At traditional receptions with a sit-down dinner, I always suggest providing assigned seating. If you've never taken on this task, it can be a little confusing... Here is step-by-step guide.
Step 1 : Divide your guests into table groupings and decide how many tables you'll need.
Step 2 : Create a room layout drawing or diagram. Most venues have a scaled version for you to use.
Step 3 : Layout your tables as you'd like them in the room. Be sure to allow plenty of room between tables - I recommend at least 5 feet.
Step 5 : Create your escort cards with table numbers for individuals (Miss Jennifer Steffens) or by couple (Mr. & Mrs. James Steffens) - it is up to you. After the escort cards are written, put them in alphabetical order for displaying - this helps guests to easily find their names. If you want them displayed evenly spaced on a table, you might even divide them into even rows. These sort of tasks can take longer than you think and it is best not to leave them to the last minute... like 10 minutes before guests arrive!
**You can stop here if you'd like and only provide table assignments for your guests, or you can go a step further and give them a seat assignment at the table, as well. If you do choose to give a seat assignment, I recommend the following process...
Step 6 : Create individual place cards for each guest and sort them into table groupings - Ex. group all of the cards for guests at Table 10 together. Put them in order of how you would like them to sit around the table. Next, create a written list of the guests in order for the table (in case your cards get dropped and out of order - it happens! Then everyone gets mixed up and ends up sitting by someone else's date!). Put the cards and the list into a plastic bag and put the table number on the outside of the bag.
*Create an "Emergency" table. This open table (or reserve a table with only 3-5 guests assigned to it) will be used for any unexpected guests or mix ups. It can save a lot of trouble if the staff needs to squeeze in extra place settings at the last minute.
*Don't divide your dining room into bride and groom sections. Try to mix up your guests so they can meet each other. I like to seat half of a table with the grooms side and half of the table with the brides side. If this is too adventurous for you, just do every other table.
This may seem like quite the process, but it is well worth it to make your guests feel welcome!