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Top Table Dilemmas – Family Issues

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a young lady planning a wedding will have to make a seating plan sooner or later. I bet even Elizabeth Bennett, on marrying Mr Darcy, had to attend to the delicate task of arranging her colourful family around Mr Darcy’s frightfully posh relations.

Let two things be said right away – first, you must always remember you just can’t please everyone. Second, there is no room for conflict at your wedding and therefore your decision is final. No matter how much your relatives moan about their top table placement or non-placement, you have to develop nerves of steel for just one day, and stick to your seating plan with your groom firmly behind you. It’s the only way – it’s your wedding after all, nobody else’s.

Image by Julie Cummins Photography

Wedding family problems

Curiously, family problems come out of the woodwork as soon as wedding planning gets underway. They range from siblings not getting along to father-has-remarried-twice-still-friends-with-both-ex-wives-who-hate-your-mother-but-want-to-come-to-wedding-anyway scenarios. Then there are the in-laws with their own unique selection of problems. You are a blessed bride indeed when all your relatives get along splendidly and the top table takes five minutes to arrange.

Remember those two things I said just above – about not pleasing everyone and having it your way? Just keep repeating them to yourself in moments of doubt. A wedding is meant to be a joyful occasion.

Image by Michelle Prunty Photography

Wedding top table solutions

You probably didn’t know there are some brilliant solutions to top table family problems. Well, the good news is that there are several options, one of which may just work for you perfectly. Please remember – a traditional top table is NOT a requirement, you do NOT have to stress yourself over whether divorced parents will give each other the look of death or frosty silence over the entrée.

Here are some top table solutions you may consider:

A sweetheart table – probably the best-known alternative option. This is a top table for the bride and groom only and it fits with every kind of wedding. Often it’s a great solution for a room where tables may be difficult to arrange. The fabulous thing about sitting a deux is that you get to spend some lovely moments with your groom having your meal together, without distractions or worries that something is going on at the other end of the table. It also gives you a welcome breather and a bit of space to move around. Definitely consider this option. The rest of your bridal party and your families will sit at tables closest to yours, and you’ll have many more chairs to arrange them artfully around to avoid any conflicts.

Image courtesy of

Top table for the bridal party only – this is you, the groom, the bridesmaids and the groomsmen. That’s all – no warring families. The parents will, as in the scenario above, sit at tables nearest to top table. This option is also great when your top table has a very restricted number of seats and cannot be expanded to include more people. Usually you would sit in the middle and alternate girl-boy-girl-boy for the rest. Another version of this table is bride and groom with the best man and chief bridesmaid only. This option is also great because the rest of the bridal party can be mixed up with the families at nearest tables and chances are they already know each other anyway!

Image by Linda Clarke Photography

Horseshoe table – if the space at your venue allows it, have a top table arranged in a U shape on the most convenient side of the room, as wide as possible. You sit in the middle at the top of the U, bridesmaids and groomsmen nearest, and then the two families at the angled ends. This solution is great because you could apply tradition here and mix up the families together so they can mingle and get to know each other better while avoiding any issues.

Long banqueting tables – this solution allows you to forget a top table altogether (it’s also perfect for brides who don’t want any seating plan at all, the guests can sit wherever they want). Banqueting tables are long tables that have settings placed on both sides, so the bride and groom aren’t isolated from the rest of the guests. They can still have the families and the bridal party sitting close to them, but a long table allows for placing the guests in many places including facing the bride and groom. Any warring family members could be seated with several guests between them. Yes it is true that some of the guests will sit with their backs to the bride and groom for a part of the reception, but this isn’t as big a problem as you may think. Even at round tables some guests still sit with their backs to the bride and groom, and besides it’s only for the mealtime. You are probably planning on marking your rounds to chat to everyone anyway, so don’t worry about this at all.

Image by Studio33Weddings

Parents at own tables – you may have heard of a concept of “hosting” a table at a wedding. It simply means that one person is effectively a head of that table, for example pouring the wine, or in charge of the games etc. This person could also be your mother or the groom’s father! It works like this – you take any top table arrangement you like, and designate the two tables nearest to the top table as “special” tables. These tables will be the domains of your families. You can keep it strictly family only, or you can mix in some neutral guests, whatever you feel is best. The parents who sit at these tables will be technically the hosts, that is by virtue of being related to you they will be sort of in charge. If anyone mentions them in a speech they can stand up and smile, or wave, or bow or anything else they feel comfortable with, this way they’ll be recognised for being special guests at your wedding. They do not need to sit at the same table as you if they can’t put their differences aside for your special day.

Round table in the middle – another version of the banqueting tables above if your venue only has round tables is to have the bride and groom sitting at a round table in the middle of the reception room with anyone they wish (bridal party, siblings, even flower girls and their mothers), while their families sit at various tables nearest. Sample scenario – if your parents are divorced and both bringing their new partners, they will sit at tables closest to you but on opposite sides of your table.

Image by Aspect Photography

Do you have a family top table scenario causing you stress? Leave us a comment and let us know – perhaps one of these ideas will be perfect?

Main image by Tara Aherne Photography

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Rachel Green

Rachel Green

If you think the bride should always have the last word, then Rachel is on your side! A devoted fan of everything quirky, unusual, colourful or crafty, she loves scouting WOL's real weddings for unique and fun touches. When not gazing at pictures, she's dispensing no-nonsense advice on everything from reception entrance songs to bridesmaid problems.
Rachel Green

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