Indian wedding photography and decor

How Do You Arrange Assigned Seating for an Indian Wedding Reception? A Detailed Review With Pros and Cons.

When you read the title of this article, it might seem like an odd (nerdy) topic to focus an entire article on table numbers and seating at an Indian wedding reception. But the reason I did anyway, is because this is one of the most socially impactful  and time consuming aspects of planning an Indian wedding.

Understandably, most couples don’t understand how important and time consuming it is, until they’re actually doing it for their own wedding.

So by addressing this now, my hope is you’re reading this before you’ve actually arranged seating for your own wedding or that of a friend or family member, and that the info in this article is helpful for you.

Topics Covered:

  • Different Ways to Arrange Table Numbers
  • Different Ways to Communicate Table Numbers
  • Best Practices
  • Worst Practices

{What Is Assigned Seating at an Indian Wedding Reception?}

Before we dive in, mean by I want to define what we mean by assigned seating. It’s when guests are assigned to a specific table name or number. Usually this practice is done at the reception only. In other words at the other wedding events where most guests are seated, such as the sangeet, the wedding ceremony, and lunch after the ceremony – at those events there is usually not assigned seating and guests are free to sit anywhere.

Receptions, however, are more formal events and one way to make that distinction is by assigning each guest to a particular table. There’s a social hierarchy to how guests are arranged at each table. In general, family and closest friends are seated towards the front — closest to the head table and the dance floor.

Below is a blueprint of the layout of a typical Indian wedding reception. Everything is centered around the head table and the dance floor.

{Why Bother With This At All? Why Not Just Let People Sit Anywhere?}

Because couples and their families like the formality of assigned seating. They’re happy everyone attended to celebrate them, and even more so having those they are closest to…close to the front. The other aspect is the social groupings. Most couples arrange table assignments based on groupings of how each guest is associated with the couple. For example:

  • Family
  • Undergrad friends
  • Grad school friends
  • Work friends
  • Friends from groups/associations
  • Family friends

You get the idea.

So it’s fun for the guests too, to sit with others they know. For singles it’s a great networking opportunity. How many times have we heard about a couple meeting at someone else’s wedding? Wouldn’t it be better to sit with other singles, your age, rather than a bunch of uncles and aunties? (No offense Uncles and Aunties). Without the ‘forced’ seating assignments, doing that independently – at an Indian wedding, where you might know a lot of people, could be pretty awkward. When you’re assigned to a table it’s completely natural to introduce yourself to the others sitting there too.


Side Story: Talk about knowing a lot of Uncles and Aunties at a wedding. I was recently at an Indian wedding; on the bride’s side – a college girlfriend. I happened to know a lot of Uncles and Aunties on the groom’s side. I was hanging out with my girls when I got stopped by a few Uncles. My girlfriends walked away and like 15 minutes later walked by again, to find me still talking to these Uncles. They were clowning me as they thought I was pitching them to invest in my company! They were actually all Uncles from the temple, whose kids are friends of mine. 🙂

ShaadiShop Founder, Samta talking to Uncles at an Indian wedding reception. Just catching up, not pitching them to invest. 🙂

 

{Assigning Tables Is A Lot of Work}

Having a formal sit down reception means a fair amount of work. What are the steps involved?

  1. Collect RSVPs from EVERY.SINGLE.PERSON.
  2. Once you have collected all of the RSVPs, figure out how many tables you need
  3. Then organize and group everyone that is attending into a spreadsheet
  4. Play with the groupings, and where they’ll sit – i.e. long table, round table, near the front, near the back.
  5. Assign tables for each person on a spreadsheet
  6. Now you have to translate that spreadsheet into something where each guest can find their table number. Do you use escort cards? Print out the spreadsheet and mount it somewhere?
  7. Print Table numbers that will be visibly displayed on each table.
  8. Best practice: be prepared for the unknown. More about that below.

Collecting RSVPs. South Asians are notoriously bad at RSVPing. Most people now collect RSVPs online which is efficient and low cost but often involves having to spend time following up with people to actually RSVP. So be forewarned – you will end up spending time collecting RSVPs.

How many tables do you need? Most venues have round tables that seat 8 to 10 guests each. There are some venues with tables for 12, but those tend to be fewer. Most often you see tables for 10. A common practice is to not only have round tables but rectangular (Kings) tables as well. Usually these are reserved for family and the wedding party or closest friends.

3D Sounds handled all of the lighting for their outdoor wedding reception in a tent.
Photo: Lin & Jirsa; Canopy: Bridal & Event Lounge

{Table Numbers vs. Table Names}

Naturally you want your wedding to be an expression of yourself and and a reflection of you and your love. One common way for couples to express themselves is by naming each table per a theme or something meaningful to the couple. So for example each table is named after a city or country they have visited. And that’s great! But our advice? Don’t express at the expense of the experience of your guests.

Imagine if guests are seated at the “Paris table” or the “Cape Town table”. They’re going to be wandering around the entire ballroom in search of their table. Instead, if you want to name each table then also number each table. And make sure the numbers are increasing, decreasing or there is some pattern that will make it easy for guests to find their table. On your wedding day, things will go so fast. You want to optimize for guests to get inside the ballroom > get seated ASAP, so that you can start the program. If you only name tables, without numbers, it’s going to cut time from your actual reception because it will take longer for guests to find their tables.

{Best Practice: Table Seating Assignments During Cocktail Hour}

As a best practice, make the table seating info available to your guests during cocktail hour. Some people only make the info available in-between cocktail hour and the reception, at the time while guests are transitioning from the cocktail hour to the ballroom for the reception. We don’t recommend this. It causes a major bottleneck. It’s much better to have the seating assignment info available during cocktail hour so guests have plenty of time to get the info and not everyone is looking for it at the same time.

{Best Practice: Alphabetize the Seating Chart}

Have you ever been to a wedding where the seating chart was arranged by table instead of alphabetically? This is not recommended. Guests take up several minutes searching the entire chart for their name. And since there’s only 1 chart for everyone – bottlenecks are bound to occur.

Yes, alphabetizing the chart is more work for you…but it’s worth it. If you were a guest at an Indian wedding with 500 guests and they presented the seating chart like the one below, by table number NOT alphabetized by name, then, they should make it a game…how fast can you find your name? Imagine yourself searching the entire chart. This example only has 16 tables. What if there were 50 tables that you had to look through one-by-one?

 

{Escort Card Styles}

I have seen it all – from literally a printed spreadsheet on a table, to beautifully decorated cards. At my wedding we text messaged everyone their table number. We still printed escort cards just in case someone didn’t have their phone.

This bride wanted a beach theme to her wedding and made these escort cards herself using a template she found.
Reception Escort cards that doubled as a gift that each guest was intended to keep. Photo: Wedding Documentary Photo + Cinema.

{Don’t Underestimate Time To Make Escort Cards or Charts}

You can buy templates and make them yourself or you can pay a service to make them. This couple had the chart mounted and displayed. Whatever you decide to do, leave yourself enough time to make them or have them made. Keep in mind that most venues want your final head count at least 1 week before the event. Your final headcount is the number of guests that you will be charged for, unless you go over on the actual day. If you go under on the wedding day, you’re still going to pay for those people because they were in your final count which is the number the venue uses for planning and prep.

Now it should all be coming together why it’s important to collect all of the RSVPs and to give yourself enough time to do everything that you need to do. And it’s not just about making the chart, but designing it as well. Notice in the seating chart below that the couple made a design of their initials and their names as well as included the names of each of their families.

I personally prefer escort cards rather than seating charts. I think they’re more elegant and I like that guests grab-n-go. No lingering over a chart to find your table number. Plus if you get a little tipsy during cocktail hour and forget your table number you’ve got your card. With a chart you have to schlep back over to the chart to find your name-table again.

Seating chart setup on easels at an Indian wedding in Newport Beach

{What About Table Numbers?}

There are lots of different ways to post table numbers on each table. Here are two common ways to do it, shown below. Either work with your decorator or make them yourself. The framed ones might be nice to DIY because then you’ll have a set of identical frames that you can use for wedding photos.

Some venues (few, but some) might even be able to provide table numbers.

 

Charger plates and table settings at an Indian wedding reception in Newport Beach

{Preparing for Unforeseen Circumstances}

What could unforeseen circumstances be? Here are some examples.

On my wedding day, four guests showed up that never RSVPd, whom we attempted to follow up with multiple times. Of course, we didn’t have them in our seating arrangement. But luckily we had designated an extra table for exactly this kind of scenario.

At another wedding, an Uncle was insulted that he was seated towards the back. He was getting upset and the wedding coordinator stepped in to handle the situation.

At another wedding, some guests lost their escort cards or forgot what table they were seated at. As the family members stood outside of the ballroom, welcoming guests as they fled in, members of the wedding coordinator’s team stood nearby with copies of the seating chart — in alphabetical order, ready to help.

At another wedding, there were mistakes, and not all of the escort cards had been printed. Unfortunately, they didn’t make the escort cards available during cocktail hour so they didn’t discover the issue until guests were already filing into the ballroom. In a panic, the couples cousins rallied and printed a few copies of the seating spreadsheet and were verbally giving table numbers to guests. This delayed the reception from starting, by about 40 minutes as there were more than 400 guests.

At an outdoor cocktail it was unexpectedly windy and some of the escort cards blew away. Luckily they had prepared an entire extra set.

{Ways To Go Above and Beyond}

Wedding planning tends to be all consuming. And, when you’re working full time and simultaneously wedding planning and managing all of the other aspects of your life, it’s difficult to conceive of doing more than the bare minimum. If you happen to be that rare couple that can do this, it would be very very cool. What am I referring to?

Educate. I recently went to an Indian wedding and there were guests from India who were attending their first Indian wedding in the USA. I met a young lady during cocktail hour who was confusedly looking between the table number on her escort card and the room where cocktail hour was setup. When she couldn’t find her table and saw that guests were setting their plates and glasses randomly at the nearest table, she thought that people just weren’t complying or following their table cards. She didn’t know what the escort card and number was for.

Why didn’t she know? Because assigned tables isn’t a thing at most weddings in India. This is a Western concept that’s been adapted to Indian weddings in the USA, Canada, Australia the UK etc. but it’s not a thing at most weddings in India.

Now of course you can say, people will figure it out on their own. But doesn’t it make you a super thoughtful host when you anticipate those kinds of things and do something about it ahead of time?

Indian Wedding 1st Timers. Similarly, my wedding, was the first Indian wedding of many of of my non-Indian friends. They really appreciated when I sent them an email ahead of time explaining:

  • what to wear – colors, styles, comfort
  • what to expect in terms of flow of the events
  • about the food (Indian, vegetarian, spiciness)
  • who they could contact the day of for questions
  • explaining no boxed gifts
  • decorum and length of the the ceremony (soft talking during the ceremony is generally accepted practice).

{Summary}

This article presented a detailed ‘how to’ guide for do assigned seating for an Indian wedding reception. I walked through all the steps involved, as I want couples and their families to really understand what goes on behind-the-scenes to make it all happen. Arranging assigned seating is time consuming and complex.

These are the 8 Steps:

  1. Collect RSVPs
  2. Figure out how many tables you need
  3. Organize and group guests
  4. Design a reception table layout
  5. Assign tables for each person on a spreadsheet
  6. Create a seating chart or escort cards
  7. Print Table numbers that will be visibly displayed on each table.
  8. Prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

All the best with the seating assignments for your wedding!

Samta Varia
Founder & CEO
ShaadiShop: Indian Wedding Venues

 

Cover image: Greycard Photography

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