First, we found an old poster board and drew circles representing each table. We estimated the number of tables we would need based on our guest count. We didn't worry about the physical placement of the tables on the poster - for the time being, our goal was to determine which guests would sit together.
The next thing we did was write all of our guests' names on post-it tabs. Couples were written on one tab to make sure we didn't accidentally split anyone up. The post-its made it much easier to experiment with table combinations; if we wanted to rearrange a table, all we needed to do was move the post-its instead of erasing and rewriting names. Trust me, there was a lot of rearranging! We color-coded the tabs based on categories - friends, family, work, etc. This way, we could visually make sure that family members were together.
Once all of our guests were accounted for, we began arranging the tables.
Each table could seat 8 - 10 people, but we tried to fill tables to capacity to avoid having too many extra tables. We didn't want to crowd the room with furniture, and we recognized that each extra table meant an extra centerpiece. At the same time, we didn't force people who didn't know each other to sit together just for the sake of filling each table completely. As long as most of the tables had 9 or 10 guests, we would be okay.
I made it a point to have my parents and sister available to help me through this ordeal. It would've taken me forever to write out every name on my own! It was also helpful to have some input when we ran into issues.
And of course, we ran into issues. You can see in the picture that there's one table of half orange and half yellow tags - somehow, my bridesmaids ended up sitting with my mom's cousins! When we did have trouble (always a result of math drama,) we experimented with multiple scenarios before choosing the best option. If we weren't sure about something, we called people; for example, my dad called his siblings once he realized they wouldn't all be able to fit at the same table. Everyone was understanding of how complicated seating charts can be, and people were happy as long as they had someone familiar to talk with. We knew that by the end of the night, most people would be up and dancing anyway!
Once all of the tables were set, we assigned table numbers. For the most part, the numbers didn't matter, but we specified that the lowest numbers would be closest to our sweetheart table. This way, we could make sure our parents and close friends were nearby to us during dinner.
After the decisions were final, I typed everything into a spreadsheet so I could make escort cards. I also used the spreadsheet to keep track of which entrees were going to which tables. Hooray organization!