Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Seating Slip-Ups Revisited: The Sweetheart Table, a/k/a "The Nutcracker Effect"

I thought since I was able to stir up some conversation (and perhaps controversy) with my seating arrangement posts, I wanted to write about another type, which I've found particularly interesting:

I encountered the “sweetheart table” for the first time a few months ago, where the bride and groom sit at their own table and thereby set themselves apart—literally—from the rest of the room . In theory, this seating arrangement, where the happy couple sit by themselves at a round table, is an effective way to avoid offending anyone (i.e. a relative or close family friend, for example, who couldn’t conceive as to how she didn’t make it into the wedding party, or even the wedding table for that matter). In addition, the bride and groom are free to mingle with their guests and make sure they “work the room” and say hello to everyone they’ve invited , instead of feeling guilty about neglecting their own table.

Although there are certainly strong points to this type of arrangement, any sensible bride must be aware of what I call the “Nutcracker Effect,” a term coined by my father when I described the bride/groom table scenario after I first encountered it. When I was a little girl, my parents would take me to see The Nutcracker, what I consider to be one of the most beautiful ballets (particularly the result of the enchanting music composed by Tchaikovsky).

This ballet has always been a favorite of mine, and one of the best scenes is when the handsome Prince takes Clara (or Marie), the principal character (depending on which version you're watching), to the Land of Sweets. At that point, the Prince and Clara are seated in their thrones, set higher back on the stage, as they watch a slew of dances that the Sugar Plum Fairy treats them with for the Prince’s victorious battle with the army of mice. As Clara and the Prince look on from on high, it is clear that they are, at this point, spectators to magic. It all seems rather surreal as the happy couple sits amidst candy canes, gingerbread houses, and a myriad of other sugar confections to fulfill even Clara’s wildest dream. The point of the ballet is that dreams allow for hope and wonder, and even the most unbelievable can become real—even for just a flicker in time.

What’s my point of recounting the above?

Remember that you are not Clara, and your groom is not the Prince. A sweetheart table can have The Nutcracker Effect (the “NE”), if you aren’t careful, even if the Land of Sweets is really The Waldorf Astoria.

When I think of the NE, I have images of Clara and The Prince seated in their high chairs, watching the entertainment and celebration held in their honor. While as a bride and groom, you are certainly entitled to choose a separate table seating arrangement, it’s important to make sure that you don’t create the impression that you are above your guests—literally and figuratively. That means NOT having surf-and-turf while your guests feast on chicken. True story. A friend of a friend was at a wedding where that happened, and it didn't make it any less obvious or help the situation that the bride and groom were seated separately from everyone else.

I would suggest not having a raised rectangular table if it’s only going to be you and your new husband. If you are going to do the table-for-two, a circular table that is adjacent to and around your guests – rather than in the front of them or even above them– avoids making you look like you’re watching over everything or in a class by yourself.

A wedding should be about celebration, not about separation or classification. In addition, the best way to avoid the NE is to make sure you are a particularly fine hostess . After all, you and your husband may be the center of attention, but you MUST BE responsible for making sure your guests are having a good time—and they are aware of your concern. While the wedding is for you, it is certainly not all about you.

I think I have made my point, but if you go with a Sweetheart Table, I’ll leave you with a few other notes about avoidance of the dreaded NE.

• Skip the sappy slideshow. While it may seem romantic, think for a moment: Is this something YOU would enjoy if you had to sit through it? In my opinion, slideshows of the bride and groom (with snapshots of the bride in a snowsuit when she was three years old, or images of the groom grinning while in his high school football uniform) reek of conceit. Not only that, they’re boring as hell for most of us there. If you’re going to do it, then opt out of the Sweetheart Table. There are only so many times during the reception that it can AND SHOULD be about you. This is a celebration not a lesson in idolatry.

• See Speech Type C. Enough Said.

• Nix the grand entrance. If you’re looking to make your wedding an intimate affair, the “look at me” effect can best be avoided by inviting two hundred pairs of eyes to watch as Mr. And Mrs. Just Married are announced by the leader of the band and walk into the ceremony hall. Though this oft-performed tradition may be done tastefully, it isn’t a requirement. (Remember that nothing is!) Do what you’re comfortable with. If you’d like to have a Sweetheart Table but want to have a subtle celebration, perhaps walking in and greeting guests (without any fanfare, announcement, or Sinatra music accompaniment) is the best route.

In a nutshell (no pun intended), the gist of my post is that while it's "your day", you need to remember that even though your guests are there for you, you are also there for the guests.

Next time? Do's, Don't, and the Deis. Stay tuned....


Anonymous said...

Is the Pot calling the Kettle Black?

I’m sure many have notice the pattern of the horrid Bridezilla tales. (And I’m sure that there are plenty in the world) But! These tales all end the same “That did not suit ME as your guest, CATER TO ME and my every want and need!” Has a new breed been born out of Bridezilla called the “GUESTZILLA”?
An event occurs at ANOTHER PERSON’S WEDDING that they do not like, or does not suit their very own personal need. So if my every need is NOT met as a guest, then the couple MUST be SELFISH! How dare they ignore ME I’m the GUEST!
“Oh, look they want our attention as they walk in the reception, How RUDE!”
“Is that a head table? How selfish, they must have not gotten the memo. That is sooo last century!!!”
“Incredible, they have a sweet heart table up on stage! How dare they act like that at their OWN wedding reception! Don’t they know this day is about ME…THE GUEST?
“Oh my GOD look, now they are DEMANDING our attention while they cut the cake! How inconsiderate it’s interrupting MY DINNER! “Just who do they think they are?”
The Guestzilla needs check with NASA because they are not the center of the Universe. This is a maturity thing. Children see everything as "How does this effect ME?" "Do I like it?" "Does this make me happy or unhappy?" Mature people see the big picture and don't sweat the small stuff. I mean if somebody has a hissy over a seating arrangement, how would they handle oooh I don't know, CANCER?, Losing your home and job to Katrina? Someone sounds to be as deep as a puddle and pretty self centered. Can someone bring over some cheese? With that WHINEEEEE!

Just as quick as one is to call out “FOUL”, “You’re being a selfish Bride!” “You are NOT thinking of ME!”
BEWARE…instead you just might be the “Selfish Guest” Because you in return are not at ALL thinking about them.

the wedding fairy said...

Thank you for your comment - it is much appreciated.

However, to label each of these women who have had off-putting
experiences at weddings as shallow, immature people is a bit extreme.

Each of these experiences comes from a different woman , so to say that
the guest is a guestzilla because they note one thing (or even two or
three) they think is odd or a bit off-putting seems to be an

If someone spends several hundred dollars, or even a dollar amount in
the thousands (as some of these people have done for the bridesmaid's
dress, travel expenses, shower gifts, etc.),
I don't think it's
unseemly that he/she can point out something that seemed
thoughtless--or even not the way they would have done it.

I would also point out that any kind of bridal concerns, whether from
bride or guest point of view, is certainly not in the realm of
importance when mentioning catastrophes such as Katrina, Iraq or
losing one's livelihood.

That said, however, an enormous amount of money is spent on weddings -
it has become its own industry. With this industry comes the concern
of those people who it affects - both the payor and the payee so to

Much has been written from the hosts' standpoints. This blog raises
concerns from the standpoint of fairness to all - and perhaps a little more tolerance from all parties involved might become a new and
happier situation.

This blog is an attempt to underline potential situations to those who
have an open mind.

The purpose of this blog is not to change someone's
mind - it is to explore the feelings of others involved in the wedding
process. And these people do have feelings that deserve to be

Anonymous said...

The first anonymous commenter makes some good points. While I have yet to plan my own wedding, I have helped others plan and I recognize the incredible headache of trying to make every guest happy. BUT, I would gamble to say every single friend and family member is more than happy to give the bride and groom their day in the sun, as it is the only reason they have traveled so far and made such efforts to come to this wedding. They are very excited to see their friends marry and be glowing and happy, and they wouldn't miss it for the world - no matter what the circumstances.

However, I have to admit there are many instances where you just have to wonder what the bride was thinking, and I think the wedding fairy has done a wonderful job compiling all the different stories from various women (and men?). It's the details that people remember about a wedding, and what is one person's mistake can be a lesson for others.

Yes, it is the bride and groom's special day, and who else is the entire room paying attention to but them? And so what if the cake was a little off, or the couple wanted to follow a cheesy tradition. But it is these things that make a couple memorable - and whether that is something they wish to be memorialized by.

Your guests have gone out of their way to be there for nobody but you, and while it is beyond complicated to accommodate every single guest, it is your duty. You did not invite these people to feel uncomfortable. These stories are all examples of people who felt uncomfortable at somebody's wedding. But because it is the couple's special day, that guest wouldn't dare say a word to hurt them. But they have the license to tell the wedding fairy so the next bride knows a little better.

Thanks Wedding Fairy!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with anonymous poster #1. It is seeming like there is an overabundance of guestzillas out there. I'm not saying that that's what you're doing wedding fairy, but in planning my wedding I am hearing a lot of it.
For example, my wedding is set for the last week-end in May. (I'm from Canada so it's not our long week-end) and my aunt turns to me and says (And this is a quote) "But people are going to want to go to camp then!" (I guess she forgot her son's wedding was in June) and I have other guests wanting a sit-down meal instead of buffet (I chose buffet so everyone could have as much food as they want and they could all have something they enjoy) And the list goes on.
Yes, it is the bride and grooms day and yes they should consider the guests, but many people that I speak too, expect the bride and groom to cater to thier guests. I actually heard someone complain that they travelled to another city for a wedding and there wasn't a guest basket with goodies waiting for them in their room. Is it just me, or is that expecting a bit too much?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Nutcracker table but I don't with the grand entrance or the slide show. This is not just another party...it is a wedding and a celebration of this couple. The sweetheart table to me is isolating of the couple and sets them apart...the slideshow, especially if it is not "necessary viewing" for instance friends have just had theirs running in a loop in the corner, and the grand entrance allow the guests to connect with and celebrate the couple...in a very inclusive fashion.

Anonymous said...

hi....Just a comment/question

In my culture, it is traditional for the Bride and Groom to be seated together on a couch/throne thoughout the reception. People come up and greet them and take pictures.....the B&G don't even eat!

We are planning to do something like this for our wedding here in the US. It will be in the context of a "cultural" wedding with both Indian and American guests...are we being rude to our American guests??

Anonymous said...

I think it's more rude to have a traditional head table where the bride and groom sit with the bridal party. I was in a wedding last summer where my poor fiance was left sitting with a table full of people he'd never met since I was at the head table and he didn't know anyone else at the wedding. It's more selfish for the bride and groom to demand that people leave their dates than to sit by themselves. And I've seen sweetheart tables with extra seats so guest could come by and chat if they wanted. While I agree that the table shouldn't be higher than the others, I think sweetheart tables are a great alternative. (And to the last post, I don't think any of your guest will consider it rude, given the cultural significance. Just keep in mind that most American weddings the bride and groom are responsible for approaching/greeting each guest at some point. Maybe a receiving line combined with the traditional couch would be a good way to combine the two cultures, so that you would get to talk to everyone and cover all bases)

Carmen Joy said...

"It will be in the context of a "cultural" wedding with both Indian and American guests...are we being rude to our American guests??"

It would be nice to provide write-ups about events and the significance for guests who don't know the traditions. You might consider having a longer program so guests can follow along and understand the significance behind unusual (to them) customs, and therefore feel less excluded.

I agree wholeheartedly that the guests are an important part of the celebration, and should be treated as such.

I don't have an opinion on the sweetheart table, as I have never seen it in practice, but I don't see anything wrong in having a grand entrance or slideshow. Now, it helps with boredom if there is music along with the show, or a few details about the picture.

Anonymous said...

Fr.Retired Wedding Planner: I would like to bring up something that knowone has mentioned that is the main and actual/practial reason why you don't have a Sweetheart Table. We would all like to think that the Bride and Groom have they big day and never have to worry about a thing, but the real truth is is that the Bride and Groom are often times needed and asked questions and constantly getting up from their seats. When you have a Sweetheart Table one or the other is being left alone with knowone to talk too. This is especially difficult for couples that feel unconfortable being stared at. You see at least if one or the other (bride or groom get up from the table or have to speak to someone, staff, the planner etc.) at least in a wedding party table there is someone to talk too. You would not believe how often this happens and how isolating and awkward this is for the other person. Just a thought from a 30 yr pro.

Anonymous said...

I've seen both done at weddings and I agree totally with having a sweetheart table. I have only been to one wedding where all the bridesmaids and groomsmen were husbands and wives but the fact is that everyone would like to sit with their own dates and children. My sister is getting married and as a bridesmaid I don't want to sit at a head table with everyone else because I am a single parent with two young children who needs me. Should I put them to sit by themselves? Different circumstances call for different measures. You plan according to what is needed to be done. To the last comment, I know that you have many years experience but what if they have no problems being stared at, then what? Many brides and grooms think that it's their day and they want all eyes on them. I know my sister likes that. So why not let them shine for that day not all of them feel awkward. I think that the sweetheart table should be close to the guests and not sectioned off. I see people put up a mini tent almost and put the bride and groom there. I personally don't like it but everthing will eventually catch on so we may see it more and more as the years go by. Years earlier having a sweetheart table would have been the worst thing a couple could do but as you can see it is becoming the norm. As Heidi Klum says, In fashion one day you're(it's) in and the next day you're(it's) out.

Karen said...

Something that no one has really mentioned yet (about the benefits of having a sweetheart table) is the photography angle.

Being "secluded" not only gives you time to converse with your new spouse but it gives your photographer a great opportunity to take sweet pictures of you with your new husband/wife without the interference of 10 other people in the shot. There will be plenty of time to mingle with the guests and all but it is about the bride and groom and they are entitled to have a moment alone to talk and absorb the moment.
I would never and have never taken offense to a sweetheart table, whether it was placed next to us or up above on a raft in the ceiling. It's not about me, the guest, it's about them and what THEY want to do. The couple is entitled to want some alone/special time to watch their busy day unfold.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all complaing about such little details!

I have to agree with most of the people up there. I have planned my own wedding and have been to quite a few.

The last one I went to was for a very good friend of my hubby. THey had their wedding on the otherside of the country in her home town, Which is fine! I can totally understand why someone would want to have a wedding where they are from.

She left her boyfriend back home two months prior to the wedding to go back home and plan. Her hubby goes down there a few days prior to the wedding to find she hadn't planned a thing other then booking the town fire hall and got a few candles as centerpeices, the guys hadn't been fitted, the none of the girls dresses matched...the rest of the time she had been partying with friends and family.

BUT the bride does not like my hubby and asked her fience not to invite him to be part of the wedding party. THey have been friends since they were six and are now 26. The groom chose my hubby's older brother who is more of an aquaintence then friend. Ok what ever, if you don't want us there we go.

ok. his parents throw them a reception here at home for HIS family and friends. We go expecting to see the beautiful dress ect. as most of us haven't seen it. Instead I talk to the bride and first thing she said is, 'everyone asked me to wear my dress so i purposefully didn't' Instead she is wearing a skimpy black/red dress. Ok fine WHAT EVER. That is something that 'she' would do and its not me that looks like a tramp at my reception. No pictures of the wedding, no video nothing.

1:30 rolls around and she decided to leave her own reception her inlaws payed for, her husbend and all his family and friends to go to the bar with some single girls. Her hubby tries to tell her...umm your being selfish and to stay. But no she tells him to *uck off and she was going to do what she wanted. Not wanting to make a scene, he lets her go.

She then called my 7 1/2 month pregnant SIL to pick them up in the city over half hour away at 3:30 in the morning. Yeah not happening.

When they do get back to the after party she and another girl start spooning with a guy passed out on a hamock. Needless to say there was a little touchy, feeling going on.

Now if your concerned about seating arrangements and little details that got mixed up but the B/G actually CARED to have their guests celebrate with you then you should count yourself lucky. THis is a SELFISH bride.

Anonymous said...

I think its funny that the article says that having a sweetheart tables means that the bride and groom want all the attention on them, etc.

I'm actually the opposite. However, I want to be considerate to my wedding party. I want them to be able to sit with their husbands and wives. In actuality, how long does the B&G actually get to sit down and eat? Not long at all. So what's the big deal if they take 30 min to sit at the sweetheart table?

Anonymous said...


Am I wrong here? Isn't the whole POINT of a wedding that it's about the bride/groom? I mean... if it wasn't, wouldn't everyone just elope and skip the whole process?

It's not selfishness... it's celebrating your day, your way. No one complains about the birthday boy/girl being the only one to blow out candles or open presents. I mean... what's next, do I have to start giving my guests GIFTS to come to my wedding? Oh wait... I do. They're called favors...

If anyone coming to my wedding has an issue with me sitting at a table by myself with my HUSBAND, they can go to Burger King and have it their way. It's a day for my hubby and me, and that's how it should be.

As for the guests having to shell out $$$ to come and thus being privileged to whine/complain about the details, have you -seen- what the bride/groom/their parents have to pay just to have a reception? How about being grateful you were invited and sharing in the best day of their lives with a smile...

Anonymous said...

Someone else mentioned this, but I heartily agree! Just because my significant other is in the wedding party does not mean I want to sit with all the other people who are in the same boat as me! I didn't even know them! Seriously, people. I've never had a worse time at a wedding than at a table where everyone else was having a good time but me. You've asked me to sit through an hour-long ceremony, wait for you to take pictures at some pretty location an hour away, and waste my entire Saturday at this event. At least seat me with people I know.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... it is all about the bride and groom. They should do whatever they want, and the guests can shove it. Hello, you're getting free dinner, free booze, free party. And frankly, any guest who would feel upset or "inferior" because the bride and groom are sitting at a small table at their own wedding reception probably has some self-esteem issues of her own.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Wedding Fairy! I found this column on the "Sweetheart Table" very illuminating, when I found out my son's bride had arranged one for their wedding. I had seen my niece do this a few years ago, and I thought it was just as you wrote - segregating, isolating, and very weird to see the photographer snap pix of the bride, while she put forkfuls of stuff in her mouth, all alone, when the groom had to leave that table to go to the bathroom. I felt sorry for her at that time, not realizing that perhaps she had considered it best for her own "photo opp". I could not agree MORE with you, that yes, it is the couple's day, but that they should accomodate guests to the best of their abilities. And that, even though we cannot read the guests' minds, we could suggest we "Do unto others..." By this I mean that, in the past decade, I have been to dozens of weddings (and hundreds before then)whereby I have heard the bride and/or groom say, "But it's MY wedding!" And I suggest gently that, "Yes, so if you don't want to have guests share in this important day in a meaningful way, please don't bother to invite them." The worst-case-scenario for me is hiring a DJ, who plays Rap music with the F-word laced throughout the musical entertainment, such as it is, at a decibel level that would be considered international torture. I've watched guests fly out of the reception, and the bride wondering where everyone went.

Cort said...

Who cares? If the bride and groom want to have a sweetheart table, let them. As long as they're not doing with the intention of being "above" their guests, it's fine. And if you KNOW your bride and groom well enoug to know that's NOT their intention, then don't assume that's what they're thinking. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. You do what you want at your wedding, and let them do what they want. Life is too short to be worrying about whether someone had a sweetheart table or not. Jeez.

Anonymous said...

It's my fiance and my day, and if my guests don't understand that, and they think I'm going to cater to them by thinking of every single person in the room aside from feeding them, entertaining them with dancing and gifts; then they weren't there for us in the first place.

I'm sure that everyone has felt the need to crawl away at Grandma Elenor singing a special song to the bride and groom or the sentiment of the cheesy slideshow; but in they end they love them enough to stay - and they got there in the first place because of that reason.

Weddings are cheesy, if you don't want that; then don't have it for yours. But this is what I want for mine.

Anonymous said...

A wedding is one day out of your year. As a guest, you can be gracious enough to let a newlywed couple have their day in the sun. Otherwise, don't go to the wedding.

Anonymous said...

I personally don't agree with a word that the blogger wrote in this blog!It IS the Bride and Groom's big day and if you can't take them sitting at their own table, or showing slideshows, than maybe it's time to ask yourself why you are so bitter????

Ok, granted, wedding gifts are not cheap at all. But NEWSFLASH!!! WEDDINGS ARE NOT CHEAP EITHER!!! So I shell out $50,000 for one day so that all my "friends" can drink as much alcohol as their bodies can handle on MY DIME and complain about my sweetheart table or entrance??? That sounds real fair!!! Here's a clue, you are a GUEST, there were probably a lot of people that the bride and groom wanted on the guest list but couldn't accomodate, but YOU made the cut. So instead of judging the couple's EVERY move and worrying about things like whether or not they chose a sweetheart table. SIT DOWN, SMILE, EAT YOUR FREE FOOD AND DRINK YOUR FREE ALCOHOL, and SHUT UP!!! As I am sure there was plenty NOT to like about your weddings as well!!! If you're all not crazy cat ladies, which is highly possible.

Anonymous said...

I am actually opting for a sweetheart table for several reasons.
1: The shape of my venue would make it difficult to have a large table for the wedding party,.
2: Everyone in my wedding party, bridesmaids and groomsmen, all have children.
3: There is only one couple amongst the 8 bridal party members.
4: I want to be selfish. I want to have that alone time with my groom during the dinner where it is just he and I. I am a very private person and even though we will be the center of attention I don't want anyone else by me for that one hour so he and I can actually take a moment to enjoy each others company on this busy and hectic day.
5: Well, I am an admittedly terrible hostess! I don't like crowds (to the near point of phobia). I need some separate space to myself even if I am sitting alone.

With all this in mind I do plan to have a receiving line and to mix and mingle. The sweetheart table simply makes sense for my scenario.

So what is this bride to be thinking? She is thinking of practicality for the space of her hall, consideration for the members of her bridal party, love for her future husband, and a little piece of serenity for her own mental well being.