Planning 101 : Seated Dinner Logistics Scoop

I just adore the elegance and intimacy of a seated dinner. It’s relatively easy to design a perfectly-timed and simply lovely meal with a top notch designer and a restaurant-style high-end caterer in place.

What’s much more daunting is all the legwork that goes into mapping out the logistics; sorting through the relational and emotional context behind the etiquette and moving parts of a seated plated dinner isn’t a walk in the park.

Let’s clear it all up, shall we?


{via Martha Stewart Weddings}

Simply stated, an escort card is the element that tells your guests where to be seated.

We do them by couple except where someone is not attending with a date, and that person gets his/her own card.

Tip: It’s not advisable to list an entire family on a single card even if they’re seated at the same table, as several family members will approach your escort card bar looking for their names and start thinking they have been forgotten because one family member has already picked up the sole card. Capiche?

You can opt for formality and tradition (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) or a casual vibe (Sloan Smith).
If you choose the former, here’s how it breaks down when multiples of that last name are attending . . .
1.) Mr. and Mrs. Smith
2.) If there are several Smiths, clarify by adding in first initials: Mr. and Mrs. C. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. J. Smith, etc.
3.) If there are multiples of the same first initials and last names- both John Smith and Jamison Smith are attending and neither is distinguished by a “junior”, a “Dr.”, or some other defining notion- break out to first names instead of initials . . . so Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Jamison Smith.
Designate the table number at which the guest(s) are being seated, and voila- you’re on your way.
As you can see, it doesn’t have to be an ecru tent card . . . have a little fun with it. We sure do!


{via Martha Stewart Weddings}

A place card is optional. It is the element at the individual place setting on the table that designates where a guest is to be seated as it relates to the entire table. Having place card seating is considered more formal and traditional, though it’s by no means stuffy. I think they’re a lovely way to show a guest you’ve considered where exactly you wanted him/her to sit in relation to the table’s other guests with whom he’ll be chatting.
You can opt for the formal approach: “Mr. John Smith”, the casual approach “John Smith”, or the super casual “John”. Same rules apply as with the escort card: if you have two or more Johns at the same table, you’ll deploy initials to distinguish- ie “John J.” and “John P.”.


{via Martha Stewart Weddings}

A table number is the element that sits atop a table to designate it for guests to find it. You can opt for traditional numbers spelled out or used numerically. Of course you can also name your tables after places you’ve been, places you’ll go, street names of the cities you’re from or are being married in, and more. Either way, the rule of thumb is a place number for every 8-10 guests . . . which is important if you’re considering long Viking-style seating like we designed here, here, and here for example. If you don’t have a designer in place to cover your bases, always opt for having your calligrapher or stationer print numbers beyond the table count you currently have, so that you can add tables at the last minute with ease just days before your wedding.

SEATING CHARTSBehind the scenes . . .

{via Martha Stewart Weddings}

You still with me? (wink)

What’s happening behind the scenes with Mom and/or Fiancé whether or not you have a CCD team? Spreadsheets galore. You’ve probably been working on these since the earliest days of your engagement, when you started formatting guest lists for the venue hunt and of course the save-the-dates and eventual invites. Now it’s time to manipulate and create working documents for your designer and caterer to use to execute a perfect setup for your big day.

As you can see above, a visual layout of where guests are seated is very important. What we think is easiest is to take a cue from the righthand picture with the 3M tabbies in it- so let’s elaborate.

1.) Take your planner’s numbered table diagram or make your own- just be sure to have all your tables on it, moving in snake-like fashion across the room. You have to imagine being a guest and weaving among tables to find yours. You’d expect to find table 6 near table 7, riyeet? Here’s an example of one of our custom floorplans we create for each client . . .

2.) Take a 3M tabbie (or laminate some paper and use dry erase markers!) and write out each guest’s name on each tab. That way, you can place the names at each table but switch them around or move them to another table with utter ease.

3.) Whatever you decide, we have these tips:
a.) Girl-boy-girl-boy is the etiquette, where possible.
b.) Don’t forget to seat children who need a proper chair or a high chair, whether you’ll seat them with parents or not.
c.) Mix it up. Seating all your high school friends at two tables and proverbially cordoning off your college pals is not kosher. Encourage new friendships by shaking it up a little bit among the tables, pairing up couples you think would hit it off.
d.) When it’s all said and done, copy your grand map and get it to your people in charge so everyone’s on the same page with where guests are going to be seated. This makes it possible for everyone to use it as a reference for allergies, kids’ meals, vegetarians. We also use it for general seating inquiries from inquisitive guests. (“Where is my friend Susie Q sitting?!”) Lastly, we use it for literal setup! If you have 7 people at a table, we’re going to set 7 chairs and 7 place settings.

SPREADSHEETSBehind the scenes . . .

A ton of our clients are finance gurus and thusly Excel wizards, which makes for perfect spreadsheets for a seated dinner. Here are the two we recommend you create for your planner!

Master Alpha List

See how I can glean almost all that I need from this bad boy? For setup, for guests who didn’t pick up their escort cards, you name it- it’s my mini Bible at your event and it helps my team get guests to their seats effortlessly.

Table Number Chart

This one helps us put out the right number of tables, chairs, and place settings- which in turn aids the caterer. It also tells us at a quick glance that Douglas Hallett is not at Table 2 like he thinks he is, that is best friend is at Table 11 if he’s asking, and that the stray guests who just showed up but never rsvp’d can be seated at Table 9 because we have room for 2 more chairs there.

Fun fact for save-the-dates, invites, and eventual seated dinner paper suite: just remember that calligraphers prefer to work from Word docs, not Excel spreadsheets- it’s too hard on their eyes and forces error. Find someone to mail merge your Excel into mailing label-style docs and your invite calligraphy will be a breeze!

PHEW. A lot to digest, but I hope we helped.