To seating plan, or not to seating plan, that is the question.
The second most important piece of advice I give to my Brides and Grooms is this; if you are going to follow a traditional seating plan, make sure it is completed at least a month before the wedding. I know that nobody ever follows this; it's the one thing that tends to keep anxious Brides and Grooms awake the week before the wedding. If we’re honest it is a bit of a chore - at best a little dull, certainly not a patch on cake tasting, and at worst the subtle art of manoeuvring the politics of a modern family can be a logistical nightmare. As a planner I’m happy to assist with whatever tasks you need, but this really is one of the times you really do have to grit your teeth and get it done, I’m afraid.
A good tip is to use post it notes with guests names on, for ease of change and an A2 sheet of card with your table shapes wether banquet or rounds. If you’re having a top table start there, as decisions about who will join you there, should inform who goes on the tables closest to you.
Communication is key - if you do have family members that are not on good terms, be honest with them about seating arrangements well before the wedding. If you have too many parents and step-parents to fit comfortably on your top table, it might be worth considering seating other members of your Bridal Party with you - best man, maid of honour and their partners. Or seating all the groomsmen and bridesmaids there, so there is no favouritism shown to parents.
Abandoning a traditional seating plan can be lovely, especially in less formal settings, but a word of advice; some older guests may appreciate a reserved area away from entertainment, or on a table that will not be moved after the wedding breakfast. Same goes for casual seating; if you're dining on hay bales, don't forget a few cushions for those who could use a little extra comfort - after all what Nana doesn’t love to be treated like the VIP she is?
Similarly please, please remember to save seats for yourselves; if you’ve gone to the trouble to plan a fabulous wedding you will definitely want to sit with your beloved to have a bite to eat! You’ve earned it! Such a simple thing, and you don’t need to adhere to the rules of the top table, but find a couple of seats where you’ll have a great view of all the special people in your lives who are there to celebrate with you.