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The Bride's Guide Blog

Assign Seats When You Have Food Stations?

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Posted by Talley Sue Hohlfeld, Etiquette Expert

The magazine is generally a fan of assigned seating at weddings—we hate the "junior-high lunchroom" feel that comes from hunting for a seat among tables that are partly filled with people you don't know (or worse, ones you *do* know who are "saving this seat for someone else"). And we love the idea of carefully chosen dinner-table companions.

But just this week, a reader sent in a question about whether she should assign places (or even tables) if her reception has several very filling food stations, and no sit-down dinner. And I have to say—I'm torn!

The beauty of assigned tables is that everybody knows they have somewhere to sit. And as the hostess, you can have exactly the right number of tables (less furniture in the room, and less $$ sometimes).

But the beauty of food stations (besides that they're really yummy) is that they make for a very fluid conversation. Your aunt goes to try the Chinese, and ends up in line next to your groom's college roommate. Then she heads for the fresh fruit, and she's in line behind your second cousin on your dad's side. Lots of friendliness, lots of casual conversation, lots of interaction and movement.

So, do you want her to discover a new dining companion each time she goes to try a new food? Or do you want her to have a safe haven where she can shelter between adventures?

I think I'm answering my own question here—I think I'd still vote for assigned tables.

(But if you opted not to have assigned tables, you need to be sure you have extra tables, so that there is always likely to be an empty one. That will reduce the likelihood that your guests will do what the aunts and uncles did at the last such wedding I went to, with no assigned seats—they staked out tables and made sure never to leave them unattended. They might as well have been assigned.)

Are you having food stations, and will you assign seating? And would you give this bride different advice?

Comments (5)

  • I'm having stations and am planning to assign tables. Our venue is pretty spacious, so I want everyone to have a place to sit, and one that won't disappear or get confused! That way people can put their stuff (purse, jacket, shoes, favor) down somewhere and know that it will stay in the same place all night. I also want everyone to be able to eat at the same time (to the extent that that's possible with a buffet/stations).

  • We are hosting a heavy hors d'oeuvre reception and do not plan on assigning seats. Our reception space has both an outside patio as well as the interior dining room. The "eating" will technically begin with cocktail hour on the patio, but we hope once everyone moves inside, the "grazing" will continue all night! We will have a few reserved tables for the wedding party.

  • I'm torn! I'm having small plates and was very attached to assigned seating (love safe haven and a place to stash things), but our caterer has strongly recommended that we have caberet tables with some seating and some standing, as well as lounge furniture, to encourage tasting, etc. I'm still deciding. . .

  • I'm with Suzanne.My fiance and I are hosting a heavy hors d'oeurvre to small plates for our reception. We hate the idea of assigned seats and having a "designated" time for eating and entertainment. Our idea of a reception is to be able to celebrate with our friends and family. A lot of these assigned seats have the bride and groom sitting in the middle of the room. We'd like to sit and eat with our friends and family and not away from them. Our reception has a huge outdoor patio as well and we'll be "mingling" with everyone the entire night. There will be enough tables for sitting and enough cocktail tables for standing. Our venue also has lounge furniture already so we'll use that as well. There's also seating around the fireplace in the patio area.

  • Christy, I'm in your same situation. I see it's been a long time since a post on this blog, maybe you can share what your final decision was and how it worked out? We have beautiful historic reception venue but space will be tight. I'm debating from cabaret style tables and lounge seating but we love knowing where we'll be sitting when we go to weddings. Is there a way to assign cocktail tables even? Assign people to 4 tops? Not sure if that falls within proper ettiquite.

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