Are Place Cards Always Necessary?

Experts say the answer is yes for this one type of event.

Christmas Place Card

Robbie Caponetto

So you’ve finished tracking down the last of your RSVPs ahead of a big event and now you have a decision to make: Should you use place cards or not? To answer this etiquette stumper, we asked the experts to weigh in. Are place cards really necessary? Not always, seems to be the consensus, but there is one broad situation when party-planners insist place cards are non-negotiable.

“If you're going to have any sort of seated dinner, then place cards are necessary, whether it be small or super big,” says Tiffany Pilgrim, owner of August Events, an event planning company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “They're functional and beautiful on the table. I think that you always have to have them if it's going to be a seated experience.”

Not only are they pretty additions to any table—from the holiday table to dinner parties and weddings—and fantastically customizable to any party theme, but they do a lot of covert heavy-lifting to keep the party running smoothly, too. Here’s what place cards can add to your event, especially one with a sit-down meal.

Social Saviors 

By using place cards, hosts can take control of their party’s narrative. Not only will hosts have more control over who sits at the head table with them, but they can decide how to group their guests to promote friendly conversation and avoid conflict. Use name cards to guarantee that couples can stay seated together, that folks who you know have things in common are near and chat the night away, and that incompatible guests will be seated as far a way as possible from one another.

When guests arrive, they can mozy on over and find their designated seat as indicated by a place card. With this system in place, the guests have no decisions to make and may avoid any social implications that may follow would they have had to make that decision on their own. Guests won’t need to hunt down a table big enough to suit their crews, and there won’t inevitably be one too few seats to fit everyone a group intended to sit with. While some guests may still be of the opinion that they would rather choose where they pop a squat for the evening, others will be grateful for the thwarted awkward situations. 

If you’re in the group of those hesitant to impose assigned seats, Nashville event planner Christina Logan says that a seating chart waiting by the entrance is the bare minimum. With this system, guests are appointed a table but not a specific seat.

“At the very least, I always do a seating chart so people have a home base,” says Logan. “I hate not having a seating chart. That stresses me out. A seating chart is always great and place cards are just an extra level.”

Caterer’s Secret Weapons 

Behind the scenes, place cards pull significant weight, too. Event planners use place cards strategically to make caterer’s lives easier and help dinner run smoother. Place cards may indicate dietary restrictions so that staff may be made aware and make sure they are giving the correct person the right food. The cards might also indicate a pre-placed order submitted with the RSVP. 

“If we're doing plated service, especially if your guests have RSVP to a particular entree, the place cards are incredibly helpful. They help our team know what menu item belongs to what person,” says Vibrant Occasions caterer Leah Seale. “We recently catered a plated dinner wedding where we had a beef entree and a chicken entree that the guests chose between, but they were also able to fill in if they had any allergies or any specialty restrictions. Then, on the placecards the couple hosting not only had the name, but they had a little cow if that guest had ordered the beef and they had a little chicken emblem if they had ordered the chicken. They even had a little carrot if they had ordered the vegetarian or vegan option. It was just a subtle way to indicate what that person had ordered and symbols for particular allergies, too.”

With place cards sitting pretty, adding elegance and order to a table setting, your event can go off without a hitch for everyone involved.

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