You’d probably think due to the average wedding abroad being smaller than a wedding in the UK that table planning would be easy. However, with a smaller wedding it can actually be more tricky.
These days, family dynamics can be complicated, with step families and inter family politics, and a traditional top table is not always possible if you want to keep everyone happy.
A typical top table includes:
- The newlyweds
- Bride’s mum and dad
- Groom’s mum and dad
- Best man and partner
- Chief bridesmaid and partner
However, don’t get tied up in knots if this doesn’t work. There are no right or wrongs when it comes to table planning. Do what you think is right, not what family, friends or etiquette tells you.
There are a few things to consider before you get down to planning the actual table layout and seating order.
Here’s our handy top ten tips for stress free table planning!
- Ask your venue about the number of people you can sit per table. Make sure you ask for the minimum and maximum numbers as an empty table can look as bad as an overcrowded one. (Small round tables sit around eight whilst larger ones can fit ten or twelve guests.)
- Check if there an option of round or rectangle tables and what formations are possible – U-shape, rows of tables or one long top table with round guest tables or round tables with no top table.
- Will the tables be moved after dinner for dancing? Or will they stay where they are all evening – something to consider if you’re dancing and dining area in the same area.
- Do they have enough high chairs or can they be hired? Do high chairs need to be indicated on the seating plan and do they need a place setting?
- Will the type of dinner you choose affect how many people you can seat per table? For example, with meze or family style dining, large platters are served directly on the tables for people to help themselves. With round tables this means you will need more room for the platters and so will need to have fewer guests per table – it can also affect the size of your table centrepiece.
- Does the venue have sample layouts to show you the options and positions of the tables? If not, photos of previous weddings should provide ideas.
- Do they have a floor plan of the venue so you can see the relation of the seating area to the dancing area?
- Where will your table plan be displayed? Is there an obvious place at the entrance so guests won’t miss it?
- Are there any restrictions you need to consider? For example, if you are at the maximum capacity with guest numbers, does this dictate the number and style of tables you can have?
- Does the venue need a copy of the table plan? With a buffet menu or meze this is not always necessary, but if you have more than one set menu, or special diets or even a few children, a venue seating plan is ideal so guests can be served more efficiently.
A few more things to consider before you start
Once you have all this information, it’s time to get down to the fun of putting people on tables. Usually, it’s recommended to sit people in couples, put parents with kids (at least for eating) and have family members closer to the top table with friends further away.
Don’t worry about separating kids during dinner. To be honest, kids are often better when with their parents, but consider having a separate children’s activity table set up to use after dinner. You could buy activity packs to help keep them entertained during dinner and speeches.
When putting together your table plan, it may seem like a good idea to spread everyone out on as many tables as possible to fill the space, especially with a smaller wedding, but consider that the more tables you have, the more decoration and floral centrepieces you will need.
Time to get busy
- Get a piece of A3 paper and sketch out your tables (don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be neat, this is only for you).
- Buy small post-it strips. Write a guest’s name on each one and stick them on the tables you want to sit them on. If it doesn’t work out, you can re-stick to your heart’s content.
- You’ll eventually have a cohesive table plan ready for your printer, or if you’re a whizz at DIY, do it yourself. I suggest hard card or foam board so if you don’t have a stand or easel, the table plan will stand up against a wall.
- It’s a good idea to make an extra table plan with guests names and menu choices to give to the venue to ensure smooth service at dinner.
There are pretty cool software programmes online you can buy and use to help with your table plan (for example, www.toptableplanner.com and www.perfecttableplan.com) and, you can then email your venue with the table plan. However, a neatly written or printed wedding plan created on your PC will work fine. We’ve created seating plan templates for you to download and use to get you started.
It’s a good idea to have name cards for wedding parties of twenty-five or more. If you don’t want name cards, at least have a list of names per table so guests know where to sit.
Ask your venue if they will set out the name place cards for you. If they will, you’ll need to provide a clear table plan for them to follow. If not, take note that with larger weddings of fifty or more it can easily take over one hour to set out name cards and table decorations. Make sure you allocate someone to do this for you.
When preparing name cards, make sure the names on the plan match those on the cards. Don’t put ‘Granny’ on the name card and ‘Sheila’ on the table plan – you may know that Granny is Sheila but the venue doesn’t. Print names on the table plan and don’t write them by hand. I’ve witnessed venue staff struggling to read handwriting and it can make things run behind, or worse, you could end up having the tables still being set up when guests arrive. If you’re using a fancy type or calligraphy, neatly print the guest’s name on the inside of the card for the venue to use.
You need to remember that with a wedding abroad, the venue staff may not be familiar with English names, so on the copy of the table plan you give to your planner or venue, make a note of the sex of each guest (as we can use names like Sam and Charlie for both girls and boys), especially if you have male/female related decorations or favours to set up. A simple F for female, M for male and C for child will help avoid any confusion.
It does seem like a lot to do for a seating plan, and on top of this you can’t do it until you have final numbers confirmed – which is usually just before the wedding. But remember, once it’s done, you’re on the home stretch! There’s not long to go now until you can enjoy the results of your hard work.
For easy table planning create your FREE Luvana account to use the ‘Guest List’ and ‘Table planner’ tools