Groom’s side/Bride’s side vs. Intermingled Seating at Weddings

Intermingled Seating

Choosing the right arrangements for seating at weddings can be one of the most stressful things for a bride to do. Should you go with a traditional bride/groom side or an intermingled side? And what if the families don’t get along? Listen as Maureen Woodman and Norman Lemcke walk you through all of these crises and more.

John: Hi I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Maureen Woodmen and Norman Lemcke wedding planners and coordinators for on and off-site catered events at the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about groom’s side and bride side versus intermingled sitting at weddings. Welcome, Maureen and Norman.

Maureen: Hi John. Thanks for having us.

Norman: Hi John. Thanks.

Bride’s side vs. Groom’s side

John: Sure. First, we’re going to talk about wedding ceremonies. Maureen, when you go into a wedding ceremony and you’re first getting seated, traditionally there’s a groom’s side and a bride’s side. Which one is which?

Maureen: Traditionally, if you’re looking at the bride and groom, the bride is going to be on the left and the groom is going to be on the right. You’ll also have some stadium-style seating. Imagine it’s the church but you’re outside on a lawn, or you’re at a beach or on a cliff somewhere. Traditionally, the groomsmen would be the ushers. I think Norman’s going to talk a little bit about that we’ve definitely seen a change there, and you would escort the people on the side where they’re supposed to be. The first question you would say is, “Are you with the bride or the groom?” It would go that way. We are seeing a little bit of a change where people are starting to intermingle.

John: What happens in the situation where maybe not a family member or a friend and you’re a friend of both the bride and the groom? Do you just choose whichever side?

Maureen: Well, I think you’re going to fall into a situation there where you fill in the blank chairs. But probably, I would say, depending on whom you’re better friends with, and again you could have the situation with a couple where she’s friends with the bride, he’s friends with the groom and they started to go out with each other because of the couple. Maybe you would sit more where you feel comfortable or really with there’s just an open seat.

John: Norman, do we ever see situations where maybe one family is bigger than another and you end up with a ton of people over on one side, and not so many people over on another side? What do you do in that kind of situation?

Norman: Of course. I mean every family is different. That’s why I like the intermingling part of it, because everyone fills in seats as Maureen said. But it doesn’t matter if your groom’s side, there’s no division really. If you’re friends with the groom, you’re friends with the bride; you sit wherever you want just to show support. A lot of weddings are going that way.

They usually leave the first couple rows reserved for family members. But even then, if you have a small family you don’t have someone sitting in the front rows. You don’t want it to look empty. Even if the rest of the rows are full, it still looks empty with the first rows.

John: Maureen, Norman brought up a good point which is that normally you’d reserve those first couple of rows for family members and people know that. You had an interesting situation happen recently with a wedding like that. What happened?

Maureen: I just happened to go to a family wedding, and we were guests of the groom’s side. I walked in, and party was around 150 people. I think, even like just thinking of this as we’re going through, one of the things that’s totally different is a church does have multiple seats and multiple pews. No matter how many people they have there’s more.

John: There’s more than enough seating for everybody.

Maureen:  At the Essex Room, and all these other venues that are doing onsite ceremonies now, they’re actually doing chair count to guest count. For example, if there’s 150 people there’s only 150 chairs, and that’s based on price. One of the things you pay for when you pay for an on-site ceremony is that they charge you for your chairs. They charge you for chairs set up, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in there that you should look at. Actually, I’m thinking now while we’re doing this if I was a bride I would say, “You know what I want 10% more chairs because I don’t want it to be so tight that a boyfriend and girlfriend can’t sit together or are my brother and sister because we ran out of seats in a row.”

John: Like when you go to a movie theater and there is only seat in the middle of that row and there is one seat in the middle that row.

Maureen: I think this is really a hot topic. I’m glad we’re talking about it today. Again being a wedding planner and really knowing what’s going on, I looked at the scene when I walked in. There were five of us, we were on the late end of the wedding and the bride and groom were getting ready to get married, so it wasn’t really something you could think about. I chose to sit on the bride’s side in the third row as opposed to standing in the back row of the groom’s because I didn’t want the bride or the grooms to look around and see any empty seats. It didn’t make any sense to me.

John: Then to have people standing in the back of one row while there’s plenty of seats in another section, that just doesn’t seem right.

Maureen: Exactly. When I made that I made that game changer and I sat down, the person behind me tapped me and said, “Hey you’re on the wrong side.” I thought it was funny because it’s still there.

John: That tradition, that deep-seeded kind of tradition that people are like, “You’re on the wrong side.”

Maureen: Yes, here I’m a wedding planner and I’m breaking the tradition, intermingling, and here’s this guest telling me, “Hey you broke the rule.” I think it is something changing. I don’t think it’s as black and white as it used to be. I definitely think there’s a gray area there, but I would recommend that when the girls have onsite ceremonies, they ask their wedding planner for 5% extra chairs.

John: Was that originally some sort of superstition of bad luck, if you if you sat on the wrong side or something like that? Where did that come from?

Maureen: Maybe it was to prove who was supporting you, if you had more people on your side or something, I don’t know. Maybe it was to show that the father of the bride saying, “Hey I paid for more people so you stay over there. The groom got no tickets.”

John: All right. Norman, do you have any final thoughts on ceremonies, and your idea of intermingling the families and friends?

Norman: I think what’s interesting, and we were talking about this earlier, is the fact that couples don’t have ushers anymore. You have the groomsmen, which up until probably just recently, would act as ushers. But, I think because they don’t have the title of usher, they don’t think that that’s their job.

John: I think maybe, it’s different for an outside ceremony than for say a church wedding.

Norman: Well exactly. But even so, either way, I think you need an usher, or someone to direct you to your seat, asking you groom’s side or bride’s side. While, I’m not totally supportive of that, I think it should be-It doesn’t matter. There are no sides but at least it will fill in the seats.

John: You have somebody paying attention to that like Maureen said. So you don’t end up got one seat that nobody’s sitting in or something like that.

Norman: Exactly, and you don’t have people standing around like “I don’t know where to go. I don’t know where to sit.” It’s like supporting one side or the other. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge.

Reception seating

John: All right. Let’s move on and talk about receptions. I know that, at least when I was younger, at the wedding reception you’d have the groom’s family and friends sitting on one side of the hall and then the bride’s side sitting on the other side of the hall. Maybe, especially if there was a dance floor that was kind of in the middle and you had the tables on either side, but maybe it’s different for different halls. Is that still true? Does that still happen that people have their families and friends separated at the reception?

Maureen: Basically, being wedding professionals and planners, when you come down to do the inside where the food service is, you start with the bride and groom. You place them in the room. Then closest to the bride and groom are either, if there’s no head table- which those are out too now, you put the ushers, the bridesmaids and then the parents of the bride, the parents of the groom, grandparents, any leftover siblings if they weren’t in the wedding party.

Then after that, it’s a free for all. Usually, you try to spread out the groom from the bride, so It doesn’t end up that just the bride’s family is close to the bride and groom, you want it to go bride, groom, bride, groom all the way back in the room. If you have a dancefloor it’s in the front. Back in the day like you’re saying, John, when the dance was in the middle- I can think of a couple great venues right here in the North Shore that have centered dance floors, it was always the bride on the right and the groom on the left.

I mean it was just the way it was, and the head table was in the back somewhere. Again, now you have more sweetheart tables. Another thing changing that we see with the seating is that the bridesmaids do not want to not sit with their date at the wedding. They don’t want their date to be alone. They’re actually putting bridesmaids with dates and groomsmen with their date or their wife or whatever, even if they’re not in the wedding party. That’s a huge change up in the last 10 years, that ’s definitely going on.

John: Yes. I definitely sat at a couple of weddings where my wife was the bridesmaid and I was sitting at one of the tables by myself and it was maybe a little bit awkward.

Maureen: Our daughter just went to a wedding Saturday. Her husband was in the wedding and they actually sat her at the head table not being in the wedding. I’ve never seen that at our at our function hall. She sat at the head table and they had a pretty big wedding party, they had like five and five.

John: Norman, does the intermingling thing happen more to it at the receptions as well? Like you were talking about with the ceremonies in terms of what Maureen said was that maybe you go one table is bride, one table is groom alternating. Do you see that more and more? Do you see people even mixing their families up within the table? You might be sitting at a table with some people that you’ve never even seen before from the other side of the family.

Norman: That’s a good question, and I think it really depends again on the bride because she does the seating chart. You have to follow what the bride decides. Now there are some that will have the groom’s family on one side, the bride’s family on the other, and miscellaneous guests will be thrown in as filler. For example, the wedding last week that Maureen went to, I actually officiated that and I was thrown in at this family table.

The intermingling- no one wants to sit next to someone they don’t know. That’s the bottom line. You want to be able to have a conversation, and not everybody is going to talk to someone across the table if you don’t know them. I think that’s probably why reception wise, they stay fairly traditional and put family with family.

John: People that know each other and whatnot.

Norman: Right, but if you have a large wedding party, as Maureen was saying, you can’t fit all of the bridesmaids or groomsmen with their dates. You have to spread them out, at least towards the front of the room or closer to the sweetheart table or the head table.

How to choose the right seating arrangement

John: Right. Maureen, at that the reception then, do you prefer keeping in bride and groom’s families separate or do you prefer mixing it up?

Maureen: I know for the waitresses, the servers, for our point, they really want to give super, super attention to that whole wedding party and extended wedding party and anyone that’s in the family. It’s always easier from us, again, from the food portion of our wedding planning job if we know where they are. We can put the head waitress and her partner right on them and then the rest of the people fall in action. Because you have to take care of them in order to get them through the wedding whether they have to take special photos or special dancing, you’re always running around looking for them so that the bride and groom can finally get to the party part of the wedding.

If they’re sprinkled around the room- our room is pretty big, it’s 50×100. We always like it when they’re in the same area so we can nail them when we need to get them to the photos. It’s a different thing. I think like Norman is saying, there’s a familiarity with weddings, and it’s like a giant holiday at your house. You want to be with the people and celebrate you want to be with- they’re part your family. I think that’s why the intermingling with the actual immediate family is an odd thing in a funny way, because you do go back to your roots. You’re with your family, it’s your cousin or your brother or your in-law. You seem to stay together at the wedding, I think.

John: Norman, do you agree with that? Any final thoughts?

Norman: I do agree with that, yes, especially if the families don’t get along .

John: Which you may even know until the day of the wedding. Maybe it’s best to just keep them-

Norman: We try to be proactive and we do usually get a sense usually at food tastings if they bring their parents. But if you have divorced parents, that can be sometimes very taxing when trying to figure that out.

John: It must take a long time for the bride to figure out the whole seating chart and determine who’s sitting with who.

Norman: I can’t even imagine. Sometimes, that’s why buffet is better.

John: Just allow people to stand up and get their food and then wander around the room and not they’re like locked down to it too.

Norman: Exactly.

John: Interesting. All right. That’s really great information Maureen and Norman, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Maureen: Thanks, John.

Norman: Thanks, John.

John: For more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call 978-768-7335.