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Questions for Your Caterer
By: | Posted: 10/22/2012
When The Fiance (now Husband) and I sat down to work on our seating charts, we knew it was going to be an exhausting task. Because we used luggage tags at each seat to indicate where the person was sitting precisely at their table, we not only had to determine the table grouping, but the specific seat as well. Our wedding planner, MiMi Design, gave us a floor plan of the entire room, so we used that as our template. With roughly 330 people to seat, we knew it was going to be a long day, but we didn't quite realize how long . . .
The Saturday three weeks before our wedding we had nearly every RSVP in hand, and an afternoon free of dance lessons, meetings, or errands to run. The Fiance and I knew it was likely going to be our last day without fittings, appointments, etc. so we hunkered down to work through our seating chart. The Fiance's parents had sent us their ideal tables, as had mine, but as is the problem with most table arrangements, there were a few people that just didn't fit anywhere. So we set out to complete the arrangements and promised each other the reward of ice cream at the end of the night.
Our first task was to indicate which table would be a table for The Fiance's guests and which table would be for mine. Because our dance floor was roughly in the middle, we knew we could split it right down the center, but we wanted our friends to interact with one another. Therefore, we opted to split it up more randomly, while making sure we had the right amount of guests at each table (and from each side) totaling the number of guests invited. We had three table arrangements: large, long tables of 16 (that had a specific floral and linen treatment . . . I loved rich brocade linens on these tables), round tables of eight (that had my personal favorite . . . rose balls on candelabras as the centerpiece), and smaller rectangular tables of eight that ran through the center of our floor plan. We went through and colored each table either blue or pink for his or her guests. We had a few tables that were orange, which meant they were friends of both of ours, and we had to make sure those were relatively close to the dance floor, as the majority of them were participating in the flashmob. We wanted to make sure that our families were at the two tables closest to the dance floor, and from there we wanted an even balance of both our guests with close proximity to the dance floor (or bar).
The head table was the easiest, so we started with that. We wanted the dates of our wedding participants to be included in our table (too often one of us has been put at the "dates" table not knowing anyone while the other one of us was at the head table), so our head table was set for 25. After about six iterations of rearranging the seats so they were boy-girl-boy-girl, with The Hubby and I at the center, we were satisfied. We realized, however, while we working on said table, that we'd be going through a whole lot of paper if we continued to scratch people out every time we wanted to make a shift. So we got out some Post-It notes and wrote everyone's name on a note.
Once the head table was completed, we tried to group our friends with common interests (friends seemed more manageable than our parents' friends). We set aside all of our the Post-Its with our freinds' names on them and tried to made lists of either 16 or eight people that would work. Some were simple; others not so much. In a few cases we mixed friends from a certain stage of his life (for example his college friends) with friends of that same stage of my life. In hindsight, we may have put too much emphasis on whether or not certain people would have enough fun at said table, but we just wanted to make sure that everyone enjoyed themselves as much as possible. Once we had our lists in place (about eight hours later), we sent them to both of our parents for approval. While we awaited their response, we walked to get our much deserved ice cream (OK, frozen yogurt, I did have a dress to fit into three weeks later), and tried to take our minds off of numbers and floor plans.
Once we had the OK from both parents, we wanted to get this whole process completely finalized. We already had the calligraphy slip of paper with each name in each luggage tag, so once we knew a table, The Fiance and I arranged the tags in order, wrapped tissue paper around them, and taped the stack together. That way, when our wedding planner went around the night before the wedding to set each place setting, she could simply unwrap the tags, slip the tag on the napkin, and go in order around the table. I lost The Fiance about halfway through Bride Wars (Lifetime was having a wedding movie marathon), but I stuck it through Father of the Bride and The Wedding Planner to finish.
Feeling rather smug that we finished this challenge well ahead of the wedding, I set the box aside ready to take on the next task. And that's when I learned my lesson. In theory, it's a great idea to do the seating arrangements three weeks before the wedding. In reality, however, taping together our table groupings with duct tape that early was perhaps a little optimistic. By the time our wedding week actually rolled around, I think I had to untape and retape those stacks about 10 times. We had a few couples who, at the last minute, weren't able to make it, so we had to do some shifting to keep the tables nearly filled. (Extra tip: We also built in two seats at the end of one of our 16s, just in case someone came that we weren't expecting or we somehow left someone off the list . . . thankfully we didn't.)
In the end, my advice to brides- and grooms-to-be is to be flexible with the seating chart and take everything with a grain of salt. I was incredibly concerned with whether or not everyone would be completely pleased with their table peers, and ultimately, with so much dancing and mingling that went on, there was little downtime for the guests. Also, to stay on task without creating too much extra work for yourself, sketch out a rough template of what you want a few weeks before the wedding, but know that changes are inevitable. Oh, and try to avoid pens, permanent markers, or duct tape. That's one lesson I learned the hard way.
Kara is a communications manager at U.S. Bank. See her engagement story.
Taylor is a magazine editor at MSP Communications. See her engagement story.
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