Should You Have Assigned Seating at Your Wedding?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that not every wedding tradition needs to be followed — including seating arrangements.

wedding reception table
Photo: Kelly Hornberger Photography

We’ve seen our fair share of unique layouts, seating charts, and even the lack of assigned seating as a whole. While it might be taboo for some to have a free-for-all event with no designated seating, others want a more relaxed feel where guests can casually mingle at leisure.

Before you make a decision and firmly sway one way or the other, let’s tackle the pros and cons of assigned vs. unassigned seating.

“First, no one likes feeling like the kid in the lunchroom holding their tray, not knowing where they should sit. While not being told where to sit feels like you are giving your guests a sense of freedom to sit with whom they choose, this can cause discomfort for those guests who may not know many or any guests in attendance. No one likes to feel like they don't have a place they belong!” —Michelle Vining, LOLA Event Productions

"If you do not have assigned seating, consider a cocktail-style reception with mixed seating — some traditional banquet tables, smaller tables with fewer chairs, cocktail tables (both with and without bar stools), and lounges. This makes it clear that the intent of the party is to roam and mingle and find a seat here or there. If you would like a seated dinner but do not want to assign seats, then you need to be prepared to provide seating for 10% more than your expected guest count so that guests aren't in awkward positions when finding seats with friends or their plus ones!" —Juls Sharpley, Juls Sharpley Events

"I am in favor of guests having assigned seating at weddings because, without it, it leads to too many variables and headaches for the catering staff and guests. Once the staff transitions guests from cocktail hour to reception, the kitchen staff have a very thin margin for error when it comes to firing dishes, plating them, and getting them to the tables while they are still hot and to temp. If guests are trying to figure out where they are sitting for an extended period, and there aren’t enough seats for couples to sit together, it’ll lead to unnecessary stress that will spill over to the couple." —Colton Simmons, Colton Simmons Photography

"In general, when in doubt about seating, guests love to be led by you, the hosts. Guests can relax better when they are told where to go, where to sit, and what to do. It makes them feel comfortable at your wedding, and they can relax knowing that they are not unknowingly making a wedding faux pas! For couples who want a seated meal at their wedding and also do not want to assign seats, my advice is to at least assign the tables and then let the chips fall where they may. Assigning no tables and no seats is a recipe for disaster, even for small weddings, and will make your guests feel unwelcome and not cared for." —Kate Hickey, Sunshower Weddings

"Prepare signage that states this. Couples should prepare several pieces of signage and place them at strategic locations and during specific moments throughout the event so that guests are clear on what to do prior to taking their seats. In addition to signage, couples can leverage their wedding party or other key vendors, such as their planners, catering staff, and MC/DJ to ensure that guests have multiple opportunities to be instructed on what to do when it comes to seating." —Deliece Knights-Barnett, Dhalia Events LLC

"Many groups of two, three, and four top cocktail tables with high-backed stools for comfort can be placed everywhere, along with other alternative bistro-like seating arrangements in various locations around the venue. This unique seating structure works particularly well with station-style food service and extended cocktail hour-style service. It breeds a far more relaxed, club-like cafe or eatery atmosphere. Non-assigned seating does not mean your designer can't execute your seating arrangements luxuriously and elegantly, as exquisite design options are available to create dramatic and intimate romantic settings for your guests." —Sarah Chianese, Mangia & Enjoy!

"Strolling receptions are becoming very popular, and this may be one occasion when you may not want assigned seating at your wedding reception. A strolling dinner is when various food stations are placed all over the venue, and guests are encouraged to explore the property to visit each station and try the different menu offerings. A strolling dinner may have stations for seafood, pasta, prime rib, salads, wine, and chocolate tastings–really anything you can imagine! In addition to allowing guests to see more of the property, it also encourages guests to mingle more with one another." —Stacie Marshall, Marshall Arts Photography

"An additional benefit of a seating chart is arranging tense relationships opposite of one another within the venue. Because of the challenges and complexities of family relationships, creating a seating chart to keep the peace during the reception may benefit some couples. The exception to creating a seating chart is if the wedding forgoes serving a meal. If the reception features heavy hors d'oeuvres and is primarily cocktail-style, assigned seating is unnecessary. Typically, these types of weddings occur in the afternoon and end before dinner." —Sarah Anderson, Twickenham House and Hall

The best thing you can do in determining the structure of your seating arrangement is to take into consideration what type of event you're hoping for and what the details are. Be sure to consult with your wedding day team above all else — they can help you make an informed decision so there’s no conflict when your big day arrives!

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.