Here at Aberdeen Manor, we believe strongly in the power of the seating chart. There are a number of reasons that we feel that some sort of seating assignments are essential. First of all, guests like to know that they have a place reserved for them. If you don't assign tables, they will all sit down and not move, and your cocktail hour will consist of everyone sitting at tables holding their places. Boring! The biggest thing I see is that if you don't have assigned seating, the people who you want to have close in the best seats, don't get there, because they are usually the last to arrive at the reception. Yes, we can put "reserved" signs on a couple tables, but then, who sits at those tables and how do they know they are supposed to? Another issue we see is that when you have someone attend who didn't send back their RSVP, we have no way to know where there might be empty seats. These folks who didn't send back their RSVP, if they get there earlier, get a seat, and your good guests who sent back their little cards, are seatless.
Some sort of seating assignment is absolutely essential. Guests want to know that they have a place reserved for them that they can land. They are much more comfortable and sociable if they are sure that they have a seat that they don't have to stand guard over. So how is this most easily accomplished? Well, first of all, both families need to be on the same page about when guests need to reply (this is usually stated on the response card) and once that date has passed, someone needs to start calling people who haven't responded to find out if they are coming or not. The goal is to get a good, solid final count as soon as possible after the cut off date. I say someone, because the bride and groom and their parents are NOT the people to do it. This is what you have attendants and best friends for! If the bride calls, she will be thrown into a 45 minute discussion of the wedding plans, honeymoon destination, yada yada yada. No, you want someone who doesn't know these people to call. They will be able to do the entire list in the time that it would take the bride to make one or two calls.
So what to say? "Hi, this is Mary Jo, I'm calling for Heather Jones and Sean Smith. They were concerned because their wedding is fast approaching and they hadn't heard back from you yet. They wondered if maybe you hadn't received your invitation. Oh, you did receive it? Wonderful! Will you be able to attend? And how many of you will there be? Three? Great! Thanks so much, we'll see you at the wedding. Buhbye!
It's always nice to give them a little "out", and frankly, there is always the possibility that for some reason they didn't receive their invitation. There's no need to scold them for not responding, it's just important to find out whether they will be there or not.
Unfortunately, guests will string you along until the day of the wedding if you don't put your foot down and require that they give you a yes or a no. It seems that the people that are the ones that string you along are usually the ones that don't think they will be able to make it, but there's a little chance that they might. You need to pin them down and get either a yes or no from them, no more wishy washy, you have to give a count, and you need to know if they can come or not. Don't let them squeak out with a "maybe I can make it, I'll let you know in a couple days". You need to get a YES or a NO from them right then and there. Honestly, if you have sent your invitations out six to eight weeks before the wedding like most couples do, they have had plenty of time to figure out whether they can come to the wedding or not. Nine times out of ten, they will be able to give you an answer if you press them. Granted, there are circumstances where people just don't know. They are waiting to see if Great Aunt Tillie will be able to travel, or their daughter is supposed to deliver imminently but they don't know exactly when. Unfortunately, sometimes they just need to call it and make a decision. I'll warn you, most of the guests that are on the fence will end up being no's. Now, do you want to pay for the meal and bar for people who end up not coming? Of course not! And we don't want you to have to pay for people that don't end up coming either. So work hard at getting definitive answers from guests once the deadline has passed.
Once you have a good solid number you can begin to assign tables. You don't have to assign individual seats, just the table. Even before you get your final number you can start dividing the guests who have already responded that they are coming, into groups of 8. The easiest way I find to do this is to put the names on the place cards, without the table number, as they respond, and then just make little stacks. Once you have your final number and everyone is divided into little stacks of 8 (or 7 or 9 if necessary, or even 10 if you are having over about 250) then you can go back and write the actual table numbers on the cards. Once you give us a number we can make up a room diagram for you that shows where all the tables will be located, and their numbers.
Some of you that have been in our shop lately may have noticed the seating scroll that we have. It's a beautiful piece to add to your reception, and the best thing about it, is that it comes with a computer program to do your seating assignments that makes short work of the whole thing. You email the list to them through the program and your seating chart comes back to us a couple days before the wedding, ready to go on the scroll stand! Pretty slick!
However you accomplish this, you'll be glad you put the effort into it. It's probably one of the crumbiest jobs of planning your wedding, but it's also one of the most essential and important. Your guests will appreciate knowing that they have a place, and we at Aberdeen will be able to set your tables exactly to your room diagram so that you don't have a lot of extra seats that make it appear that lots of guests are missing. It will be appreciated all around. So bite the bullet, and get going on those table assignments! :)