Etiquette may seem like something of a lost art in modern society, but there are still occasions in which the old-school social graces are necessary. This is especially true of a wedding reception or some other formal dining event in which place cards inform guests where they will be sitting. In fact, there are some specific rules of etiquette that should be followed with respect to how names are listed on place cards.
For a formal dining occasion, a place card should be at the table at the place assigned to the specific guest. The place card itself can vary in terms of style and quality, and is typically used for large dining scenarios such as a wedding where a specific seating arrangement has been made and guests must be seated in particular spots. Place cards can also be helpful to meal servers to help them find guests who are having alternative food options, such as a vegetarian of kosher meal.
Depending on the occasion, place cards can be formal or informal. According to information on the Wedding USA website, the most formal place card should feature only the last name and the appropriate prefix, such as "Mr. Fine" or "Dr. Howard." In a more informal context, you would use the first and last name ("Larry Fine") or even more informally, just the first name ("Larry"). Both of these options, however, can become problematic in larger affairs or if there is more than one person at the table with the same first and/or last name. In these cases, it may be preferable to use first and last names, although whichever option you choose should be maintained consistently with all place cards.
Guests Bringing Dates
Problems can arise when a guest plans to bring a date but is unable to provide you with the person's name ahead of time. If your place cards are being printed professionally, you'll need to receive the name prior to providing the information to the printer. If the place cards will be written by hand or printed on a computer printer, and the name of the date still can't be provided, you can leave a blank card at the place setting of the mystery guest and have that person write it in by hand.
Renowned etiquette expert Emily Post, who died in 1960, had some very specific guidelines for the presentation of names in place cards. In her 1922 book "Etiquette," Post decrees that place cards should be "about an inch and a half high by two inches long, sometimes slightly larger." If the host has a family crest, it should embossed on the place card. "Hand-painted" place cards, writes Post, may have been "in fashion," but "are never seen in private houses to-day."