Room Layouts and Seating Charts - The Pros' Perspective
Towards the end of your wedding planning, one of the more important and more complicated things you’ll need to do is create a layout and seating chart for your reception. The layout refers to where the various things/people that make your reception happen are placed and the seating chart refers to what people you have sit at which tables during the reception meal, and where those tables are located.
Many times, the venue or rental company will provide you with a layout that they have used in the past and works well for them which leaves you free to worry about if you can safely sit your politically-outspoken college roommate at the same table as your conservative war-vet uncle. But often times the venue’s seating plan may only take into account what works best FOR THEM, and not necessarily for everyone else involved in making your reception run and flow smoothly. Fortunately, if you are knowledgeable about the needs and preferences of your other Wedding Pros, you can often negotiate your layout to make it all work out for the best for both your guests and those who are working at your wedding.
Wherever the bride and groom are seated, it will most likely be along one wall or edge of the dance floor, or sometimes raised up on a small stage or platform, but it will be the center of focus of the room. The bride and groom will often have an option of sitting at a head table which is usually a long table where you and your bridal party will sit, or a sweetheart table, which will sit just the bride and groom, leaving the bridal party to sit together at another table or tables. The sweetheart table is a nice option for your bridal party to be able to sit with their dates and friends, and let you be totally highlighted. But what about everything else?
If you are having a plated, seated meal, you don’t have to worry about too much because the food will most likely be served straight from the kitchen by servers. If you have a buffet, that makes things a little different. According to Kit Henshaw, Business Manager and Proprietor of Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering, “The best place for the buffet is closest to the kitchen or to the staging area for food. This lessens the amount of traffic around the wedding guests with food and hot pans and keeps the refilling process efficient.
Whenever possible, we prefer the buffet to run perpendicular to all of the guest seating with our kitchen or doors to food service area behind the buffet tables. We invite guests to the buffet, beginning at the head table, then move table by table from the head table end to the other end. The guests can see the order and plan accordingly.”
Electronic equipment may not seem like it will be most attractive thing in the room, so you may be tempted to stick your DJ or band as far from the action as possible, but this isn’t always the best idea. (Besides, if your entertainment is a Wedding Professional, their setup should look classy, clean, and attractive.) “When setting the placement for your entertainment, it is important that you put them next to the dance floor or dancing area. This is important so that the entertainment is able to see and interact with the crowd and have an overall view of what is happening” says Eric Stoner of Nittany Entertainment. “Your entertainment is also about bringing energy to the reception, and it is much easier to create that energy when the one providing the music and announcements is near the dance floor so they can see what is happening as opposed to being away in a corner and separated by tables. Also, you do not want to have tables between the entertainment and the dance floor because most DJs and bands will have to set up their speakers in that location which means the guests that you seat at those tables nearest the music will be right in the way of the blast of the sound. More often than not, the people that get put at those tables are either older guests or guests with younger children since it is out of the way, but those people will likely be most sensitive to the music and end up giving you or the DJ dirty looks all night. The best people to put closest to the speakers are your younger, drinking ‘party friends’ who don’t mind being right in the flow of sound.”
The General Manager of Hoag's Catering and CelebrationsParty Rentals offers this advice about positioning your cake: “What will be in the background of the cake? Make sure the cake will not be in front of something that will be difficult for a photographer to take a nice shot of the cake – such as exit signs or fire extinguishers.
Make sure that there is either plenty of natural light, or make sure that the cake will be positioned below a good light source. If the venue has a spot light, ask to use it to direct a nice light source at the cake.
Icing can melt pretty quickly, so if you are inside during the winter, keep the cake table enough distance away from any working fireplaces. In the summer when outside, keep the cake table out of the sun.
Cakes can’t dance, so keep the cake away from the DJ area & off the dance floor.
Position the table away from the wall. This allows for 360 degree access to the cake for the cutting ceremony & any photographs.
Generally it is a good idea to keep the cake table near the head table or the sweetheart table. But be mindful not to block the bridal party with a cake or vice-versa.
Lastly, Small round tables (4 ft) are ideal for a cake table. A round table allows the bride and groom to easily move around the table. Make sure that the table has four locking legs & that wooden tables are more sturdy than plastic tables.”
Not a good layout. The bride and groom can't do a grand entrance without squeezing around tables, the buffet has no access to the doors, the DJ can't see the dance floor and will make tables 3&5 deaf, and the cake is tucked into a corner, making the cake cutting ceremony tight and difficult.
If you are unsure if something is placed in the room ideally, don’t hesitate to ask your individual Wedding Pros where the best place in the room would be to locate them. Also don’t be afraid to tell the person who made up an initial layout that you want to make changes, and as long as you have informed reasons for making the changes, there should be no problem with things being moved around to make your reception flow and function smoothly and memorably.
Thank you to the Wedding Professionals who contributed to this article: