We love and embrace the trend of “picking a seat, not a side” for ceremonies, but when it comes to your meal, having open seating should definitely not be an option. I know, you are all becoming one big happy family so what’s the problem?

While you may want to give the impression that your reception a chance for strangers to mingle and families to meet, you are actually creating more problems than you might realize. Here are some pitfalls of not having assigned seating.

First, some definitions. Seating charts and escort cards serve the same function: they direct your guests to a specific table. Place cards direct your guests to a specific seat at that table. If you have a plated dinner, you should always have place cards.

Why? Place cards make it easy for your caterer to see who has which meal option. These days it isn’t unusual to have multiple entree options. You could have two with meat, a vegan or vegetarian option, and an allergy or gluten free option. Having place cards with the guest’s name and some type of designation for their chosen entree, will keep your caterer from guessing who gets what. Having a buffet or food stations? Then place cards are optional. Once guests find their table, they are free to sit wherever they want.

Seating charts and escort cards should be organized by last name then table number, especially if you have more than 50 guests. I have seen seating arrangements done by table number first, which causes a line to form at the chart because a guest has to go through every table number to find their name. It is a lot quicker to find your name first, then your table.

Having assigned seating ensures you honor your most important guests. You always want to seat the people closest to you, either by relation or friendship, near the sweetheart or head table. Sometimes an aunt or even a grandparent will not want to assume they should sit at the first few tables, and out of deference, will sit somewhere “out of the way.”

If you are having a sweetheart table, you don’t have to seat your entire wedding party nearby. In days past, the whole wedding party sat at one big table, just check out any wedding pictures. pre-1990. I favor seating them not all together, but with people who make sense. Is your maid-of-honor’s parents attending? Then maybe you want to seat them at the same table. Or are some of your attendants coming solo? Then seat them with other single people.

Creating a seating chart can be time consuming, but it is definitely worth the work. Without them, guests tend to wander around looking for the table that will fit them best, and more times then not, a person of honor gets shoved in the back of the room or is stuck with a group half their age. Your wedding is not the time to play musical chairs with your guests. Believe me, they will appreciate it.