How should we handle seating at our wedding reception?
Jordan Summer Photography

As a Tampa, Florida wedding planner, I’ve seen first hand couples wrestle with seating styles. Selecting the ideal seating style for your wedding reception can be a confusing & challenging aspect of the wedding planning process. It’s such a balancing act to accommodate all of your guests needs while creating the perfect atmosphere and vibe. If you’re sitting there, scratching your head on how you can arrange your reception tables, you are definitely not alone. It’s a tough decision to make, but we are here to help! Let’s deep dive into the various options that are available to help you find the perfect fit for your big day.

Image Credit - Foto Bohemia


Before deciding the type of reception seating you’d like at your wedding, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do I want our wedding to feel (casual, formal, intimate, etc.)?
  2. How many guests do we anticipate attending?
  3. With the estimated number of guests, what can my venue hold?

In order to answer some of these questions, you may need to have a more in-depth conversation with your wedding planner and/or venue coordinator to help you consider all factors that go into figuring out your layout. 

Let’s take a closer look at the 2 main styles of reception seating: Cocktail and Traditional

Cocktail Style Seating: If you’re looking for a more relaxed and social atmosphere, cocktail-style seating might be your cup of tea. The cocktail-style seating arrangement allows guests to mingle and chat while standing or perching at high top tables and/or lounge furniture which creates a very lively and interactive experience for your guests. It is the perfect arrangement for couples who are aiming for a more informal and less structure reception. The bonus, it does allow for more flexibility when it comes to space utilization and encourages guests to mix & mingle.

This style might be right for you if:

  • Your anticipated guest count is higher than what the venue can hold for a fully seated reception. 
  • Your style of meal is heavier hors-d’oeuvres or station style/small plates (items that are easy for guests to eat standing or sitting at a non-dining table height table – or if you won’t require them to use a fork AND knife!).
  • You want to keep the night flowing with lots of dancing and very little structure. 
Image Credit - Justine Marie Photography

Traditional Reception Seating: This is the classic seating style – the tried and true way to ensure everyone has a seat at the table (literally!). This style typically includes a combination of round and/or rectangular tables with chairs, allowing guests to enjoy a sit-down meal with comfort and ease. It provides a formal setting and allows for more personalized table decor, such as centerpieces, stationery, and place settings. The traditional reception seating style also creates a natural flow for serving meals and ensures each guest has their designated spot to relax, eat, and enjoy the celebration. 

This style might be right for you if:

  • You want every guest to have their own seat
  • You plan to have guests choose their entree choice prior to the wedding day
  • You want to add a lot of (personal) detail to your tablescapes 

Having a traditional reception seating arrangement doesn’t mean it needs to be boring! When we are working with our clients to decide their reception layout, we discuss a few different factors. The first is always what will work best for the venue space – as planners we have access to amazing software systems where we can input different layout options to review with you and be able to show you a more realistic vision of your reception venue space. Some couples love the classic all-round table layout, however, there’s also the option to play around with rectangular tables, square tables, and even the types of chairs – who said it had to be a traditional chair and not a couch? It’s our chance to get creative!  

Other things to consider if you plan to have a traditional seating arrangement at your reception is if you’d like to sit at a sweetheart table, head table, or not have a focal table at all. So let’s deep dive into that… 

Image Credit - Alyssa Shrock Photography

Sweetheart Table: For those couples who want a little extra alone time together, a sweetheart table is a wonderful option. A sweetheart table is perfect for couples who prefers a more private setting or who want to include their wedding party at separate tables.

Head Table: This option is great for couples who LOVE the idea of being surrounded by their closest friends and family. If that’s you, that’s the way to go! The head table is usually placed in a focal location within the reception space and features the couple, their wedding party (and sometimes dates). On the other hand, some couples choose to have their head table consist of having their immediate family sit with them. Either way, a head table creates a sense of togetherness. It’s an excellent option for couples who want to keep their loved ones close throughout the night.

Image Credit - Jordan Summer Photography

Deciding Where Guests Should Sit

Now that we’ve covered the various seating styles, it’s important to touch on where your guests should sit. I consider this part of the wedding planning process “relationship Tetris.” When it comes to assigning tables or seats, it’s all about ensuring your guests feel comfortable and cultivates an opportunity for your guests to mingle.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate this decision:

  1. Consider compatibility: Group guests together based on their interests, backgrounds, or connections. Think about who would enjoy each other’s company and strike up engaging conversations.
  2. Mix and match: Introduce your friends and family to new faces by combining different social circles at each table. This can lead to wonderful conversations and the chance for your loved ones to forge new friendships.
  3. Mind the dynamics: Be mindful of any potential conflicts or sensitivities when assigning seats. If there’s a history between certain individuals, it’s best to keep them at separate tables to avoid any unnecessary tension.
  4. Keep it cozy: Ensure your guests are comfortable by paying attention to the seating arrangement. Take into account the number of chairs at each table and make sure there’s enough space for people.

Image Credits:

Photo 1: Foto Bohemia

Photo 2: Justine Marie Photography

Photo 3: Alyssa Shrock Photography

Photo 4: Jordan Summer Photography