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Seating guests at an event or wedding

Are the days of a seating plan gone? Shouldn’t guests choose where they sit? After all, we are all adults! Actually, it depends on the event.

A survey by Eventbrite showed that at concerts and venues, three out of four wanted to choose their own seat. But when it comes to formal events, such as dinners and weddings, a YouGov survey that an overwhelming 84% of guests prefer assigned seating.

With large events such as The Rose Ball at the Rose of Tralee Festival coming up in August, along with glorious weddings and other formal dinners and balls, let’s take a look at how best to do a seating plan for such black tie affairs.

Why do a seating plan?

Unassigned seating sounds great in theory and it is certainly one less chore for the organiser. Unfortunately, it rarely works out in practice.

  • There may be a rush for the good’ seats.
  • It will take a lot longer to get guests seated. They may still be milling around while the food is being served.
  • Your beautiful decor will be spoilt by people leaving their coats on chairs to reserve them.
  • The last few guests end up walking around looking for seats, a bit like the unpopular child at school.
  • Couples can get split up.
  • Elderly guests may end up seated where they can’t see or hear anything.

The larger the event, the bigger the risk you are taking with unassigned seating but if you still decide to go for unassigned seating, make sure you have more chairs than guests – and good luck! Otherwise, here are some top tips on how to offer every guest a seat…

Assigning seats or tables?

Guests can be assigned to a table (where they can choose any seat) or assigned to a specific seat. Both approaches are valid and whichever you choose is a matter of personal preference.

 Seat assignment

  • You can ensure that speakers and VIP guests are seated in appropriate seats
  • Makes it easier for waiting staff to deliver meals to specific guests
  • It’s a good opportunity for the organiser to do some matchmaking!

 Table assignment

  • Less work for the organiser
  • Does not require place cards
  • Guests have some choice who they sit next to

The perfect seating plan

For formal events, you might want to put people next to people they know, or you might want to split them up, so they meet new people and network effectively. But do try to put each person next to at least one person they already know. People are more likely to get on well if they are similar ages, have similar interests, or work in a common industry. A little common sense goes a long way.

Try to create balanced tables, with even numbers of males and females. It is traditional to alternate male-female-male-female guests but some business dinners are seated male-male-female-female for variety.

For weddings, you should try to put families together and work colleagues together. But if you know people don’t get on, try seating them separately. It is worth breaking with tradition to have a stress-free event.

Avoid mixing age groups too much. Young children should be seated with their parents. Older children can be seated with their parents, or on a table together.

Who goes where

If you are having speeches or announcements at your event or wedding, try to place the people giving them are seated where they won’t have their back to anyone.

Try to place pregnant, elderly, disabled guests and guests with small children where they have easy access to toilets and other facilities. Don’t seat them at tables that are going to be removed to make space after the meal for dancing.

Older guests will generally have poorer hearing and eyesight. Do try to put them where they can see and hear any speeches. Do not put them next to loud music, they won’t appreciate it. At weddings, put children’s tables in the least favourable locations, they have better hearing and won’t be too interested in the speeches anyway.

Seating charts

Guests will need to know which table they are seated at so they don’t have to walk around every table to find their place. This is usually achieved by displaying a seating chart at the entrance to the venue.

Table number cards are placed on tables to display the number, or name, of the table. If you have a large number of tables you might also want to display a floor plan to show where the tables are.

The seating chart can either list guests by table, or alphabetically by name. Listing by table shows the guest who else is on the same table. Listing by guest name makes it a little easier to find the table, especially at a large event.

Whether to display a plain and simple seating chart or a highly decorative/artistic one is very much a matter of personal preference. Many venues will have an easel you can use to display your seating chart. Place cards are placed at each setting to ensure guests sit in the correct seats.

Table number cards

Table number cards are placed on tables to display the table name or number. They should be large enough to read without having to walk right up to the table. Make sure they aren’t so tall that they prevent guests seeing each other over the table.

Top tip: You can use ‘hearts’ playing cards for inexpensive table number markers, i.e. Ace of hearts for table 1, two of hearts for table 2 etc.

Place cards

Place cards are placed at each place setting to ensure guests sit in the correct seats. They are only required if you have assigned guests to seats (not tables). If you are using tent-fold cards, write the guest’s name on both sides so that other guests on the table can also read it.

Usually place card names will be in the format ‘Mr John Murphy, but you can use ‘John Murphy’ or ‘Mr J. Murphy’ depending on the level of formality you feel happy with. Using just the first name is obviously not recommended as there is likely to be more than one person with the same first name.

Place cards can also be a useful way to communicate to the catering staff which meals people have ordered. E.g. add a red dot to the place card for beef and a blue dot for fish.

Table names

At a wedding, you may decide to name your tables. When dealing with a crowd where you know everyone, named tables add a bit more atmosphere and are useful if you are worried about guests being offended about not being seated on ‘Table 1’.

Possible table naming themes include flowers, gemstones, countries/towns, colours, films/TV, bands/songs, cocktails/whiskies/wines, animals/birds/butterflies, a word or phrase in different languages, famous romantic couples or something related to your hobbies/interests. You can also liven up numbers, for example include a picture of the hosts at age 1 on table 1, at age 2 on table 2 etc.

Finally, make sure you provide high chairs for small children and inform the caterers of any guests in wheelchairs who won’t require seats.

National Event Hire

National Event Hire can supply all your event needs. With over 25 years of experience in the event hire industry, we have a huge range of products available for rent – chairs, tables, crockery, cutlery, catering equipment, even the kitchen sink!

Contact us for more information and to get a quote:
Freephone: 1800 579 579
Dublin: 01 450 9922
Cork: 021 432 1155
email: or click HERE



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