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It’s in the Cards

Virginia Perry, Catering Sales Manager for the Hilton Garden Inn of Fairfax, knows a thing or two about weddings. She’s handled hundreds of them and has some great advice on seating your guests – and keeping your sanity …

Brides often question the need for place cards. Look at it this way … you should be concerned with them only if you want to keep your sanity!  Place cards and escort cards are important parts of the wedding planning process. These cards enable ease of event flow, as well as accountability for your dinner service.   

Utilizing a good organization system with your invitations and RSVP cards aids in seating strategies – an Excel spread sheet can be your best friend. Keep columns for guest information, response return, table assignment, meal selection and gift/thank you cards. 

Placed in the arrival area of your reception venue, escort cards – or an escort chart – simply state the guests’ name and their table number assignment. Be creative with your escort cards – use personal touches with picture frames, candy bars or kissing bells. Displaying these cards (or chart) eases confusion when guests are entering the ballroom and looking for their seats. Provided at individual table settings, place cards should have the guest’s meal choice listed for the serving staff. Place cards can also be creatively designed to incorporate a wedding’s theme and colors. 

Table card setting by White Pumpkin. Image by Two Fourteen Photography.
Table card setting by White Pumpkin. Image by Two Fourteen Photography.

Assigned seating at your reception helps control the “flow” of your event – logistics of movement, room access, and seating “tiers”.  Establishing VIP tables near your head table helps with the age old problem, “Who’s In and Who’s Out”.  Be mindful of including/excluding “significant others” of the bridal party. Assigned seating eliminates the old “high school cafeteria anxiety” when guests are entering the ballroom, not sure what group of people at what table is going to welcome them warmly.

Through assigned seating, you establish the space for guests in relation to the view of the bridal party, access and view of the cake table, and access to the food and beverage stations. It gives you control of the ballroom’s elegance. Clear direction produces an elegant event, whereas confusion spreads like wildfire. And assigned seating and place cards also allow for personalized favors/gifts.

 When assigning seating, remember to keep elder guests away from loud speakers and handicapped guests close to the exit doors to allow ease of movement. The best practice when assigning seats for children is to keep them near their parents, although a “kids table” is common. Remember to keep your high-energy guests near the dance floor to respond to the DJ. They will be the more likely guests to respond when the DJ drops a beat and encourage other guests to join the dance floor.

 Don’t let guests dictate their “seating preferences”. Allowing guests to pick their own seating (open seating) means you lose control and guests will generally take twice as long to sit down, delaying your dinner service. Open seating also inevitably produces disorganization with family groupings. When the last guests enter the ballroom and look for available seating, they are forced to “fill in wherever” and are not guaranteed that their family will be able to sit together. And don’t forget – your bridal party will be the last guests to enter the ballroom and be seated. If their seats are not reserved, your bridal party might end up filling in back/corner tables or any seats that are open. 

At the table, place cards are essential for plated dinner service. For a pre-ordered dinner, the meal choice must be displayed on the place card. This can be achieved with a color coded sticker, gem, stamp, picture or written word. It’s essential for the serving staff to identify the meal needed for each guest – and it prevents the server from having to interrupt your guests’ conversations. Having the meal choice displayed on your place cards also ensures the correct meals are served to each guest, preventing guests from changing their preference on the spot and taking from someone else’s assigned meal.

By starting your seating organization early in the planning process, you’ll be able to budget earlier – and better – for your centerpieces, chair covers and sashes, and table linens, as you will have a more realistic idea of how many tables and chairs you need. And tables do not have to be set for the same number of guests. It’s fine for one table to have eight guests while the next table has 10 and this flexibility will help you “combine” groups of guests.

When it comes to writing escort and place cards, it is a matter of tradition vs. practicality. Recently weddings have strayed from the traditional to make way for personalized touches. Here are some helpful tips:

 * Display escort cards or list names on an escort chart in alphabetical order, not grouped by table.

 * Keep consistency in your format. Either list married couples, as well as families, together on one card, or create a card for each individual guest. And either list each guest’s first and last name, or just stick to last names.

 * For a married couple with a hyphenated last name on one escort card, put the hyphenated spouse first.  For example: Mrs. Samantha Taylor-Jones and Mr. Robert Jones.

 * When it comes to an attendee “and guest” you may list the escort card as Mr. Robert Jones and Guest. Do not list GUEST of Robert Jones on an escort card alone, as the guest may not find their card. And try to get the names of your attendees’ guests if possible, as you’ll need them for place cards.

 * Place cards are individually made for each guest, listing their full name and meal choice if applicable, and placed at each guest’s seat.

 And remember, even in a formal setting, you can still create an escort card written as “Grandma” to show terms of endearment.

 To schedule your tour of the Hilton Garden Inn Fairfax with Virginia and to learn more about the property, call 703.667.9363 and visit

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