By far one of the most time-consuming tasks of planning a wedding is figuring out where everyone is going to sit for the reception. Unless you intend on having an informal setting where guests can choose their own seat, a little directionality is going to be necessary to avoid seating confusion.
I frequently get asked if I design place cards (the answer being yes), and I always end up responding with the same question: Do you want place cards, escort cards, or both?
Unsurprisingly, this leads to a lot more questions when I explain that place cards and escort cards are two different things.
Place cards (or place rocks, or place leaves, or whatever creative idea you come up with) are typically waiting at a guest's seat before they arrive. They'll list the guest's name and chosen entrée, if applicable. Designating someone's seat at a wedding is a very old-fashioned custom that isn't usually seen nowadays. I can only assume that it dates back to when it was thought to be improper to have the same sex sitting next to each other, or even for husband and wife to be elbow to elbow at the dinner table. The idea was that using place cards to designate guests' seats for them would invigorate the flow of conversation, keeping it animated and fresh, as well as keeping married couples from getting handsy during the first course.
Escort cards, on the other hand, are not quite so specific, and will normally be laid out on a table or some other creative way for guests to pluck up as they enter the reception venue. They'll indicate the guest's name, table number, and chosen entrée, if applicable. Place cards can work in tandem with escort cards, but are not necessary.
And the third option, which many couples don't even think of, is seating charts. Escort cards and place cards are really only necessary if your guests were asked to choose an entrée when they RSVP'd because said meal is usually indicated on the escort/place card. However, if you've opted to have a buffet reception or family-style dinner, neither card is needed because guests will fend for themselves. Seating charts can help cut down on cost and waste, depending on how fancy you make them. Seating charts lists all of the guests and which table they'll be seated at. Keep in mind that while it may be tempting to organize your seating chart by table (and prettier), listing your guests in alphabetical order will make it easier for everyone to find their table and prevent a traffic jam at the entrance of your reception!