Is partial seating ok when planning a wedding reception?


We are planning a simple, rustic, DIY winter wedding this December, and our venue is a barn that can seat a maximum number of 90 people. Our guest list is 125, so it’s possible that we may have slightly more than the max # that can be seated at once, especially if we want to have any room for dancing.

The solution we came up with was to have a cocktail style reception with a light buffet dinner that people can eat while mingling, and to provide tables and chairs to accommodate around 75 or 80 people, as well as four or so standing cocktail tables. That way, elderly people, those with children, and others who want to can have a place to sit and relax, while others can stand and mingle with their food. We’ll be serving a rustic french spread of hearty soups (in mugs so that people can carry them), fine breads and cheeses, finger foods, charcuterie, etc. My fiance and I plan to “set the example” at the reception by standing and mingling with our guests, rather than parking ourselves somewhere.

Do you think this is an amenable solution, or do you think it’s imperative that we have a chair for everyone at once? If the guests who attend aren’t over 90 people, then we could probably provide seating for everyone and then have a transition time to move some tables before the dancing begins.

Thank you for your help!

Jay Remer, The Etiquette Guy, International Protocol and Corporate & Social Etiquette

I think your solution is spot on. I agree with you that a chair for everyone is unnecessary. I would advise that you have at least four waiters to keep up with stray toothpicks, glasses, requests, etc. It is also appropriate that you and your spouse mingle so that you can see each guest. As the evening progresses, older guests will likely retire; chairs and tables can be removed; dancing can have more space. Hope you have a great time!

Rebecca Black, Etiquette By Rebecca

The main rule is that as hosts, we host our guests. This means that we attend to their comfort and needs. My first thought is that you would want a chair for everyone, as people would want somewhere to sit if eating and to rest. But, if most of the items you are serving will be food your guests can carry, it might not be a problem. There is the issue with eating and drinking at the same time, though, especially during a reception–eating and drinking tends to be a focus. So, adding tables on which your guests may set their drinks might help with this issue.

Bottom line: you know your guest well. You will probably know those who will be more likely to be socializing, mingling, and dancing during the entire event. So, after scrutinizing your plan very carefully, while adding in the fact that there will be some without seats most of the evening, you feel confident that no one will be uncomfortable, then go for it. 🙂 As a good host, you wouldn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable.

Donna, Wedding Queen, President; Top Wedding Sites

Go over your guest list to acertain the percentage of elderly or handicapped guests. If few to none then you’re probably fine.


Thank you so much for your feedback! We won’t have many elderly or handicapped guests, so hopefully everyone will be comfortable. We will make sure we have enough tables (both dinner and cocktail tables) so that everyone can find a place to set things down if they need, and we will be sure to move around the room and greet everyone.

I really appreciate your thoughtful responses. This is a great website!