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Sitting Pretty

Martha Stewart Weddings, 2008

Deciding how to seat your guests takes diplomacy and common sense. "There's no right or wrong way," says Vanda High of Vanda High Events in Rye, New York, but there are basic guidelines. Start by assigning yourselves a table. After that, seat your families, and then everyone else. As you encounter tricky dilemmas along the way -- and you know you will -- turn to the expert advice here.

The Conundrum
You would like to sit with the bridal party, but it's enormous.

The Solution
It's perfectly fine to divide your attendants between two or three tables. If you'd prefer not to, one time-honored custom is to set up a long, rectangular or U-shaped table at the front of the room; everyone sits facing outward. You and your groom should be at the center, with you at his right. The best man is to the bride's right, the maid of honor to the groom's left. The remaining attendants and bridesmaids extend out from there in a boy-girl-boy-girl pattern. Don't forget to include your bridal party's guests. "Your attendants have done a lot for you. Let them sit with their dates," says Liz Seccuro of Dolce Parties in New York City.

The Conundrum
Your families, attendants, and friends all expect to be seated with you. You don't want hurt feelings.

The Solution
The traditional "sweetheart" table-for-two can make a couple feel isolated and self-conscious. For a modern, equally fair-handed approach, seat yourselves with just your honor attendants and their dates, says Carol Marino of A Perfect Wedding in Fairfax, Virginia. Or have places set at several tables -- perhaps the parents' and the bridal party's -- and sit at a different one for each course. "If you're going to choose this musical-tables approach, the key is for the bride and groom to stay together," Marino says. A potential drawback: Guests seated at those tables will have to talk around the two empty places when the two of you are not there.

The Conundrum
Your divorced parents don't get along, and you're terrified of an argument breaking out.

The Solution
If there is bad blood between exes, High suggests dividing the room into quadrants. The bride and groom sit with their attendants in one quadrant. The feuding folks each get a table with their own friends in their own quadrant on opposite corners of the room. The final set of parents (in this example, the groom's) gets the fourth quadrant. As a final precaution, you may want to use place cards to assign individual seats. High recalls one wedding where a father's new spouse and ex could barely be in the same room: "We sat them with their backs to each other."

The Conundrum
Your parents and his have yet to meet. You're not sure whether to put them all at the same table.

The Solution
"I think it feels too forced to make them sit together," says Seccuro. She suggests using the rehearsal dinner as the getting-to-know-you icebreaker. "If they get along like a house afire at the dinner, you can always switch the seating," she says. The exception: If one set of parents knows no one else at the wedding, you should seat them at the host's table.

The Conundrum
Many of your guests have no connections to one another. You are unsure how to divide the tables so everyone feels comfortable.

The Solution
"Your wedding is just a giant dinner party," says Seccuro. "As at any dinner party, you should seat your guests based on their interests." Though it's fine to put all the members of your book club and their dates at the same table, you might consider mixing people up. If your college roomie and her husband are environmental activists and your groom's aunt and uncle are organic farmers, it's likely all four will enjoy lively conversation. Don't be afraid to combine people of different ages, or to put singles together with twosomes. Seccuro even suggests separating couples at the same table. It can be controversial, she says, "but I think people like the excitement of 'Where am I sitting?'" Besides, guests aren't as apt then to talk only to their dates.

The Conundrum
There are some "bad" tables at your venue. You don't want to offend those assigned to them.

The Solution
If the tables in question are at the back of the room, Marino suggests adorning them with the most fabulous centerpieces and making sure the guests seated there are served first. If your reception is in multiple rooms, High adds, "What you don't do is put everyone who's important in the main room and everyone else in the overflow areas -- otherwise there's very clearly a Siberia." Instead, anchor each separate space with a host table; perhaps the bride and groom in one room, the bride's parents in another, and the groom's parents in another.

The Conundrum
You have disabled, elderly, or very young guests.

The Solution
Conventional wisdom says older people should sit farther from the dance floor so they aren't bothered by loud music. Though the difference in decibels is probably negligible, older guests may still prefer outer tables so they can avoid being tripped over by guests rushing to dance. A guest in a wheelchair should be seated at a table he can get to and from with ease. Be sure, too, that elderly, disabled, and pregnant guests have convenient access to exits and restrooms. For kids, seat little ones with their parents; if there are several, consider separate tables, manned by babysitters. Older children or teenagers may sit with their parents or, if you think they'd have more fun, at their own table.

There's a place for everyone at your reception. Just use our online seating-chart tool. 

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