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When Do You Need Assigned Seating at a Wedding?

Thinking about your guests’ seating at the reception is a gracious and thoughtful gesture. But which option to choose: assigned seating or open seating? Read on for tips and advice we’ve gathered for both approaches—and when they would work best. Plus creative setup and signage inspiration for how to apply assigned or open seating to your special gathering. Come the Big Day, you’ll be glad you took take the time to plan table assignments (or no seating) ahead!

When Open Seating Works

  • Open seating works best for small to mid-sized guest lists.
  • In these cases, the guests tend to either be family members or close friends of the couple so being seated any which way is fine.
  • Having tables joined into one or two long rows also lends itself well to open seating.
  • More casual reception venues, usually outdoors like a garden or barn or beachfront, provide a relaxed vibe that invites guests to find their own table seating.

Inspiration for Open Seating at Your Reception

For how to set up your venue and tablescapes for non-assigned seating, here are some practical and pretty ideas we found!

Open seating at a wedding without place cards.

Long tables assembled out in a garden setting (1) are a lovely option for this type of seating. Perhaps one designated table may have specially decorated chairs for the newlyweds (as seen in the photo) and place cards for the bridal party. But the other guests may sit where they please.

Round tables set up in the outdoors (5) also give a relaxed, inviting air that allows guests to find their own table for the meal, then move around afterwards to mingle and chat.

Creative and often witty signs add to the fun! You could go for a framed chalkboard sign (2) with a colorful handwritten notice. Or opt for a rustic look with wood plank signs on poles assembled in a charming vignette (3) or quipping “Don’t skip seats!” (4)

Credits: 1 – Gertrude + Mabel Photography, via Project Wedding / 2 – via Pinterest (uploaded by user) / 3 – Three Nails Photography, via Wedding Chicks  / 4 – Carl Zoch Photography, via The French Bouquet, Tulsa / 5 – Cypress Grove Estate House, image found via Pinterest

When Assigned Seating is Recommended

  • Assigned seating is the wiser option for large guest lists and for formal, sit-down receptions in venues like a hotel ballroom.
  • It is carefully planned (often with your planner’s expert help) to ensure that guests will be seated with others they know and can enjoy sharing a meal and conversing with.
  • It is a thoughtful gesture, too, for out-of-town guests, elderly relatives, or work colleagues of the couple who may not know the others there.
  • It allows for a smooth flow of arriving guests from the entryway to their respective tables.
  • It also avoids awkward situations like guests wandering around in search of available seats or people they know, or standing around unsure of where to sit.


Inspiration for Assigned Seating at Your Reception

To keep things organized and hassle-free, assigned seating makes use of table charts and seating plans, as well as escort cards presented in traditional and ultra-creative ways! Then, on the tables themselves, there are place cards with each guest’s name in holders from DIY to artsy.


For a formal reception, a more traditional seating chart with gold calligraphy on a chalkboard background (1) is very elegant.

But there are other lovely choices like escort cards that aren’t cards at all! See these romantic rose-filled wine bottles (2) marked with the table names and who will be seated at each, geo-shaped acrylic escort cards (3) perfect for a trendy wedding, or soda bottles with names and table assignment cards (4)—which also double as refreshments for each guest (see the cute sign)!

And as for eye-catching place card holders, consider ones handcrafted from seashells (5) for a beach or destination wedding to match your chosen theme.

Credits: 1 – Alyssa Marie Blog / 2 – Kate Murphy Photography, via Elizabeth Anne Designs / 3 – Twinkle and Toast, via Exquisite Weddings Magazine / 4 – via Pinterest / 5 – Bellenza


  1. I think families and friends tend to seat themselves together naturally if given the option–great post!

  2. Thanks, Amy! We totally agree.

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