A couple of weeks ago we discussed how to choose a food service style for your reception. Once you’ve decided whether you want the food plated or served buffet-style, you can move on to envisioning how your guests will be seated to enjoy the menu you are planning for them. The tables that you choose for your wedding reception — rectangular, square, round, or a combination — can help define your venue as well as facilitate communication among guests.
Three factors should influence your decision on the type of tables to use: the size of the venue, the tabletop design you envision, and the level of interaction you want your guests to have.
1. Venue Size
If your guest list is pushing the bounds of your venue’s capacity, round tables allow you to use the space most efficiently. That said, resist the urge to use tables that seat more than 12 guests so that you don’t lose the feeling of intimacy and the ability to converse.
If you are working with more than ample space, rectangular tables (also known as “banquet” tables) arranged in an interesting configuration or linked together into one or two dramatically-long feasting tables are perfect. Alternatively, when space isn’t an issue, you can combine rectangular with square or round tables for variety and visual interest.
2. Tabletop Design
As a rule of thumb, you should allot two feet per person at the table. This translates to up to ten people at a 60-inch round, four people per side at an eight-foot long table, or two people per side at a square table. While these guidelines work for most, if you have your heart set on a large charger or if you are having a formal service with multiple pieces of flatware, your tabletop could start to feel crowded. Remember that guests won’t appreciate elaborate décor on the tables if it comes at the expense of their comfort.
If you are looking to keep centerpieces simple for aesthetic or budget reasons and don’t want the table to feel underdressed, rectangular tables can be an asset. The standard width is 30 inches (though it is easy to rent 36-, 42-, and 48-inch-wide rectangular tables) and once the places are set there is usually a scant six-inch swath running down the table center. With a few artfully placed bud vases and candles, you’re done.
3. Guest Interaction
The prevailing wisdom is that guests are able to speak to the most people when seated at a rectangular table. The idea being that you can speak to both your neighbors, the guest immediately across the table, and that person’s neighbors as well. Assuming that the tabletop décor does not limit your guest’s ability to see across the table, this set up really is conducive to conversation. But if round tables are really the better choice for your venue or design, you don’t have to sacrifice conviviality. Consider doing smaller rounds that seat six to eight guests.
And one final note, don’t limit yourself to orderly rows of tables, whatever their shape. Some ideas for mixing it up include:
• Rectangular tables arranged in a subtly undulating pattern. This is particularly stunning in an outdoor setting such as a grove of trees.
• Alternating square and round tables for a modern, geometric effect. Great in loft spaces.
• Setting tables in a specific shape. I’ve done rectangular tables in an “H” configuration for a couple whose last name began with “H.” For a Valentine’s Day wedding, a large round table in the center with four diagonals of rectangular tables emanating from it is a whimsical play on the XO of kisses and hugs.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with advice on how to choose and work with a caterer.