Q.: Karen, our daughter is getting married and we are having a sit-down dinner at the reception. Should we do individual name cards at each place for our guests, or would assigning tables be adequate?
A.: Place cards or table assignments at a wedding can be very helpful for the flow of guests being seated. They also can mix people up a bit or put people together who know each other or who are related. That is the choice of those hosting the reception. But do give some thought as to who sits with whom, for maximum enjoyment and comfort for your guests. This does take time and you need to know who all is coming, so be sure to put your RSVP date far enough out so you aren't doing table assignments at the last minute.
At weddings, doing table assignments is often adequate, especially for large groups. A small guest list would be a little easier to manage with individual seating place cards. Be sure to have a master board close to the entrance but out of the way enough so it doesn't obstruct traffic flow. Some people have small cards in envelopes with all of the guests' names on them with their table number inside the envelope on a table near the door. The staff at the reception place should have some suggestions as to how it works best in their facility.
Another time place cards are helpful is in meetings or training sessions when everyone does not know each other. Put attendees' names on both sides of the place card or tent card. This allows everyone facing the front of the room to see the names, but it also allows the trainer or speaker or people across the table to see the names. In business settings, I recommend printing names from your computer or having them done at an office supply store that offers printing services on the cards instead of hand-writing them. Make the printing large enough to be seen by others. At social functions consider hand calligraphy or the same printing that was used addressing the invitations.
An important etiquette point about place cards for the guest or attendee is not to switch them out so you can sit with someone else. That would be an insult to your host.
Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. To submit questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.