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Picture the scene. The bride and groom sitting together, with parents, bridesmaids, best man, brothers, sisters… all on one big wedding top table.

Does the thought of being watched as newlyweds while you’re eating fill you with horror? If it does, then rest assured you are not alone.

electric wedding signage

You don’t have to have a traditional top table. Styling by Ambience York.

Twenty or so years ago every couple would have a traditional top table and wouldn’t question it. But in recent years it’s fallen out of favour for some for a variety of reasons.

  • Some couples want to have the speeches outside before dinner
  • Other couples don’t want to be on show during the meal
  • Some couples don’t want awkwardness between divorced parents and want people to be able to sit with their partners
  • Some couples don’t like their new step-parents and don’t want them on a top table
  • Couples have said that they think a top table looks ‘lonely’ and makes conversation awkward
  • If a family member has recently died then you may be particularly conscious of a gap on the top table where a loved one would have been.
wedding top tables

A traditional top table at a wedding at Hatfield House, decorated by Ambience Hertfordshire.

What is a traditional wedding top table anyway?

It means that the bride and groom sit together in the middle with their respective parents and the chief bridesmaid and best man either side of them. However, this can cause headaches and stress if the family dynamic is less than straightforward, if parents are divorced, have remarried and don’t get on well.

What other options are there then?

When David and Victoria Beckham got married they started the trend of having a ‘sweetheart’ table. This is just as it sounds. It’s a table just for the couple. We think it’s an excellent idea. You don’t get to spend much time one-to-one with your other half during the wedding reception but if you have a table together you can chat, discuss how it’s all going, what you’re thinking about it, spend some precious time together… and of course it makes a great photo opportunity.

In addition, you could have a sweetheart table beautifully decorated in a very romantic way.

sweetheart wedding table

A sweetheart table just for the two of you. So romantic and it gives you precious time together to chat in private. Image via Wedding Chicks.

Or you could look over the Atlantic at the American top table tradition. In the USA the parents host their own small top tables and leave the top table just for the bridal party the couple, bridesmaids, best man and ushers.

This works for a number of reasons. If the bride’s parents are divorced or remarried, then they can have a table with the people they want to be with them and still have the honour of a VIP table.

wedding reception outside

Parents can host their own small top tables

Another idea is to have a horseshoe shape, so that the bride and groom are at the centre, opposite particular friends, with family ranged alongside, then have all the guests seated all the way around.

Or you could ditch the rectangular shape and seat yourselves and your party on a round table in the middle.

You could just scrap the seating plan and let everyone sit where they wish. Styling by Ambience Bradford

Talk about it

Well before your wedding day, talk to those would expect to be on the top table and explain that you’re thinking about maybe doing it differently. Ask if they would be happy to sit next to a former partner or whether they’d rather not. Then you can plan accordingly.

sequinned tables at wedding

An idea – put the top table in the middle of the room and have it stand out by being decorated slightly differently. Our Harrogate stylist used a sequinned cloth at this wedding at Swinton Park, which gave a very glamorous look to the reception.

Don’t forget

It is your wedding and you can choose to seat people in whichever way you wish that you are most comfortable with.

Just remember that it’s always impossible to please everyone.

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