Functional Seating to Avoid Teen Chaos

It had been perfectly planned. For my brother’s bar mitzvah reception, each member of our family was responsible for sitting with and entertaining a particular constituency. Eric had his friends and younger cousins. My parents had the adults. And I, the older sister, had everyone else.

That’s where the seating plans started to get a little complicated.

In the mania known as planning for a bar mitzvah party, no detail is too small, no nuance too insignificant to overlook. So, when my parents and I realized we had a minor ordeal at hand, we naturally begged the question: "How do we seat the older teens?"

The answer was not immediately apparent. Old enough to have finished their own treks on the bar mitzvah circuit, members of this group, comprising mostly cousins and family friends, might believe themselves too old for the kids’ table and probably would not be thrilled if seated with Mom and Dad and other adult guests.

For others now faced with the same conundrum my parents and I dealt with a year ago, I consulted with some party planning experts well-versed in the ways of the b’nai mitzvah seating arrangement.

I was hopeful that Lisa Iannuzzi, property sales leader of the Bethesda Marriott Suites, who’s "planned too many bar mitzvahs to count" would offer me a Ten Commandments of seating, some kind of seating doctrine those in her field follow religiously.

Much to my chagrin, no such thing exists, according to Iannuzzi, who says there "really are no set rules" for the hosts planning a seating arrangement. "It really just depends on what they feel will be most comfortable for the guests," she said.

That said, she does offer some advice.

Iannuzzi, with 22 years of hospitality experience, classifies b’nai mitzvah guests into four groups: kids, mitzvah kids, young adults and adults.

The mitzvah kids, who are the middle school and Hebrew school friends of the b’nai mitzvah, are typically seated at a U- or E-shaped table arrangement. Younger kids may or may not be seated with the mitzvah group, depending on their level of maturity, and those younger than 8 are often seated with their parents.

For young adults, a popular option for seating is a table near the mitzvah kids’ table and also in close proximity to the dance floor.

If there aren’t enough young adults attending to have a table solely for them, the host has a couple of options. The few young adults can be seated with their respective parents or seated together in a section of the mitzvah kids’ table. Iannuzzi generally advises against the later, however. "Most of the time, the young adults don’t want to sit with the mitzvah kids," she said.

The relationship of the young adults to the b’nai mitzvah can also factor in their seating, she noted. If there are only a handful of young adults, but most are cousins of the b’nai mitzvah, then a table for cousins, seating both kids and young adults, can be created.

Cara Weiss, owner and special event planner for Save the Date, a Potomac, Md., party-planning company, also had some seating advice when I spoke with her recently.

Weiss’ seven years of experience includes planning more than 200 events, of which most are b’nai mitzvah celebrations, including those where ‘NSYNC and Dave Matthews performed.

Like Iannuzzi, she notes that the kids’ table — "mitzvah kids" in her terminology — is usually a series of long tables in a geometric shape, although round tables for the kids are gaining popularity.

Also popular is the practice of using favors — chocolate bars, snow globes, etc. — as place markings for the kids. Young adults should get these as well, she advises, even if a young adult is seated with his parents.

Other than giving them favors, young adults should generally be treated like adults: adult meals, an adult round table, an adult centerpiece, she said.

If necessary, however, 14- and 15-year-old guests can probably be seated at the kids’ table without taking offense.

If unsure where to seat a specific young adult, Weiss said to keep this rule of thumb in mind: Adjustments in seating can usually be made at the party. "You want your guests to be comfortable," she said. "If they want to move, you move them."

An extra person or two can usually be seated at a round table if necessary, depending on the size of the chairs.

Above all, say Iannuzzi and Weiss, remember that a good seating plan is an important element in a successful party.

And even seating young adults is possible, with the right advice and some advance planning.