Final installment of Managing your Guestlist – A Hotelier’s Insider Tips to Planning Seating Arrangements
Aside from planning the guestlist and gathering RSVP, this is probably the most painful part of the wedding. Remember the key here is to stay flexible and expect last minute changes even on the day of the wedding. It is definitely not wise to allow your guests ‘free seating’ unless you are having an intimate reception with 50 people or less. Here is a generic guide to the ‘How to’ when planning for seating arrangements, contributed by an expert hotel wedding planner who has seen how more than 200 couples planned their guest list.
There are 2 parts to this topic – A) Table arrangements, B) Seating Plan
A) TABLE ARRANGEMENTS
Before you can plan the seating arrangements, the table arrangements have to be confirmed. Meaning how are the tables setup going to be? Here are some factors to be taken into consideration.
1. Type of food served
For instance, if you going for the typical Chinese banquet serving Chinese food, then it makes more sense to opt for the round tables, as it signifies reunion. In addition, it encourages group conversation. On the other hand, if you are planning to serve western food or even buffet style, you can seek other options such as long table arrangements. This option is however less seen here in Singapore, thus we will be touching more on round tables arrangements.
2. No. of people on each table
Most venues provide round tables of 10 persons. However, there are also some which have tables that can seat up to 12 persons (for instance Sheraton Towers Singapore Hotel and Conrad), or even up to 20 persons. We call these the mega-tops, usually used as the Main table, Bridal Table or the Head Table (whichever way you want to name it)
TIP: Request for various table plans (or floorplans) from the venue at least 6 months before the wedding once you have a rough gauge of the no. of guests attending. It is always good to have more options on how the tables can be arranged within the venue. This will allow you to play around with the assignment of tables that best suit your preference.
B) SEATING PLAN
Never belittle the importance of a seating plan. After all, you want to make the wedding banquet enjoyable to your guests by being seated with people that they know and can talk to. Plus, having a seating plan for your guests will only do you good. Imagine having 2 feuding relatives or co-workers seating next to each other, and the drama that may follow should they start a quarrel. Not only it dampens the ambience and mood of the celebration, those guests who are affected may just even walk away in the midst of the dinner!
Here are some of our insights and tips when it comes to seating etiquettes to ease the process of seating planning.
1. Assign an area for each group of guests
Once you have received the floorplan from the venue, the next step is to then segment the guests and assign an area for each group based on the table layout. For instance, you may want to have the guests of the Bride’s on the left hand side of the ballroom and the guests of the Groom’s on the right hand side. Or, you may want to have the relatives of both the groom and the brides congregated nearer to the stage at the front and friends, colleagues, classmates, or business associates at the back, so on and forth.
But do take note while you are doing this that within your banquet venue, some tables will have a better ‘location’ than others. Typically the tables that are nearer to the stage allow guests to have a closer and unobstructed view of the stage. Thus, make sure that these prized seats are reserved for “important” guests like family members, relatives or your bosses. Usually, your friends will be more forgiving if their seats are less than ideal so try to assign seats to the VIPs first before you move on to the rest. Do try to also seat guests of the same group within the same vicinity so that they can easily shuffle seats to converse during the dinner instead of sending text messages across the room.
Here are some of the main group of guests that should be taken into top consideration:
1. The Head Table
As bride and groom, you are the stars for the day. Your table and seating position should be easily visible from anywhere in the venue. This will allow your guests to witness your joy and happiness.
Traditionally, there will always be at least 1 main table (or the Head Table), which is usually set closest to the stage. This is where the bride and groom will sit with their parents, grandparents, siblings, or sometimes, the eldest uncle or aunty of the family or simply put, members of the highest status in the family.
Although do note that there are many other possibilities and there’s no rule to who should sit at the main table so if your parents insist on something or if your eldest uncle prefers not to be in the ‘limelight’ by sitting on the main table, you’ll be a happier bride (or groom) if you just do as they say.
There are also instances where the couple prefers to have 2 main tables, or for the matter of fact, where 1 table is not enough to accommodate. In this scenario, one will be assigned for the Bride’s immediate family and the other for the Groom’s and the Bride and Groom will be seated together with the Groom’s family.
2. The Bridal Party
Aside from the family, the bridal party should also have high priority in return for all the help that you have received from them for your wedding! Assign a table for them next to the main tables. Plus, you will be able to ask for help easily without walking too far when you need to.
3. The VIPs
Are you expecting any important guests such as politicians or MP at your wedding? Even though you may not know them personally (it could be friend’s of your father), they are nevertheless the VIPs which should be given priority too, meaning they should be seated near to the stage with an unobstructed view. And take note of who should be seated on the same table as them. You do not want a bunch of teenagers seated on this table!
TIP: It will be good to highlight to the venue that this table should be deemed as the VIP Table for them to be extra cautious and attentive during service.
4. Wheelchair-bound guests and children
For guests who are accompanied by children, infants especially, and guests who are wheelchair bound, it will be wise to assign them tables that are closest to the exit, to enable them easy access to the toilet, or the breasfeeding room without much hassle. The point is to provide them convenience as much as possible when they are already making an effort to attend your wedding and celebrate your joy.
If you have invited guests who are wheelchair-bound, do remember to let the hotel staff know in advance so that they can make space at the particular table. Otherwise, things might get messy on the actual day if the waiters are moving chairs around while the guests are present. Also, for guests who are bringing their toddlers or infants, remember to prepare enough baby chairs for them.
By working on the table arrangements first, you then have a basis to work on who seats where.
5. Plan for your guests to be seated next to someone they know or with similar background
We have encountered a situation where the bride’s aunt refuses to seat on her assigned table because she doesn’t know anyone else at the table, resulting in last minute frenzy just before you are preparing to march in the aisle.
To prevent this awkward situation, make sure that you seat your guests together with other people that they know instead of merely for the convenience of fitting ten people into one table. However, if you happen to have guests who do not know any other people, then your next best alternative is to try to seat them together with guests who have similar backgrounds. On the wedding day, you can try to assign one of your helpers to perform a quick introduction before the banquet commences. This will help to break the ice and ensure that conversations will flow freely at the table.
6. Do not separate the Couples and ‘Besties’
You may come across the situation where a couple has to be seated on separate tables due to insufficient seating on the table. They may seem ok to the arrangement, but trust us, it is better to be avoided to prevent any last minute changing of seats. Applies to the besties too.
In case you are wondering, most venues do not allow more than the stipulated no. of pax on each table due to various reasons.
– Uncomfortable seating space
When you try to squeeze more guests into a table – more than it can accommodate, you are sacrificing the seating comfort for the other guests.
-Insufficient food serving
Remember that most venues serve and charge food by per table of 10 persons for Chinese banquet food. Unless the hotel serves individual plated food, they will not be able to increase the serving for the 11th person. (Think about it – the size of the fish will not increase, the large serving bowl for the sharks fin will not expand right?)
– Restrict the service
With an additional person squeezed into the table, the service staff will also have difficulty proceeding with their service and reaching into the centre of the table to serve the food. This also means the likelihood of spillage will increase.
Think about the consequences.
Bad experience = complains by the guests (who are unaware that these requests were put up by the couple/hosts) = bad reputation for the venue
7. Seek 2nd opinion
With all the wedding planning going on, you may be oblivious to what is happening around you. For all you know, 2 of your relatives are in a cold war stage, or 2 of your colleagues who are seemingly close to each other have recently gotten into a heated argument. To prevent any table politics, it will be best to seek 2nd opinion. It is always good to seek advise and approval from your parents when drafting out the seating plan for your relatives.
8. Guests with special meal requests
In a multi-racial society like Singapore, chances are you will have guests from different ethnic backgrounds. Since some ethnicities will have dietary restrictions, you will need to take into account these factors when assigning seats.
TIP: Try to seat Muslims together so that you can cater a Halal meal for that table, and likewise for vegetarians. If these guests are too few to make up a full table, most venues should be able to arrange individual portions for these guests. But do note that when you are doing so, in the event where you are serving Chinese food that are served by portion of 10 persons, instead of paying (for example) $1200 for that table, you will be paying $1200 + (price of the special meal multiply by no. of guests who requires the special meal) on that table. Which means, essentially you are paying double the price for the person who needs the special meal.
Lastly, remember that although it will be nice to accommodate to everyone, it is almost impossible to please everyone at the end of the day. Thus don’t tear your hair out trying to plan for the perfect seating plan. The last thing you want is to be all stressed up because of the guest list 1 day before the wedding.
We hope that you have found this useful and we welcome any inputs via comments below!
Photo Credits: La Belle Couture. Location featured: Hotel Fort Canning