Below are some traditional suggestions that we are happy to share with you, and that may add that little something extra to your special day and help you timescale some of your planning.
Generally the receiving line is formed immediately following the ceremony or at the beginning of the reception. You'll want to take spatial constraints into consideration when choosing where to line up so that family and bridal party members aren't standing on top of each other and guests have room to move in a smooth, orderly procession (which in turn makes the line go faster so you can all get on to the party).
Traditionally, the bride's parents -- as hosts -- head the receiving line and are first to greet guests, followed by the bride and groom and then the groom's parents. Many lines we've seen also include the entire bridal party (if there's room), and sometimes even grandparents (if they're able). Today, however, with more couples contributing to or paying for their own weddings, the lines have blurred (so to speak). The couple may wish to stand alone, especially if the majority of guests are their friends, or they may stand with just the moms while the dads circulate among and welcome the crowd during the cocktail hour.
The wedding party is usually seated at a long table with seats down one side. This is called the 'top table' or 'head table'.
Who to put on the top table can be a sensitive issue, especially if the parents of the bride or groom have divorced and remarried. Make sure you resolve any such issues long before the wedding day.
There are many different ways to organize a wedding top table, but traditionally:
A typical example is shown below, but you should do what feels right for you.
For a second marriage you may wish to seat children of the first marriage on the top table.
If the parents of the bride or groom have divorced and remarried it probably isn't a good idea to put them and their new partners together on the top table. One solution is to invite some family of the step-parent and put them together on a separate table near the top table.
If you are worried that someone might feel left out because they aren't on the top table, ask them to "host" one of the other tables. Make it clear who is hosting each table on the seating chart. This will help them to feel involved.
If the parents of the bride and groom are not in the wedding party they should be seated on the table nearest the top table.
It is becoming fashionable in some quarters to have the bride and groom at their own table (for example David and Victoria Beckham). This is also referred to as a "sweetheart table". This can be useful for bypassing issues about who should be on the top table.
Some couples opt not to have a top table at all, but to have two free seats at each table so they can mingle during the meal. This is a nice idea, but it does mean that two guests at each table will be seated next to empty seats for much of the reception.
Before you can arrange your seating plan you need to know how many guests are coming. You can confirm numbers by sending out RSVPs. Typically RSVPs are sent out at least a month before the event. Your RSVP should make clear:
RSVP cards often include a space for the guest to fill-in and return.
You should always include a date by which people must reply, otherwise some people may decide to leave it to the day before the event. Chase up stragglers with a phone call once the reply deadline has expired.
If it is an important event and you want to warn people to keep the date free long before you send out RSVPs, you can send 'save the date' cards.