One of the most difficult parts of the wedding planning for many couples is the seating at the reception. Not only do you have to figure out how to arrange all of your guests, there is also the matter of the head table to be decided. Here are some of the more popular options for head tables, along with the pros and cons of each.
The most traditional head table arrangement is a long rectangle, with the bride and groom in the center. The bride and groom are flanked by their entire bridal party going down the table on either side of them. The arrangement is usually to have the best man seated beside the bride and the maid of honor next to the groom. From there, the rest of the bridesmaids and groomsmen are seated, alternating male/female. By the way, I have heard some people asking if it would be appropriate to place the bridesmaid and groomsmen gifts at each place setting at the head table. The answer is no; give your groomsmen and bridesmaid gifts a day or two before the wedding, and give each member of your bridal party the same wedding favor as the rest of your guests.
The classic head table is designed to keep the bridal party together, with the bride and groom in the center of everything. It works very well for this purpose, but there can also be some drawbacks to this arrangement. The biggest complaint is that the bridesmaids and groomsmen want to sit with their dates (and even more to the point, their dates do not want to be marooned at a distant table where they do not know anyone). If you have a lot of people in your bridal party who are married or seriously involved with a partner, it is understandable that they would wish to be seated together. (On the other hand, if your attendants are not in a committed relationship, they should think twice before asking someone to be their "plus one" for the wedding, as that person will definitely be spending a lot of time feeling abandoned, no matter what the seating arrangements are for dinner.)
An alternative to the long rectangular head table is a "captain's table", which is also a long table, but with seating all around it instead of only on one side. This can be an excellent way to be able to accommodate the dates or spouses of your bridal party at the same table as your attendants. Some couples might not like this as well as the traditional head table, as they will not be facing their guests without an obstruction, but it does lend itself to conversation more than the long single-sided table does. Another factor to keep in mind with the captain's table is its very large size; some venues might not have a suitable place in the room for one.
The sweetheart table is another option for a head table. In this situation, the bride and groom are seated at a tiny table for two in a prominent spot in the reception room. The rest of the bridal party is seated with their dates or spouses, and are usually intermingled with the regular wedding guests. The sweetheart table can be very romantic, but some also believe that it is rude, as it isolates the newlyweds from the rest of the reception. (Because nobody wants to interrupt the bride and groom seated at a sweetheart table, they become very unapproachable.)
A final head table idea is for the bride and groom to sit at a table with their parents, the maid of honor and best man, and the spouses or dates of the honor attendants. This can be an excellent idea for a couple who has a very small wedding party or an unmanageably large one (the rest of the bridal party would sit among the other guests). It is also a very nice way to honor the parents of the bride and groom. This can be a lovely head table, as long as the newlyweds do not have a complicated family situation (ie, hostile parents or step-parents).
Whichever way you go, choose the head table set up that works the best for your particular family situation and reception venue. Once you weigh all of your options, one style of seating is going to emerge as the most practical for your wedding. And then you can breathe a sigh of relief, as you cross "head table seating" off of your to-do list!