From elegant yacht club soirées to grand ballroom celebrations to casual beachside parties, a wedding reception is full of logistical decisions you’ve been working through tirelessly in the months leading up to your big day. One of the biggest decisions (after settling on the location, of course) is how the room is going to come together. Design elements aside, choosing tables necessitates finalizing your guest list and addressing a few questions: Who’s going to sit where? How many tables can we fit in this space? How many people will this table actually seat?
Wedding planner Haley Kelly prioritizes all of these things when it comes to making a layout with her clients, and she knows that with so many options, there’s a seating arrangement perfect for every celebration.
Meet the Expert
A full-service planning company based in Charleston, Haley Kelly Events specializes in events that are thoughtful and intentionally organized, from ceremony to reception.
With help from Kelly, we’re breaking down your wedding reception table options that will leave guests happy and comfortable.
Round tables can be implemented in almost any reception style, from an outdoor party under a tent to the country club. As a general rule, standard dimensions make round tables available in 36”, 48”, 60”, and 72”, with enough space to be able to seat 2-4 people, 4-6 people, 8 people, and 10 people per table, respectively.
Depending on the length, rectangular tables can seat anywhere from a larger group of 10 to a more intimate gathering of just four. “Typically I use an oversized rectangle table that is a 4’ x 8’ table,” shares Kelly. “For seated dinners, this offers more space for your charger, glassware, and more, while still allowing plenty of space for floral in the center of the table.” Perfect for an outdoor reception (with or without a tent) a rectangular table creates a sort of symmetry throughout the space.
On the downside, from a catering perspective, you could potentially run into a few hang-ups when it comes to large rectangular tables. “Depending on the style of service and how many servers you have, it may require more servers to be able to serve a large party at one table,” cautions Kelly. “Technically, you should serve an entire table at once, but if you have 40 people at one [long] table that means you would need 20 servers to be able to plate at one time. With an eight-top table, you only need four servers. I find it looks more natural to space out at a rectangular table, instead of putting four people per side and two on each end.”
If you want to keep social distancing a priority, you can leave the ends open and then seat two to three people per side depending on how comfortable they are with another person’s proximity.
A perfect option for a smaller, more intimate guest list, square tables continue to rise on the list of couples' choices for seating. With more surface area to cover, a square table will easily accommodate a larger centerpiece design (floral or otherwise) and still create a sense of togetherness for guests. Square tables are similar to rounds in that they’ll work in almost any reception space. Typical dimensions keep squares at 3’x3’, 4’x4’, and 5’x5’, which means whether you have four people or twelve people, you might run into a little bit of a tight spot when you take glassware, flatware, and multiple courses into consideration. Rental companies don’t always have a copious amount of this shape when it comes to available tables to rent, with rounds and rectangles being the historically more popular option.
Kelly explains that a planner’s dream is to have everything perfectly in line when it comes to the table setup: “I love everything fully lined up where when you look down the table you can’t spot one thing off—all the chairs are lined up properly, napkins straight, and chargers exactly one inch from the bottom edge of the table’s surface.” Banquet-style tables are created by positioning rectangular tables together end to end, to create one or a handful of long tables for guests, the happy couple, and the bridal party to be seated all together, whether the wedding is large or small. “I definitely think longer 4’x8’ tables pushed together is better for micro weddings,” explains Kelly. “The point of a micro wedding is to be intimate and intentional and with 20-30 guests, [so] it makes sense to have everyone at one table!”
Long live the happy couple! Sweetheart tables have long been implemented in a reception design, whether a small round, square, or even rectangular table. Creating a point of separation for the bride and groom, the sweetheart table might prove to be a welcome respite amongst the hustle and bustle of the day. “The wedding day is busy with a lot going on, so this gives a couple the time to sit down together and enjoy that special time,” says Kelly. But too much separation might prove to be ineffective, with guests feeling distant and with the need to engage with the couple individually, thus giving the newlyweds less time to enjoy their meal and alone time.
Head Table or King’s Table
Where a sweetheart table gives the couple a moment to themselves amongst the celebration, what could be more fun than dining with your nearest and dearest? A head table makes a grand statement, as it generally is set within the room to face towards the guest tables, with its occupants seated all on the same side of the table, rather than facing each other. This makes it a bit harder for the bridal party and family to engage with each other, as you’d only be able to have conversations with the person sitting directly next to you on either side, but it does create an unmistakable place of honor for those invited to sit with the happy couple.
Mix and Match Tables
The great thing about your wedding day being your day is that you can customize every single part of it—right down to the tables! The option to have a combination of table sizes and shapes adds an element of refinement to a reception layout, simply because it gives the illusion that the space has been tailor-made to fit your needs. “I love to mix squares with rectangles,” says Kelly. “I typically always do a mix of at least two shapes. This generally also works well when you are mixing linens—whether it be the same color but two styles or a mix of farm tables and a linen-covered table.”
Whether you mix and match linens based on table shapes, have fun with the layout! A combination of shapes and sizes will potentially create a more inviting atmosphere for guests to mix and mingle amongst other tables themselves.