No, we’re not suggesting you drop in on every wedding taking place between now and your big day. In fact, we’d highly suggest you didn’t! But, once you’ve chosen your reception site, there’s no harm in “crashing” in for a few quick peeks when it’s set up for another couple’s festivities. Getting a sneak preview can give you a realistic perspective of space—and some great decorating ideas—which will ultimately help you plan your own event more successfully.
While you’re playing party private eye, assess the number and shape of tables being used. Is there enough room to mingle? Can guests get into their chairs without having to squeeze between the table and wall (or, worse yet, the chairs at the neighboring table)? Where is the head table placed? What about the cake and gift tables? Is there room for dancing?
Once you’ve seen your reception site decked out for a few parties, you’ll have a great basis for planning your own.
All Shapes and Sizes
Just like your guests, reception tables come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Ask your reception coordinator for the types of tables available at the venue to get an idea of what you have to work with. It’s also smart to get an estimate of how many people can fit comfortably around each table—and how many of each table can fit comfortably in the room.
Most reception planners recommend using round tables for guests because the shape is not only more attractive, but it encourages full-table conversation that isn’t always possible with long tables. If round tables aren’t your style, they aren’t available at your venue or space doesn’t allow for them, consider making a wide rectangle by putting two long tables together as an alternative. You’ll be able to fit more people around the perimeter, and the wider shape will allow for the same conversational benefits of a round table.
Because the people seated at the head table (yourself included!) are special, make the shape of the head table special as well. If a U-shaped table is available, it would look inviting and sophisticated at the center of the room, with you and your husband in the center of the curve. To add a little elevation to the event, you could use tall bistro tables surrounded by high-backed stools as your head “table.” The added height would make the tables visible from anywhere in the room, and they’d put you and your new spouse on even more of a pedestal for the evening.
Who’s Who? Who’s Where?
Determining where your guests should sit doesn’t have to be a grueling ordeal. By assigning seating (particularly helpful if your dinner will be served, in case certain guests have unique dietary needs), you can help to control the mood of the room by pairing compatible guests and family members at each table.
The head table, of course, will seat you and your groom, your bridesmaids, his groomsmen and their respective spouses (if space allows). A family table should flank the head table, and be filled with your parents, his parents, any siblings not in the wedding, and grandparents (again, if space allows). If either of you have divorced parents, consider setting up two family tables so separated couples don’t feel awkward sharing their space.
For the other tables, keep a few key tips in mind: put friends with friends; coworkers with coworkers; singles with singles; and couples together. If you’ve got a huge assortment of friends, pair them based on interests and ages. With just a little bit of work you can make sure your guests are sitting alongside people with whom they’re most likely to get along.
To help guests find their seats, have your ushers or other attendants greet folks at the door and tell them their seating assignments. If time allows, attendants should show guests to their seats. Make sure a name card is at each spot, so guests know they’re in the right place. And, to make the name cards a good icebreaker once everyone’s seated, print the guest’s name on both sides so he or she can see it and those around the table can see it as well.
A creative (and decorative) way of helping guests find their seats is to make each table centerpiece complementary but unique. For instance, if you’re having a beach wedding, ask your florist to incorporate items like beach balls, sun umbrellas, or rolled beach towels into classy arrangements so your attendants can point guests to their table by indicating its special accessory. You can extend the trend at each table by creating wedding favors that match the centerpiece, and placing them alongside each name card.
If your reception site is well-suited for mingling, another tip for making each table unique is to incorporate a framed portrait of the happy couple (black and white is always a stand-out choice) into the centerpiece. Your attendees can direct people to the “Venice Vacation” or the “First Date” table by sending them on a photo-viewing tour in search of the right picture (and, of course, table).
Don’t let planning your reception make you want to table the issue altogether. Start early, do some research and make filling your tables with compatible guests an enjoyable exercise in matchmaking. By taking a little time, and making some creative décor decisions, you can have almost as much fun planning the event as you will hosting it! ™