I really hate having everyone’s eyes on me. When Kevin and I got married, my two biggest fears were walking down the aisle and eating in front of everyone. I couldn’t get around the aisle walk, but I ditched the head table without question. Our reception venue was set up so that there’s a built in stage where everyone sets a traditional head table; indeed, it was built specifically for wedding head tables. When I said we wouldn’t have a head table, the venue coordinator was confused. “But, what will you put there?” she asked. “I don’t know. I mean, if something has to be up there, then put the cake up there!” I said.
So that’s what happened. The cake sat high above our guests in all of its beautiful, delicious glory while we casually sat around a regular round table with our friends. This was back in the day before Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook was around, but you had to have a college email account in order to be on it. Wedding blogs weren’t a thing and only really fancy, rich people had that first iPhone. I didn’t know we had other options for a head table so I just made it up as we went, knowing only what I didn’t want.
And it turned out to be perfect for us. My one sister (a bridesmaid) had just had a baby + two other young boys so she sat at a table next to us with her husband and my parents so that she could easily attend to my infant nephew, while they all helped with my other nephews. My other sister (also a bridesmaid) sat at our table with her now-husband. Kevin’s two brothers (both groomsmen) sat with us as well as his two ushers and the wife of the one who was married. My personal attendant also joined us, which brought us to exactly 10 people at our table. It was unassuming and relaxing and exactly what we needed.
Now, I get that not everyone wants that same experience. And that’s okay. But you should at least know there are options.
A traditional head table is what you’ve always seen at weddings. Sometimes it’s on a riser or platform, sometimes it’s not. (If you have a choice on the riser/platform, I highly recommend having your head table on ground level so I don’t have to shoot up at you during toasts!) It’s a long table with the bridal party sitting on the back side facing the guests. The bride and groom sit in the center with the ladies on the bride’s side and the gentlemen on the groom’s.
A sweetheart table is a small table set just for the bride & groom to sit at (thus the name). The bridal party is seated at regular tables with family members and significant others.
A harvest table (also called a king’s table) is the last option and, in my opinion, the best. (I’ll tell you why in a minute!) A harvest table is set up similarly to a head table, but the key change is that the table settings are wrapped all the way around the table so that you are all facing each other.
So you might wonder why the harvest table is my favorite? Aside from the fact that it’s sort of what we did at our wedding (the concept at least), here are 5 reasons that I believe the harvest table is the best way to make the most of your reception dinner.
- Eat without an audience. Have you ever watched someone eating? Unless they’re a baby taking their first bites, it’s not something that’s generally cute. You have paid to have a delicious catered meal and you deserve to eat it in peace. Do yourself a favor and enjoy your food without being on display.
- Enjoy dinner conversation. If you’re at a head table, you can only converse with two people, one on each side of you. This applies to every person at the table. They’ve got two conversation choices for the entire meal. And it can’t be a true conversation because the person on your left can’t converse with the person on your right so you spend the whole time going back and forth between the two just as they are doing with you and their other side. In making a case for a harvest table, you suddenly shift everyone around and conversation can flow across and back and forth more freely.
- Cease the magnet effect for a bit. As the one wearing a bridal gown, you transform into something you’ve never quite experienced before, at least to this extreme: a magnet. You are a visual magnet, a conversation magnet, a hugging magnet, and a photo magnet. Everyone wants to look at you, talk to you, congratulate you, and take a photo of or with you. And as wonderful as it all is–truly a part of the day that will make you feel so special–it is also a bit exhausting, especially if you are even a little bit introverted. By being on the same level as the guests and facing in towards your friends, you allow yourself some freedom from The Magnet because guests will look (they always do), notice they can’t see you very well for this time, and return to eating their dinner and conversing with those at their own table.
- Choose your company. I’ve seen harvest tables done many ways, but first you should know that you can pick your company! It’s not limited to groomsmen on one side and bridesmaids on the other. You can invite significant others to join (not yours, obviously he’s already there, but your bridal party’s); your parents & grandparents are welcome; personal attendants, ushers, bring them too! Of course, this will all be limited by the size and how many people you can fit at your table, but think outside of the box and invite the people you want to share this amazing feast with.
- Allow for more interactive photos (specifically during toasts). I had a recent bride who, after seeing her full wedding gallery said to me, “I didn’t expect to be so wowed by the toasts pictures relative to other images, but they are some of my absolute favorites. Love how they show the genuine personalities of our closest family and friends, and love all the laughter. [The image below] makes me sooo happy!” The secret to that was her and her groom had a harvest table. Half of the images I was able to get during their toasts would’ve been impossible to get had they chosen a head table, simply because of how people were arranged and the angles I could shoot from. From a photography standpoint, it makes all the difference.