Keeping everybody happy as you put them in their place.

Creating a seating chart for wedding guests ought to be simple enough -- after all, we’re just talking about tables, chairs, and people here. And if you’re lucky enough to be hosting a big, jolly group of family and friends that’s easy- going and ready to party, seating might be a non-issue. If you’re like many brides-to-be, though, seating can turn into a real headache, especially if you have bitter divorced parents, family factions that don’t get along, and single guests who don’t know anyone. You want everybody to have a great time, so how do you avoid awkwardness at your beautifully appointed tables?

- Consider open seating. Letting guests sit where they will eliminates the hassle of mapping out tables, and it might be just fine depending on the size and style of your event. But be warned that some guests don’t like this arrangement, especially shy ones; it might feel like the middle school cafeteria all over again. Open seating
can also prompt other problems, like guests losing their seats when they go to refresh their drinks -- or guests left with nowhere to sit because tables look full, with a purse or jacket on every other chair. If you do opt for open seating, it’s smart to have extra chairs, and to at least keep special spots reserved for elderly or disabled guests.

- Don’t do a traditional head table. “It is becoming much more common these days for the bride and groom to have a ‘sweetheart table’,” says Jenna Knauf, wedding planner with Bella & Co. in Rochester, NY. “Most couples opt for the sweetheart table and then place their bridal party at the tables surrounding them along with their guests.” This eliminates the dreaded scenario where the wedding party is sitting together at a dais while their dates are assigned to random tables with strangers.

- Eliminate “sides.” You don’t need to have a bride’s side and a groom’s side at the ceremony or the recep- tion. It’s just fine to mix people up, and this will help curtail awkwardness if, say, the bride has a much larger family than the groom.

- Your guest list probably contains a few people who don’t know anyone else and don’t seem to be a natural fit with any group. But try to avoid just throwing people together -- guests will know if they’ve been placed at the “leftovers” table. “Seating strangers together is a personal choice,” says Jenna, and “if you do your homework and sit like- minded people together ... then you might just spark some new friendships.”

- If you or your fiancé have divorced parents who can’t stand each other but who will both expect prime real estate next to the bridal couple, talk openly with all involved, well in advance. Jenna suggests sitting down with each side separately and sharing your vision for your wedding day; the bridal couple should try to “be heart- felt and honest. In every case my clients have done this they have resolved any issues that could have arisen.”

- Don’t stress too much. After dinner, guests will get up, dance and mingle.