guests. This is best done by giving each table a number or a name, and letting each guest know ahead of time which table they will be sitting at. If you choose to have place cards for your guests, they should be handwritten and match your wedding invitations. The best way to organize your guests’ seating is to:
- Put couples beside each other
- Put children under 7 with their parents
- Create a children’s table for those between 7 and 14 years of age
- Seat guests with disabilities near bathrooms, beverage stations, etc.
- Arrange guests by common interests (like seating coworkers together)
You should always be sensitive to your guests’ likes and dislikes. Don’t put divorced couples at the same table, nor should you seat same-sex couples with people likely to insult them. Traditionally, your closest relatives and friends should be seated close to the bride’s table, but you may choose to seat your guests however you like. For buffet dinners, you may have a seating arrangement, but it is usually best to allow guests to choose their own seats.
Traditional seating arrangements are designed to honor your close family and friends and make sure that they have the best view of your ceremony. Also, seating arrangements allow your other guests to identify your family members. Your overall goal in seating your guests during the reception is to make them as comfortable as possible, so that they will have a good time. Since you know your friends and family best, it is up to you to decide whether or not to have a seating arrangement outside of the parent’s and bride’s tables.