Reception Success: Plan the Layout and Tables

Blog header featuring a set wedding dinner table in the forefront

There are many extraordinarily fun parts about planning a wedding … and then there are some not-so-fun parts to planning a wedding. The truth is, the wedding tables setup can be one of the more complex and frustrating components of wedding planning. 

Here’s the good news: we’ve come a long way. With unique venues, various table shapes, and floorplan flexibility, tackling how to arrange your client’s guest tables (and who sits with who!) can be easier and way more creative than you ever thought. 

First Things First: The Where

Think of the wedding venue as your canvas. It’s a blank space where maybe not everything is possible, but a whole lot is. Set aside time to have a conversation with the venue manager or consultant, as most likely, they’ve seen it all.

Come prepared with visuals (hard copies are more practical to pass around than pics on your phone). This way, you’ll have a better sense if your client is leaning toward. Whether they want traditional round tables, trendy banquet tables, or a smattering of high-tops and bistro seating for a cocktail-style reception.

You’ll also want a good idea of how many gathering spaces your couple is envisioning.Do they have their hearts set on a chic cocktail lounge with couches? Or stylish sitting poofs? Or trendy hanging chairs for aprés wedding cake chill space? How about a chic VIP cocktail lounge with mood lighting and comfy couches? 

Learn what your clients’ vision and goals are from the start so you can all explore the possibilities together. 

A few approaches on seating from Jamie Wolfer, a wedding planner in Florida

Dance, Dance, Dance

Couples know their family, friends, and loved ones better than anyone else does. They know if they’re the type of folks who like to throw down and leave it all out there on the dance floor, or if their guests are a little less party and a little more loungey. Knowing their guests’ vibe might help determine the best place to position the dance floor. 

At weddings held in ballrooms, tables are typically placed in a horseshoe layout around the dance floor. At a more subdued wedding, however, not placing the dance floor front and center might work better.

No matter the number of guests who RSVP-d “yes,” the wedding tables setup should start with taking into account the size of the dance floor. A good rule of thumb is to plan for the dance floor to accommodate half of the total wedding guest count at any given time. 

A Quick Calculation on Dance Floor:

To calculate how much area you’ll need, take your total guest count, divide by two, then multiply that number by 4.5. That formula will give you the square footage the dance floor needs to be. It is an estimate that veers toward the generous side but allows everyone to have space to get their groove on.

You’ll also want to plan a space for the entertainment next to the dance floor. Keep in mind, a DJ takes up considerably less space than a multi-piece band. Also, decide whether either of these will be elevated. A band, for example, might have a stage (the venue may have a stage in-house, or one can be rented). Both entertainment options will also need space for speakers, amplifiers, and equipment, so be sure to find out how much space they’ll need. 

Cocktail Hour and the Bar

A decorated table at a wedding or large event, with glasses and white decor.
Ensure you’ve calculated staff movement into your wedding seating plan.

Have you ever been to a wedding where you spent more time waiting in line at the bar than tearing up the dance floor? How many bars at the reception has and where they are placed is a strategic decision. Clever placement alleviates congestion. 

Some venues offer rolling bars that can be placed in different areas throughout the night to efficiently serve guests. For example, once the party is in full swing, a bar can cozy up just steps from the dance floor. 

The first place many guests go when they arrive at cocktail hour is the bar (it is called cocktail hour for a reason!). This can create a bit of a traffic jam! To prevent this faux pas, a general standard is one bartender per 50 wedding guests.

You can free up lines—and take up less bar real estate—by having your caterer/venue have servers greet incoming guests with trays of wine, beer, and a couple’s signature cocktail.

Staff can continue to roam the crowd with trays of these refreshing staples throughout the event for your guests’ convenience. Once the reception is underway, providing a selection of wine on each able also reduces lines at the bar.

Another new wedding tables idea trend is mobile bars and vintage bar carts. Bars on wheels add a bit of whimsy to your event as they’re often in an Insta-worthy. Imagine an Italian Piaggio, vintage camper, Volkswagen bus, on motorbikes, and even fashioned from refurbished horse trailers! These can be packed with personality when you add florals and elements from your design scheme.

When it Comes to Wedding Tables Setup: Layout is Everything

Once you’ve established the square footage and location of the dance floor, it is time to consider the entire floor plan. Ease of movement and guest visibility is key. The venue can tip you off to standard traffic patterns from an operational standpoint. Where the staff will access the kitchen throughout the event, location of restrooms, etc. Start here. 

As the couple is the main attraction, you’ll need to learn if they are considering a sweetheart table or a head table, also called a king table. At most weddings, these tables are placed in front of the dance floor, as everyone wants a good view of the toasts, speeches, the first dance, and other highlights. 

The couple’s VIPs should have the next best seats in the house: parents, grandparents, very close friends, and family. Next, prioritize the needs of any guests with mobility issues. Ensure their table assignment gives them full accessibility throughout the event.

Thankfully, there are many table options and sizes to make sure every seat is a good one. Rounds can typically accommodate eight to 10, squares four to six, and rectangular tables can be aligned to fit entire rows.

Another idea is to align banquet tables in u-shaped configurations, these wedding tables ideas that puts everyone on equal footing. Presenting your clients with options gives them the chance to help build a floor plan that works best for their guests. 

Don’t Forget: Create Space for Movement

Space between tables should allow plenty of room for guests to get in and out of their seats quickly. This means they can mix and mingle comfortably. Your clients will want to take into account their total number of confirmed guests. Then, start identifying “pods”who will be seated together. When on-site for a walk-through, popular wedding apps ensure you have all of that vital information at your fingertips.

A walk-through is also a good time to consider your décor and design details. Tall centerpieces, hanging flowers, and flower canopies are statement-making stunners but can also create obstructive views. Make sure to have conversations with the venue and floral designer to make certain the event décor works with the floor plan and not against it. 

Your wedding planning apps (like Social Table) can also remind you of special requests and considerations. For example, older guests who probably don’t appreciate loud music shouldn’t be placed right next to the band or a booming speaker! Guests who are likely to stay seated and prefer conversation over the conga line can sit further from the dance floor.   

Sweet Treats

Whether they’ve chosen a traditional wedding cake, an artisan pie bar (a trendy wedding tables setup), a Viennese table of traditional family favorites celebrating their culture, a donut wall or an entire dessert suite, your couple will want to choose a space for these after-dinner delights, and know if this space will be temporary or an all-evening offering. For example, will the wedding cake be on display throughout the evening or be unveiled with much fanfare?  

Desserts can be presented in a variety of ways including bite-sized mini passed hors d’oeuvres style. In smaller spaces, this might be the best solution. For displayed dessert, take into account any signage or décor that might take up space. 

Dessert displays are also a delightful way for the couple to show their personality, whether that’s a fun candy bar or funfetti cupcakes, a towering, chocolaty croquembouche, farm stand-style trifles and tarts, funky regional or vintage favorites like Moon Pies, or cookies and milk. 

Wedding Tables Setup: Planning for the Best

Like in real estate, the wedding tables setup comes down to three important things: location, location, location. Each wedding has its own distinct personality and variety of elements. Starting with a sensible setup that accommodates the needs of everyone in the room is considerate and lets your couple start off their union together as good hosts.

 As you’re studying to become a wedding planner, you’ll learn that wedding table setup is essential to the success of an event. With some patience and creativity, you can be sure to find a layout that best works for all. 

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Annette Corrie

Our ‘Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’ is here to help you through the process, by providing a step-by-step guide to getting started and becoming successful in your new career. This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare a successful and magnificent event!

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Annette Corrie

Course Director

Our ‘Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’ is here to help you through the process, by providing a step-by-step guide to getting started and becoming successful in your new career. This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare a successful and magnificent event!

Annette Corrie

Get Started



Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’

This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare for a successful and magnificent event!