Choosing Your Head Table Style
Updated: Apr 23
Before I got involved in the wedding industry, I always assumed there was only one kind of head table at wedding receptions. You know the one I’m talking about, with the couple in the center, flanked by their party, everyone facing out toward the guests.
In case you’re where I was just a few years ago, I’m taking a moment today to let you know there are other options. So many other options! We’ll go over a few of them today, including the advantages and drawbacks of each. But don’t let us stifle your creativity. Like anything at your wedding, your head table should aid in telling a story to your guests. There are no rules here, and you should feel free to create a head table that is uniquely yours.
Traditional Head Table
Due to its traditional nature, this was the head table seen in nearly every wedding before 2010. As I described above, the bride and groom are seated together, members of their respective parties to either side, with everyone facing the guests.
The traditional style is great for many reasons. Your guests will see you and your party throughout the reception (and you’ll see them right back). Your photographer and videographer can easily capture images of your faces. And when your honor attendants stand for their toasts, they’ll already be right there next to you.
With this layout, however, your party members will not be able to sit with the spouses or dates, which can be particularly distressing if that date doesn’t know anybody else at the wedding. “That’s my girlfriend sitting up there,” doesn’t necessarily make for the best conversation starter. Also, you’ll only be utilizing half of each table, meaning you’re ultimately paying for additional tables, linens, decorations, and centerpieces. Finally, if you have a large party, say 10 on each side, you’ve got to have a venue that will fit 22 seats side by side.
Who am I to call it a pro or a con, but the traditional head table can sometimes feel like a barrier between you and your guests, almost like there’s an invisible wall between you.
A King’s Table is a lot like a traditional head table but invites spouses of your party members to join you for the meal. As with the traditional arrangement, the newlywed couple will be surrounded by their party members on the sides, but the party members’ dates will be seated across from them.
To create a King’s Table, you’ll want to use at least a 42” wide rectangular table, so there is plenty of space for food, place settings, and decor. If you want to create even more space, put two 30” tables together to create a 60” wide table.
A King’s table can create an interesting focal point for your wedding reception and addresses the spouse/date and invisible barrier issues I mentioned with a traditional arrangement.
While it’s possible to some costs with this seating arrangement, you will likely need to rent more (or bigger) linens, so your savings could be minimal.
Often used interchangeably with the aforementioned King’s Table, I like to differentiate the two. A harvest table uses the same layout as a King’s Table, but rather than significant others sitting across from the wedding party, they’re sat side by side around the table. For example, your honor attendant might be seated to your right, followed by their spouse, then another member of your party, and so on.
The significant advantages to this setup are that 1) there won’t be any awkward gaps or feelings of exclusion for members of your party who didn’t bring a date, and 2) you’ll have the opportunity to face and speak with some of your party members while you eat.
The primary drawback here is that since you probably didn’t tell your party’s dates what to wear, they won’t necessarily be matching, so getting head table photos with perfectly coordinated colors isn’t likely to happen.
The sweetheart table has risen steadily in popularity over the years. The couple sits alone together as the focal point of the reception, and the party finds their seats at regular guest tables.
If you want to be the very center of attention at your wedding, want a little bit of alone time with your new spouse, don’t want to spend a bunch of money on head table linens and centerpieces, or your venue is too small to accommodate a large table for your full party, this may be the right way to go.
But if you’re shy and don’t like the idea of having a constant spotlight on you while you’re shoving chicken into your face or guests walking up to you to chat during dinner, this may not be the best option for you.
Weddings are often about bringing two families together. Why not sit with your immediate family? A family table is usually the same size and shape as other guest tables, may or may not be set as the main focal point in the room, and allows you and your new spouse to enjoy dinner with your parents, siblings, and new in-laws.
Family style tables will save space in your reception hall and are ideal if family is significant to you or if you don’t want all eyes on you at your reception.
I won’t spend too much time on the disadvantages of a family style table. If you don’t want one, it’s likely that you really don’t want one. Also, it can be more difficult for your photographer to capture excellent images of you during dinner and toasts.
While it doesn’t quite fit the definition of a “head” table (which you place at the “head” or focal point of the room), a courtyard is a large square table in the center of your reception hall and can make a big statement at your wedding. Other than the couple, it may include your party members, immediate family, extended family, or anybody else you’d like.
If you want to break from trends and do something different that has a giant impact on the look and feel of your wedding reception, a courtyard table is an excellent way to do it.
On the other hand, courtyard tables tend to have a high cost, take up a lot of space, and place you in the center of the action, where all of your guests have easy and immediate access to you throughout your reception.
Like some aspects from more than one of these table arrangements? By all means, you can include elements from several (or all, or none) of them when planning your head table. At my wedding (pictured here), my wife and I had a sweetheart table, and about four feet to our sides were two mini king’s tables with the members of our wedding party and their dates.
It’s important to remember to choose the head table style that works best for you and helps tell your story. That said, there are some logistical questions you need to ask yourself:
1) Will this fit in my venue?
Your venue or wedding planner can help you draft a layout to make sure everything fits, includes ample space for you and your guests, and meets fire code requirements.
2) Does anybody in my party have a spouse?
If everybody in your party has a spouse, that may impact your head table decision. If all but one of them has a spouse, that could also have an impact. If you love your friend but think the person they’re dating is gross, that could certainly make a difference.
3) Does anybody in my party have a child?
Imagine that one of your party members has a toddler. They may not feel comfortable leaving them to sit alone at a guest table. And if someone in your wedding party is a single parent with an infant, there’s a good chance that baby will either be joining you at the head table or your party will be seated at guest tables.
It’s a good practice to ask any of your party members with children what their preferences are before choosing a head table type. While you don’t have to accommodate them, it’s still good to consider their requests.
Want to do something different?
I’d love to hear your ideas for other head table setups! Drop a line in the comments below!