Your seat is in New York, next to Chicago

At the wedding reception, innovative table names personalize the party

April 13, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Janelle Doran's fairytale wedding reception goes something like this - it's an elegant, black-tie optional soiree at the Harbor Court Hotel. The wedding party is dressed in black and white.

And, as a string trio softly plays, guests are led to tables bearing signs that say "Light Street," "Key Highway" and "Pratt Street."

Table numbers? Who wants them? These days, wedding couples have tossed aside those boring old things.

Instead, they're using their reception tables as a new way to add a personal touch and set their wedding apart from the several a year that many of their guests may end up attending.

"I just wanted to throw in something that was unique to us," said Doran, 23, a Columbia systems engineer who is getting married next year. "And the Inner Harbor is where he proposed. It's fitting."

Couples like Doran and her fiance, Matthew Graustein, have become more common in recent years. Many are naming their tables after things that have meaning for them, such as neighborhoods, songs or movies. Allison Micarelli, of the wedding Web site TheKnot.com, recalled a recent coworker's reception where the couple named tables after constellations because they met at an astronomy class. And, when The Matrix's Laurence Fishburne married actress Gina Torres last fall, they named their tables for cities that were special to them, including New York, where they met.

The trend stems from a greater focus on personalizing weddings. The big day has assumed more importance in recent years, with magazines like Martha Stewart Weddings and Elegant Bride casting spotlights on every little matrimonial detail.

"Brides used to go into their weddings just saying, 'I want it to be beautiful,'" said Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. "But now, they are more discriminating about wanting to make their wedding special and different.

"Also, brides are a little bit older," she added. "It's not just their mothers planning the wedding, going to the local shop and picking everything out. They've been to a hundred of their friends' weddings and they don't want to do what everyone else did."

That's what inspired Nicole Doan and Michael Haslup to designate the tables at their reception in June by places in which they've lived.

"Weddings have gotten to be so cookie-cutter," said Doan, 24, of Elkridge, who came upon the idea at a cousin's wedding last year. "It just seems like every wedding we go to, it's all the same things. You want people to go to your wedding and remember something other than seeing two people madly in love. You want your wedding to stand out."

Couples also can get creative in displaying table names. Doan, for example, is planning to print up a card for each table that tells the story of their connection to the town. "Like, we chose Salisbury because that's where we went to school," Doan said. "It brings our guests closer to us."

The names also can be used in the reception's decor. "If you're going to designate your tables by New York City neighborhoods, you could design a map and have guests use the map to find their seats," Micarelli suggested. "Or, if you're naming your tables after constellations, you could have star-studded escort cards or star-shaped coasters."

In addition to getting to know the couple better, these labels also can help guests mingle.

At Indu Nair's wedding at Washington's National Press Club, she and Jeff Spugnardi took inspiration from their venue and branded each table after a newspaper of a city meaningful to them. Nair was born in Dayton, Ohio, so there was a table named Dayton Daily News, for example. And the couple tried assigning guests to tables that might mean something to them.

"We tried to put people who lived in New York at the New York Times table," said Nair, 33, a non-profit project manager who lives in Arlington, Va. "It sparked conversation. Not everybody could be put at a table that they had a connection with, but people would ask each other, 'Oh, how are you connected to this city?' "

There can be drawbacks to this trend.

"At a huge wedding, numbers are good," Miller said. "If you see table numbers 32 and 16, and you're at number 1, you know you're far away from your table. But if your tables are all named after your favorite food or places, there's no way to tell whether Chicago's next to Paris or on the other side of the tent.

"When you do something like this, you should have someone in charge with a chart to help people," she added. "You don't want it to be so confusing it takes forever for people to find their tables."

But, if done well, the effect can make a lasting impression.

"I wanted people to remember our wedding and think of us -- and not that we had nice flowers," Nair said. "Weeks after the wedding, our friends were still talking about how memorable it was."

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