Confused about seating cards? You are not alone! Here's a quick reference guide to the most common types, along with some etiquette tips and display ideas.
SEATING CARDS: This is the overall name for the category. Both escort cards and place cards are types of seating cards.
ESCORT CARDS: These cards tell your guests which table to sit at. They include guest name and table number/name. You can have a card for each guest or include couples on the same card. They can also indicate entree choice for the catering staff (if that's the case, you'll need one card for each guest). Escort cards are usually displayed at the entrance to the reception. Styles range from simple flat or tented cards to luggage tags, rocks or leaves, miniature chairs, fruit, flowers, and the list goes on. It's nice if they coordinate with your reception colors and theme. Some couples personalize their favors to double as escort cards.
ESCORT CARD DISPLAYS: Beautifully printed escort cards laid out simply on a table look great, especially if you add some flowers or other decor items. But if you want to jazz it up a little, there are tons of creative ideas out there. Tack down rows of ribbon on a table or an upright board and slip your cards underneath. You can use wooden shutters, boxes of beads or grass, string them on a line with clothespins, cut slits in corks or pine cones, use a magnetic board, or hang them on streamers from a tree branch. Whatever display you choose, keep guest convenience top of mind: make sure the cards are in alphabetical order and easy to get to without bottlenecks. If you are displaying them outside or in a doorway, don't forget to secure them from wind gusts!
PLACE CARDS: These cards tell your guests which seat to take at the table and can also be used to indicate entree choice for the catering staff. You'll need one for each guest. Place cards are displayed on or near the plate at each setting. If you're using place cards, you can choose to also have escort cards - or you can direct your guests to their tables with a seating chart at the reception entrance. The use of place cards can signal a more formal reception - but they can also be used for more casual receptions that are small enough that guests don't need escort cards or a seating chart to find their tables.
SEATING CHARTS: A seating chart can be used instead of escort cards to tell guests where to sit. It can be a list of guest names, grouped by table number/name. It can also be a diagram, indicating seating assignments plus table locations, which can be helpful at large receptions. Some couples opt for seating charts as an eco-friendly alternative to paper escort cards. Your chart can be printed, handwritten on glass or chalkboard, calligraphed, framed - as simple or elaborate as you like. Just make sure it's guest-friendly, in other words easy to read.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? As with most modern wedding etiquette, yesteryear's wording "rules" are optional. How you format guests' names on your seating cards is really a matter of personal taste, although most couples like to have their formality or informality match the overall style of the wedding. Typically, the use of titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss) signals a more formal wedding style. But first and last names only is perfectly acceptable for any style if that's what you prefer. Be sure to get the names of all the "plus-ones" on your list - it's a generally agreed no-no to say "and guest."
IS ASSIGNED SEATING REALLY NECESSARY? Yes (in my humble opinion and that of most wedding professionals). When you're stressing out at the eleventh hour trying to put the delicate seating puzzle together, you might be tempted to give up and let everyone wing it. While this might work for some people, it is guaranteed to be uncomfortable for many. Hang in there. Not only will you save your guests from school cafeteria awkwardness, but by intentionally grouping people based on knowing them, you just might spark new friendships - and who knows, even new romance (that said, please forgo the dreaded "singles" table!). One exception: if your reception is tiny and everyone truly knows (and loves) everyone, let them mingle and mix and sit where they will.