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Wedding seating chart with flowers

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Wedding seating chart with flowers

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Set the foundation for your perfect Southern wedding

Throwing the perfect Southern wedding is traditionally your first foray into entertaining, so you'll want to make this a memorable one. This will introduce you, as a couple, to society — officially — as Mr. and Mrs. 

The first step to treating your guests to Southern hospitality is deciding who they will be, choosing the date of the most grand party you'll likely throw in your lifetimes, sending those invitations, then choosing where your guests will sit.

Makin' a list, checkin' it twice
You’ll need to consider who you would like present (or not present) when you proclaim your lifelong commitment to your future spouse. It’s helpful to reflect on each chapter of your life and who remains important to you, then add their name to your list.

Make note of any out-of-town guests on this list so that they may be considered for additional welcome gifts, a welcome toast or a post-wedding brunch, if applicable. For each guest, you will need his or her full name, the name of his or her spouse or live-in significant other, an up-to-date address and telephone number. You’ll need to become comfortable with color-coding and this is where that fun starts!

Formal wedding invitation suiteOnce you have tackled the task of compiling your drafted guest list, discuss who is essential. The number of guests who *must* be there is helpful in determining your budget and venue. The traditional expenses for the family of each party is extensive, so refer to the list here. In the simplest form, the bride’s family should cover the wedding reception, photographer, videographer and groom’s ring while the groom’s family should cover the rehearsal dinner, officiant’s fee, bride’s ring and honeymoon expenses.

Once you have an idea of your number of guests and what you’re able to allocate to the budget, you can determine your plus-one policy and then your venue as event spaces have capacity limits. In the most traditional Southern times, a “no ring, no bring” policy was most common, which meant that if the guest did not have a fiancé or spouse (someone with a ring) then they did not receive a plus-one to the wedding. In more modern times, this rule has become a little outdated, and it is now more common to include a date for any guests who are married, engaged or have a live-in significant other. Often, those in the wedding party have the option to bring a date regardless of this policy. Remember, as a guest it is never proper etiquette to ask for a plus-one if there is not one listed on your invitation — being presumptuous or arrogant is never polite.

Now it’s your turn to pop the question to your wedding party! When asking friends or family to be in your wedding party you’ll want to consider those whose wedding parties you’ve been in previously, your best friends and your siblings. It is proper form to ask your same-sex sibling to be your best man or maid/matron of honor assuming that you have a close relationship with that person. Considering the expenses that members of the wedding party traditionally pay for, you’ll want to ensure you’re close with each of the people you’re asking. It is, however, their responsibility to opt-out and always an option to do so in response to the proposal. A personalized gift such as a flask with initials alongside the title “groomsman” or a box filled with goodies, like luxury bath bombs, for your future ‘maids is common in modern times and makes those people feel special.

Save the date — and never be late!
When choosing the date of your big day, it’s crucial to consider your guest list first. Any rabid college football fans may not be thrilled at the prospect of a Saturday wedding in the fall. You’ll also want to consider any holiday weekends over which your wedding party may already have travel plans. Even more pressing, dates that may fall between 34 weeks and two months post-partum for any expectant mothers in the wedding party should be blacklisted if you’d like them to be able to attend.

Once you have dates in mind, consider the atmosphere you’d like on your big day — this will dictate your season and venue prospects. Have you always dreamed of a winter wedding with festive touches? A ballroom in December may be right up your alley. Meet your future spouse on spring break? Sounds like a wedding on the beach in April is right for you. The world is your oyster (literally) so if you’re into the idea of a destination wedding, feel free to get your adventure on. Make sure to consider any travel constraints for your *must be there* guests as well as the legality of the ceremony. After all, you’ll need to say “I do” in the States if you want it to be official.

When visiting venues and meeting with their staff, have a list of needs and wants on hand as well as your guest list. Consider transportation to the venue, and whether you’d like the ceremony to take place in a church then have the reception held at a nearby location. Take note of any gaps in time between that may occur due to your choices and arrange transportation for your wedding party if this is the case. 

Escort cards made from peachesSigned, sealed and delivered 
Assuming a one-year engagement, send save the dates 8 months ahead of your date and formal invitations 8 weeks in advance of your date. Tell the wedding party and anyone who you *need* to be there your date as soon as you have the venue contract signed.

Save the dates are announcements to your wedding guests to mark their calendars for the big day and often include a photo from the couple's engagement session or look similar to the formal invitations that follow. These allow for the greatest lead time but do not need to include the venue, time or dress code. Simply including the city that the wedding will be held will work well for save the dates. 

When addressing envelopes and formal wedding invitations, use titles for married couples and, traditionally, the first name of the husband, such as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe or Dr. and Mrs. John Doe. Make sure to spell out words like “Street.” If you’re short on space and are inviting an entire family, feel free to use “The Doe Family.” If you’re addressing an unmarried couple living together you should use “Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. John Doe,” and if adding a plus-one to an unmarried, non-co-habitating guest, you should use “Mr. John Doe and Guest.” Having proper etiquette is all about mindfulness so double-check that you’re 100 percent positive that the recipient of your invitation isn’t living with his or her significant other or engaged before you seal the envelope. 

Choosing an experienced calligrapher will help to ensure that formal wedding invitations are addressed according to proper etiquette. A wax seal with a customized stamp with your couple monogram is also a beautiful touch. Metallic ink can elevate an invitation for a formal wedding but is only appropriate on formal invitations, not save the dates. Include the dress code in small print in the bottom right of the formal invite or in another piece of matching stationary for discretion. 

Along with the formal invitation should be a RSVP card with a pre-stamped envelope and a tissue to separate the two. Additionally, if you’re including a printed map or additional details, it should match the formality of the other pieces in both weight, color and font.

No games of musical chairs allowed
Confirm (and confirm, and confirm again!) with all vendors and then get started on your seating chart. Review your confirmed guest list and start grouping couples together. Be conscious of who is friends with whom, or if you’d like to introduce certain people because you think they would get along well, this is the perfect opportunity to do so! Also keep in mind who you seat near the restrooms or the dance floor; Southern hospitality and etiquette is all about anticipating others' needs before they think of them. 

Depending on the type of dinner you are serving, different seating charts may be considered. If you are serving a plated dinner, a seating chart is essential for the servers to ensure the right dinner choice finds it home in front of your guest. If you are having stations (similar to a cocktail hour) with substantial options for dinner, like a shrimp and grits station, a healthy mix of high and low tables will suit the arrangement nicely — just ensure that there are 10 percent more seats than guests; guests typically do not sit next to people that they do not know and older guests will always want chairs available. Consider the method of eating each food item offered as well — can you hold a drink and eat a salad? That is some serious skill. If you're going the buffet route, both a seating chart and open seating can be appropriate. 

Taco stationPre-arranged seating can make the lives of your guests easier especially if not everyone knows each other. If you're making a seating chart, you'll want to include the chart at the front of your venue; this can be a wooden sign, acrylic sheet or a vintage mirror with calligraphy formal names listed alphabetically under each number. Each table should have a corresponding number. Alternatively, you can have escort cards displayed creatively on a table at the front containing the formal name of the guest and their table number. 

For your and your spouse’s seating arrangement, you’ll choose between a sweetheart table, being at a combined family table or sitting with your combined wedding party. This choice will depend on the size of your nuclear families combined as well as your wedding party. A sweetheart table affords you one-on-one time with your new spouse amid all the hustle and bustle of your wedding day and a more likely chance at actually eating the food!

You've taken the first steps to planning your wedding — congrats!

Next up: Southern wedding to-do's and traditions
Read up on engagements
Go back to the beginning


Photo credit (hero): Velvet & Twine Facebook
Photo credit (formal wedding invitation suite: Shine Wedding Invitations Facebook
Photo credit (peach escort cards): Tara Guerard Soiree Facebook
Photo credit (taco bar): Green Wedding Shoes Facebook


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Lindsay Davis is the Digital Audience Development Specialist at Southern Kitchen. She is the czar of all things content distribution with a background in digital marketing and analytics. She has worked with brands including StarbucksVeuve Clicquot and Florida Department of Citrus. A native of the Empire of the South itself, proud former Georgia Bulldog and American University alumna, she returned to Atlanta after exploring her education and career (and the food scenes) in Washington, DC and New York City with a fresh perspective on life and dining.

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