Organising the seating plan is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs of the wedding planning process; stressful to a point where many people leave it to the last possible minute to do. Get started early, and you can save yourself a whole lot of bother by following these guidelines: Ask for a floor plan Before you begin your seating plan, ask your venue for a floor plan. While you might not know exactly how many guests you will end up with a few months before the big day, you can still get started on a seating plan once you know how many people are invited. The floor plan should show you where the bar, stage, dancefloor, entrance and emergency exits are. You should also check if they have specific places to place the top table. From this you can get an idea of what tables will be moved for dancing (if any), what tables are nearest the bar and bathrooms and which are nearest the top table - this is a great way to get you started as you can focus on certain guests firstly such as close family and friends, people with special needs and perhaps a few guests who would be delighted to be so close to the bar! Putting it on paper There are many ways to lay out a seating plan - writing a list with a heading for each table number is perfect to give to your venue once you have finalised, but it is impossible to get it clear in your mind when you are preparing it. Get a large sheet of paper or cardboard and draw a diagram of the room with the right number of tables. Use slips of paper or post its to place each persons name around the corresponding table - this is great if you need to move people around or if you have cancellations. If you are tech-savvy, there are lots of fantastic programs online that allow you to create a seating plan and some venues even have software to help you with this based on their own floor plans. Try www.marthastewartweddings.com for a great, free seating plan tool. Help! Don't be afraid to ask for help - parents or in-laws can be great for assisting with this stressful job, often because they'll know older family members or neighbours better than you and can advise you of the guests who get on (and those who don't!) or if anyone is particularly elderly and will need ready access to fresh air or bathrooms. Know when to draw the line though - you don't want a situation where they start to dictate who sits closest to the top table while all of your friends get stuck in the back. The Kids are Alright If you are inviting children to the reception, think about whether you should seat them with their parents or all at one table together. If they are relatively close in age it may be practical to have a kids table - add a few little details such as colouring books, bubbles, eye spy games etc to keep them entertained and ask your venue to ensure they are fed first so that they don't get restless. On the other hand if there are some very young kids or babies attending it is sometimes best to leave them with their parents as they will know best how to deal with them if they get tired or cranky. Keep in mind you may know some family members or friends who wouldn't be very happy to be seated with a lot of children at their table - and if you do have a kids table try to steer clear of seating older teenagers with them as they can be offended by this! Friends These will make up the largest percentage of guests in most cases, so start by diving them into groups - work colleagues, school friends, college buddies etc. Don't be afraid to mix and match some groups to allow for mingling and new friendships - and maybe even some matchmaking! How to display your seating arrangements Once your seating plan has been finalised, ensure to get a typed copy of it to your venue as soon as possible. They will use this to set up your room on the day with the correct number of seats and will have copies on file to assist guests to their table on the night. Ensure your table plan is clearly displayed at the arrivals reception - whether you are preparing this yourself or if the venue is looking after it, it needs to be fully legible and in a big enough typeface for people to read easily. Escort cards are also becoming increasingly popular where your guests can find their name card on a table or tree display and tir table number will be marked on the back. This can also be incorporated with your favours, e.g. the escort card might be attached to a little jar of sweets or a candle that your guest can then take away with them.