I know many people who use the names Place card and Escort card interchangeably, but these are actually two totally different things. So here's the ins and outs of Escort card vs. Place cards.
There's a fine art to deciding who sits where at your reception...sometimes this needs to be discussed over a bottle of wine. It requires that you consider the feelings of your guests, use some diplomacy when discussing it with your family, and a sense of fun. Now this can actually take some time to decide on so I always suggest you start this early. Get a diagram of the table layouts and start assigning! Once you have tables assigned you'll need to consider if you'll be using both Escort Cards and Place cards?
Escort cards are what most of my clients will do.....these are little cards your guests pick up during the cocktail hour or as they enter the reception room. The cards are arranged in alphabetical order so they are easy for your guests to find. The Escort card simply assigns your guests to sit at a specific table. The Escort cards have your guests' name on it and their table number/name. The name on the escort card should match the formality of your event......Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith if it's formal (similar to how you addressed the invitation).....Mary and Bob Smith if it's less formal (yes, we usually put the ladies name first).
If you've had guests select their entree and you're not doing place cards, you would need to find some way to designate their food choice on the escort card and ask the guests to set them out at their seat where the catering staff can see them.
You can get pretty creative with these, the design should fit the level of formality and/or theme of your event.
(Winter theme- sock ornaments filled with candies doubled as favors)
We typically see Place cards used at more formal events. These are cards that do exactly what they say... they tell your guests their "place" at their table. It will have their name on it and if you've had them select a specific entree will usually have some way to designate their entree choice (color, ribbon, etc).
For the actual names on the place card, again for a formal setting the name would be Mr. Smith (if you have two people with the same names then you can list the first name as well, i.e. Mr. Bobby Smith.). If it's more informal you can go without the title, i.e. Bobby Smith. Each of your guests will have their own place card...that goes for couples and well as your " and guest" people. So for those people bringing a date it will be necessary to find out the mystery "and guests" name, just put in a quick call to your friend.
(Couple's place card)
(Fall themed place cards)
We almost always suggest that you do escort cards, it keeps your guests from having that uncomfortable feeling of having to hurry in and get a seat or save a seat/table, & having to ask "is this seat open". It may be a little work for you, but will make your guests more comfortable on the wedding day.