Wediquette Wednesday: Can I let my wedding guests pick their own seats?

Each Wednesday, we tackle wedding etiquette. At times, it’s a reader question or one from a colleague, friend or family member and other times we’ll cover a popular issue. This week, we are sharing a question from Dee Lane’s advice column in the Summer-Fall 2010 issue of New Orleans Bride Magazine. It’s one of those popular questions that’s always relevant— Melanie Warner Spencer

Question: I want my reception to be a big party. To that end, and because I’m almost at my wit’s end with all of the other planning and coordination that goes into planning a wedding, I thought it would be nice to let my guests choose their own seats at the reception. I know, from previous experience, that having to sit and make nice with people I don’t know can be frustrating and leave awkward silences – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be seated with a date. I really don’t want that at my wedding. And what if some people don’t show up? How can I keep the people at that table from feeling ‘less than?’ Any ideas? Can I let my wedding guests pick their own seats?

Answer: Allowing your guests the latitude to choose their own table is a nice idea, but unfortunately not one that tends to work in practice. Humans are creatures of habit, and a seating free-for-all can both cause stress and prevent a scramble for seats that might delay the start of your reception. Creating a seating chart also allows you to subtly separate guests who might have friction. Though conversation can feel forced when you’re sitting at a table with people you don’t know, at least at a wedding all of the guests have the bride and groom in common. It also helps those guests who might feel out of place – think grandparents, aunts and uncles and friend groups who don’t normally interact – feel included and more a part of the whole party. If you feel strongly about allowing your guests freedom of choice as to where they sit, assign tables but not actual seats. As you’ve probably seen at other weddings, as the party gets going, chairs tend to be moved around and friends will congregate where they feel comfortable. As for guests who are no-shows, ask the staff to be alert to such matters and quietly remove the empty place setting and chair. As long as your guests don’t have to talk across an empty setting, they won’t notice anything out of the ordinary. 


Do you have a solution to share or a wedding etiquette question? Respond in the comments or email

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